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Executive travel: a world of choices

Entry level exclusivity

I WAS chatting to a chap the other day who works as a designer for FHM magazine.

He was telling me how they had recently done a photoshoot with a famous and gorgeous young ex-soap actress, and how afterwards he had to spend days tweaking the pictures on the computer to remove rolls of fat, spots, blemishes and trim her into a supermodel body.

As a nation, we are increasingly obsessed by looks – you must be gorgeous and perfectly proportioned and so must everything else in your life. This explains why the A4 Cabriolet is such a popular car and why we are a nation of convertible lovers – the biggest in Europe.

The Audi soft top is the prettiest soft top of its type on the market and, in S4 form, is also one of the fastest. This surely can’t be anything other than a winning combination.

Convertibles are pretty vacuous beasts by nature, designed as they are to massage both senses and ego with few considerations for practicality, but the arguments for picking an S4 over the standard A4 reach new levels of vanity purchasing.

For a start, it is just about £10,000 more than the very capable 3.0 quattro S line. For that extra money, it comes with Alacantara/leather seats, carbon fibre dashboard inlays, 18-inch wheels and brushed aluminium wing mirrors. And a 4.2-litre V8 developing 344bhp, which sprints the car from 0-63mph in just under six seconds. But there’s none of the bling that comes with specifying a BMW M3 convertible or a Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG.

So the majority of people won’t even know how much extra money you’ve spent. What is the point of that? This could be rescued if this was a great driver’s car but it is not particularly.

The S4 is quick and sounds great, but we had the manual version which is painfully difficult to drive.

Unless you match the revs perfectly, the drivetrain shunts like Thomas the Tank Engine.

Then there’s the handling. As it has quattro four-wheel drive, there is loads of grip and it will take flat corners like it is on rails.

But the Cabriolet feels more softly sprung than the fabulous S4 saloon or Avant and this means it does a very odd thing.

The 4.2 V8 is a heavy unit and the suspension does seem to be able to quell that mass on bumpy roads, so the nose bobs as you drive along. It never settles and you find yourself doing nodding dog impressions.

It will never out-drive a BMW M3. But it will out-pose it – in a restrained and classy way – and this is the currency by which any convertible should be judged. In the end though, the 3.0-litre A4 cabriolet has all the elegance, with still-decent performance, and a much lower pricetag than the S4, making this the best executive Cabriolet money can buy.

Engine: 4.2 V8
Power: 344bhp
0-62mph: 5.9
Max speed: 155 (limited)
Price: £40,275
Exclusivity: 4/10
Luxury: 5/10
Performance: 5/10
Daily use? Not much interior space but, come rain or shine, the S4 is a faithful executive soft-top

Hot Clio: entirely inappropriate but a whole load of fun

LEGEND has it that when Volkswagen was developing the most economical diesel production car in the world, its announcement was brought forward to ensure its French rival Renault didn’t steal all the headlines with its own version.

Volkswagen was working on the ‘three-litre Lupo’, according to folklore, so called because its fuel consumption on the combined cycle was just three litres per 100km, or 94.1mpg from its 1.2-litre engine.

Renault, it was said, was about to unveil a Clio apparently capable of the same feat and Volkswagen needed to ensure the Lupo wasn’t beaten to launch. The story ends with Renault’s three-litre Clio being one with a 3.0-litre V6 engine and appealing to a rather different audience than the super-efficient Lupo. Whether or not it is true, it makes an entertaining yarn and a fitting tribute to the Clio V6 which uses a similar principle to the original Renault 5 Turbo.

The 1978 Renault 5 Turbo was a mid-engine version of the little supermini and the Clio has the same layout using a normally aspirated 3.0-litre V6.

This is the second-generation Clio V6, boasting 255bhp rather than the previous V6’s 230bhp, and Renaultsport’s engineers have worked on improving the car’s road manners. It is still perhaps the most completely inappropriate vehicle to run as a company car.

With the engine mounted behind the front seats, there is only room for driver and passenger.

From the front seats much is similar to a standard, well-specced Clio. There is climate control, cruise control, leather and Alcantara sports seats and a CD player.

Outside it is just about recognisable as a Clio under all the extra bodywork. The V6 sits much lower and wider than the standard car, with enormous alloy wheels and air intakes behind the doors to cool the engine.

It looks like a Clio that has spent several months in the gym while its rear-wheel drive mid-engined layout makes drivers feel more heroic than if they were behind the wheel of a relatively ‘safe’ four-wheel drive turbocharged Impreza or Evo.

The prospect of driving the car on three wet November days was not one I was looking forward to, but most of the time the Clio is quite manageable.

