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Posh Planet-savers

Torn between automotive indulgence and sacrifice in the name of sustainability? That’s so 2002. Never again will drivers feel obligated to downsize their rides in the interest of the environment. It’s possible to get luxury and clean-running performance in one gorgeous package.

Welcome to the booming new world of premium green, launched by Lexus less than a decade ago with its first hybrid model. When Mercedes-Benz brought the first clean-diesel beauties to the U.S. six years ago — giving green a trendy new sheen — it lit a spark that spread like wildfire.

Luxury hybrids are hotter than ever. Electric supercars are getting faster. And clean diesel is dominated by high-end European brands, from Benz to BMW and beyond.

And the diesel segment is growing exponentially, with the latest arrivals headlined by Audi’s flagship A8 TDI sedan, an elegant full-size beast that gets 24-city/36-highway mpg and showcases another advantage of diesel — superior power through its 3-liter V-6 engine, with 240 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque, clocking zero-to-60 in 6.4 seconds.

Abundant A8 tech features include a touchpad interface that recognizes handwriting and a 21-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio option that packs more than 1,000 watts. A power glass sunroof comes standard.

One of four new TDI diesel models from Audi — joined by A7, A6 and Q5 TDI rides — the sleek, stately A8 is all high-end comfort and technology inside, built on an ultra-lightweight aluminum frame. Each TDI delivers up to 30% better fuel economy and 30% less carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline engines.

Mercedes-Benz rolls out its latest entry, the GLK 250 BlueTec, part of its totally reimagined 2013 line of SUVs, leading a push from the German icon to bring eight new diesel models to the U.S. by 2014.

The sleek new GLK has a fresher look inside and out, a close eye to detail with hundreds of new parts that include stylish chrome and silver touches. Under the hood, the GLK 250 BlueTec gets a four-cylinder engine that generates 190 horsepower with more than 350 pound-feet of torque.

Future shock

Electric plug-in hybrids are making fast inroads into luxury and exotic ranks, joining extreme fuel efficiency with advanced technology that takes performance to a new level. Think 100 mph (at least) and 100 miles per gallon equivalent, while dripping with premium amenities and high-end comfort.

Offering a glimpse of the green future, BMW’s i8 Spyder plug-in concept is a breathtaking beauty built on a sturdy lightweight carbon frame and driven by the all-new BMW eDrive system. The i8 features exceptionally high performance and superior agility with full torque from the electric motor at all times, managed by an intelligent and precise control system and powered by lithium-ion cells that ensure substantially increased range and power.

The i8 Spyder is at the vanguard of the BMW i sub-brand, a movement aimed at sustainable green mobility, both personal and public, in dense urban environments.

“The greatest population increases in the future will occur in the world’s already crowded cities, which will further stress their mobility infrastructure,” said Ludwig Willisch, president and CEO of BMW of North America. “The sole purpose of BMW i is to address these issues and provide solutions that will improve personal mobility for each individual, whether it be by car or other modes of transportation.”

Hybrid solutions

Luxury automakers continue to transform traditional hybrids from odd outliers into prestige statements. Witness Infiniti’s first hybrid, the elegantly aggressive M35h midsize sedan, boasting an estimated 32 mpg with a 3.5-liter V-6 and combined 360 horsepower. 

Even entry-level luxury is trending greener than ever. Acura’s all-new ILX hybrid, the luxury brand’s first such vehicle, is slightly smaller and edgier than the TSX, packing a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine and electric motor that get up to 39 mpg. Generous options, similar to the gas-only ILX, include leather seating and a premium stereo with digital music storage.

Pioneering Lexus has beefed up its luxury hybrid ranks with the CT 200h, a sporty premium five-door hatchback brimming with Lexus style and extreme green credentials: The CT 200h gets 43 mpg in city driving and 40 highway with a 1.8-liter I-4. It’s aimed at younger drivers and offered at an entry-level price-point.

“The CT 200h … isn’t just about being a hybrid, it’s about having fun,” said Mark Templin, Lexus division group vice president and general manager. “The stylish CT 200h has an attitude and driving dynamic unlike any other Lexus hybrid.”

 Bob Young, Brand Publishing Writer

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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