Ira Lexus of Manchester
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MotorTrend Magazine released the results of their six-cylinder sedan shoot out yesterday. Congratulations to the new GS.
Six-Cylinder Midsize Luxury Sedan Comparison
Mid-Life Medicine: Four Remedies For Your 40s
When you turned 40 and promised yourself a big reward for the promotion at work, life proceeded to get crazier than normal. Translation: you got sidetracked and never splurged on that big-ticket item. Worse, three neighbors -- guys around the same age -- stayed on track and filled their garages with snazzy sheetmetal.
Take John the banker. He never stopped raving about his Audi A4's turbo engine and Quattro AWD -- until he stepped up to the all-new A6. Now he won't stop bragging about LED running lamps and the supercharged V-6. And when he concludes with, "It's got the latest generation of Quattro," you've already heard it so many times that you now say it in unison. Forget anger; you're jealous.
Then there's Mitch the lawyer. Nice guy, but if you have to endure one more speech about how the badge on his 328i really stands for "Brilliant Motor Works," you're going to hurl. So the day he comes home in a sparkling 535i touting an M Package, you tell your wife she'd better buy a case of Pepto. "I thought you liked Mitch?" "I do -- I just want his car!"
Finally, there's Tim the tennis pro, who's never shy about giving pointers on your backhand. Former owner of an Infiniti G25 with the vanity plate ACE, Tim recently pulled up to your house in an M37S. "It hits 100 mph in less time than my serve." Despite the self-serving (ahem) joke, Tim's still likable. Well, he was -- until you caught his new vanity: LOVE40.
Unlike Tim, you're not loving 40, certainly now that it's three years gone and your once-hot Lexus IS 250 is decidedly lukewarm. But when you recently took the IS to the dealer for an oil change, you saw a glimmer of hope -- the 2013 GS 350. "Whoa, check out that face -- if that doesn't make the guys jealous, at least it will scare 'em."
But if there's one thing that got you this far, it's never making a hasty decision. Before writing a $60,000 check, due diligence is required on the A6, 535i, M37, and, of course, the new GS 350. Each is a fine example of what you aspire to drive: a high-style midsize sedan with a 300-hp V-6 and lofty levels of luxury and technology. To that end, you can't forget about the Mercedes-Benz E350. Looks like the toughest midlife crisis will be deciding.
4TH PLACE: Infiniti M37S
Lovely -- But Big, Noisy, and Thirsty
Had we been able to get an E350 (Mercedes-Benz PR declined our invite, saying they'd prefer to participate when the refreshed E debuts sometime next year), it still would have finished ahead of the Infiniti. That's because the M was, um, a bit of a mess. See those big 20-inch alloys set under that bold, curvaceous body that stands more than 59 inches tall? Well, the wheels, along with the meaty 245/40 Bridgestones, heighten unsprung weight, and that tallest-in-test roof heightens (literally) the center of gravity, all of which makes the Infiniti ill-prepared for passing physics. Throw in a touchy throttle, overly heavy steering, a stubborn transmission, grabby brakes, and a zealous stability-control system, and the M proved an absolute handful on our twisty road loop
"Holy squealing tires and elbows, Batman!" said senior features editor Jonny Lieberman. Online editor Nate Martinez: "The gearbox went into Save Me mode near the end of the loop. It wouldn't let me downshift from 3 to 2 no matter how slow the speed or the rpm. It literally thought I was going to kill it." Associate editor Scott Evans: "The stability control is hyper-reactive. It's constantly on when you're trying to drive fast, always braking a wheel at the slightest hint of fun. Even when the light isn't flashing, you can feel it braking the inside wheel."
