Isolationism is dead. Long live connectivity.

I’m not sure how you would intuitively consider the terms “isolationism” and “connectivity” in the Year Of Our Virus Two Thousand Twenty, but chances are that you wouldn’t have luxury motoring specifically in mind.i Well lucky you! You’re not so accursed so as to view so much of this fiery, fearsome world through the particular lens of four-wheeled transport. Alas, we’re not all so fortunate.

So it is that I’ve been on the market for a luxurious conveyance that can soak up the bumps of the world and melt away my worries in a leather-lined cockpit of confidence and exclusion. Basically, something like my old luxobarges Jay and Saddam, but better and different, because vita brevis, and novelty turns my crank, so to speak. The seventh letter of the alphabet has been a wonderful canvas for flatteringly mistaken identitiessocial domination, and family-hauling, but even on the new H&R lift springsii and 60-profile Grapplers, it rides waaaay too much like a truck for my sensitive sensibilities.iii I need me some isolationism so that I can connect, not with the world around me, but with my own thoughts.iv Here are the stream-of-consciousness results from Round 1 Of Testing:

2006 VW Phaeton – 163,800km – $19,995

2006 Volkswagen Phaeton W12Incredible ride quality on the highway and in town. Soaks up everything properly. Excellent acoustic isolation from tire noise, wind noise, and ambient noise. But still a mixed bag! Creaks and scuffs in the interior plastics show the vehicle’s age as well as some of the parts-bin sharing. A little bit of suspension noise was heard on the highway, possibly just new tie rod ends needed or something. Probably nothing major but something to have looked at. Most things in the cabin seemed to work but everything felt like it was about to break… expensively. Vehicle felt solid yet fragile, not unlike Saddam in that sense but with another zero behind each repair bill. Trunk wouldn’t open. More than one of the soft-close doors wasn’t working. A fair few exterior scuffs and dings. Headlight lenses needed a good clean and polish, possibly replacement. No adaptive cruise control.v No brake hold function.vi SatNav responsive enough but fairly unintuitive. Too many menu layers. Driver’s seat bottom cushion collapsing at the front towards the door, as happens on high-mileage vehicles, crinked my back after only 30 minutes driving, as Jay and Saddam did for the same reasons. No massage seats.vii Possibly cocaine in the front ashtray from the previous owner.viii Four-seater configuration rules out trips with me, the boys, and my parents, as we did this last weekend. Loose, jiggly shifter. Adequate power from the W12, in the Rolls Roycian sense. Transmissions shifts could’ve been smoother but at least the tranny didn’t explode like it did on the last Phaeton I drove. Excellent visibility out the front and side windows. 118″ wheelbase. Low-key, under-the-radar style statement, exactly what I need as counterpoint to the flash and brash “Contravex Garage” as currently assembled. Would this be an ideal candidate, if only a three- or four-years-old instead of fourteen?

2014 Mercedes S550 SWB 4MATIix – 101,800km – $46,795

2014 Mercedes S550 4MATIBeautiful interior, particularly the wood inlays in the dash and steering wheel. Just the right level of interior tech. Everything felt current and worked as it should with no excuses. All interior materials have held up very nicely given the mileage, but perhaps unsurprisingly given the modest six years since production. Barely adequate visibility out the side and front windows. With the driver’s seat in the preferable position relative to the dash, steering wheel, and arm rests, I could barely see out of the side windows because my head was entirely obstructed behind the B-pillar, which was fine for privacy but useless for shoulder-checking out of a parking lot or driveway. Highway ride doesn’t soak up nearly enough bumps, barely better than a newer Camry. Too much tire and ambient noise filtered into the cabin. Evidence of cost-cutting in the post-W140 era? Adaptive cruise worked intuitively. Massage seats were more swish than effective. Seats were beautifully adjustable. Sound system (Burmeister) was spot on. Engine power was there. Steering was as vague as required and no more. Transmission worked. Perhaps the LWB model would iron out the highway ride but there’s no way it improves the city ride by enough of a margin. Perhaps a lower-mileage version would be better in town but the tire and ambient noise levels wouldn’t be resolved by any other trim levels short of a Maybach and maybe not even then. Still hunting for the last word in isolation. Perhaps a Bentley or Rolls is what “excellence” looks like for my refined tastes? Though it’d be a bit of a shame if it came to that because I’m really not looking to be showy here. The G does that better than any sedan ever could. Even the 2021 S-Class is all about the tech experience rather than the meditative experience. Is there no one else in the sub-B/RR buyer class that wants a monastery-on-wheels these days? Is everyone so addicted to tech-crack that they need to snort lines of the shit while stuck in traffic? Does no one else want isolation from the smoke, construction, potholes, noise and commotion of the world? 119.5″ wheelbase. Old LS460L had 121.7″.

