"So you really think you can match each of these four sedans with specific wines?" I ask EOS Winery managing director Kerry Vix. "Sure," he responds, raising his eyebrows, glancing from car to car, already toying with the possibilities. "Wines are often paired with art, for instance. Why not with cars?"
We're nearly shivering in a dim, cave-cool aging room surrounded by towering columns of slumbering oak-ribbed barrels, watching as every few minutes our photographer's strobe lights flash-illuminate the four V-8 sedans----BMW 545i, Cadillac STS
, Infiniti M45
, and Mercedes-Benz E500--we've brought to EOS's Paso Robles home. Around us, in countless oak chrysalises, embryonic cabernets and merlots are glacially transforming into liquid magic. The strobes flash again.
| 112 0511 Sideways36 Z
"That Cadillac, for instance, is the American dream. A good wine match might be our Zinfandel Port. The origins of the zinfandel grape go to Italy and Yugoslavia, but for all intents and purposes, it's an all-American grape now, classy, fun, and bold." As he speaks, Vix studies the Sigma platform-based STS with the 4.4-liter Northstar engine capable of delivering 320 horsepower to its five-speed automatic transmission. The STS is a big, rakish sedan composed of acutely beveled bodywork suggestive of a recessive Batmobile gene burrowed deep in its DNA.
A look at the window sticker suggests a bat of the vampire variety, however. The regular STS V-8 barcodes at a conceivable $47,720, but our sedan carries a blood-sucking $11,065 luxury performance package (you could buy an entire Kia Rio
for similar money) that backloads nearly every conceivable nicety into the STS. Included are (deep breath) 17-inch polished alloy wheels with 235/50 Michelin Pilots up front, 255/45s on the rear, limited-slip differential, sunroof, leather and wood interior accents, four-way lumbar adjustment, tire-pressure monitoring, Magnaride shocks. And that's just for openers.
"The Infiniti M45 is an up-and-comer," says Vix, "something like our Reserve Chardonnay, which has the characteristics of a more expensive wine, but achieves them in a less expensive manner. Imagine its aroma as a crisp green apple, with hints of vanilla and toasty oak."
On the two previous occasions we've pushed Infiniti's latest M into the comparison ring, it's grabbed the prize money without stopping a punch. Facing the new GS 430 last May--pow!--the M45 Sport Sedan knocked the Lexus flat. And in a slapdown victory in March, the M35 version insolently pranced over the bodies of the six-cylinder BMW 530i and Cadillac STS, which, rearmed here with V-8s, are spoiling for a rematch.
| 2005 Bmw 545i front Interior View
Underpinning these triumphs is Nissan's FM (front/mid-engine) platform that in more diminutive guises forms the foundation of little brother G35 and that happy delinquent, the 300ZX. But befitting its--sniff-sniff--more upper-drawer pretensions, the M45's version includes a type of active-steer rear suspension consisting of electrically extensible rear toe links that either parallel steer or countersteer with the front wheels, depending on the lurid circumstances. That is, if you're nutty enough ever to need the active links, what with standard 245/40 Bridgestone Potenzas shoehorned onto the 19-inch wheels adhering the M to earth's crust.
| 2005 Bmw 545i top Engine View
Propulsion is by an iteration of the solemn Q45's 4.5-liter V-8 that boasts titanium valves, variable valve timing, Lance Armstrong respiration from trombone-able induction runners, and a walloping 335 horsepower delivered to its five-speed automatic gearbox. Starting at $50,360, our M is bejeweled with $5900 in options, including the must-have in-dash rearview monitor for backing (a progeny-saving feature that should be required in all vehicles), precrash belts, a very good nav system, XM radio, and our favorite geek gizmo, Lane Departure Warning. Wander too near lane delineators above 45 mph without using the turn indicator, and a scolding chime rats on you. If only the rest of the lane-meandering meatheads on our freeways were so meticulously nannied.
Vix dwells on the Mercedes-Benz E500 for several seconds before picking a companion wine. "Maybe what's called our French Connection, an old-world blend of primary bordeaux varietals including cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc. It has a velvety finish of dark chocolate."
