They may not be red-hot Italian roadsters or imported custom pickups with polka dots, but special-edition versions of high-end vehicles can turn heads discreetly and without breaking the bank. Three distinctive models for 2005 include the Limited Edition ES SportDesign sedan from Lexus, the X-Type VDP Edition compact sedan from Jaguar, and the ML500 Special Edition SUV from Mercedes-Benz. All premium luxury flagships, they come equipped with an extra touch of class that sets them a step above the standard versions.
The $32,950 Lexus ES SportDesign is a five-passenger, four-door car with lots of oomph under the hood. Lexus ensures exclusivity with one of its paint colors, Thundercloud Metallic, and an interior of black bird's-eye maple accents with light charcoal or black leather seats and trim. Standard is a 225-horsepower 3.3-liter V-6 engine, five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission, and room for 14.5 cubic feet of cargo in the trunk. Cruise control, audio and computer buttons are steering-wheel mounted, and the moon roof is powered to tilt and slide.
Jaguar's bestselling X-Type adds a special model with the VDP Edition, which raises the luxury level several notches on this $38,745 small sedan with a 3-liter 227-horsepower V-6 engine, five-speed automatic transmission, a split-fold rear seat, heated 10-way front leather seats, and burl walnut trim galore. Rain-sensing wipers, stylish leather upholstery, and 17-inch Andros tires round out the equipment.
Higher on the financial ladder is the $47,120 Mercedes-Benz ML500 Special Edition SUV. Equipped with running boards, fancy roof rails, a new "matte burl birch" trim inside, thickly-bolstered leather seats, and space for 81 cubic feet of cargo with the second-row seats lowered, the ML500 is a top performer. The engine is a 288-horsepower 5-liter V-8 teamed with a five-speed automatic touch-shift transmission and permanent full-time four-wheel drive.
Editor and consultant Jill Amadio has been reporting on the automotive industry for 25 years.