May 17, 2012 at 12:41 pm EDT | by Joe Phillips
Bigger is back

As Ellen might ask, “What’s with the sexy-daddy vibe?” There’s Pitt, Clooney, even silver-fox Anderson Cooper. Mix in some “Mad Men,” and it’s obvious that old school is cool again. Ditto for largish sedans, which took a backseat to fuel-sipping compacts the past few years. But with the economy chugging ahead, bigger is back.

Audi A8
Mpg: 18 city/28 highway
0-to-60 mph: 5.2 seconds

The Audi A8

Yes, Don Draper has his dreamy Cadillac land yacht. But the A8 is a luxe-laden status symbol for our era. No, there aren’t any tailfins. But the sculpted design—simple yet sophisticated—is echoed brilliantly in a curved row of LED’s below each headlight. For day trips or weekend getaways, the A8 sails smoothly down the road—thanks to large wheels, adaptive air suspension and all-wheel drive. Sure, BMW and Mercedes are considered the class leaders. But today’s Audis offer superb build quality and an understated elegance—note the tasteful faux-suede headliner and aluminum accents. Perhaps the biggest drawback is the small trunk. But for $6,000 more, there’s a long-wheelbase version with power-closing doors, power-operated trunk and power sunshades on the rear windows. Add another $50,000 for the 12-cylinder model and you get a blistering 500 hp (0 to 60 in just 4.4. seconds), dual-pane acoustic windows and 22-way power seats that feature ventilation and massage functions. A night-vision camera even detects animals and pedestrians up to 1,000 feet away. The only thing missing was a martini shaker and a “Mad Men” DVD to slip into the rear-seat entertainment system.

BMW 528i
Mpg: 23 city/34 highway
0-to-60 mph: 6.4 seconds

The BMW 528i

As Audi ups its cachet, BMW seems to be aiming down market. How else to explain a measly four-cylinder in a 5 Series? But BMW worked its engineering magic to create a turbo four that’s quicker and more fuel-efficient than the revered six-cylinder it replaces (an automatic stop/start function shuts down the engine when the car is stopped). And while there are half a dozen 5 Series models—including a virile V8 for $20,000 more—the handling on the base 528i is superb. This is a midsizer, but it feels surprisingly big inside. It’s also a bit softer, as BMW opts for cushier, more tush-friendly rides. Adjustable driving settings alter steering, suspension and gear shirting, and a stellar stability/traction control system really bolsters the braking. There’s nothing fancy going on in the cabin—a spartan dash is typical of button-down BMW—but you’ll find Bluetooth, iPod/USB interface and a decent sound system.

Hyundai Equus
Mpg: 15 city/23 highway
0-to-60 mph: 5.5 seconds

Hyundai Equus

When Hyundai introduced the Genesis a few years ago, they had me at hello. There was that Mercedes-like front and Lexus-esque rear, with handling and performance to match. But with the all-new Equus, it’s been a slightly tougher sell. True, the Equus is glitzy, with a plush cabin where almost all luxury features come standard: heated/cooled front seats (with massage function for the driver), heated/reclining rear seats, rear sunshades and 17-speaker surround-sound stereo. For safety, there are blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems, adaptive cruise control, windshield wiper de-icer and front/rear parking sensors with rearview camera. The higher-end Ultimate edition adds a camera in front to see around corners, as well as a kind of La-Z-Boy power footrest in back and even a minibar/refrigerator. Despite all these goodies, I was a bit disappointed in the lackluster low-end acceleration and lackadaisical cornering—at least when compared with, say, a grippy Audi, BMW or Jag. Of course, the Equus costs half the price of those rivals.

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