2010 Aston Martin Rapide Base price $199,950
2010 Aston Martin Rapide Base price $199,950
The last four-door Aston Martin was the 1976-1991 Lagonda, a striking car that was acutely angular and provocatively futuristic. It featured the first-ever LED digital dash as well as a computer-controlled engine-management system.

It was also a Hail Mary attempt to save Aston Martin, the company, from going out of business. At the time of the Lagonda’s press introduction in the fall of 1975, the British automaker was on the verge of financial collapse. The four-door Lagonda, it was hoped, would provide the company entrée into the ultra-premium luxury sedan market where it could perhaps lure away some Rolls-Royce, Bentley, and Maserati buyers in the mood for something different — as well as infuse some much-needed operating capital to keep the company afloat.

The strategy worked, brilliantly. Even before production began, Aston received hundreds of cash deposits for the car. The Lagonda thus saved the company — and set the stage for the pending launch, some 30 years later, of its heir: the 2010 Rapide.

This new super sedan will share general styling themes with the current DB9 coupe, including a similar front-end treatment centered on the classic “Aston” semi-oval grille, with twin hood power ducts and side fender vents, as well as a hand-built 6.0 liter V-12 engine producing 470 horsepower. Aston says 500 to 2,000 will be built, depending upon demand.If James Bond ever decides on a wife and kids, the Rapide would be the ideal “family friendly” Aston.

2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 hybrid Base price $87,950
2010 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid Base price $87,950
People who buy luxury cars may not put fuel economy at the top of their list of ideal auto features. But Mercedes-Benz (like all other automakers) is well aware how much the government cares about the fuel efficiency of the cars it builds.

Recently passed Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) rules will punish any car company whose “fleet average” gas mileage is lower than 35 mpg with gas-guzzler penalties that could amount to several thousand dollars per car. This would make individual cars more expensive for consumers and less profitable for the automakers.

Hence the Benz S400 Hybrid.

Instead of the usual V-8 (or V-12) engine and low-teens city and mid-teens highway fuel economy, the S400’s V-6/hybrid power-train delivers 26 mpg on the highway and a very respectable (for a full-size, premium sedan) 19 mpg in city-type driving. While not quite 35 mpg, it’s considerably closer to that mark than the previous V-8-powered S550’s 15-city, 23-highway — and the low-teens-digit performance of the V-12-powered S600.

Buyers, meanwhile, will not be shortchanged on power (295 hp from the 3.5 liter V-6/hybrid power-train) or performance (0 to 60 in 7.2 seconds). And naturally, the S400 will be fitted with all the amenities one would expect to find in a top-of-the-line Mercedes, plus some hybrid-specific features, too, including special instrumentation to keep track of the hybrid gas-electric power-train’s operation.

2010 BMW 335D Base price $43,950
2010 BMW 335D Base price $43,950
American drivers who have never been to Europe have no clue how far diesel-engine technology has advanced since the 1970s and ’80s — the last time a significant number of diesel-powered passenger cars were available over here. Memories linger of feeble acceleration, horrendous clatter, and ugly black clouds of soot pouring out of the tailpipe. Only a few diehards were willing to accept these drawbacks in return for the higher fuel efficiency and superior durability of diesel power.

Understandably so.

The 2010 335d will erase those bad memories forever, if you’ll give it 5.9 seconds of your time. That’s how long it will take for the twin sequential turbocharged, direct-injected 3-liter diesel six to get you to 60 mph. This powerhouse makes 265 hp and an astounding 425 pounds-feet of torque — output comparable to a large displacement V-8 but without the big V-8’s appetite for fuel (the 335d gets 23 city and 36 highway mpg).

At 80 mph, the engine is barely “loafing” at 2,000 rpm. At 120, it is just beginning to stretch its legs.

A gas-burning 335i is slightly quicker to 60 mph — but gets 17 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.

The diesel is electric-motor quiet on the highway and almost impossible to distinguish from a gas engine at idle. It even behaves like a gas engine — a big V-8 gas engine — with an rpm range that runs to 5,000 rpm (high for a diesel, as they typically max out around 4,000 to 4,500 rpm) and muscle-car-like off-the-line acceleration and part-throttle passing power.

Some say you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

They’re wrong!