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Five fab rides for six large bills

Eclectic or electric, these premium choices are well worth the price

  • DOWNPAGE-BMW-M5

What can you get for $100,000 these days? More than ever before, thanks to the many advances in automotive engineering over the past decade.

Car makers often use their more expensive models to pioneer new equipment and ideas. It’s only after they figure out how to make them well that they think about how to make them in more volume, and more affordable.

If you want the latest and greatest, you won’t go wrong with these premium vehicles.

Sedan: Mercedes-Benz S Class ($106,600)

Mercedes-Benz S Class

The big Benz has been getting all the headlines because of its Distronic Plus system, which allows the car to drive itself for short periods of time.

And its individually perfumed interior. And its climate-controlled seats that both suck and blow to make sure you?re as comfortable as can be.

But these are all options that, truth be told, are a bit gimmicky and you don?t really need. The basic car is a magnificent vehicle all on its own.

The 2014 S550 comes with a more-than-capable V8 that makes 449 horsepower. In Canada, who really needs the 577 hp that?s available on the long-wheelbase S63 version?

The 550?s interior space, at least in the front, is the same and so is the suspension, so you?ll float over bumps and hold the road just as well as with those expensive options.

You?ll be equally comfortable on a twisting road or the interstate, and, in Canada, all models are all-wheel-drive.

The technology of the 2014 S-Class is such a huge advance over the none-too-shabby previous generation that it?s been handily outselling all its competition in the full-size premium sedan class.

If you want to spend more on your Mercedes, you can do so easily, but few people will notice.

Roadster: Porsche 911 Carrera ($96,200)

Porsche 911 Carrera

Porsche owners, on the other hand, will look immediately to the back of your car to see which of the 15 different 911 models you?re driving.

If you really want to impress them, you?ll need to shell out more than $200,000 for one of the 560-hp Turbo S models.

But that?s an awful lot of power wasted if you?re not on a track ? and, even then, if you?re not an exceptionally talented driver.

It?s much better to impress yourself with the legendary handling of the 911 at less than half that price.

The basic Carrera makes 350 hp, which is more than enough for a load of fun on the track or on the way to work. The car?s a 911 after all, with all the know-how of 50 years of racing development. Its handling is predictable and utterly flawless.

Spend $100,860 and you can replace the 7-speed manual gearbox with the dual-clutch PDK semi-automatic transmission, allowing near-instant shifts and even a Comfort or a Sport mode.

SUV: Cadillac Escalade ($86,145)

Cadillac Escalade

Cadillac completely redesigned its flagship Escalade for this year, making it even more luxurious and powerful.

The Escalade has always been spacious, but the 2015 fourth-generation model is quieter and now loaded with state-of-the-art technology.

Magnetic ride control, for example, is standard, and features electronically-controlled shocks filled with a fluid that contains tiny iron particles. They sense feedback from the road a thousand times a second, and can be arranged to soften or stiffen the suspension almost instantly. This has been around for a while, but it?s now better than before.

Stability and rollover protection help the massive SUV handle more like a car than a truck, while both front and rear automatic braking uses radar and ultrasonic sensors to help avoid collisions.

Electric variable-assist power steering makes it easier to drive ? quite a challenge for a vehicle as large as this.

It’s inside the cabin that the differences are really noticed, though. Snug-fitting gaps, finely-stitched leather and rich woods coddle the occupants more than any other Caddy.

Alternative: Tesla Model S 85 ($88,500)

Tesla Model S 85

It?s almost possible to forget the Tesla Model S is a completely electric car. There are no compromises in its design or construction.

Other electric cars are small and light, to maximize the range of their batteries, and they tap out after maybe 150 km of driving.

But the Tesla is a mid-sized sedan, easy on the eyes, and with enough battery power in its $77,800 base 60 model to last 370 km.

Related: Tesla Model S is the best new car you can buy: Consumer Report

Upgrade to the 85 ? named for the size of its 85 kWh battery ? and you?ll get a range of 480 km. You?ll also get a zero-to-100 km/h acceleration in 5.6 seconds and a top speed of 200 km/h.

Build quality is as good as any premium European maker, and this is important to California-based Tesla. It produced the original roadster to prove the battery capability was possible, and now this Model S to prove an electric car can be made to the same standards as any premium automobile.

The next challenge is the Model X, which is intended to be a mass-production sedan for less than $50,000. But for now, if you want to never buy gas again but still drive in comfort from Toronto to Ottawa, the Model S is your only choice. And it?s a great choice.

Bit of everything: BMW M5 ($101,500)

 

When other cars try to be all things to all people, they usually fall just shy of each target, but not the BMW M5.

Thirty years old this year, it still combines bahn-storming performance with luxurious refinement, all at the press of several buttons.

The regular 5 Series Bimmer can be had for less than $55,000, but the M5 is a quite different beast, with several unique parts in its engine and chassis to tune it just the way you want it.

Its strength is in this broad band of adjustment, with separate buttons down by the shift lever that vary the throttle response, shift response, steering response, suspension damping and stability control. It?s tempting to put everything on full race and just go for it, but those drivers don?t usually last long.

Audi?s S6 and Mercedes? E63 AMG now offer true competition to the M5?s performance, but the BMW is still the most comfortable car to return your mother-in-law to her house after Christmas.

She’ll never imagine how you?ll drive on the way back home.

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