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Luxury automobiles continue to woo buyers

There is nothing “puppy-ish” about Americans’ love affair with the automobile. Cars are more than just vehicles to get from point A to point B, but rather a symbol that says “I have arrived.”

Luxury automobile sales continue to be brisk in Mississippi, and high-end manufacturers are steadily adding muscle and agility, safety features and comfort amenities to their models — which, in turn, has added extras to the sticker, too. But those with deep enough pockets remain enamored with luxury rides, and new models from Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Jaguar, Audi and Hummer are offering the chance at new romance for top-end auto lovers in 2006.

Mercedes-Benz S550

For many, Mercedes-Benz is synonymous with luxury and style. It is tough to top German engineering — even for German engineers. But, Mercedes-Benz feels like it has done just that with its 2007 S550. The trick is getting one.

“It just came out, and is the hardest Mercedes-Benz to get,” said Thomas Townsend, longtime salesperson at Higginbotham Automobiles, LLC, the exclusive dealer of both Mercedes-Benz and Porsche in Mississippi. “I’ve heard of individuals paying $5,000 over sticker to get one now.”

The all-new S-Class is larger inside and out. It houses a more powerful, 5.5-liter, 32-valve V8 engine rated at 382 horsepower.

The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is $86,175. Townsend said S550 buyers will not only enjoy the extra performance and luxury, they will also be paying for peace of mind.

“Safety is one of the key selling points with Mercedes-Benz,” he said. “I’ve been selling Mercedes-Benz for 25 years now, and over that period I’ve unfortunately had a number of customers total their cars. But, I’ve had one customer roll his car four times and break a finger, and I had another that suffered a fractured collarbone. To my knowledge, that is the only injuries any of my customers have received from a totaled Mercedes-Benz.”

Porsche Cayenne Turbo S

It’s fast — really fast. The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S has taken the driving experience of an SUV to whole different level. Sure, it has off-road capabilities. With air suspension and at off-road height, the Cayenne Turbo S can ford water up to 21.9 inches deep, can handle an approach angle of 32.4 degrees and departure angle of 27.3 degrees and has a ground clearance of 10.7 inches.

However, it’s under the hood where the Porsche SUV stands out. The Cayenne Turbo S develops 520 horsepower and 530 pound-feet of torque. It can go from 0-60 in 4.8 seconds, and has a top track speed of 168 miles per hour.

The MSRP is a cool $111,600, but there is good news here. Porsche only offers a handful of options on the Cayenne Turbo S — it comes loaded from the factory. Standard amenities include six 12-volt power outlets, multi-function trip computer, Bose sound system and Porsche Communication Management information and navigational system.

Townsend said Higginbotham is provided a greater inventory of Porsches than other markets that are Jackson’s size due to the successful history of Porsche in the Capital City. He said approximately 10% of Higginbotham’s customers are out-of-state online shoppers, while the rest are pulled from across Mississippi and as far away as Memphis and Ruston and Monroe, La.

Audi A8L

For years now, Audi has forged a reputation for speed and performance. According to Bryan Berman, vice president and general manager of Deuce McAllister Imports, the exclusive dealer in Mississippi for Audi, the company takes its success from the race track, where it has been dominant, and puts that technology straight into its production vehicles. And, Audi is never “knee-jerk” when it comes to research and development.

“They take things from their race cars and plug it into its street cars, and they don’t rush development of new cars — they sit back, watch and get it right the first time,” he said.

Certainly, the Audi A8L follows that tradition. It represents Audi’s first all-aluminum automobile, and it has gotten rave reviews. Autoweek called the A8L “one of the sweetest high-end sedans on the market, hands and feet down,” and Motor Trend wrote “Audi sits in the luxury catbird seat…”

The Audi A8L housing a 4.2-liter engine develops 335 horsepower. It can go from zero to 60 in 6.3 seconds and has a top track speed of 130 miles per hour. With its new, light-weight all-aluminum body and all-wheel drive system, the Audi A8L shines on the straight-aways as well as the curves.

