The Magnificent Seven

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2007, 12:00am

Audi TT (Coupe and Roadster)

In any hue the Audi TT still sears retinas. Audi bowled the motoring world over with its coupe - it picked up a trophy at nearly every design award ceremony and London's Design Museum placed it in a display cabinet by the Thames.

Nine years have flashed by since its launch, and Audi has upped the game with a new TT. Much more than a mere facelift, the 2007 TT still has no peers in the looks department, but under its pretty skin, the chassis is reworked to ensure the jealous will have a hard time keeping up with its thunderous pace.

The new TT is slightly wider and longer than the old one, but it's still compact. Longer, slimmer headlamps echo the flatter roofline, with a hint of graceful aggression and slightly more 'go' as well as 'show'.

Then there are the choices to make - the DSG kicks other transmissions into touch with its super-intelligent dual-clutch that anticipates your next move, and for those with more points on their licence, the 3.2 engine and four-wheel drive would be more appropriate. Then there are the space-age magnetic dampers, which adapt to each road surface in nanoseconds to ensure you're perfectly set up for the next turn.

But the best option is the Roadster. With the top up, it's as sleek and streamlined as its hardtopped twin, but at the touch of a button, the roof folds and disappears in seconds, opening the TT to a world of fast, fun and full-on 'wind-in-your-hair' driving. By now, onlookers will be able to catch a glimpse of the updated and reworked interior; but not for long, as you punch the accelerator and speed off towards the horizon. The TT still turns heads, but much quicker this time around.

BMW 335i Cabriolet

Starting with what it knows best, BMW has taken its silky-smooth 3-litre inline-six motor and strapped a couple of turbos to it, resulting in the first turbocharged (non-diesel) model produced by the company for decades.

This is one gem of a powerplant, retaining its refinement and tractability in traffic, and blossoming into one of the most effective country-crossers when the roads open up.

True to BMW's roots, the latest 3 Series is first and foremost a driving machine, with pin-sharp steering, class-leading body control and ample power to satisfy every enthusiastic driver in any situation, be it a quick run down to the supermarket or a midnight blast around Hong Kong's Southside. Sitting low in the leather bucket sports seats, you carve through corners with confidence, your hands on the meaty sports steering-wheel, the gear-changes a finger-flick away on the column-mounted paddles.

Convertibles sell well in Hong Kong and BMW soft-tops have always been sought-after, but this model showcases the marque's first folding hard-top. The roof collapses in 22 seconds at a touch of a button - the execution is so stylish it should be accompanied by a fanfare each time it's 'performed' in public. And with the roof hidden in the boot, there's no tonneau cover to interrupt the car's sensual contours from nose to tail.

As you drive around topless, you can easily hold a conversation with all four passengers without raising your voice. With its top up, the car suppresses noise and temperature fluctuations beyond any fabric-topped car. And it looks gorgeous.

Maserati GranTurismo

Yes it's true. The GranTurismo - the long-awaited replacement for the Maserati Coupe - is coming to town.

Maserati is gaining ground on the local motoring scene. Reliability and quality problems have been ironed out with Ferrari funding, but not at the expense of the graceful beauty that stays true to its Bolognese roots.

Unveiled to the world in March, the GT promises to be a threat to its (mainly) German rivals. Power is provided by the 4.2-litre engine, currently found in other Maseratis, but the GT manages to wring out another 10bhp from its screaming top end. At first only the brand-new Automatica transmission will be provided, followed by an uprated DuoSelect paddle shift, similar to F1 cars. All this power would go to waste if the chassis couldn't handle it, but the GT is based on the excellent Quattroporte architecture, shortened for more agile handling, but losing none of its poise. The Skyhook suspension has been recalibrated for a smaller, lighter car.

Behind the wheel, the car feels alive, allowing the driver to push his and the car's limits as they embark on the journey together.

One more thing - the GT is gorgeous. Elegant and sleek on its long wheelbase, the coupe's Pininfarina contours hint at speed and power with complex lines and curves.

This is one car I cannot wait to drive - over and over again.

Maybach 62S

The Maybach was built to dominate rather than seduce. It may be grandiose, but if you're stuck for hours in a traffic jam on a hot and wet summer's day, you could do worse - so, so much worse.

If you're reading this, you're not likely to be in the driving seat of a Maybach, but being cosseted in the cavernous yet cosy cabin, which is more spacious than most living rooms in Hong Kong.

