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2012 New Car Preview: Hottest Luxury Cars

Luxury cars have come a long way, baby. The stars of the 2012 class are a pair of four-door "coupe" models whose sexy silhouettes mark a notable departure from the boxy profiles once common among upscale sedans.

The "coupe" label once meant two doors, youthful styling and a cramped rear seat. But Mercedes scored a hit with its 2005 CLS "four-door coupe," which had a sleek, coupe-like silhouette but included an extra pair of doors, as well as rear seats that didn't require gymnastics skills for entry. Now Mercedes is making over the CLS, and German rival Audi is bringing out a four-door competitor in the A7 with a lower price (by luxury standards). Both vehicles -- the redesigned Mercedes-Benz CLS550 and its brand-new rival, the Audi A7 -- add style to big-ticket motoring.

Other luxury notables for 2012 include BMW's redo of its high-end traditional coupe, as well as an accompanying convertible model. Audi also has redesigned its less-expensive A6 sedan.

Here's a rundown on new and redesigned luxury models for 2012:

Audi A7
For well-off buyers who want a fast car that looks stylish instead of aggressive, the A7 may fill the bill. Car and Driver timed the A7 from 0 to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. And its direct-injection V-6 engine -- in a class where V-8s have been the rule -- tops competitors in gas mileage with a rating of 18 MPG in the city and 28 on the highway. Reviewers also praise its handling on twisting roads and, not surprisingly, its composed and comfortable ride.

Whether carrying suitcases or other cargo, the A7 provides a surprising amount of room. Its unobtrusive rear hatch lifts to reveal a space larger than a normal trunk, and the rear seats fold down for more cargo space. The A7 starts with a base price of $60,125, but can quickly approach $70,000 with options.

Mercedes-Benz CLS550
The redesign keeps the sleek look and elegant interior of the original CLS550. And the V-8 engine has twin turbochargers and 402 horsepower: The CLS550 sped from 0 to 60 in a smoking 4.2 seconds. Yet new technology gives this car an improved MPG rating of 17 in the city, 26 on the highway. Reviewers like Lawrence Ulrich of the New York Times say the model's formidable power, crisp handling (with electric-assisted steering) and overall luxury experience make the CLS550 the champ in this class.

You will, of course, pay for the privilege. With a base price of $72,175, options can quickly take the window sticker above $80,000.

BMW 6 Series
BMW is redesigning its high-end 650i coupe, which also comes in a convertible version. The redesigned version moves away from the look of the last generation -- a squared-off rear that was controversial with many BMW loyalists -- and returns to a more elegant look of an earlier 6-series.

The 400-horsepower V-8 powers the usual BMW performance but is relatively weak on mileage, with a rating of 15 MPG in the city, 22 on the highway. And reviewers say you won't find the agility of smaller BMW versions in the 650i; Car and Driver especially disliked the electric steering. The convertible 650i will set you back $90,500 before options and the coupe version $83,000.

Audi A6
Audi's redesign of its mid-level luxury sedan should help continue the brand's recent popularity. Moving the wheels farther forward in the new design allows for more passenger room, and lighter aluminum body panels and an eight-speed transmission allow for improved mileage -- to 19 mpg city, 28 highway for the V-6, and 25 city, 33 highway on the four-cylinder option.

The A6 offers a direct-injection V-6 engine similar to that in the A7 coupe. It also adds new technology, including a night-vision dashboard display -- based on military technology, and available with a quick glance down -- that can help drivers identify deer or pedestrians on poorly lighted roads.

Priced significantly below its luxury class rivals, the A6 starts at $41,700 for the four-cylinder version and $49,900 for the premium V-6 model with all-wheel drive.

Photos courtesy of the manufacturers
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