Although the 2005 E-Class has a V-8 just like the rest, four-doors like the rest, and rear drive like the rest, it's a different animal. In its door pockets, a valet might notice, say, tickets for Verdi's "Rigoletto" or a scorecard from the Bel-Air Country Club. No proletarian Garth Brooks CDs or Princess Cruise pamphlets lying around here.
| 2005 Cadillac Sts V8 dashboard View
At 302 horsepower from its 5.0-liter, single cam, three-valve-per-cylinder V-8, the Mercedes cracks the whip with less authority than the others, but the E has its technical compensations. For instance, its seven-speed automatic transmission that can downshift two gears at a time and Airmatic, a compressed-air supplemented suspension that offers three ride/handling settings plus the reckoning to lower the chassis 0.6 inch at speed to reduce air drag. Indeed, this may be the car for aficionados of pneumatic devices, what with its front Drive Dynamic seats infested with six air bladders to tailor their shape, plus side bolsters that automatically firm themselves around corners. There's even a magic-fingers massage function. But don't expect a car that'll massage you to come cheap: Starting at $59,175, our E500 is embellished with a $1440 appearance package and a $3950 premium package. Ka-ching! $63,910.
| 2005 Cadillac Sts V8 top Engine View
Studying the 545i, Vix puts a finger to his lips and suggests his Cupa Grandis. "Admittedly, there are wines with more zip, but this is an elegant wine with a lot of character and less flamboyance. We age it for 20 months in toasted-oak barrels." We're not exactly sure if BMW seals its sedans away in barrels, but they do seem soaked in German automotive history.
Our 325-horsepower, 4.4-liter V-8-engined 545i is the second priciest egg in our comparison frying pan, starting at $56,495, rising to a eye-watering $61,420 fitted out as it is with the $1800 Premium Sound Package, $1250 Active Steering system (now a stand-alone option available independent of the Sport Package, as exemplified here), $1800 nav system, and 75 bucks for satellite-radio prep. Expensive, yes, and, well, still crazy expensive even after living with it for several days. Maybe it's helpful to think of it as a donation to the noble cause of high technology (including such beneficiaries as Valvetronic induction, a six-speed automatic transmission, iDrive, and dual stopping-rate brake lights).
Three of our four car's bodies also exemplify a less evident technological trend beneath their baked paint jobs: the increasing employment of pricier aluminum, that lightweight wonder that makes engineers grin and beancounters steam. Stockholder alert: Free-spending engineers are now making the M45's doors, hood, and trunklid from the more expensive stuff, as well as the 545i's entire front end (both body and structure, 15 percent of the car's structural weight), plus the E500's hood, trunklid, and front fenders. In fact, Mercedes-Benz quotes the composition of the E-Class's structure as 52 percent steel, 37 percent high-strength steel, 10 percent aluminum, and one percent plastic.
| 2006 Infiniti M45 Sport dashboard View
Blinking like moles as we leave the barrel room, we finally reemerge into Paso Robles's blazing grape-growing sun, eager to uncork this quartet. To the west, sinewy Old Creek Road will challenge brakes, handling, and horsepower, while Highway 46's long ribbons of pittery-pattery concrete will rattle suspensions, testing ride quality and interior noise. As each car returns from a lap, pens hit notepads as our test team's scribbling begins.
| 2006 Infiniti M45 Sport top Engine View
At speed, tire noise is the most prominent component of the Cadillac's interior noise. With the suspension in its sport-oriented Performance mode, the suspension is nicely firm, but impact booms are disturbingly high. In fact, the process of switching between the Touring and Performance settings exemplifies the STS's ambivalence over its sport-sedan mission. Just listen to what you're expected to do: One, stop the car; two, tap through obscurely named display screens; and, eventually, three, sit bewildered until you realize the Performance choice you're looking for is hidden in a drop-down list that requires scrolling before it appears. Is this what Cadillac's learning from its endurance racing program? Also erasing its sport-sedan stripes somewhat is the glacially slow steering response in hairpins and the traction-control system that keeps the performance wick turned down so long after a traumatizing traction loss, you wonder if counseling's in order.
On the other hand, the engine offers an unexpectedly lean athletic note when you tilt into it, along with enough scoot to propel the STS to 60 mph in an impressive 6.1 seconds. The automatic shifts are quick, though exploring manumatic mode is undermined by unpleasant plastic-on-plastic scraping sounds. At a more serene pace, the STS is a comfortable and handsome capsule for spinning away the miles, with plenty of room to sprawl, nice carpet, well-shaped rear seats, and a positively ear-opening Carnegie Hall-in-a-car Bose sound system. Only the marginal dash materials and lowest-bidder-looking nav system cause you to double check the price tag.
