Opinion – Blackett
My ex-girlfriend recently told me that I was nerdy – the cool, funny kind, mind you, but nerdy, nonetheless. So maybe it’s fitting that I’m the only one here choosing the dowdy Acura RL over the Infiniti M35 and Lexus GS 300.
3rd Place – 2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD (tie)
I may be old-fashioned, but to me, $51,000 is a heck of a lot of money for a car, and frankly, it’s too much for the 2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD, especially considering the better options from Acura and Infiniti.
My biggest complaints come from the GS’s interior, where the leather seat covering, though soft, feels less durable than the others’, the wood interior trim looks down right cheap, flimsy plastics are used on the lower seat frames, and the gauge cluster is housed in your basic, Camry-grade, black plastic. While the interior materials fail to register as luxurious in my mind, the overall craftsmanship, both inside and outside, is nearly faultless, with consistent gaps and well-secured panels. Other positives include the overall comfort and the unique exterior design with its long nose and short rear overhang.
But, most notable are the Lexus GS 300’s driving characteristics. Throttle response is a bit better than the Acura, but the small 3.0-liter V6 is thrashy at high revs and the automatic transmission throws back some hard downshifts during aggressive driving. Braking is satisfactory, but the ride is especially soft and leads to a fair amount of body roll and understeer in corners. The result is a car that’s fine for long-distance highway jaunts, but trails the Acura and Infiniti in the spirited driving category. Combine that with a thrashy engine, a mediocre interior, and the highest as-tested price, and the 2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD lands in last place on my list.
2nd Place – 2006 Infiniti M35x (tie)
With its 280-horsepower V6, grippy brakes, and the best handling of the tested trio, the 2006 Infiniti M35x would seem to be the logical winner. However, this is a test of mid-luxury sedans, and when combining creature comforts with driving dynamics, the Infiniti finishes in the middle of the pack.
Like the Lexus, the plastics used on the rearview mirror and lower seat frames are flimsy and cheap, though the M35’s leather seats feel more durable. The same can’t be said for the headliner that feels like it was crafted from the sport fabric used on Nissan Xterra seats. Overall build quality isn’t bad, but I did notice a few loose interior panels and slightly misaligned exterior body panels – none of which were found on the Lexus. Also posing a problem is the M35’s suspension, a relatively stiff setup that makes for confident cornering, but results in a highway ride that feels a bit too harsh for the luxury circuit.
Compensating for these negatives are a stylish, fluid dash design cloaked in the best looking wood trim and the most engaging powertrain of the bunch. Unlike the Acura, which feels a bit shy of its 300-horsepower rating, the Infiniti seems to squeeze everything out of its 3.5-liter V6, though the automatic transmission does get confused during especially aggressive driving. That can be a problem when throttling out of a corner, as the M35’s tranny hesitates to downshift and leaves the driver wanting for more immediate power. Even so, the 2006 Infiniti M35 is a blast to drive, and with a bit more attention to detail would be my top pick.
1st Place – 2005 Acura RL
My ex-girlfriend recently told me that I was nerdy – the cool, funny kind, mind you, but nerdy, nonetheless. Maybe it’s fitting that I’m the only supporter here of the dowdy Acura RL.
So the 2005 Acura RL offers less of the aggressive styling exhibited by the Lexus and Infiniti, and maybe those alloy wheels aren’t designs fresh from the mind of Chip Foose. This is mid-luxury, people – it’s gotta be about the best compromise between creature comforts and drivability for the price, and with an as-tested price of $49,715, the RL squeezes out the GS 300 and the M35 for top spot.
Those creature comforts include the soft leather; sturdy plastics, even in obscure places like the lower seat frames; and conservative, padded dash and door panels that look and feel upscale. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the wood trim, which battles the Lexus for The Shiny Cheap Wood Trim Award. Elsewhere there’s nice chrome and alloy trim, and the gauges emit a blue glow at night – very cool. There wouldn’t be much to complain about inside, if it wasn’t for that central control in the center of the dash, which makes operation of the radio and climate controls systems overly complicated.
And then there’s the drive. On the highway, the 2005 Acura RL is quiet, and the steering has a slightly lighter feeling than the Infiniti M35, which when coupled with the compliant suspension, provides a comfortable yet responsive ride befitting a luxury car. With 300 horsepower and only 10 lb.-ft. less torque than the heavier Infiniti, the Acura should feel like the quickest car tested, but in reality the RL takes its time building speed, and even when I hammered on the throttle, the transmission only clicked down to third gear, leaving power available at higher revs out of my reach. But while the RL’s powertrain may not be the most potent, its quiet and smooth operation more than makes up for any deficiencies. Finally, the Michelin tires weren’t terribly fond of grip in the corners and the there was some understeer, but the SH-AWD system kept all in line and on the appropriate side of the double yellow.