WHEELS MAGAZINE: Christmas (car) hampers

As Christmas draws near, it’s pens down in the Wheels office, and time to grab the keys to our favourite festive-season rides. (At least for a few days. We haven’t finished our Car of the Year Finals issue yet!.)

Heading the hot stuff for the hot season (or not so much if you’re a Sydney-sider) is the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG sedan, now powered by a 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8 engine channelling its 410kW/800Nm (in PP guise) to the rear wheels through a seven-speed automatic. Merc’s PR manager gave us the option of a E250 Coupe, gently suggesting the AMG product may too-easily whittle away our licence points over the ‘double demerits’ period, but at least one staffer (his name starts with ‘A’ and ends in ‘Westerman’) is prepared to live on the wild side.

A one-size-smaller V8 sedan comes courtesy of Lexus and its IS F. Recently revised for the third time in as many years, the burly compact rear-driver now gets wider front tyres and new dampers that promise much-improved ride quality; they’re tuned by ze Germans … or at least the German company Sachs. It may not rival the brilliant M3 and C63 AMG, but the $126,800 IS F offers its own unique character. A great-sounding 5.0-litre, terrifically-tuned Sport ESC, and balanced rear-drive chassis offers enough, our Dan argues, to offset the dozy eight-speed (it’s fine in manual mode – DD) and harsh ride quality (ahh, but do the Sachs mean it no longer sucks? – DD).

Lining up in our deputy editor’s driveway is the Audi TT 2.0 quattro. While the original TT made a name for itself as a hairdresser’s car, the new model leaves that tag on the salon floor, meaning that shiny-topped Taylor is now free to jump aboard. With the superb 147kW 2.0-litre turbo pushing only 1305kg of sports coupe, and all-drive traction ably getting the grunt to the ground, this swift two-door is one of the more enticing packages for $75K.

But is it the most enticing? Our sub-editor, Chris Gable, disagrees, choosing to steer the substantially heavier but cheaper ($52K) Golf R five-door over the holidays. To offset the 170kg of extra lard over the Audi, the VW gets a wicked-up 188kW version of the same turbo-four, plus loads of extra practicality to boot.

More disagreement comes from our art director, Sonia Blaskovic, whose priorities lie firstly with getting a summer tan, then with sports performance. Her pick? The $86,000 BMW 135i Convertible. The 225kW 3.0-litre turbo remains an absolute delight, and teamed with a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox that pops on full-throttle upshifts, top-down motoring is as sweet-sounding as it is swift.

So, a disparate yet hugely talented group of cars for our all-too-brief Christmas/New Year sojourn. If it all sounds a bit lofty, don’t worry; on January 9, testing begins for our mid-sized megatest, centred around the new-generation Camry, just before our Car of the Year is announced on January 18.

From all the Wheels team, thanks for your loyalty and support in 2011, all the best for the festive season, and we look forward to bringing you more from the world of motoring in the new year.

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