Opinion – Wardlaw
As a daily driver the M35 is louder inside than the Acura and the Lexus, and it rides stiffer, and I found it to be the least comfortable from the driver’s seat – but I can live with those things. Because on the weekend, I want my wheels to fly.
3rd Place – 2005 Acura RL
Staid styling keeps me from choosing the interesting Acura RL over the buttoned-down Lexus GS as the Asian luxury sedan I’d park in slot #2 of my fictional personal garage. To my eye, the RL looks like a warmed-over 1995 Oldsmobile Aurora, minus the Aurora’s bulging sheetmetal contours. This Acura exhibits cab-forward design in a world that increasingly prefers the appearance of a long hood and short rear deck. The headlights are too big, the front overhang is excessive, and the wheels look like they were cribbed from a Chevy Cavalier rental. On the freeway one night, I was flanked by a last-generation Acura Legend and a first-generation Acura RL. Of our trio, the guy with the cheapest car also was the guy with the best looking car.
What’s frustrating is that from a design standpoint, the Acura RL’s interior is a work of art. Its fascinating blend of arcs and curves results in a distinctly architectural flavor that makes the RL my favorite spot to sit in traffic. And sit in traffic I will, because the highly-touted but almost impossible to activate feature that is supposed to re-route a driver around rush-hour freeway jams is hard to find in the RL’s navigation, climate, audio, and information menus, the buttons for which are smashed together with main climate and audio controls on the dashboard’s artfully tapered center stack.
Then, when the roads clear and get twisty, the RL tries my patience further. The SH-AWD system is fantastic, and the powertrain is the best in this test, but Acura shods the car with wimpy Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 tires that give up too early, and equips the car with a suspension that inadequately handles body roll and weight transition. To fix this, Acura wants thousands more for an A-Spec handling package, which doesn’t pencil out as a good value to me.
Acura’s got some work to do on the RL, but if the utter lack of corporate attention bestowed upon the previous version is any indication, we might be into the second term of a Hillary Clinton or John McCain White House before anything changes to resolve my criticism of the Acura. – Christian Wardlaw
2nd Place – 2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD
Kudos to Lexus for continuing to do what it’s always done best in creating the redesigned Lexus GS. This car is beautifully executed in terms of interior materials, ergonomics, and quality. The front seats are comfortable, the cabin is quiet, and every single touch point exudes refinement. The design is evolutionary, uncharacteristically rakish, but rear seat space suffers for it.
Like any Lexus, or Toyota for that matter, there isn’t much to complain about, but neither is there much to rave about…at least in the way that driving enthusiasts love to rave. The Lexus is competent up to about 7/10ths, carving clean arcs from apex to apex, quelling body roll, and accelerating between turns with verve. The manual shifting feature is a joy to operate, even though it lacks the Infiniti’s rev-matching feature. Don’t ask much of the brakes, and they won’t ask much of you, except patience while the pedal travels to the point of engagement. Crank up the pressure, and the GS falls apart pretty quickly, the nose pushing wide in turns, the suspension bobbing and weaving, and the brakes fading just when you need them most. Some critics have carped about how intrusive the Lexus Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management (VDIM) system is, but I found an acceptable performance envelope before engagement. Honestly, I can’t fathom driving the car hard enough to where VDIM’s nannying becomes an issue.
The Lexus is the luxury car of this group, the car least likely to intrude upon your daily grind, the sanctuary after a long day at work. But I prefer something more engaging to drive. – Christian Wardlaw
1st Place – 2006 Infiniti M35x
My reasons for choosing the Infiniti M35 over the Lexus and Acura are clear: The Infiniti is stylish, luxurious, and fun to drive. Though I was perhaps the only person in America that loved the unique, slab-sided look of the first Infiniti M, and I feel that this new car looks too much like everything else on the road, the redesigned M is the best-looking car of our trio, thanks in part to its gorgeous, thick-spoked wheels. Inside, the matte-finish rosewood trim, metallic and chrome accents, plush perforated leather, and two-tone décor are enough to make me forget the ugly woven headliner that looks more like a velour knit polo shirt circa 1978 than the subdued mesh cloth of a modern Audi.
But critical thoughts about the headliner evaporate once the M35 is guided onto a lonely country road. Infiniti targeted the previous-generation BMW 5 Series when developing the new M’s driving dynamics, and this diligence results in an experience on par with that vaunted Bavarian sport sedan. Driven hard, the M35, just like most any BMW product, disappears from your consciousness. The Infiniti immediately obeys every input and command, and the M35 communicates every nuance of the road without drumming it into your hands, feet, or backside. At the end of our testing, the top third of the sidewalls on the Acura’s Michelins were cooked, but our Infiniti’s Goodyear Eagle RS-As looked almost new. Steering, braking, and handling are exceptional, and the automatic transmission’s manual shift feature includes a rev-matching throttle blip for smoother – and sportier – driving.
Yeah, as a daily driver the M35 is louder inside than the Acura and the Lexus, and it rides stiffer, and I found it to be the least comfortable from the driver’s seat – but I can live with those things. Because on the weekend, I want my wheels to fly, and the Infiniti M35x might just be the best mid-luxury sports sedan from any continent, let alone Asia. – Christian Wardlaw
Photos courtesy of Ron Perry