At the test track, the M managed to save some face, putting up acceleration (0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds, quarter mile in 14.0 seconds at 99.6 mph), handling (lateral acceleration of 0.89 g, figure eight of 25.9 seconds at 0.70 g), and braking (60-0 in 108 feet) numbers that were virtually identical to those of the BMW. The only differences were that technical director Kim Reynolds had nice things to say about the BMW through the figure eight -- the M37 he deemed nose-heavy and suffering from sudden off-center steering gain -- and road test editor Scott Mortara noted the M's 3.7-liter V-6 was comparably loud and coarse during accel runs. Speaking of the M's V-6, not only is it the biggest and loudest of the bunch, it's also the thirstiest, consuming 18/26 mpg city/highway per the EPA and just 16.6 mpg per our evaluation.
Of course, it wasn't all doom and gloom for the M. Our crew appreciated the exterior styling ("Although now a few years old, the M's physique is still handsome. Nakamura-san's design philosophy based on flowing lines and rounded corners works well on this sedan." -- Martinez) and interior ambiance ("The design is very organic and the materials are good quality." - Evans). Further, the M is loaded with such useful tech bits as a blind-spot system, lane-departure warning and prevention, heated/cooled front seats, and a Forest Air system that cleans and humidifies the cabin air. But at over $61,000 as tested, or more than $2000 above the Lexus, the M37S simply felt too sloppy, cumbersome, and half-baked to place higher than fourth. Consider it a double fault.
3RD PLACE: Audi A6 3.0T
Fast and Powerful, With Minimal Feel
Yeah, yeah, I know -- the Audi smokes the others in just about every performance measurement and is the least expensive, but somehow finishes third. Which means we're all morons and can't tell a steering wheel from a Frisbee. Trust us, we've heard all the rants before, and, despite what you may believe, we understand the anger, disbelief, and bewilderment. It just doesn't make sense, right? Let me explain.
Yes, the A6, whose supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 doles out the most torque (325 lb-ft) and second-most horsepower (310), outclassed the others from 0 to 60 (4.7 seconds), in the quarter mile (13.4 seconds at 102.2 mph), around the skidpad (0.95 g), and through the figure eight (25.1 seconds at 0.74 g). In fact, the only test it didn't win outright was 60 to 0 braking, which, at 106 feet, placed it in a tie with the BMW. But despite four wins and one first-place tie, the A6 finished last in the most important criterion: driver engagement. Martinez: "The Audi failed to give me any enthusiastic feedback. There was no visceral exhaust note to go with the entertaining speed and no communicative steering either. It just felt like it was going through the motions." Lieberman: "The Audi has Quattro, but it's very nose-heavy. Audi masks this flaw with all-wheel drive and gobs of power, but it's not a good-feeling car to drive. For instance, while not as fast, the Lexus just kills the Audi in feel."
But, as you're sure to write in your heated letters, the A6 is undeniably quick. Evans: "Hammer it out of a corner and you're off. Phenomenal corner exit with all that grip and power." Moreover, it's not that the A6 doesn't inspire confidence -- with Quattro, an intuitive eight-speed with paddles, and big 255/40 Pirellis at every corner, it's quite the opposite, in fact -- it's that it does so without inviting the driver along for the thrilling ride. An enthusiast behind the wheel will be impressed with the Audi, but not any more impressed than the front passenger. Unlike the top two finishers, the A6 doesn't grab the driver and say, "C'mon, partner, let's go!" No, it's more of a "Welcome to business class. Please buckle up and enjoy the ride."
That said, it's hard to fault aspects of a nice business class. The A6's cabin was deemed a stylish mix of leather, wood, and aluminum, as well as a welcome high-tech hot-spot, what with Google maps, Audi Connect, and a motorized 7-inch display that tucks neatly into the dash when the power is turned off. Still, the Audi isn't the ideal biz class. Its seats, front and back, are rather flat; its ride was the stiffest of the group; and, despite being the heaviest of the bunch, it came across a bit tinny, somewhat hollow, and pretty noisy. With traits like that, not to mention a conspicuous lack of driver involvement, the quick, surefooted, and "bargain" $57,470 A6 is an investment we'd buy after two others.
