Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne talks truck wars, Chinese vehicles, and electric and autonomous vehicles at the 2018 Detroit auto show with Detroit News autos team writers Ian Thibodeau and Nora Naughton. Tom Gromak, The Detroit News


The thoroughbreds in the luxury class have been the definition of automotive elegance, but not even sedan icons are immune from the sport-utility tsunami. The Mercedes S-class, Lexus LS and Audi A8 all saw big sales declines in 2017, as luxury customers snapped up big SUVs. Even BMW is not immune, with a giant X7 crossover looming over the brand’s 7-series sedan (down 28 percent in sales) as its new flagship. But for style and handling, premium cars are still the standard — think the gorgeous Mercedes CLS Coupe or the hot-rod Cadillac ATS-V.

Audi A7

What it is: The second generation of Audi’s iconic fastback, perhaps the prettiest sedan on the market today. How to improve on perfection? The all-wheel drive A7 gets more-muscular wheel wells and a bigger grille to complement its bigger interior dimensions. The most significant changes are in the tech department, where twin haptic-touchscreens replace the rotary-controlled infotainment system of yore. Augmenting the familiar 340-horse turbo V-6 is a 48-volt lithium-ion battery, which promises better mpg and torque.

Payne’s take: In its short life, the A7 has already become a benchmark for the industry. The mainstream Kia Stinger and Buick Regal unashamedly borrow from their luxurious idol. The new touchscreens are a big change from the Euro-preferred rotary touch-dial, and longtime Audi fans may find the transition uncomfortable. My suggestion? Get the optional, configurable Virtual Cockpit instrument display with its controls on the wheel.

Mercedes AMG CLS53; E53 Coupe/Cabriolet

What it is: The German lux-maker upgrades its E-class models with AMG performance variants — distinguished by twin blades on the grille. To complement their striking, swoopy rooflines, the 53s get 48-volt battery-boosted turbo-6 engines, pumping out 429 horses, mated to a quick 9-speed transmission and all-wheel drive. AMG-embossed thrones and Mercedes’ lovely “Widescreen Cockpit” instruments highlight the interior.

Payne’s take: The mild-hybrid powertrain will soon proliferate the Mercedes lineup, enabling better mpg and acceleration (for less cost than a full-hybrid powertrain). Now, if Mercedes would just simplify its alphabet soup model names ...

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