Dateline"”Egypt, 2007 B.C.: The Sun God was observed transiting the firmament this morning in his sparkling, new refulgent Solar Yacht with state-of-the-art wheels of fire and six super-charged, swept wing, equine propulsion systems. Luxor dealerships were sold out of the mere mortal's model in two hours. Waiting list positions are going at a 200 percent premium.

Dateline"”Rome, VII A.D.: Publius Gaius was arrested today for failing to pay sumptuary taxes on his new Phoebus Fire Burst Chariot with padded hemi cabin, all-leather suspension and matched four-horse, variable speed drive units. Upstart!

Dateline"”Cincinnati, Fall 2006 A.D.: What goes around comes around. Time once again for inoculations against humankind's two longest standing diseases: influenza and luxury car fever. The Oh!-7's are here.

The term "luxury car" exists primarily in the mind of the manufacturer, the press and the buyer/owner. It speaks of over-the-top comfort, breathtaking performance, artistic styling, precision engineering, faultless fit and finish. But most of all, dear reader, it speaks of panache, image, individuality, exquisite taste, exclusivity and money...especially money. And it often adds up to one thing"”Badge Passion.

Let's face it, for all their technological and stylistic virtues, the primary thing that matters on any new luxury car is the badge and all that it implies "” BMW, Cadillac, Lexus, Bentley, Rolls, Mercedes, Infiniti, Lincoln, Audi, Jaguar, Volvo, Acura and the Maybach (12 cylinders, $375K before taxes and sold only in "studios.") If you can't buy the car, at least get the sweatshirt and key ring.

Perhaps we can learn a lesson in negative badge perception from the recent withdrawal of the VW Phaeton from the US market. Priced (some say overpriced) in the $60-100K range, the car sold fewer than 2,500 units here in 2004 and 2005 combined. No figures yet for 2006. Some industry analysts believe the VW economy marque, coupled with the car's overlap of Audi and Bentley models, left the Phaeton without an exclusive niche or enthusiastic fan club. Auf Wiedersehen!

On this excursion, we restrict ourselves to what the trade refers to as "luxury sedans and luxury sport sedans," with total package prices above $40,000. This excludes (on this road trip) the exotics, "performance" or "personal luxury cars" such as Porsche, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini, or any other racecourse pulse-pusher. This sedan category also steers around the big kids, such as Range Rover, Hummer, Escalade, Navigator and their Continental and Asiatic Sport Ute kinfolk.

We're including some borderline luxury models from mid-range brands. For example, the Buick Lucerne (more later), the Chrysler 300 C and the Mercury Grand Marquis. The 300C is a Chrysler best seller (try the SRT 8 with the 425 hp Hemi), and the Mercury is a very popular town car limo. By the way, the demise of the Lincoln Town Car reported in the financial press this summer was quite premature. Ford has decided to continue to build them in Toronto through 2009.

WHAT'S REALLY NEW?
So, what really is new? As in most years, the majority of the 2007 luxury models are really tweaked 2006 (or earlier) carry-overs. But there are a few notable "all-new" models, along with some new or "newish" features appearing on the scene. Let's start with...

COMFORT: Individually cooled and heated seats are the hot (sorry!) comfort option for many new 2007 luxury models. The "rump roast" option has been around for a while to offset a winter freeze or ease your back on a long drive. But individual cooling is fairly new.

SAFETY: How much is enough? While some safety activists believe there is no such thing as car safety overkill, there is an increasing reaction against so-called "nanny-cars." Wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling "curtains!" Warnings and advisories: possible ice, obstruction in the rear, your shoes don't match! Whatever your feelings, the new Volvo S-80 "Preemptive Technology" will interest you. This package can include a Personal Car Communicator with keyless drive. It tells you from a significant distance whether the car is locked and it lets you set the lock and alarm if it isn't. It can also sense the heartbeat of someone lurking in your unlocked car, waiting to ambush you. (I am not making this up!)
In case you cannot stop or swerve soon enough in cruise mode, the S-80 also offers Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Warning and Brake Support. There's the Blind Spot Info System (cameras mounted on side view mirrors monitoring the dead spots, day and night) and a Clean Zone Interior Package to help allergy sufferers. And by the way, the car also looks great and performs well.

Powerplants: Cadillac seems to have the major power news as it continues to introduce members of its V Series with its first supercharged Northstar High Performance 6.0L LS2 V8 400+ horsepower drive train. ($75K plus extras will buy you the 2007 STS-V with 469 horses.) Or, if you have about $130,000 burning a hole in your IRA, you can always go after the Mercedes CL55 with its 493 hp supercharged V8 or its V-12 cousin, the CL65 AMG (609 hp). Also consider the new BMW 550i, the Audi RS and S series, or the Mercedes E550. They are very slick actors with very, very respectable performance.

It's not really new for next year but the Infiniti M45 has been getting some very nice accolades from the professional press. Go look!

Warranties: GM announced a 100,000 mile/5-year power-train warranty, roadside assistance and courtesy transportation for their entire 2007 car and small truck line. The basic limited and rust warranties are unchanged. Considering repair costs on all high-end models (somebody has to pay for those white lab coats), warranties on any luxury car are definitely worth your close attention.

Green is the Color of My True Love's Car: Can luxury, performance and eco-sensitivity co-exist? Lexus says "Yes!" and is out to prove it with the GS450h (h=hybrid). Offering a V-8 gasoline engine dynamically integrated with an innovative electric motor system, Lexus claims this is the first rear-wheel, luxury sedan that combines high performance, comfort, handling and a social conscience. It may be green under the hood, but this Lexus comes in a wide range of exterior colors. As always, Lexus has several new conventional models that are also well worth consideration.

NAVIGATION AND EASE OF USE: BMW i-Drive. This package has some BMW owners in ecstasy and others ready to bomb Munich. The i-Drive is a single point of control for the car's climate, communications, navigation, entertainment and operating data. Some drivers like using one joystick, display and console menu for all those functions (although BMW has since returned a few to the dash). Others detest what they consider to be a counter-intuitive, over-engineered and gimmicky system. Many folks think the visual displays on most luxury cars, heads up or otherwise, are still too "gee-whiz techie" and even dangerously distracting. Look and test carefully against your own preferences and driving habits. The new BMW 300s can be great alternate choices, and i-Drive is optional on those models.

Appearance: You have no doubt seen the Jaguar "Gorgeous" ad campaign. Truth in advertising! The Jaguar XK and XJ series remain some of the most beautiful cars on the road. Unfortunately, like many glamour girls, they are having trouble getting dates. Rumors are afloat that Ford may sell or cut Jaguar loose in 2007.

Speaking of looks, if you're a GM-ophile, here's an interesting exercise. Do a comparison run on Cadillac's DTS and the new Buick Lucerne CXS. Both cars are built on the same platform, including the Northstar 4.6L V8, Magnetic Ride, Stabilitrak and a host of other comfort, handling and performance features. You can price a pair of very comparable models to within a thousand dollars of each other at the $40K point by twiddling the options. Then you are left with a very subjective choice: Do you prefer Buick curves and portholes, or the angles and badge of the Cadillac?

Harry DeMaio drives two Cadillacs (one at a time!).