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Let there be luxury

Luxury and cars have long gone hand in hand. But, as CHARLEEN CLARKE discovers, it is now taking an all-new form

Rather unsurprisingly, the sports utility vehicle – or SUV – used to epitomise its name. It was a utility vehicle – kind of like the toaster of cars. Your run-of-the mill SUV used to take you places you couldn’t go in a regular car – such as pavements. Plus it was the sort of vehicle that was ideal for lugging the kids, the in-laws and even the dogs.

Those days are all gone now though. Yes, you certainly still can get a utilitarian SUV – if you really want one. But many modern SUVs offer so much more!

Take the new Porsche Macan, for instance. Yes it is an SUV. But, sweetie darlings, it is more than just a mere SUV. Its name comes from the Indonesian word for tiger. And the Macan really does live up to its name: powerful and ready to pounce at any time, yet light-footed and tenacious on off-road terrain.

Out on the road, it offers the performance of a sports car (the Macan S is powered by a 3.0-litre V6 bi-turbo engine that delivers 250kW; it scampers from 0 to 100km/h in just 5.2 seconds). It looks like a sleek and beautiful luxury car. Its ride is undeniably dynamic (close your eyes and you’ll think you’re in a supercar). Then there is the interior. Sigh. It’s right up there with the world’s greatest luxury cars.

The same can be said of the new GLA 45 AMG, a compact SUV from the Mercedes-Benz stable. The most powerful vehicle in the growing compact SUV segment, the interior of the GLA 45 AMG fizzes with a palpable sense of pleasure. I love the funky sports seats, the three-spoke nappa leather multifunction sports steering wheel with flattened bottom section, red contrasting topstitching, perforated leather in the grip area and steering-wheel shift paddles. Driving this car reminds me of playing a computer game, because it’s just so much fun. Of course, the GLA 45 AMG is anything but a game – its 265kW motor is the most powerful series-production four-cylinder engine in the world – expect to get from zero to 100km/h in just 4.8 seconds!

Yet another German SUV that is turning the SUV market on its head is BMW’s X4. Strictly speaking, this is not an SUV. The Bavarian car producer calls it a Sports Activity Coupé. But what the hell; it does the same thing. In a similar vein to the other two Germans, it delivers dollops of luxury and fabulous performance – matched to the xDrive all-wheel-drive system. It’s probably the looker of the trio – I adore its large air intakes, the character lines in the front apron and, of course, its signature BMW twin headlights and front fog lamps. The swooping roofline – which reaches its highest point above the driver and then dives down to the trailing edge of the tailgate – is also über-stylish.

MOVING UP ONE NOTCH

Speaking of stylish, if you want the ultimate in luxury, you’ll have to wait until early 2016 – because that’s when the Ferrari 488 GTB will blast into South Africa. I have yet to drive this particular Prancing Horse (bring it on, babe). That’s because it’s only just made its international debut (at the Geneva Motor Show). However, the chaps from Maranello tell me that the Ferrari 488 GTB will “provide track-level performance that can be enjoyed to the full even by non-professional drivers in everyday use”. Furthermore, they claim that its response times, nimbleness and on-the-limit driving will “guarantee a unique sense of exhilaration and unparalleled driving pleasure”.

The car is powered by a new 3902 cc 492kW V8 turbo, which is rumoured to propel the car to 100km/h in three seconds flat (then it goes on to 200km/h within a total time of an astonishing 8.3 seconds). The top speed of this Italian beast is a substantial 330km/h. I cannot wait to take it for a spin!

AFFORDABLE INDULGENCE

Suspect that the 488 GTB may be slightly out of your league but still want to indulge in something from the world’s leading luxury carmakers? Then how is this for size: Bentley has launched its very own men’s fragrance – called Infinite.

Available in eau de toilette and eau de parfum guise, Bentley Infinite shares the packaging kudos of its automotive big brothers – it is both beautiful and stylish. In the case of the fragrance, expect bottles crafted from high-quality heavy glass that are reminiscent of cut crystal. The broad shoulders of the bottle are coated with metal and the metal cap is finished with a diamond cut. The centre of the bottle is emblazoned with the legendary Bentley symbol, the Flying B.

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