As the biggest show in the world's richest market, Detroit is the place to be for luxury. American icons like Cadillac and Lincoln are on the comeback trail against formidable foreign fighters. The Teutonic triumvirate of BMW, Mercedes, and Audi not only export Euro-style to the U.S. — BMW and Merc also manufacture here. Japanese makers Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti all launched their brands here. The smell of money is irresistible — now Alfa and Hyundai want a piece of the pie.
What it is: The most powerful Cadillac sedan. Ever. The V-performance badge puts the sleek, mid-size CTS sedan (Detroit News 2014 Vehicle of the Year) on steroids by borrowing the supercharged, 6.2-liter, push rod V-8 from the Corvette Z06. The result? An asphalt-melting 640 horsepower, 0-60 in less than four seconds, and a top speed of 200 mph.
Payne's take: The CTS-V updates the chunky, last-generation V-series with style as well as power. Where the old V also shouldered racing responsibilities for the Caddy brand, the new CTS-V will only be made as a production sedan. Its junior brother — the ATS-V unveiled in Los Angeles and also on display in Detroit — will carry the Caddy flag into race battle.
BMW 6-series coupe
What it is: Bimmer updates this stylish, $80K-plus runway model across the model range: coupe, convertible, four-door Gran Coupe, and M performance edition. The changes are subtle: Full LED lighting standard here — bigger, nine-rib kidney grille there. The turbo power plants remain the same: A 315-horsepower inline-6 or 445-horsepower V-8.
Payne's take: The M badge transforms this stately cruiser into an earth-pawing deviant. Think twin-turbo V-8 with 560 possessed ponies clawing at the ground. At a time when luxe cars are touting autonomous tech, the M demands to be hands-on.
What it is: Cadillac's entry-level sedan gets a sport upgrade. And what an upgrade. The nimble ATS has already taken the fight to the Germans with the best handling coupe in class. Now the V will do battle with the iconic BMW M4 with a 455-horsepower, twin-turbo V-6. Zero-60 will take just 3.9 seconds on the way to a top speed of 185 mph. Brembo brakes, 25 percent stiffer chassis, and magnetic dampers mean the fun won't stop at the end of the straightaway.
Payne take: You'll know it by its narrow upper grille. The ATS-V feeds the ravenous turbos with a massive lower air intake. The ATS will be the new face of Cadillac racing, yet it doesn't skimp on interior comfort. It's beautifully cut-and-sewn interior and Recaro seats will help you survive g-loads in comfort.
What it is: The XE marks the luxury carmaker's re-entry into the hotly contested compact sports sedan segment. Featuring the blunt nose found on other sedans in the Jag litter, the XE will be the slipperiest cat yet with a 0.26 drag coefficient. It will feature an all-new, base 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engine with the option of a 3.0-liter, supercharged V-6 (shared with the snarling F-Type). Engines are mounted in the front of a new chassis made mostly from recycled aluminum.
Payne's take: Jaguar has been without a compact sedan since the X-Type (based on, ahem, a common Ford Mondeo chassis) kicked the bucket. Reinvigorated after its sale to Tata, the British maker debuts the sexy, long-hooded XE aimed squarely at Teutonic titans like the BMW 3-series, Audi A4, and Mercedes C-Class.
Lexus GS F-Sport
What it is: The performance version of Lexus's midsize sedan, the GS gains the F-Sport's huge spindle grille and a honking, 467-horsepower V-8. With a lush, tech-heavy interior that will keep drivers comfortable on long trips even as they look to pick on BMW M5s, the F has awoken the sleepy Lexus brand.
Payne's take: The F's radical styling is the most polarizing in the segment. And Toyota's luxe brand likes it that way. Lexus wants to add performance to its trophy case of quality awards. The "mouse"-controlled console might drive you batty.
Mercedes C350 Plug-in Hybrid
What it is: Last year, the new C-class re-asserted Mercedes as a design leader in luxe with its achingly beautiful design. But the C-class also made news for a light-weighted, more aluminum-intensive chassis in order to gain a 20 percent fuel economy advantage. The Plug-in Hybrid is the ultimate vehicle for Merc's green customer.
Payne's take: The Benz can go 20 miles on battery alone — or use those electrons for a torquey, 0-60 mpg run in less than 6 seconds. A perky, 1.9-liter turbo engine will pump out 275 ponies when twinned with the electric motor.
Mercedes Maybach S-Class
What it is: The Merc with the Mostest. The Maybach badge gold-plates the already sumptuous, top-of-the-line S600 sedan. A rolling concert hall, the palatial Maybach offers hushed, massaged rear seats with chrome-plated speaker grilles, fiber-optic ambient lighting, Burmester 3-D surround sound, the works. And its 6.0-liter, 523-horsepower twin-turbocharged V-12 will you get you to your villa in a hurry.
Payne's take: Mercedes' luxury brand failed to make an impression on Bentley and Rolls sales. So Maybach has been reborn as an upper-trim level for Mercedes sedans. Maybach's price will start well north of the $167,825 S600 — but nowhere near the stratospheric, half-a-million price tag of the Rolls Phantom and previous Maybach offerings.
Volvo S60 Cross Country
What it is: A sedan on stilts, the Cross Country sits on the same platform as the silky S60 sedan — with 2.5 more inches of ride height. The Cross variant also gains AWD. Coming to showrooms this summer, the Cross Country will be motivated by a 2.5-liter, five-cylinder engine producing 250 ponies.
Payne's take: Where Volvo's V60 (V is for ute, S for sedan) SUV features a familiar hatchback, the S60 refines the crossover look with a sedan's racy roofline. Similar to BMW's Gran Turismo or Honda's Crosstour, the S60 is a hybrid of a different kind — a marriage of sedan lines with ute height.
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