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The Masters of Go

All things to all people – three stand-out flagships highlight the 2024 trend towards cars that fulfil multiple roles even as they exude appeal and character.
lamborghini

It’s becoming common for motor manufacturers to combine abilities in a single model; more practicality, more all-road ability, yet improved dynamics. Much of the recent research and development has centred on transforming SUVs into sports machines – Lamborghini’s Urus, the Bentley Bentayga, Aston Martin DBX, Porsche Cayenne, Maserati Levante, Rolls-Royce Cullinan and, most recently, the Ferrari Purosangue. Thank technology for the shift; adaptable chassis, suspension and engine management electronics mean a single car can now fulfil various functions. If technology can add track-ready dynamism to SUV capability at the touch of a button, why not?

The next challenge is more interesting: broadening the appeal of a once singular machine, the dedicated sports car.

lamborghini


Lamborghini Revuelto
The lineage of Lamborghini’s flattest-of-flat supercars is a study in natural selection. Countach was the world’s most impractical status symbol (you had to get out of the car to reverse, so bad was the rear vision), Diablo hardly less intimidating, Murciélago the start of winning ways, Aventador better yet and, finally, this year, the Revuelto, not only one of the world’s most desirable supercars, but also one of the easiest to drive. Thank owners Volkswagen for most of that; their stewardship since 1998 demanded practicality and reliability as much as adrenalin and endorphins. So it is that Revuelto sports the legendary Lambo V12 – but also a hybrid system. It’s a tiddly little battery pack but the point is it’s there, the recalcitrant Raging Bull finally won over to what’s actually going on in the world and what customers are asking for. Power with responsibility. And what a lot of power: 750kW from the naturally aspirated V12 and three electric motors, good for a 0-100kph time of 2.5 seconds. But the real alchemy is the drive; seamless, linear, simple, comfortable, no shunting from the gearbox, no lumpiness in the configurable suspension. Just that V12 howl and a lot of instant blurring of the landscape. Lamborghini has made its best supercar to date – and it’s a hybrid.

Porsche


Porsche 911 Dakar
Step up Zuffenhausen, front and centre in this developing niche. Porsche, always the innovator, has imbued its iconic 911 with the DNA of a rally car. And not just any rally car. The latest 911 Dakar pays homage to René Metge’s Porsche 911 Carrera 4×4 that won the 1984 Paris-Dakar race (the first sports car to win that ultimate desert challenge). Metge’s car helped underline the fact that manufacturers could play with category and class, break segment boundaries and have a little fun, even if they didn’t have the benefit of complex electronic wizardry back then. Today’s 911 Dakar benefits from a slew of au courant aids and extras, notably Porsche’s rear-wheel steering, adaptable four-wheel drive system, adaptable ride height and 20-inch Dakar light-alloy forged wheels. The company’s gutsy six-cylinder takes care of business at the back, aided by one of the slickest 8-speed auto boxes in the world. The cockpit, as expected, is beautifully appointed and typically comfortable, both long-time 911 attributes. To finish off the retro look and feel, 911 Dakar absolutely must be optioned with the Rallye Design Package, a red, white and blue design triumph referencing the style of the ’80’s hero. And then there’s that options list: recovery boards for soft sand, a roof basket with extra spotlights, a folding spade and the roof tent to top it all off. Covetable.

Mercedes


Mercedes-AMG SL Roadster
Equally tech-savvy, Mercedes nevertheless looks back even as it innovates. This year’s seductive SL, electronic tour de force though it is, is a case in point. The two-door grand tourer unashamedly references the SLs of yore in its gorgeous design, most notably the first, the uber-valuable Gullwing of 1952. Gone are the angular Modernist lines of most of the previous generations, replaced by the softer organic shapes of the original Gullwing. But if design is all about yesterday, Mercedes, in conjunction with sister company AMG, has worked hard to make the SL43 today’s car, fulfilling multiple roles. Hence the company’s game-changing 4Matic drive system that ‘curates’ road conditions and offers appropriate levels of power, traction and downforce. And the enormous interior screens, tablet-like, for easy access to infotainment menus. More innovation – that cabin has grown in size even as the car itself has shrunk, thanks to new, stronger composite materials that allow for less bulky furniture and linings. The same is true of the cloth roof, which replaces the previous hardtop. It’s immensely strong, far lighter and noise filtration is reduced. The benefits to fuel consumption are obvious. On the road SL is two cars – La Dolce Vita boulevard cruiser or, at the twist of a knob, Fast & Furious, a hardcore track star, complete with performance monitors, race graphics and ground-hugging solidity. White knuckle hooliganism isn’t what SL is all about, but it’s nice to know it can play the part when asked.

Gone are the days of a garage full of different exotics for different applications. Today’s supercar can cross deserts and mom’s taxi can ace the Nürburgring. It’s now all down to style and attitude, the complex messaging of what a car says about its owner even more complicated than it used to be. Tricky certainly, but a lot of fun deciding.

by Peter Frost

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