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  • November 21, 2014

Test Drive: Family Sedans - Ladue News: Diversions

Test Drive: Family Sedans

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Posted: Thursday, January 17, 2013 12:00 pm | Updated: 11:32 am, Mon Sep 9, 2013.

Families these days come in many shapes and sizes. Similarly, cars for families come in a variety of shapes, sizes, trim levels and prices. If your family doesn’t require the space of a minivan or SUV, a sedan can be a great way to get the family around in style and comfort at a price commensurate with your desired level of performance and luxury.

A perennial favorite sedan is the Honda Accord—and with good reason. Completely re-designed for 2013, the new Accord is beautifully styled with proven components that should be extremely reliable.

The first change you notice is the styling, which features a rising crease line on the doors and an aggressive front end accentuated by hood lines that flow from the grill to the windshield. The profile is typical modern sedan, creating an overall attractive, distinctive design.

All the modern amenities can be found in the Accord, including tilt and telescoping steering wheel, heated seats (on leather-trimmed models), dual automatic climate control, a sunroof, available navigation, lane-departure warning, a fancy audio system with a touch-screen interface and push-button starting. A unique new feature is a right-side blind spot camera, which displays what’s in your blind spot on the center console video screen when the right turn signal is activated. This, combined with the standard back-up camera, gives the Accord unparalleled visibility around the car, which is a huge safety benefit. 

The trunk is large and can be expanded by folding down the rear seat. Interior room is plentiful, especially back-seat room, which is surprisingly spacious; and back-seat passengers get their own air vents.

Power is sent to the front wheels from a 4-cylinder, 2.4-liter, 185-horsepower engine through either a 6-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic. I’m usually not a big fan of CVTs because they typically sap power and performance, but this one’s pretty good. A 278-horsepower, 3.5-liter, V-6 engine also is available. Acceleration is more than adequate with the 4-cylinder engine, though the CVT does seem to sap some of its power. The trade-off is very impressive gas mileage of 27 city, 36 highway. The V-6 would have tons of power, but appreciably worse gas mileage. Braking is good and the suspension is nice and athletic, in typical Honda fashion, which translates to a comfortable but sporty ride and excellent handling for a family sedan.

The Accord simply is an all-around great car. Nice to drive, plenty of amenities, lots of room, good mileage and reliability. Honda has come pretty close to perfecting the family sedan.

Honda of Frontenac's Martin Kingsbury says the new Accord is an outstanding car. "The 4-cylinder engine has lots of power and the CVT transmission is very smooth. It has lots of great stuff, like the back-up camera, blind spot camera and lane departure warning system.”

Prices for the Accord start at about $22,000 and rise to $34,000 for a loaded V-6 Touring model.

If price is no object, you might be interested in the new Bentley Mulsanne as your family sedan. The brochure describes the Mulsanne as “The pinnacle of British motoring,” and it’s absolutely right. The only other word to describe it is exquisite. It makes me think that being rich wouldn’t be so bad. Even Queen Elizabeth II has a Bentley as her primary car.

To start with, the styling is just drop-dead gorgeous. With classic large headlights and sensuous body lines throughout, the Mulsanne truly is a rolling piece of sculpture. It’s at once very modern yet very traditional, as well. Don’t drive one if you want to remain inconspicuous. It turns heads like a bikini in church.

The interior has an Old World, classic feel, with its acres of supple leather and gorgeous wood trim. At the same time, it is updated and modern, with all the latest electric and electronic amenities known to modern car builders, including quad automatic climate control, heated and cooled seats with massage, fold-out wood 'picnic' tables for rear-seat passengers to write checks on, a trunk that opens and closes at the touch of a button, HD radio and reclining rear seats. My favorite feature was a removable remote control for the back-seat passengers to control the audio and navigation system on the front dash. Saves you the trouble of asking the chauffeur to change the radio station. Trunk room is adequate, but rear-seat room is tremendous: NBA players could stretch their legs on the thick wool carpets.

The Mulsanne is powered by a silky smooth 6.75-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8 good for 505 horsepower and a whopping 752 pound feet of torque. Power is delivered to the rear wheels through an 8-speed automatic with wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Gear changes are so smooth, they’re almost seamless. It has so much power that by the time you’re done thinking you’d like more power, it’s already there with the slightest push of your right foot. It will pass anything on the road except a gas station. Gas mileage is 11 city, 18 highway. Braking is first class and the ride incredibly smooth, thanks to an air suspension with continuously variable damping. Handling is surprisingly good for a big, heavy luxury car. It really rides and drives like a dream. A back-up camera is a welcome assistant when reversing, and parking sensors help you park in tight spaces, such as a garage space.

On a recent tour of the Bentley factory in Crewe, England, I got to witness first-hand the exquisite craftsmanship that goes into building a Mulsanne. It takes a chap eight hours to stitch the leather onto a steering wheel. They use seven layers of wood just to make the door cover for the iPod connector. Each engine is balanced until it’s absolutely perfect. There simply are no compromises.

Ephraim Schmitt, Bentley brand manager at Bentley St. Louis, proclaims the Mulsanne the ultimate in luxury, while maintaining a sporty feel. "You can have a lot of fun driving it, and with Bentley’s bespoke customization, you can build it to your exact specifications—it’s a piece of art you can create.”

Of course, the best never comes cheap; and at $290,000 base and $325,000 well-equipped, the Mulsanne can’t really be justified as a practical purchase, but for the person of means who can afford it, the Bentley Mulsanne is a treat to drive every time you get in it.

Robert Paster (robertpaster.com) is also an attorney in private practice, concentrating in estate planning and probate.

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