Once you're done toying with the gadgets - the glass sunroof that enables your ceiling to be elegantly lit or lets you see to the stars, the DVD players for you and your companion and the soundproof glass panel that divides the den from the cockpit - lie back in the reclining seat (there's more legroom than in the first-class section of most aeroplanes) and adjust it to a slow, pulsing, massage mode.

Speaking of which, the central division will, of course, have been stocked with vintage champagne, chilled to perfection in the climate-controlled cabinet. The bespoke silver flutes (they don't shatter if you drop them) are at your fingertips and you can easily get very merry indeed.

Taking a peek at the ceiling, the thermometer will tell you how the rest of the world is suffering outside your haven, and how fast you're hammering down the highway with more than 600 horses pulling this gargantuan carriage.

Despite its size, the Maybach seats only two in the back - so you had better choose your companion carefully.

Pagani Zonda F

The name sounds exotic enough ... but what exactly is a Zonda? On paper it's got the right stuff - carbon-fibre everything, big wheels and an even bigger, mid-mounted engine. But in the flesh (metal is too inorganic a word), the Zonda is anything but cold and technical. Pagani's design is unique. The cockpit is placed nearly over the front axle, offering a driving experience more direct than any other; the tail section has small leather straps to hold the expansive clamshell down, and it's topped off with a pair of tiny aerofoils.

Its sensual lines look good from every angle, from the needle-point of a nose-cone to the voluptuous rear haunches enclosing a quartet of big-bore exhausts.

With a top speed of well over 320km/h, you don't have to slice through the sound barrier to fully appreciate the Zonda. In the snug cockpit, you're cocooned in fine leather and Alcantara facing a hand-turned aluminium dashboard. It's more 1930s haute couture than a 21st-century cyber-spaceship, right down to the stainless-steel pedals which sprout from the floor. Even the fonts on the tasteful dials are pre-war.

Whether you're piloting this future classic or riding shotgun, it's an unforgettable experience.

Range Rover Supercharged

As SUVs have gained popularity in the cities, large passenger vehicles are the hype and big chunky road tanks have become fashion statements. In the US, the Hummers and Escalades are the kings of bling, but the Range Rover is a much more sophisticated alternative.

The RR is equally favoured by showbiz glitterati, yet its conservative styling appeals to the more discerning motorist.

It's still the familiar shape that we've seen for nearly four decades, but little tweaks have kept the car at the forefront of the SUV brigade. The roomy cabin is best compared to the business-class section of a plane, where the atmosphere is carefully honed with a mix of airiness lent by the expanses of glass, and acoustics which bring out the best of the bespoke Harman/Kardon audio system - not to mention the altitude from which you overlook lesser traffic below you.

The technology that keeps the car going in any terrain is mind-boggling. With electronics that monitor ascents and descents, slippages and traction, Range Rover's patented Terrain Response and CommandShift technology means you can go practically anywhere. But you don't need an expedition to Timbuktu to savour the experience. The Range Rover is well suited for posing in town - and it would be a shame to get the carpets muddy. Best to cruise knowing all the options are open to you, as you floor the throttle and leave everyone in the wake of the 400 horses under your bonnet.

Spyker C12 Zagato

After a century away from the global motoring scene, Spyker has picked up from its last major event - the 1907 Beijing-Paris Rally - and has taken on the Formula One circus this year. And it has created quite a stir.

Clearly inspired by Spyker's aviation heritage, the C12 Zagato incorporates a glass bubble Aerocoque canopy and gull-wing doors into the most visually aerodynamic profile. Every detail on its slippery exterior has a purpose, such as the centre-locking propeller wheels and the raw aluminium airscoops reflecting the engineering ethics of a bygone era.

The interior is even more breathtaking. A turned-aluminium dashboard wraps around the driver, offering every mechanical transaction before him in antique-looking analogue dials. Every surface is hand-finished metal or quilted leather (so this is how Chanel handbags pamper their occupants). All the major switches are old-school toggle levers, standing to attention along the entire width of the console. There are no airbags in this car - you'd rather be impaled on this fashion statement than suffer the indignity of a big plastic bag blowing up in your face. The bare aluminium pedals sprout from the floor, exposed hinges and all, hinting at the fancy racing footwork that'll be needed to get the most from this car.

I suspect you'd want to trundle along and be seen with this car in your local tax haven, rather than just treating onlookers to a blink-and-you'll-miss-it snapshot. But should the moment arise, a flex of the right foot on the loud pedal will catapult you into the next country, and all anyone will see will be the tailpipes and the inscription, nulla tenaci invia est via - for the tenacious no road is impassable. Welcome back, Spyker.