A lot of money can be made in luxury goods, so it’s no wonder more automakers are parking in the premium space. Genesis, Alfa Romeo and Tesla (not in Detroit this year) have all come to market recently, and now Kia is exploring luxe territory with its pretty Stinger sedan coupe. European luxury makers, however, have been scarce at the Detroit show in recent years, as the bulk of their customers are on the coasts. This year Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover, Ferrari, Maserati, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Lotus are no-shows. Still, showgoers will find plenty of eye candy with BMW and Audi unveiling world premieres at Cobo. None of the Detroit luxe-makers showed a new car this year, but the 30-way seat Lincoln Continental and the gorgeous Caddy Escala concept are worth second looks.
Audi A5/S5 Cabriolet
What it is: Audi’s lovely A5 coupe drops its top. With the pull of a button, the top will fold away in just 15 seconds at speeds up to 31 mph. With its bonnet in boot, the Cab still promises 13 cubic feet for storage. The A5 comes with a 255-horse turbo A5 for pleasant cruising. Or you can upgrade to an S5 convertible and set the hills on fire with a 364 horse-369 torques blown V-6.
Payne’s take: The A5 is a head turner, beautifully sculpted from stem to stern. Opt for the available Virtual Cockpit display, and you’ll be showing off the interior as much as the exterior. VC uses Google Earth to put your route right in the full color display before you. It’s tech-tastic.
What it is: Bimmer’s seventh-gen 5-series gets its debut in Detroit with the 540i. The new gen sports a lighter chassis using magnesium, aluminum and unobtranium (kidding about that last one) that saves 137 pounds. The AWD-base car gets a 3.0-liter, 335-horse inline-6; a BMW M550i xDrive runs on a V-8 belting out 456 horsepower and a hybrid-electric BMW 530e iPerformance delivers up to 15 miles in pure electric mode. Gesture control, voice recognition, self-parking and other toys are available.
Payne’s take: The 5-series has long set the standard for midsize luxe style. Now, with a hybrid and M-trims, it satisfies every customer’s demand for drive-line capability.
BMW M760i Xdrive
What it is: No, this isn’t the long-awaited M7, but with a V-12 under the hood, it’s hard to imagine better performance than this. The Bavarian maker has been using the M trim to give its cars a sporty vibe while stopping short of going full-moon, werewolf track animal. But with the 601-horse, twin-turbo V-12 driving all four wheels, the AWD M760i is one special thoroughbred. Climb into the M-highlighted interior, bark a destination at the excellent voice recognition system and the road is yours.
Payne’s take: Apparently the Alpina B7’s 600-horse, twin-turbo V-8 just isn’t enough. Plunk down 155-grand and the V-12 is the best aural symphony this side of a mighty Wurlitzer in the back seat. The M760i does beg the question of what will power the ultimate M7. A solid-fuel rocket perhaps?
What it is: The fifth-generation Lexus flagship gets leaner, wider and lower. The chassis — shared with its sibling LC 500 sport coupe — sheds 200 pounds while the 386-horsepower V-8 boat anchor up front gets mothballed for a more powerful, blown 415-horse V-6 mated to a new 10-speed tranny.
Payne’s take: Back in 1989, the Lexus brand debuted with the LS in Motown and the rest is history. It has since taken its place among the best-selling luxury brands in America, but the success of SUV sales (the RX is Lexus’ most popular model now) has pressured the LS to be more daring. With its Darth Vader-like grille and racy lines, Lexus is no vanilla wallflower.
Mercedes E-Class Coupe
What it is: The coupe is a reminder that the once conservative German brand is the sexiest stylist in luxury today. And with a 4.4-inch-longer wheelbase and more power under the hood, the pretty lady has even more to brag about. The coupe eschews the E-class sedan’s base 4-cylinder for a 329-horse, twin-turbo six. The two-door is offered in AWD and will ultimately get a V-8 option with its fire-breathing AMG performance trim..
Payne’s take: In addition to its more youthful styling, the E-class coupe is a showcase for the latest in tech, too. A 12.3-inch COMMAND instrument screen headlines interior features that include Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity and an inductive pad for smartphone charging. This isn’t your granddad’s Merc.
What it is: Volvo continues its China-financed product renewal with the elegant V90 wagon. Like the XC90 ute and S90 sedan before it, the V90 gets a signature interior of Scandinavian wood trim, large tablet-like infotainment screen, 4-cylinder engine option (including a powerful turbo-and-supercharged variant) and those distinctive “Thor’s hammer” headlights.
Payne’s take: The V90 is the most gorgeous wagon I’ve ever laid eyes on, but U.S. dealers will get only the raised (by 2.5 inches) Cross Country version. That’s in deference to Americans’ preference for riding high. If you covet the lower-slung wagon, you’ll need to special order it.