The Audi A8L also offers luxury, amenities and safety features. These include front and rear Audi Parking System with graphic display (optional), driver and front passenger knee-protection airbags (standard) and leather door armrests and center console with premium stitching (standard).

The MSRP on the Audi A8L, 4.2-liter model is $72,810. Seth Metcalf, Audi/Volkswagen sales manager at McAllister, said the A8L is a strong seller. In fact, there was not a single one on the McAllister lot the day this interview was conducted.

Jaguar XK

As Metcalf likes to say, folks buy Audi for the driving experience, and they buy Jaguar for the ride. Since McAllister sells both Audi and Jaguar, that was fine by Metcalf.

But, now Jaguar has decided it wants to nudge into Audi’s racing-performance market with its new XK.

Available in both coupe and convertible, the XK8 is Jaguar’s first all-aluminum vehicle. It offers a 294-horsepower, 4.2-liter V8 and six-speed automatic transmission, giving the XK8 the ability to go from zero to 60 in approximately six seconds, comparable to the Audi A8L. Maximum speed is 155 miles per hour.

McAllister is scheduled to receive its first XK8s the first week of May, and it has already pre-sold two of them. The MSRP for the coupe is $70,495 and $75,495 for the convertible.

But the XK story does not end there. Jaguar has also developed the XKR, also available in either coupe or convertible, boasting a supercharged 4.2-liter V8 featuring twin intercoolers. The XKR, set to debut this summer, develops 390 horsepower, and can go form zero to 60 in a little more than five seconds. Top speed is 155 miles per hour.

The MSRP of the XKR coupe is $82,995 and $87,995 for the convertible.

The new XKs is not the only thing McAllister is excited about. It has acquired the former Winn-Dixie grocery store just across Interstate 55 from the current dealership, where the company will build a brand new, state-of-the-art facility. And, McAllister, already the exclusive dealer in Mississippi for Jaguar, Audi and Volkswagen, just signed the deal and is now Mississippi’s exclusive Land Rover dealer, as well.

Hummer H1 Alpha

For those who find the road a bit too confining, the 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha is a must-see. The ultimate in off-road vehicles, the H1 is more at home on a logging trail than an interstate.

It certainly has the muscle, but do owners really take H1s off road? The MSRP for the H1 Wagon is $140,796, while the H1 Open Top is $129,399. At these prices, do owners really want to get their primo rigs muddy?

Yes, said Michael Wallis, sales manager at Rogers-Dabbs Chevrolet Hummer Inc. in Brandon. “Judging by the work our service department does, H1 owners are definitely getting off the road with their vehicles,” Wallis said.

A check of the specs and dimensions tells why. The H1 comes with a Duramax 6.6-liter turbo diesel engine, producing 300 horsepower and a hefty 520 pound-feet of torque. Top speed is 90 miles per hour. Its maximum towed load is 9,303 pounds for the Open Top and 9,036 pounds for the Wagon.

The H1 has a ground clearance of 16 inches, a maximum approach angle of 72 degrees, maximum departure angle of 37.5 degrees and a grade capacity of 60%. It can also ford water up to 30 inches deep.

While a workhorse, the H1 does feature creature comforts, including premium leather seating surfaces, heated front seats and Monsoon audio system.

Because of its bulk (it is 86.5 inches wide, and almost 80 inches tall), the H1 also attracts safety lovers. As Wallis pointed out, the H1 is in a class that does not require airbags — the vehicle’s mass is safeguard enough.

Rogers-Dabbs has only received nine H1s since it opened, and has sold seven of those. Wallis said Hummer continues to turn heads, especially the H2s and H3s, which are engineered to be more street-friendly and are less expensive. (The MSRP for a base H2 is $53,885, while the base sticker for an H3 is $29,500. Luxury packages run $58,095 and $32,730, respectively.)

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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