For a sport sedan, the Mercedes-Benz E500 also has issues. Most notable, the sluggish steering is inconsistent with the Airmatic's crisp sport ride setting. We're fond of this suspension, although in the comfort setting it can be downright wallowy; in S1 (one step firmer), it feels better controlled while S2 (sport) pins the car down.
| 2005 Mercedes Benz E500 front Interior View
Above debate is the E500's acceleration, which can touch 60 mph in a sizzling 5.7 seconds, although the sensation is more like a building avalanche than a dynamite blast. Inside, the Benz's cabin is Pullman-car elegant, with beautiful interior appointments and just the right amount of wood, though the chrome striping (a nice touch) can occasionally glint sunlight into your eyes. If this comparison were about taste and power alone, the Mercedes would romp home the winner.
| 2005 Mercedes Benz E500 top Engine View
The mini-fracas that erupts between the M45 and 545i is like a replay of Bush versus Gore 2000--hanging chads, finger waving, everything. It must be said the zesty Infiniti's full name is M45 Sport Sedan. In other words, it has a fistful of sportiness fermented right into the basic recipe, including prodigious grip (0.84 g) and suspension firmness that equates to the E500's Airmatic on full tilt. In fact, it never stops being a sport sedan, even when you politely ask it to. Although the M45 threads down Old Creek Road perhaps even more fluidly than the 545i (with particularly natural-feeling brake action--kudos), the suspension aims an undue volume of tire howl directly into the cabin. And while the styling is attractive, the car's materials and presence suggests more of an opulent Nissan than a BMW equivalent. The dash's unique plateau design is, well, creative. The heat/ventilation and A/C buttons are pointed skyward, the nav screen is washed out by bright sun, and the interior's metal trim reflects enough sunlight to bring down small aircraft.
Here are just a few of the foibles we have to overlook in picking the 545i the winner: On the comic level, the front cupholders have evidently been engineered to spontaneously pop empty Starbucks cups clear into the back seat. The convenient one-touch turn signals inevitably require 20 or so manic alternate stalk taps to finally still. And changing the radio station via iDrive can turn you into Howard Beale faster than you can say "Network." All of which could make quite an impression on a first date.
More seriously, our initial track testing suggests our 545i's version of Active Steering might need a Ritalin prescription. Imagine this: Thundering around MT's figure-eight course, the 545i repeatedly attempts to spin itself out when senior road-test editor Walton chucks it into the corners. Huh? Analyzing the crime, it appears that, as Walton heavily brakes for the turns at either end, the variable ratio steering system automatically increases the road wheel's angle so suddenly that the Bimmer's tail skitters like a puppy on linoleum. Who needs this?
| 112 0511 Sideways25 Z
Except for ten-tenths circumstances like our figure-eight romp, we do. On our wiggly back road, the 3850-pound BMW darts to new headings as if it's a sticky-tired shifter kart. Until Active Steer, you'd simply never realize until now how much you have to "lead" even a conventional sport sedan's steering. Imperfect as it is at the limit, we'd wager it tallies lots more plusses than minuses in the real world.
Otherwise, the 545i is a sublime machine with a suspension tuned to be perhaps the perfect compromise between ride and handling, an engine that speaks like Miles Davis's trumpet, and a chassis that feels more solid than the USS Ronald Reagan's keel. You can forgive many foibles with a car like this in your hands.
So how well did Vix's wine picks match each sedan's flavor? We brought a bottle of each wine back to our offices for some, um, detailed analysis. So far, the wine master's been right. But it may take just a bit more testing to know for sure.