Its ride is much firmer than a standard small car and the steering is a little lacking in feedback – the front suspension is lacking the weight of an engine, remember – compared with the Clio’s less powerful front-wheel drive Renaultsport 182 sibling.

Despite being a small car, it weighs 1,400kg – heavier than the new Golf GTI – but with 221lb-ft of torque at 4,650rpm, the Clio pulls urgently in every gear. The car remains flat when cornering, but it is still quite easy to get the rear end to step out on damp or greasy road surfaces.

RENAULTSPORT CLIO 255 V6

Engine: 3.0-litre V6
Power: 255bhp
0-62mph: 5.8 sec
Max Speed: 152mph
Price: £27,100
Exclusivity: 7/10
Luxury: 3/10
Performance: 9/10
Daily use? The least practical supermini on sale is an acquired taste, but there is nothing else like it and it has more macho appeal than an Impreza or Evo.

Big and brash

IMAGINE snowboarding on top of an avalanche, steering an aircraft carrier down river rapids or flying a jumbo jet down Oxford Street and you get some idea of the weird, mentally disfiguring, outsized forces that occur driving a Porsche Cayenne Turbo.

It’s a vast vehicle that can travel with the speed and agility of smaller sports cars. An elephant ice skating.

And so it takes some time to reconcile the way this car seems to screw up all the usual rules and rewrite them.

For a start, the Cayenne Turbo is verging on two-and-a-half tones (which is up there in the portly stakes with the biggest luxury saloons) as well as being nearly five metres long and just under six feet tall. By all the usual formulae, that should make the Cayenne Turbo a big, wallowy machine that is best left to wide roads.

But this is a Porsche, and while some critics might think that an SUV is flogging the brand for all the profit it can, it still has to perform like the best of the make.

So step one is to put a hugely powerful engine in it. Simple in theory, but to make the Cayenne quick in a straight line, there has to have been some clever engineering. The 4.5-litre V8 gets two turbochargers as well as some pretty major intercooler technology to keep it delivering high power from start to finish.

At its peak, the Cayenne Turbo is producing 450bhp, but maximum torque kicks in at 2,250rpm, so it can carry its weight and it dispenses with standstill to 62mph in 5.6 seconds and then just keeps going and going. At the start there’s a whistle as the first turbo starts to spin, then a bark and then a thunderous roar as you blast forward.

So performance is amazing given the physical obstacles in the way, but there are plenty of other big cars that go fast in a straight line.

What really makes the Cayenne stand out is how it takes that weight and height into corners and out the other side. Porsche has developed a chassis with air suspension with axle components with all the strength and fortitude of a cathedral’s flying buttresses.

Allied to this are electronics such as Porsche Traction Management and Porsche Active Suspension Management that have been honed over the years in some of the greatest sports cars in the world and they deal with any forces fighting against progress fantastically.

Sitting so high, the unearthly rate this car chews up roads is all the more staggering. And how is there so much feedback to the steering wheel when the tyres are so far away?

The interior is also beautifully conceived, while the deluge of buttons is more like a flight deck than a car dashboard.

Materials are of the highest quality, especially the Alcantara roof and soft, supportive leather seats, and eventually you forget what it looks like.

Because it’s still ugly. The nose, an awkward interpretation of the 911, is bulbous and brutish. And try manoeuvring the thing in a tight spot. A terrible turning circle, heavy steering and that long nose make this a difficult job.

And if you get 15mpg out the Cayenne Turbo, you’ll have done very well. Also, do 60,000 miles in it and it will have lost nearly £50,000 – the two lesser Cayenne models hold their value much better.

Then there’s the problem that to own one, you need to be content with the notion of unremitting showmanship of wealth. There’s no hiding place in this car. It is ostentatious, politically incorrect and expensive, but for a driver who can afford it, the Cayenne Turbo is a staggering piece of equipment: a huge, handling, high-speed force of anti-nature.

Engine: 4.5 V8 twin turbo
Power: 450bhp
0-62mph: 5.6
Max speed: 165
Price: £70,898
Exclusivity: 5/10
Luxury: 9/10
Performance: 9/10
Daily use? Definitely - up hill, down dale, outside Tiffany

Look abroad to pick up a King of the road

THE pick-up truck industry has kept US car manufacturers alive in their domestic market for years.

The Ford F150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the US, while the Chevrolet Silverado and Dodge Ram fight their corner for their respective manufacturers in the full-size truck sector.

And while American cars are often seen as having inferior dynamics and poorer quality than Japanese and European cars, the US trucks had a loyal following.

