Best of the Best 2002: Autos: Best Sedans

  • Paul Dean and Mike Nolan

New and Improved

Infiniti’s Q45 has certainly had its critics. Jay Leno declared that its logo looked like a basket of snakes, and later refinements still left the car with boring and same-old interiors that were an easy inducement to falling asleep at the wheel.

The 2002 Infiniti Q45, promises to silence the snickers. It is a roomy and luxurious sedan rich in horsepower. The Q45 has received technology upgrades, including reclining rear seats and an optional rear-vision monitor. The new interior has gone from high-tech black to bird’s-eye maple woods and lighter leathers. The new shape is bolder, noticeably broad-shouldered, and displays a hard cruising presence that finally gives this flagship Infiniti an unmistakable distinction among luxury sedans.

Performance is heftier this year, with a healthy 4.5-liter, 340-hp V-8, which is mated to a 5-speed automatic with a manual mode. The Q45 also includes a sport package for the driver who prefers a stiffer suspension and 18-inch wheels. The Q45 had some maturing to do, and the 2002 version has come of age. —paul dean

Infiniti, www.infiniti.com  

Subtle Muscle

While other sedans might shudder at the sight of snow, the Audi S8, armed with its Quattro all-wheel-drive system, welcomes unfavorable weather. But if you’re taking the S8 through gravel and grime, be prepared for the conditions outside to clash horribly with the Audi’s aesthetic grace.

The carefully crafted cockpit, which includes Valcona leather and bird’s-eye maple, might lead you to believe that you’re relaxing in your favorite parlor chair instead of the driver’s seat. The S8’s exterior body design exudes confidence, graciousness, and civility, with just a hint of the muscles rippling beneath. You can flex those muscles by engaging the 4.2-liter V-8 and allowing the 360 horses to pull the 4,068-pound S8 from zero to 60 in 5.8 seconds. The stiffened and lowered sports suspension system makes the S8 an agile and potent performer, even at its top speed of 155 mph.

For all its power and all-wheel abilities, the S8’s discreet appearance distinguishes the car from its peers. Some drivers want cars that draw admiration and attention from onlookers; others prefer machines that offer a more modest appearance. The S8 falls into the latter category, but don’t be fooled by its reserved looks. —mike nolan

Audi, www.audiusa.com

Large, Powerful,and Refined

Bentley is an 82-year-old British hallmark that refuses to let go of its past, and that means building overweight, oversized, overpowered, and usually supercharged sedans, coupes, and convertibles. The Bentley Arnage T brings no dismay to lovers of this very long line of velvet heavyweights. This is a three-ton personnel carrier with twin turbochargers puffing out 450 hp from a monster 6.7-liter V-8 designed for the simple business of traveling extraordinarily quickly over long distances—say, from Paris to Monte Carlo in about six hours.

So that nobody forgets the Arnage T is an ultra-performance car, there’s an optional dashboard of aluminum, a mesh grille, an old-world starter but-ton, and drilled pedals.

And so you know this is a Bentley, the leather-lined, softly carpeted, walnut-trimmed interior carries that sweet smell of success and gin martinis at the Savoy. This is British luxury as it has always been: inimitable, understated, mostly handcrafted, and thoroughly Bentley. —paul dean  

Bentley, www.bentleymotors.com

No-Nonsense Machine

From Stuttgart comes what the technicians at Mercedes-Benz call a supersedan, and, in the manner of all German engineers, they don’t kid. The Mercedes-Benz S55 makes a Bismarck of whoever takes the wheel. From dual chrome-tipped tailpipes to the 5.5-liter, 354-hp, hand-assembled V-8 that blitzes from zero to 60 in 5.7 seconds, this is one powerful, businesslike übercar.  

Mercedes brought in the AMG magicians to apply the latest in cutting-edge technology, and the result is a luxury saloon that combines performance, comfort, and safety with Teutonic efficiency and not more than a little arrogance. The 4,100-pound S55 employs the Active Body Control system to decrease body roll while whipping around corners at speeds that would stress much lighter vehicles. Three-valve technology and an electronically controlled 5-speed automatic transmission contribute to the seemingly effortless delivery of speed and power. The comfortable cabin features enough gadgets to keep the most demanding technophile entertained. In fact, you just might want to park and hang out there for the afternoon. While there is no mistaking the S55 for anything but an S-Class, the AMG styling package adds an extra sense of poise and authority.  —mike nolan.

Mercedes-Benz, www.mbusa.com

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