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Two-seater thrills lure uptown drivers

High-end vehicles lead foreign carmakers’ charge in Korean market


Buoyed by a growing love for sports cars by the well-to-do, foreign luxury car brands are upping their share of the domestic car market.

Auto analysts say more are turning to exotic options accompanying fast, topless thrills often with luxury amenities like rain-sensing windshield wipers and automatic climate control with pollen filter ― definitely things off the chart for a mediocre car.

Porsche, one of the early entrants here, had only sold 80 cars back in 2003 but saw the figure rise ninefold as of last year, selling 708 cars. The carmaker is seeing sales of 100 cars per month on average this year and expects to sell more than 1,000 by the end of 2011.

Bentley, whose price range hovers around 300 million won ($279,000), sold 80 last year. Maserati, offering slightly cheaper options, sold about 50. So did Ferrari, despite price tags that top 500 million won.

For a city like Seoul clogged with traffic jams most of the time, it isn’t just speed drivers are looking for. They are paying about 50 million won per year for insurance, tax and other maintenance for the thrill and look of envy as they cruise through the city.

With horsepower ranging between 400 and 600, sports cars can easily pull 200 kilometers per hour with a few hundred meters of straight track. A stable ride experience is a plus, making drivers enjoy the minimum body roll as they push round corners.

Design and noise are even more important for some. Deep, sinister engine sounds are often enough to excite car lovers.
(Up) BMW New Z4   (Down) Ferrari 458
(Up) BMW New Z4   (Down) Ferrari 458

The Ferrari 458 offers just that. The Italian marquee sports car brand offers aerodynamic designs with a thundering 4499 cc V8 engine. The Turn 10 team teamed up with Ferrari to include exquisite details such as a 1.875-inch stainless steel header.

Power and efficiency are all very well but it is the 458’s unique sound that makes the model special. Every Ferrari comes with distinctive exhaust roar, but the company boasts it has replicated the old-school 355 sound without making it too loud. A jury of 66 international journalists named the 458 Italia the “World Performance Car of the Year” in April, choosing it from a shortlist of 14 sports cars.

BMW’s Z4 and the new 3-Series are also popular options in the luxury car market. The two-seater Z4’s handling dynamics aren’t as sports-oriented as other convertibles, but come with award-winning engine line-ups capable of scooting up to 100 kph in less than 5 seconds. Its standard retractable hardtop lowers in just 20 seconds.

The 2011 model is available in three trims, the sDrive30i, sDrive35i and sports-tuned Z4 dDrive35is. It was named a finalist in Motor Trend’s showdown for “Car of the Year.”

Some, however, say it has little space in the boot when the roof is down.

By Cynthia J. Kim (cynthiak@heraldcorp.com)
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