But early in 2003 Toyota launched the Tundra, and Nissan joined at the end of last year with the Titan. As its name suggests the Titan is unbelievably large.

Almost too large for the UK, which is why you won’t find it on any price list. However, for a few thousand pounds you can import a left-hand drive version from North America.

Why make more work for yourself by ordering and importing an American truck when there are perfectly adequate smaller pick-up trucks in the UK?

Bear in mind that at the current exchange rate, our Titan King Cab 5.6 SE would cost £12,900 ($24,500) to buy in the US. A Nissan Pickup King Cab, with a 2.5-litre turbodiesel engine costs £13,147 before VAT.

The Titan’s 305bhp V8 engine underlines its heavy-duty credentials, with 389lb-ft at 3,600rpm. Its maximum towing capacity is 4,300kg (9,500lb), which means it could pull just about anything with wheels.

Even though this is the King Cab (with rear-hinged rear doors) there is more interior space in the rear than most Euro-sized double cabs.

There is also a double-cab Titan (they call it a Crew Cab). The Titan comes with a five-speed automatic transmission, 18-inch alloy wheels, a fold-flat passenger seat, air conditioning, CD player, a tyre pressure monitor, cruise control, electric windows, two 12-volt power points, four airbags and about twice as many cup holders as it can carry passengers.

Before you get in the Titan you feel almost childlike as you grasp the oversize chrome-finished door handles to open the door.

Sitting as high as a bus driver you feel master of all you survey. The ride can feel rather skittish over bumpy surfaces and it operates in rear-wheel drive mode unless four-wheel drive has been engaged, which can make for a wayward rear end.

Performance is never an issue. The big V8 burbles away under the bonnet and at full throttle the exhaust chimes in with a noise worthy of an oval racer.

It might be thirsty, particularly as only petrol engines are offered (there is also a smaller V6), but diesel pick-ups are not too frugal either.

The Titan has already won critical acclaim in the US and poses a real threat to the domination of the home-grown products.

It might have little relevance to Europe or the UK, but if Euro pick-ups are too tame, and something just the sensible side of monster truck is required, then the Titan might just fit the bill.

Engine: 5.6-litre V8
Power: 305bhp
0-62mph: 7.0 sec
Max speed: n/a
Price: £12,900 ($24,500)
Exclusivity: 9/10
Luxury: 5/10
Performance: 7/10
Daily use? More comfortable than you’d think, but you need nice wide roads and a very big parking space

Ultimate saloon

WHEN a really heavy star reaches the end of its life, instead of exploding the vast weight causes it to implode.

It does this infinitely until this once mighty ball of fire and power is the size of a pea. Yet it’s still the weight of the sun and contains all of its energy. At this point scientists call it a black hole.

The levels of gravity created by the cosmic mini-monster are so huge that it sucks in whole solar systems: it would munch Jupiter for lunch. Earth would be elevenses.

At this point a bloke called Jurgen from AMG bolts it into the engine bay of a long wheelbase S-class and adds a couple of turbochargers. Because a black hole isn’t quite powerful enough for AMG. The resulting Frankensteinian combination of German and otherwordly engineering is the Mercedes-Benz S65 L AMG.

It’s the ultimate luxury uber-saloon: 6.0-litre V12 biturbo, 604bhp, 738lb-ft of torque, 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds, 0-124mph in 13.3 seconds and a price tag of £142,740 on-the-road. There’s no statistic with this car that isn’t stellar. This is the most powerful engine AMG, the renowned Mercedes mentalists, has ever produced.

Even after the price and the top trump world championship figures, it’s still the performance that really causes amazement. Down a straight, almost nothing could keep pace with it, because 600bhp in any car, even one of two-and-a-half tonnes is enough to suck in the road in front and spit it out from its four massive, popping, spitting, superheated exhausts.

Acceleration actually hurts your head. It pushes you back in the seat, pinning your brain to the headrest. Even when you think you might get a break from this furious launch, you don’t because the car doesn’t let up its rate of increase at all, at any speed. At 70mph it is still accelerating as it did at 10mph, and yet it brakes with equal force thanks to massive vented eight caliper composite disc brakes.

The S65 AMG uses a five speed automatic transmission which is super quick and smooth, and makes the S65 as easy to drive around town as any other S-class. You can cruise in this big black monster with its wide, bling 19-inch wheels scaring both small moons and small-time drug dealers.

There are few luxuries left off the S65, but an absolute must is the Distronic radar cruise control option at £1,600, because there are days when you can’t act like you own everything in the solar system and must obey Her Majesty’s laws of the road. Locking onto earthbound mortals in front and sticking there is the best way to achieve this.