2020 Lexus LS500 Executive – 21kmx – $137,119

2020 Lexus LS500 ExecutiveDespite the shining forked “headlights” and sultry new design languagexi I can barely remember a single thing about driving the LS500, even just a few hours later. It was almost entirely unmemorable, but I’ll rack my brain for you, dear reader, just for you. Entering the interior, the surroundings felt cozy bordering on cramped. Exterior visibility was quite good. Better than the S550 but not as good as the Phaeton. The sparkling diamond-finish in the door panels was stunning to behold. It had a smooth finish to it when your eyes expected a rough finish. Overall the interior was beautifully laid out, solidly built, and everything was well within reach. The tach was obviously reminiscent of the LFA, which I still need to drive (and buy?) one day. The HUD was super useful and quite cool. The lane departure system was overly busy, requiring constant adjustment rather than just tracking straight and true as a human would. Ride comfort was about on par with the SWB Mercedes, perhaps slightly better, but it was glaringly obvious how much of a compromise the run-flat tires represented in the name of “security” over the clearly preferable “luxury.”xii Michelin Pilot Sports would certainly do wonders, but one wonders if even that would be enough? The touchpad was pretty shitty but not impossible to use and there were enough redundant buttons to make it liveable if not joyful. Power was more than adequate. The new twin-turbo V6 sounded much better than expected, even better than the honest but tired V8 in Jay. With my driver’s seat in the desired position, there was virtually no rear leg room, or at least not enough for me to comfortably sit behind myself, as it were. Possibly a non-issue but noteworthy for a vehicle with a 123″ wheelbase. The driver’s seat massage function was quite aggressive, even on the lowest setting. The safety tech was slightly intrusive but not beyond what’s typical in the latest from this class.

So that’s that! Round 1 being completed, I’m left with a lingering question: Do I need to be in the Mulsanne/Phantom class of road-going Leviathan before there’s adequate ISOLATION from the busy buzzy world to meet my apparently exacting standards? Quite possibly!xiii Further investigation is called for, particularly given that the asking price of the Lexus is bordering on 8-to-9-year-old Mulsannes and 13-to-16-year-old Phantoms, to say nothing of a car I’ve long lusted after from afar, the Bentley Brooklands mega-coupé.

To be continued…
___ ___ ___

  1. Chances are you were thinking about social media blackhole bans, but that’s because you take “the news” too seriously.
  2. Indeed, after going LOWER and being altogether unimpressed with the hula-like hip shuffle from the solid-axled rear end over broken pavement, I decided to go HIGHER to make the best of the situation. It helped! But not quite enough to keep me out of the classifieds.
  3. I can only imagine how long I would’ve lasted in the double-solid-axled W463. A week? Maybe two? A trucking good time is fine in limited doses, but gee golly does it wear thin on the daily for those of us with greater sensitivities.
  4. Mental health is health!
  5. Highway driving without adaptive cruise is easily twice as fatiguing as highway driving with adaptive cruise.
  6. At stop lights in city driving, is there anything better than a brake hold function? I’m not sure I can go back. It’s as important as cruise control and air conditioning!
  7. Not that I absolutely can’t live without massage seats but it’s now entirely commonplace in this class of vehicle.
  8. And the previous owner of this particular Phaeton was apparently the Mayor of Vancouver.
  9. The “C” fell off the trunk lid. Oops.
  10. That was before my test drive. It was 58km when I gave the keys back. This, on one of only three LS500s for sale as-new in the country. Clearly, there’s not a huge amount of interest in $100k+ sedans these days. Meanwhile, Lexus South Pointe in Edmonton, where I drove this particular car, has thirteen pre-orders for the 2021 LX570, a vehicle that hasn’t been meaningfully updated since Jay was showroom fresh, 13 years ago!
  11. Even if not as striking as the eye-wateringly gorgeous concept LS+, the rear end of which still stands out in my memory even after three whole years of visual media saturation.
  12. As our old friend Jack recently pointed out regarding none less than Rolls Royce, “luxury” used to mean something quite different, as recently as 30 years ago:

    The threadbare nature of Rolls-Royce engineering was often more obvious than one would prefer. Car and Driver once wrote that “A mid-’80s Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit could best be described as a really bad Lincoln Town Car with great paint and gorgeous upholstery.” The last models to be designed entirely under British ownership, the circa-1995 MkIV variants of the Silver Spur, Silver Dawn, and Bentley Turbo, were lightly-facelifted takes on a heavily-facelifted take on a 1963 design. They felt like vintage cars even as they arrived in showrooms. A W140 Benz or a Lexus LS430 bore the same resemblance to a Silver Spur that an iPhone 11 does to the Bakelite rotaries of my earliest memories.

    Much of this was beside the point — or perhaps it was the point. The shabby-genteel nature of Rolls-Royce as a firm simply served to accentuate the sprezzatura of its customers. Imagine being gauche enough to obsess over the reliability of one’s automobile, the way a Lexus LS400 owner might! An undue emphasis on reliability suggests that one might be at someone else’s beck and call, and that one would need a perfectly reliable vehicle with which to be perfectly subservient. Should the typical Shadow owner experience a “failure to proceed”, by contrast, he could just send his man, meaning his valet, to handle the business for him.

    After all, isn’t time the realest of the real in the luxury arena? That certainly seems to be the gambit of most manufactures in the world of horology. “Time is precious, use it wisely.” “You never really own a….”

    Instead, the soup du jour in the “luxury” car segment today is all about “connectivity” and “autonomy.” Blech.

  13. I already know that the RR Ghost is perfectly fine if not overwhelmingly loveable, though a 2015 Bentley Flying Spur V8 could be a contender too.

3 thoughts on “Isolationism is dead. Long live connectivity.

    • Pete D. says:

      The thought had crossed my mind but Korean cars don’t fundamentally spark my curiousity. Even though there seem to be a fair few fans of the new G90, Jack Baruth included, I’m never really drawn to the “value play” propositions because my anti-chumpatronic spidey sense tells me that corners are being cut somewhere unseen. Unless the “value” products are Japanese, in which case there are ethical cultural consumer protections in place, I steer towards “The Best Or Nothing” type of products. I’d rather have the most beat-up example of something incredible than the shiniest example of something “punching above its weight,” and the G90 smacks distinctly of the latter, as all Kia/Hyundai products do.

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