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Of dark obsessions, comfortable wheels and small, fast, self-driven cars

New vehicles from Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Audi, Mercedes and Aston Martin are truly collectibles

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 February, 2017, 5:11pm
UPDATED : Friday, 24 February, 2017, 9:32pm

Carmakers have launched several fine vehicles this month, and a few of the following five have already rolled down the driveways of wealthy Hongkongers. Rolls-Royce finally launched two special-edition models, 11 months after they were unveiled at last year’s Geneva motor show. The limousines revived boardroom and master-bedroom debate in the city on the need for chauffeurs.

Rolls-Royce says its Black Badge Wraith and Black Badge Ghost appeal to “a new breed of Rolls-Royce customer – today’s generation of young, self-empowered, self-confident rule-breakers” who prefer to drive their cars themselves. “In Hong Kong, as worldwide, an increasing number of our clientele are choosing to get behind the wheel of their Rolls-Royce and we are seeing increasing demand for driver-orientated models,” says Paul Harris, Asia-Pacific region director for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. Many local socialites might disagree, however.

Even so, Rolls-Royce seems to targeting the HK$6.4 million models at Darth Vader types seeking a “darker, more assertive, confident and demanding aesthetic”. The models’ Spirit of Ecstasy bonnet ornament takes on a more ominous tone “to represent the owner’s dark obsession”, Rolls-Royce says. The models’ Double R badging also “inverts to become silver on black” while the chrome front grille surround, boot lid finisher, lower air inlet finisher and exhaust pipes, are also darker. The interior features aerospace-grade aluminium-threaded carbon fibre composite surfacing – “material often seen on the surfaces of stealth aircraft”, Rolls-Royce says. Other Batcave touches include a Black Badge clock, red leather and a “moody light cast from the black starlight headliner”.

Both Black Badge cars have 6.6-litre V12 engines with upgraded mechanics, gearbox and suspension. The 5.285-metre, 624-horsepower Wraith version gets 70 Newton metres more torque at 870Nm, and hits 100km/h from a standstill in 4.5 seconds. The Ghost Black Badge is 50kg heavier at 2,490kg and produces 603hp. It also gets 40Nm more torque for 840Nm and reaches the 100km/h mark in 4.6 seconds via upgraded eight-speed automatic gearbox. The Ghost’s black interior is matched with a vampiric “vibrant purple”. You might see it at midnight, roaring at a full moon along Bride’s Pool Road.

Bentley, meanwhile, spoke up for chauffeurs at the Elements Mall presentation of the Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase (HK$5.45 million) this week. Billed by the marque as the most luxurious Bentley model ever, the 5.825-metre limousine was in November named the “Best Car for Being Driven In” by Top Gear magazine, thanks to a 250mm wheelbase extension and airline-style electronic leg rests that are integrated into the bases of the two rear seats.

Described by the manufacturer as “by far the most comfortable way to travel on four wheels”, the big Bentley could also justify the chauffeur’s wage as a mobile office in Hong Kong, with 4G Wi-fi and a folding table under a rear sunroof. The Mulsanne Extended Wheelbase has a 6.75-litre, 505hp V8 that achieves 1,020Nm of torque, and hits 100km/h in 5.5 seconds via an eight-speed gearbox.

The 2,730kg limousine is also fitted with self-levelling air suspension, ZF speed-sensitive Servotronic rack and pinion steering, and lots of safety electronics. Its interior luxuries include an eight-inch touch screen with a 60-gigabyte hard disk; and options such as rear TV tablets and a fridge designed to carry two champagne bottles.

The Aston Martin AM-RB 001 hypercar concept was the star of the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto, which this week also exhibited Canada’s first car – the 1867 Seth Taylor Steam Buggy. The AM-RB 001 is “destined to become the defining hypercar of this decade and a hugely desirable investment for collectors and enthusiasts”, Aston Martin president and CEO Andy Palmer says.

The model has a bespoke Cosworth 6.5-litre naturally aspirated V12 engine; a Ricardo Engineering seven-speed paddle-shift transmission, and a Multimatic carbon-fibre MonoCell. Up to 150 road-going AM-RB 001s are expected to be built, including all existing prototypes, with 25 additional track-only versions. Its first deliveries are due in 2019, and it should be keenly awaited by owners (if not chauffeurs) in Repulse Bay.

Mercedes Maybach has won a strong following for its chauffeur-ready Mercedes-Maybach S Class and the S 650 Cabriolet. On February 13 it announced it would make 99 models of first off-roader, the Mercedes-Maybach G650 Landaulet, which is expected to be launched this autumn. Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong’s spokesman, Samson Leung, says the company is only making left-hand-drive versions at the moment, but the marque can look into its availability and price.

The Landaulet offroader is 5.345 metres long; has a 630hp V12 biturbo engine with 1,000 Nm of torque; and its opulent, open back seats might justify a showy chauffeured drive across the border, or along Lantau’s Cheung Sha “corniche”.

Audi Hong Kong last weekend presented its 2017 Audi S3 models at Festival Walk, and reminded Hongkongers that smaller, faster, self-driven cars can be more fun in a busy city, and might save about HK$16,000 a month for a driver (that’s about how much a driver earns on average in Hong Kong, according to government data). The new 310hp Audi S3 Sedan (from HK$558,000) and Audi S3 Sportback (from HK$289,900) versions have quattro all-wheel drive and can reach a Black Badge-like 100km/h in 4.6 seconds via a new seven- speed S tronic transmission.