High-tech hot rod

Wednesday, May 16, 2001 at 1:00am

Saul Rubenstein, big shot Hollywood movie producer, watched me finish eating half a toasted bagel.

"Billy, I would kill for that bagel. Brynndi is on me to lose weight, and this is all she'll let me have for breakfast." He waved his hand over four seedless grapes and two-ounces of low-fat yak milk.

"I need to run down to the bank. Come with me, we can talk about my next picture."

Saul led me out to his new 2001 Cadillac Seville STS, which is right at home in Beverly Hills. The car mix in B.H. is made up of equal parts Cadillac, Jaguar, Mercedes, and Rolls-Royce, not counting the sport utility vehicles or the Astons, Porsches and Ferraris. In-car phone ratio is 119.7 percent, or 1.197 per car.

"I thought about getting a BMW 540i until I saw this STS. This is not the little Caddy that zigs, nor the big Cadillac preferred by the Ancient Order of the Morbidly Old Folks. This is the import fighter for daring young men in their driving machines. This Northstar engine has more horsepower than the Seville SLS or the 540i. Seville STS was the pace car at Le Mans last year. It has revised performance valving and vehicle control algorithms for more ride and body motion control specific to the 17-inch sport package tires."

I happen to know Saul has no earthly idea what he's talking about. "What's a vehicle control algorithm?" I ask with a condescending smirk.

"It programs the automatic transmission to perform like a manual during aggressive driving. I had my secretary summarize the sales brochure. Sensors measure the steering angle and other driver inputs to determine in advance what the driver wants the car to do. It's even smart enough to hold a gear during hard cornering so an unexpected shift won't upset the balance on a rough or rain-slick road."

"Saul, this is Beverly Hills. What rough road? What rain?"

"Hey, sometimes I might have to go to the Valley. I can do that now, I've got OnStar GPS."

Saul ran his hand over several board feet of flawless wood trim. "They had to cut down an entire Zebrano wood rain forest for this. Three hundred all-American horsepower, Billy. Quiet, isn't it. I think they've got a Barney on the engine." That's movie-speak for a thickly-padded leather cover that fits around a 35mm movie camera to muffle it when recording sound.

We turned onto Mulholland and a fly-yellow Ferrari Maranello roared past. That was a challenge Saul could not ignore. Off we went. The Caddy chirped the traction control tires as Saul floored it. The "smart" gearbox downshifted into "hot pursuit." I tightened my seatbelt, which squeezed me down in lavish beige leather upholstery. Saul turned up the 425-watt Bose eight-speaker audio system for the "chase" background music soundtrack CD from Saul's last movie, "Bloodbath at Bimbo Beach." He never caught the Ferrari but the Seville STS handled the twisty road with exemplary composure.

"Don't worry," he consoled. "We've got the Magnasteer system with Stabilitrak 2.0."

"Oh great. When we're upside down in the ditch, people will come by and say `Look, it's got Magnasteer and Stabilitrak. Neat!'"

"Don't worry, it comes with front-seat side impact air bags, 24-hour roadside assistance and courtesy transportation for all warranty repairs. I'll put this car in my next picture, the good guy chases the bad guys in a Ferrari."

Finally, we got off Mulholland and cruised down Rodeo Drive, where the Seville was equally in its element. Beverly Hills has a city ordinance that forbids cars costing under $50,000 to park on the streets, in garages or outside restaurants. They're still allowed to drive through, though.

"What did you pay for this car, Saul?"

"The MSRP was $48,045. The Premium Luxury Package

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