| 2005 Bmw 545i side View
| 2006 Infiniti M45 Sport side View
| 2005 Mercedes Benz E500 side View
| 2005 Cadillac Sts V8 side View
| ||2005 BMW 545i||2005 Cadillac STS V8 |
|Drivetrain layout|| Front engine, RWD|| Front engine, RWD |
|Engine type|| V-8, alum block/heads|| V-8, alum block/heads|
|Valvetrain ||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|| DOHC, 4 valves/cyl |
|Displacement ||268.4 cu in / 4398 cc|| 278.6 cu in / 4565 cc|
|Compression ratio|| 10.5:1 ||10.5:1 |
|Power (SAE net)|| 325 hp @ 6100 rpm|| 320 hp @ 6400 rpm |
|Torque (SAE net)|| 330 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm|| 315 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm|
|Specific output|| 73.9 hp/liter||70.1 hp/liter |
|Redline ||6500 rpm|| 6500 rpm |
|Weight to power|| 11.8 lb/hp ||12.8 lb/hp |
|Transmission|| 6-speed automatic ||5-speed automatic |
|Axle/final drive ratios|| 2.93:1 / 2.55:1 ||3.42:1 / 2.60:1 |
|Suspension, front; rear|| Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj |
|Steering Ratio|| 10.0:1-18.0:1|| 18.2:1 |
|Turns lock-t0-lock|| 1.8 (at rest) ||3.0 |
|Brakes, f;r|| 13.7-in vented disc; 13.6-in vented disc, ABS||12.7-in vented disc; 12.6-in vented disc, ABS |
|Wheels ||17 x 7.5, cast alloy||17 x 7.5; 17 x 8.0, cast alum |
|Tires, f;r|| 225/50R17 94V M+S; 225/50R17 94V M+S Continental ContiTouringContact||235/50R17 95V M+S; 255/45R17 98V M+S Michelin Pilot HX MXM4|
|Wheelbase|| 113.7 in ||116.4 in |
|Track, f/r ||61.3 / 62.3 in|| 61.8 / 62.3 in |
|Length x Width x Height|| 190.6 x 72.7 x 58.0 in ||196.3 x 72.6 x 57.6 in |
|Turning circle|| 37.5 ft ||37.7 ft |
|Curb weight|| 3850 lb|| 4100 lb |
|Weight distribution|| 51 / 49 %|| 55 / 45 %|
|Seating capacity|| 5|| 5 |
|Headroom, f/r|| 37.7 / 37.9 in ||38.7 / 37.9 in |
|Legroom, f/r|| 41.5 / 36.0 in || 42.6 / 38.3 in |
|Shoulder room, f/r|| 57.3 / 57.2 in|| 58.6 / 57.4 in |
|Cargo Volume|| 14.0 cu ft ||13.8 cu ft |
Acceleration to mph
|0-30|| 1.9 sec ||2.2 sec |
|0-40|| 3.0 ||3.3 |
|0-50|| 4.1 ||4.6 |
|0-60|| 5.5 ||6.1 |
|0-70|| 7.2 ||7.9 |
| 0-80|| 9.0 ||10.1 |
|0-90|| 11.0|| 12.5|
|0-100|| 13.6|| 16.5 |
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH|| 2.8 sec ||3.0 sec |
|Quarter Mile ||13.8 sec @ 102.8 mph|| 14.4 sec @ 96.9 mph |
|Braking, 60-0 mph|| 123 ft|| 123 ft |
|600-foot slalom|| 64.6 mph avg|| 63.2 mph avg |
|Lateral acceleration|| 0.80 g avg ||0.80 g avg |
|MT Figure Eight ||27.1 sec @ 0.64 g avg|| 27.6 sec @ 0.63 g avg|
|Top-gear revs @ 60 mph|| 1900 rpm ||2050 rpm |
|Base price||$56,495|| $47,720 |
|Price as tested|| $61,420 ||$58,785 |
|Stability/traction control|| Yes/yes ||Yes/yes |
|Airbags ||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||Dual front, front side f/r curtain |
|Basic warranty ||4 yrs / 50,000 miles||4 yrs / 50,000 miles |
|Powertrain warranty|| 4 yrs / 50,000 miles||4 yrs / 50,000 miles |
|Roadside assist period|| 4 yrs / 50,000 miles||4 yrs / 50,000 miles |
|Fuel capacity|| 18.5 gal|| 17.5 gal |
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ|| 18 / 26 mpg|| 17 / 26 mpg |
|Recommended fuel|| Unleaded premium|| Unleaded premium |
| ||2006 Infiniti M45 Sport||2005 Mercedes-Benz E500|
