Cool spring breezes and gorgeous roadside wildflowers make it extremely difficult for me to sit in bland airports and board stuffy airports at this time of year. What I really want to do is head west – from Austin to see burgeoning blue bonnets, from Denver to see the mountains awaken from winter, or as far west as I can get without swimming in the Pacific to take that famous 17-mile drive at Pebble Beach. And, I want to do it on my own time, driving a car that makes me feel like part of nature – but also like I’ve traveled first class even after eight hours on the road.
Auto touring companies have become very popular recently. So, even if your home range offers nothing spectacular within a couple days drive, you can schedule the luxury car of your choosing – complete with maps, itinerary, hotel reservations and many other amenities – to meet you at the airport. Or, you can do it the old-fashioned way and pack your backs for a multi-day road trip, miles be damned.
Every luxury car fit for touring shares common elements with its peers: a smooth ride, panoramic windows, extremely comfortable seating, a sound system worthy of great road music, and enough space for a little luggage. Beyond that, it’s a matter of personal taste what drives you to take a long drive. I’ve chosen five modern luxury vehicles that cover the spectrum of great road-tripping automotive companions – and one of them might just make you un-box your driving moccasins.
Bentley Continental GTC
The point of a spring road trip is not to make it fly by at 198 miles per hour – but if you needed to, say, get through an ugly stretch, the Bentley Continental GTC could do it for you with 567 horsepower from its 12 cylinders. And, with the top down! The Conti, redesigned for 2012, might be the perfect convertible for an extended road trip. The interior is breathtaking with bespoke leather seats, hand-crafted wood trim, chrome dials – and yoga-level quiet and tranquility when the top is down. The touch-screen navigation and information center brings the perfect level of technology to a cabin that otherwise harkens back to the glory days of Rolls Royce and Duesenberg. A premium sound system from Naim with 30 GB of digital music space
Of course, even with update exterior styling, nobody will fail to recognize the Continental GTC as a Bentley. The convertible, push-button roof stows itself in less than 20 seconds. Despite its rather heavy weight, the Conti moves quickly for such a big car. It has good trunk space, but the back seat is very small – one of its few draw backs. Well, that and fuel economy – which is generously listed as 19 mpg on the highway. Still, if you want to waft along in un-excelled luxury – in a convertible, no less – you can’t do better than the Bentley Continental GTC.
Land Rover Range Rover
We’ll explore the other end of the touring vehicle spectrum with the Range Rover! Where the Bentley is speed and sculpture melded, the Range Rover is refined muscle, blatant attitude and glorious space. Other large luxury SUVs are pretender to the venerable Range Rover’s throne. If you want to hit the road with another couple, or your children, the Range Rover has all the legroom and luggage room you’ll need. Dry roads or slippery trails, it has capability and handling that will surprise you in such a big piece of equipment. This is what you want for a drive through the mountains to Big Bear or Aspen. Handling might not match most sports cars, but with a computerized air suspension that self-adjusts 100 times per second, this is no land yacht, either.
You’ll find no better view than provided by a Range Rover’s large windows, and you’ll be extremely comfortable in premium leather seats. The sound system is provided by Harman/Kardon, and you will find it lacks nothing. Styling never changes much with the Range Rover, and I suspect Land Rover finds no reason that it should. And, they’re likely right. Refined and capable, the Range Rover has only one flaw – gas mileage that will be somewhere south of 18 mpg at best.
Fast. Four doors. Leave it to the venerable German brand, Porsche, to make opposite qualities attractive in the same package. The Panamera delivers all of the famous speed and performance of the brand, but with an interior that is legitimately comfortable for four adults. And, the trunk is large enough for a normal amount of luggage, but if you’re traveling by yourself or one other person, the back seat folds down for extra cargo room. Luxury items like Bluetooth connection, various drive settings, hand-stitched top grade leather, and metal and wood trip are de rigueur.
Amazingly, the top-end Panamera Turbo S can go from 0-60 in 3.6 seconds, reach a top speed of 190 mph, and yet, when touring on the open road, get a reasonable 23 miles per gallon! Panamera comes standard with a parking assistance feature that audibly warns when an object is behind the car while in reverse. A reversing camera can be added that displays video from the rear on the center dash communication center – with superimposed guidelines to help you back up. If, for some odd reason, you’d rather listen to music than the thrilling Porsche engine tones, Porsche offers both Bose and Burmester sound systems that cannot be duplicated. Frankly, the Porsche Panamera proves that you can have it all – at least in a sports luxury sedan.
Sometimes, you want to be seen, and acknowledged, and … envied. Driving the Mercedes SL550 will accomplish all of that nicely, thank you very much. The body styling is new for 2012, and it shows ultramodern imagination, while still hewing to the Mercedes sensibility. It will move you down the highway dashingly, obviously, and most importantly – fast.
Yes, this is a roadster, like the Bentley, but completely unlike the Bentley. With a panoramic glass roof, you don’t have to put the top down to feel the outside. Where the Bentley is heavy and solid, the Mercedes is light and nimble. They both have their place.
The leather cabin and amazingly comfortable seats are built for long hauls. Paddle shifters give you full control of the transmission when you want it, or you can let the automatic mode carry you along with nearly as much fun. Comfortable, fast, convertible, great handling – did I mention fast? For those who can afford a six figure car, this Merc is a dashing and daring vehicle that will make a long drive come to life with fun.
Jaguar has been on a decade-long quest to put its namesake cat’s power and dynamism back into its cars. Even with the big XJ sedan, it has succeeded. It has a lightweight aluminum body, standard V8 engine, and adaptive suspension – all hallmarks of a car seeking to be a fast and powerful bully. But, Jaguar harnesses them in a way that keeps the traditional Jaguar grace and elegance.
What England seems to do better in its cars than Germany or Japan is the overall feeling of old-world craftsmanship. The Jaguar XJ wraps you in piped leather seats, surrounded by solid wood accents and actual metal trim. Plastic has its place, but with a Jag, it’s kept in its place.
Jaguars styling has changed from its formerly familiar curves, but the XJ is no look-alike luxury car. The grill and hood are aggressively styled, the sloping roofline and trunk lid ooze aerodynamic appeal. Everything about it comes together to make a sumptuous cocoon that speeds you along at freeway speeds without a hint of strain. There are some quibbles with the way the touch-screen information center functions – it’s not particularly intuitive and operating a touch screen while driving makes you wish for old-style knobs and switches. But, the Jaguar XJ is a counterpoint to the Porsche Panamera. You choose the XJ for grace, power and style – where you choose the Porsche for speed and thrills. They’re both great, but they’re vastly different.
Frank Sobyak is Director of Business Development for Park Place.