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LUXURY CARS OUTDOING THEMSELVES IN DOODADS

It used to be that anyone who wanted a car with air bags, anti-lock brakes and a few doodads like power seats had to shop for a big Cadillac or a Mercedes.

But today all those features and more are available on a Toyota Corolla - which has tested the ingenuity of luxury-car makers in dreaming up one-of-a-kind features most drivers probably don't know they need.Hence side-mounted mirrors that automatically tilt down when the car is shifted into reverse, such as those on Infiniti Q45 sedans. Admittedly, that allows a driver to see a tricycle on the driveway; but it also makes it more difficult to see a car that's passing by on the street.

No matter. This year, the Lincoln Continental is going the Q45 one better by offering automatic reverse-tilt mirrors with memory, meaning the car remembers which of its drivers like the feature and which don't. Trouble is, Continental drivers who aren't whizzes at operating the car's complex computer could end up staring at a glaring LED screen as big as the speedometer that reads "REVERSE MIRRORS ON OFF" (requiring the driver to choose one or the other).

Here are some of my favorite luxury cars:

Lincoln Continental. The trunk is so cavernous Lincoln provides a freight trolley that slides from the back of the trunk to the front. . . . Power-window cognoscenti know that some people like the driver's window to go all the way down with a single touch. Others prefer the window to go down only a little bit each time it is touched. The Continental resolves this problem by offering an "Express Window On Off" option on the car's computer. . . . Why is your rear-view mirror dark and why is the number 5 floating on it? You've got an automatic-dimming rear-view mirror with built-in electronic compass (the S-for South looks like a 5). . . . First there was infinitely variable windshield-wiper speed. Now there are dim-mers on vanity mirrors and dials on seat warmers, allowing you to decide just how bright you want your reflection to be and just how warm you want your seat.

Lexus LS400. A first-aid kit is a first-rate one only if it's packaged in a leather pouch, or so this car's designers believe. . . . All the little interior compartments - the glove box, coin holders and cup holders - have pistons on their doors so that they all open and close smoothly and at about the same speed. . . . Why should you manually lift headrests? Or have to reach and adjust the height of the shoulder strap? Or actually tilt a steering wheel? The Lexus LS400 has added electric motors that power seatbelt adjustments, steering-wheel tilt and headrest adjustment at the touch of a button. . . . If you must dirty your hands changing a tire, you'll want a washcloth embossed with the gold Lexus logo (thoughtfully packaged next to the jack) to clean them.

Cadillac DeVille Concours. What makes Cadillac buyers different from, say, Mercedes buyers? Cadillac buyers like the fact that their keys are electroplated with 23-karat gold, says Steve Garrity, a marketing research director for Cadillac, but people who drive luxury imports think that's ostentatious.

BMW 740i. Drivers - and passengers - are confronted with an array of choices in this sedan, which has 16 different climate-control buttons and switches. That gives the driver and the passenger independent control over heating and air conditioning. In fact, this car is so complex - there are 11 more buttons or switches on the steering wheel - that it comes with a 34-page pocket-size Features Operations Guide in addition to a videocassette, an audiotape and an owner's manual.