Merry Christmas!

This column has never been accused of being too commercial but it is our professional duty to inform our readers of: “Last Minute Automotive Gift Ideas.”

A major consideration, of course, is price, so let’s start with the premium, advertised prices and work downwards:

• $226,480: CEC Mercedes-Benz — The “CEC” in the car’s name stands for Claus Ettenberger Corp., whose founder, Claus Ettenberger, has helped define the high-end luxury segment for the past decade. With a 635 horsepower engine, the car reaches 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds (Road and Track).

$215,395: Bentley Continental GTC — When the first Continental GT was offered in 2003, the company at Crewe, England, was fighting to sell 1,000 cars a year. By the end of 2007, on the strength of several variants, Bentley sales reached 10,000 annually. Bentley pitches the W-12 engine as the lightest, most compact 12-cylinder engine available today. The Continental GTC offers 17 leather colors, and it takes 10 or 11 bull (not cow) hides to finish its cabin. (Autoweek).

$72,115: D3 Cadillac — The message from Detroit these days is that the Motor City is back, and by the looks of the new Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, the message comes through loud and clear. The CTS-V Coupe seemingly has it all: head-turning good looks, a high level of comfort and performance that will scare the side skirts off of similar cars from Europe and Japan. The Stage Three power kit results in 635 horsepower … What’s scary is D3 offers a Stage Four kit that ups power to about 825 hp. (Road and Track).

$70,000 (EST): Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG — The SLK55, based on the third generation SLK, is the latest Benz to get the AMG treatment. The SLK55 looks better, more rough-and-tumble than your garden-variety SLK and the 5.5-liter gives the standard SLK the needed kick in the butt to compete with the Porsche Boxster S and the BMW Z4 SDrive 36is. The car will be available for delivery in March. (Autoweek).

$56,850: Audi TT RS — Slip into the properly bolstered driver seat. Find the sport button on the center console. Twist the ignition key (rare these days with push-button starts) and you are greeted with a low engine growl … the TT lunges to 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds … The modern day TT RS has a 5-cylinder engine producing 360 hp. (Road and Track).

$38,125: BMW 3-Series/M3 — The competition should have figured out a way to beat the BMW 3-Series by now. After 21 years on the 10 Best list, BMW continues to evolve the 3-Series toward some platonic ideal of sportiness. You don’t notice the seats, the steering, the suspension, or the brakes because everything feels natural. Everything feels right. And, don’t forget the M3, either, which remains magnificent in the twilight of a celebrated life, thanks largely to the lusty 414 hp V-8 engine (Car and Driver).

$33,990: VW Golf R — This car is equipped with the latest version of 4Motion AWD. In modern driving conditions, power is funneled to the front wheels. During vigorous driving, as much as 100 percent of the power can be diverted to the back wheels. The Golf R is a thoroughly well put together car (Road and Track).

$31,300: Mini Clubman — Some things are best left alone. With a 208 hp turbocharged direct-injection inline-4 quick shifting 6-speed transmission, the little-big Clubman changes perceptions. It’s an enthusiasts’ take on an already enthusiast-friendly car, one that will bring a smile to your face. (Car and Driver).

$23,985: Mazda MX-5 Miata — The 2,450-pound MX-5 reminds you of that first Miata. Rear-wheel drive is standard, along with a brake feel that won’t quit and blissful steering. Unlike BMW, the Miata is not surrounded by imitators. In 22 years, no one else has gotten the ingredients this right, and most are simply giving up trying. Who can blame them? (Car and Driver).

$23,470: Buick Verano — The car is derived from GM’s global Delta platform that also underpins the Chevrolet Cruze compact and it is said ready to compete in the compact-luxury sedan segment. It is packed with technology and will be competitive with the Audi 3, the Infiniti G25 and the Lexus IS 250. (Automobile).

$22,150: Honda Accord — The 4-cylinder Accord proves that when Honda plays to its strengths, it is better than anyone at producing vehicles with a supernaturally fine balance of attributes. It will return 33 mpg on the highway (Car and Driver).

$18,245: Subaru Impreza — Styling falls in line with that seen on the Legacy, with a hexagonal grille and sharper lines. Improvements on the inside include the addition of soft-touch surfaces for the dashboard and door panels. EPA fuel economy: 27 mpg city, 36 highway.

$17,300: Hyundai Veloster — On the inside, the 4-seat Veloster features a design language that’s inspired by motorcycles; a large touch screen displays audio, optional navigation and the company’s Blue Link system. EPA with manual transmission: 28/40 mpg. (Road and Track).

$17,295: Ford Focus — It comes with several unexpected combinations: a sensational ride-handling balance, admirable power, mpg index and fantastic materials and utility inside. This is one of the best front-wheel drive chassis on the road today … it’s as much sports sedan as economy sedan. (Car and Driver).

$15,265: Scion IQ — Although a Porsche 911 driver could justifiably point at you and laugh, your Scion IQ microcar poses a very real threat to a Smart Fortwo … it puts out 94 hp to the Smart straight 3’s 70 hp (Road and Track).

$13,900: Kia Soul — Exterior changes include revised turn signals, head and taillights, hood and front and rear bumpers … a new direct-injected 1.6-liter engine produces 164 hp. (Automobile).

Many thanks to the enthusiasts’ magazines quoted — they are the leaders!


Dr. George G. Spaulding is a retired General Motors executive and distinguished executive-in-residence emeritus at the School of Business at the College of Charleston. He can be reached at 2 Wharfside St. 2A Charleston SC 29401.