For an executive who must have the ultimate saloon and wants to be master of the universe, no matter what the price, this is the car for them.

WHEN a really heavy star reaches the end of its life, instead of exploding the vast weight causes it to implode.

It does this infinitely until this once mighty ball of fire and power is the size of a pea. Yet it’s still the weight of the sun and contains all of its energy. At this point scientists call it a black hole.

The levels of gravity created by the cosmic mini-monster are so huge that it sucks in whole solar systems: it would munch Jupiter for lunch. Earth would be elevenses. At this point a bloke called Jurgen from AMG bolts it into the engine bay of a long wheelbase S-class and adds a couple of turbochargers. Because a black hole isn’t quite powerful enough for AMG. The resulting Frankensteinian combination of German and otherwordly engineering is the Mercedes-Benz S65 L AMG.

It’s the ultimate luxury uber-saloon: 6.0-litre V12 biturbo, 604bhp, 738lb-ft of torque, 0-62mph in 4.4 seconds, 0-124mph in 13.3 seconds and a price tag of £142,740 on-the-road. There’s no statistic with this car that isn’t stellar. This is the most powerful engine AMG, the renowned Mercedes mentalists, has ever produced.

Even after the price and the top trump world championship figures, it’s still the performance that really causes amazement. Down a straight, almost nothing could keep pace with it, because 600bhp in any car, even one of two-and-a-half tonnes is enough to suck in the road in front and spit it out from its four massive, popping, spitting, superheated exhausts.

Acceleration actually hurts your head. It pushes you back in the seat, pinning your brain to the headrest. Even when you think you might get a break from this furious launch, you don’t because the car doesn’t let up its rate of increase at all, at any speed. At 70mph it is still accelerating as it did at 10mph, and yet it brakes with equal force thanks to massive vented eight caliper composite disc brakes.

The S65 AMG uses a five speed automatic transmission which is super quick and smooth, and makes the S65 as easy to drive around town as any other S-class. You can cruise in this big black monster with its wide, bling 19-inch wheels scaring both small moons and small-time drug dealers.

There are few luxuries left off the S65, but an absolute must is the Distronic radar cruise control option at £1,600, because there are days when you can’t act like you own everything in the solar system and must obey Her Majesty’s laws of the road. Locking onto earthbound mortals in front and sticking there is the best way to achieve this.

For an executive who must have the ultimate saloon and wants to be master of the universe, no matter what the price, this is the car for them.

Engine: V12 6.0 biturbo
Power: 604bhp
0-62mph: 4.4
Max speed: 155 (limited)
Price: £142,740
Exclusivity: 9/10
Luxury: 9/10
Performance: 9/10
Daily use? If you’ve got the cash, it will happily crawl through the city and take off on the motorway. Eats planets for breakfast, though

Can’t afford to buy? Then consider renting

WHETHER it is finding a way to waft the chief executive to his next meeting, or rewarding a member of the team, luxury transport has never been more affordable.

Fleet operators can put their employees into a chauffeur-driven £300,000 5.5-litre V12 Maybach 62 for less than the cost of an expensive hotel room, or a day’s corporate entertainment.

Royal Silver Service is one company which offers the option of hiring this cruise ship on wheels, which comes fully equipped with DVD player, flat screen television, sound system and minibar. The Maybach even has a bottle holder and champagne flute holders.

Guaranteed to turn heads, this luxurious limousine is 6.17 metres long and is large enough in the passenger compartment to hold a rather large party. There is enough room in the back for the rear seat passengers to almost lie flat in their power reclining seats and just gaze at the clouds through the panoramic glass roof. All this and more could be available for £1,500 for half a day, with a chauffeur. It might seem a lot, but it equates to just £750 each for two rear seat passengers, not a bad investment in rewarding staff and little more than the chief executive might consider spending on other luxuries.

Steve Bernard, Royal Silver Service’s chief executive, said: ‘Truly discerning customers will instinctively recognise the gulf in class between the Maybach and something like a stretch limo. Stretch limos have their market but when it is absolute comfort, absolute discretion, absolute style, the Maybach has no equal.’ For fleets wanting a slightly less expensive alternative, there is the option of hiring or leasing a prestige vehicle.

Several companies offer this facility and although prices vary, an Mercedes-Benz S-class is likely to cost about £250 for one day’s hire. Like all rentals the longer the hire period the lower the daily tariff. Guy Salmon Prestige Rental is one group offering luxury rental to fleets. Decision-makers can choose from a range of models including the Jaguar XJ8, Porsche Boxster, Chrysler Crossfire and a Mercedes CLK 320.