|Drivetrain layout|| Front engine, RWD ||Front engine, RWD|
|Engine type||V-8, alum block/heads ||V-8, alum block/heads|
|Valvetrain ||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl ||SOHC, 3 valves/cyl|
|Displacement || 274.3 cu in / 4494 cc|| 303.0 cu in / 4966 cc|
|Compression ratio|| 10.5:1 1||0.0:1|
|Power (SAE net)||335 hp @ 6400 rpm ||302 hp @ 5600 rpm|
|Torque (SAE net)||340 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm|| 339 lb-ft @ 2700 rpm|
|Specific output||74.5 hp/liter ||60.8 hp/liter|
|Redline ||6700 rpm|| 6000 rpm|
|Weight to power|| 12.1 lb/hp|| 13.0 lb/hp|
|Transmission||5-speed automatic ||7-speed automatic|
|Axle/final drive ratios|| 3.36:1 / 2.80:1 ||2.65:1 / 1.93:1 |
|Suspension, front; rear||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar || Multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|Turns lock-t0-lock|| 3.0||2.8|
|Brakes, f;r||12.6-in vented disc; 12.1-in vented disc, ABS ||13.0-in vented disc; 11.8-in vented disc, ABS|
|Wheels || 19 x 8.5, cast alloy|| 17 x 8.0, cast alloy |
|Tires, f;r||245/40R19 94W; 245/40R19 94W Bridgestone Potenza RE050A|| 245/45R17 95H; 245/45R17 95H Michelin Pilot MXM4|
|Wheelbase|| 114.2 in ||112.4 in|
|Track, f/r ||60.2 / 60.8 in ||61.4 / 61.1 in|
|Length x Width x Height|| 192.6 x 70.8 x 59.5 in|| 189.7 x 71.3 x 57.2 in|
|Turning circle||36.7 ft ||37.4 ft |
|Curb weight||4048 lb ||3923 lb|
|Weight distribution|| 54 / 46 % ||52 / 48 %|
|Seating capacity|| 5 ||5 |
|Headroom, f/r|| 39.6 / 37.8 in|| 37.4 / 37.7 in|
|Legroom, f/r|| 44.2 / 37.3 in|| 41.9 / 35.6 in|
|Shoulder room, f/r||58.2 / 56.9 inv 56.4 / 56.1 in|
|Cargo Volume||14.9 cu ft||15.9 cu ft|
Acceleration to mph
|0-30||2.1 sec|| 2.1 sec|
|0-40|| 3.1 || 3.1|
| 0-80||9.8 ||9.3|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||2.9 sec ||2.8 sec|
|Quarter Mile ||14.1 sec @ 99.0 mph|| 14.0 sec @ 100.6 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph|| 115 ft ||121 ft|
|600-foot slalom||65.6 mph avg ||63.6 mph avg|
|Lateral acceleration|| 0.84 g avg ||0.81 g avg|
|MT Figure Eight || 26.8 sec @ 0.66 g avg||27.0 sec @ 0.64 g avg|
|Top-gear revs @ 60 mph|| 2400 rpm||1600 rpm|
|Base price|| $50,360 ||$58,520|
|Price as tested|| $56,260 ||$63,910|
|Stability/traction control|| Yes/yes|| Yes/yes|
|Airbags || Dual front, front side, f/r curtain || Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain |
|Basic warranty || 4 yrs / 60,000 miles ||4 yrs / 50,000 miles|
|Powertrain warranty||6 yrs / 70,000 miles ||4 yrs / 50,000 miles|
|Roadside assist period|| 4 yrs / 60,000 miles|| Vehicle life|
|Fuel capacity|| 20.0 gal|| 21.1 gal|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ|| 17 / 23 mpg|| 17 / 25 mpg|
|Recommended fuel|| Unleaded premium|| Unleaded premium|
| 2005 Cadillac Sts V8 badge View
| 2005 Bmw 545i badge View
| 2005 Mercedes Benz E500 badge View
| 2006 Infiniti M45 Sport badge View
| 2005 Cadillac Sts V8 front Right View
| 2006 Infiniti M45 Sport gauges View
| 2005 Mercedes Benz E500 wheel View
| 2006 Infiniti M45 Sport tail Light View
| 2006 Infiniti M45 Sport climat Navigation Control View
| 2005 Bmw 545i shifter View
| 2005 Mercedes Benz E500 tail Light View
| 2005 Mercedes Benz E500 emblem View