Porsche, Audi Gear Up for Good Times

LOS ANGELES ( TheStreet) -- Sure, you need a clunker to participate in the federal Cash for Clunkers program, but that isn't stopping some executives from trading in their aging luxury cars for fast new rides debuting this fall.

It's been a while since you've contemplated buying a new car. After all, the mere whiff of new-car scent just a few months ago could have resulted in your job, if not your head, landing on the chopping block. But while the good times are hardly back, it's safe enough to pull that 2003 luxury car out of the garage for one final drive down to the dealership, where a plethora of hot new cars is debuting.

Porsche goes sedan: For anyone who's ever tried to stuff their two children, grandma or best friend into the backseat of their 911 Carrera, Porsche ( POAHY) debuts the all-new Panamera five-door sedan to the American market. With a limited production of 20,000 a year, Porsche is looking to satiate the demand for a sporty sedan that's traditionally been supplied by its BMW and Mercedes competitors and gives anyone with a family more than just the Cayenne SUV, currently Porsche's best-selling model, to choose from.

The Porsche Panamera is the German sports car maker's first five-door family-hauler.

From afar, the Porsche Panamera looks like something between a Maserati Quattroporte and a modernized Citroen DS, the French luxury sedan built from 1955 to 1975. The base Panamera S is priced at $89,800, with 400 horsepower and an interior that feels like a sports car. It has a low center of gravity and a cockpit-style console with center-mount LCD display. The roomy backseat sits higher than the front, offering passengers a more enjoyable ride. The seats fold down to fit golf clubs or 187-centimeter skis.

American sports car returns: It's been a while since an American car has turned heads, other than those in the Hertz parking lot begging not to drive away in a Ford 500, Neon or Malibu. But that was until we spotted a new Chevrolet Camaro currently strutting its new design and sexy lines on a highway near you. The General Motors ( GMGMQ) icon is a throwback to the late-1960s muscle cars, with its bulky front end, low roofline and stout rear that give a glimpse of what a Chevy used to be before the cars became rental rockets and mom mobiles.

With a sticker price of $22,245 for the V6 engine and $30,245 for the souped-up SS version that comes with a vrooming V8, it's one of the most stylish sports cars you'll find for the money -- as long as you can find a dealer who has one. Inside, the car is stylish and sports a surprisingly modern instrument panel and nice buckets seats. But in the future, couldn't we make leather seats and 19-inch painted aluminum wheels standard on all models?

Audi SUV goes diesel: If "diesel" makes you think of those moaning '80s Mercedes currently puttering around the with bumper stickers touting 100% "dieselicious" engines fueled by veggie oil, Volkswagen's ( VLKAY) Audi delivers 21st century diesel technology in the facelift of its Q7 TDI Diesel. Along with the recently released Q5, the smaller Audi SUV, the company is expanding its vehicle line that now spans from the compact A3, priced at $26,920, to the ultra-luxury R8 sports car, which costs $114,200.

On the outside, the beloved Q7 TDI looks the same for 2010, except for some LED additions to the front lights along with a remolded bumper that gives the snout a more streamlined look. The 3-liter TDI diesel offers 30% better fuel efficiency than its all-gas sibling in one of the most successful diesel SUVs made to date. Inside, the leather- and wood-clad wagon packs a hefty 225 horsepower under the hood.

Even more Maybach: For those of us who aim to please our inner Gordon Gekko, Mercedes unveils a heftier version of its Maybach with the 57 and 62 Zeppelin. A darling of the chauffeured class, the new Zeppelin follows last year's open-top Landaulet, which allowed its rear-seat passengers to drive a la cabriolet while keeping the staff fully covered up front. Now the new Zeppelin, in shorter 57 and longer 62 models, offers a souped-up sports-minded package that's blinged out in customized trim with in-car amenities that include a rear-seat atomizer that can spritz away a smelly driver or any other scent you wish dismissed. Just make sure you keep it parked far away from your boss or pay czar.
Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com -- a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in In Style, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine, ITV and BBC.