Neil McCrossan, head of Guy Salmon, said: ‘Car rental is usually about getting from A to B. At Guy Salmon Prestige Rental, it is about getting there in style and comfort, plus the pleasure you experience.’

Private jets

DAVID Beckham uses one, George Bush’s presidential campaign relied on them and the Royal Family are regular users.

Welcome to the luxurious world of the private jet, once the plaything of the rich and famous, but now an affordable tool firms could consider for their top executives. One company offering a charter jet service is Air Partner. It claims the process is as ‘simple as hiring a car’, if a little more expensive.

Air Partner operates a fleet of 5,000 planes across the globe. Its busiest weekend is the Monaco Grand Prix and its principal customers are companies in the automotive industry.

The company has three arms to its business. It hires commercial aircraft, has a freight sector for parts shipment and an executive jet division. Commercial aircraft make up 60% of business, operating 35,000 flights a year.

David Savile, Air Partner’s chief executive officer, said: ‘We do a lot of work for the automotive industry in the form of car launches. Manufacturers launch a new model and will ship out fleet buyers, journalists and dealers to see the new car. This is our core market as up to 15,000 people can attend just one European launch.

‘The service also saves time as passengers can go from their local airport. Travelling from Heathrow, I have to allow three hours from the office, but from my local airport I can set off two hours later.’

The group’s freight division ships spare parts to factories and production lines in the automotive sector and the executive jet division is used by clients including senior executives, dealerships and company directors. When time is money, the biggest benefit of a business jet is in time saved.

If executives can avoid hours waiting in airports that can instead be spent working, the company is investing its money wisely.

Using a company such as Air Partner, firms are able to use a local airport providing greater flexibility while reducing time spent on the UK’s congested roads. Check-in times are reduced from hours to minutes and, rather than holding one meeting in Paris, a director could attend three European conferences in the same day.

Savile said: ‘Time saving is the number one bonus. Executive jets are seen as being expensive, but compare the time savings achieved and they can work out cheaper. ‘Using Air Partner, a client could be in central Paris before they had even left Heathrow if travelling by regular plane.’

It can cost about £6,000 to hire a private jet for a day but fill it with five executives and work out what their time is worth by the hour – the cost could be much less than companies think.

Savile explained: ‘Our Cessna Citation jet, one of our baseline jets, can be chartered from £1,400 by the hour in the air. Five people could visit three European countries in one day, which would work out at just over £1,000 per person. There is no way a club class fare could compare with this.

‘Just one chief executive whose time is valuable could charge £200 an hour – that is £1,600 a day. Completing three meetings in one day, rather than three, could save £3,200 in working hours.’ Other advantages of travelling by executive jet include the prestige it creates and improved comfort levels compared with travelling by conventional airline.

Executives are able to travel in ‘better than first class’ comfort. Depending on the type of private jet chartered, it is common to sit back and relax with a good meal and the latest DVD movie or continue any business in a spacious, luxuriously appointed cabin.

The company arranging the transport will also help plan an itinerary and book additional extras such as chauffeur or hire vehicles from the airport.

‘Customers do not have to buy a plane to get the advantages of using one –chartering is just like hiring a black cab,’ Savile said. Air Partner has 120 brokers around the world to organise the logistics of the trip. It is their responsibility to ensure the correct plane is allocated to the customer and to ensure the trip runs smoothly.

Savile explained: ‘It is literally a three-minute process to book a plane. We ask what level of comfort the customer requires, how many meetings they will be attending and where the journey will start.

‘We locate the nearest airport and provide the client with a choice of three to five aircraft varying on price and speed. All the customer needs to do then is turn up. We can even take passport details beforehand to save time.’

  • For more information visit www.airpartner.com

    PRIVATE v COMMERCIAL JET

    PRIVATE FLIGHT SCHEDULED FLIGHT
    TYPE OF AIRCRAFT: CITATION JET COMMERCIAL JET
    ITINERARY: BIRMINGHAM, WOLFSBURG, BIRMINGHAM, HANOVER,
    STUTTGART, BIRMINGHAM STUTTGART, BIRMINGHAM
    TIME TAKEN (HRS): 12 48-72
    EXTRA COSTS: NIL HOTEL (APPROX £200), AIRPORT TRANSFERS (UP TO £100)
    TOTAL COSTS: £1,150 PER PERSON £900 PER PERSON PLUS EXTRA COSTS (ABOVE)

    SOURCE: AIR PARTNER
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