2ND PLACE: BMW 535i
But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
It's no secret that we haven't exactly turned cartwheels over this latest generation of 5 Series. Two years ago, when the so-called F10 debuted, it didn't even make it to Round 2 of our Car of the Year competition. And that was a year after the last iteration of the previous-gen E60 won an eight-car comparison test. Talk about following in the footsteps of greatness -- and stumbling.
But whether this $63,245 Alpine White 535i with an M Sport Package stumbled into second place is moot. At the end of an arduous weeklong test, we scored it higher than the Audi, and here's why: better ride (silkiest of the group), quieter interior (quietest of the group), smoother engine (smoothest of the group), engaging steering, more comfortable and supportive seats, and an overwhelming sense of solidity. Whereas the A6 tried really, really hard to feel like a $60,000 automobile, the BMW didn't even break a sweat.
Much of the 5's air of expensiveness comes from its 7 Series' underpinnings, which, alas, make the 535i feel like its bigger and heavier sibling. It is no longer an upsized 3, but rather a downsized 7. While we prefer the former, there is a plus side to the latter. Says Evans: "The embodiment of what I think of when I think German. Very solid, substantial. Buttoned-down and refined, no-nonsense." From Lieberman: "All that solidity equates to one hell of a nice, smooth ride. 80 mph feels more like 40 mph, and 90 mph feels like a totally responsible, safe cruising speed."
Though not as quick as the Audi and just a tick behind the Lexus to 60, the BMW was nonetheless one brisk Bavarian, registering a 0-60 run of 5.5 seconds and a quarter-mile jaunt of 14.0 flat at 99.3 mph. And in addition to putting down a curt 106-foot 60-0 stopping distance, the 535i circled the skidpad with 0.89 g of intensity and weaved through the figure eight in a respectable 25.9 seconds at 0.69 g. The BMW is a rewarding car, in that you get a sense for its easy-to-explore limits, but it's also a frustrating car, because its feels so different from its beloved predecessor. Martinez: "Immediately after turn-in, there comes a behavior that's very non-BMW: Plowing." But endure that initial understeer and the 535i satisfies. Lieberman: "Understeer shows up, but generally because you're pushing hard. A more gentle hand is rewarded with a high level of smoothness and a chassis that eats up transitions and corners."
Also helping the 5's cause: an EPA rating of 21/31 mpg city/highway and an observed score of 20.0 mpg. Efficient dynamics, indeed. Alas, the 535i is a car you respect, not one you fall in love with. Our verdict, per Evans: "Competent, but in a somewhat cold, calculating fashion. I know I can drive it fast, but I don't walk away dreaming of driving it again."
1ST PLACE: Lexus GS 350 F Sport
Maybe The Ultimate Driving Machine
Remember that E60 535i I mentioned, the one we adored and awarded first place in a February 2010 comparison test? Well, this new Lexus GS 350 F Sport reminds us of that car. A lot. Nimble, balanced, precise, and quick, the GS is a (retired) BMW cloaked in Lexus steel. At 3834 pounds, the GS is the lightest of the four and it feels it -- turn-in is sharp and accurate, and weight transfer, whether lateral or longitudinal, is neutral and composed. The Lexus proved the most entertaining, rewarding, and confidence-inspiring up, down, and along our demanding Malibu road loop. Ultimate driving machine? Oh, yeah.
Lieberman: "Great steering. Balanced, communicative, properly weighted. Just a joy to drive. Neutral without being leaden. Very Mazda-like, in fact. And I say all this having driven the car in Sport instead of Sport Plus." Evans: "This is a Lexus? Really impressed with the handling and confidence in the car. Holds the road much better than expected. Can really fling it at the corners." Martinez: "The Sport Plus algorithm allows for a proper testing of its grip thresholds, and on the loop's tight technical zigzags, it was just right. Only once did any traction control light flash, and, unlike the Infiniti, shifts were clean, fast, and when you wanted them. Also unlike the Infiniti: The Lexus felt way smaller than it was. Like, really smaller."
In driving feel, the Lexus does exactly what you want it to do -- it shrinks around you. Yet, when it comes to pampering, it opens up, inviting you into the richest, most aesthetically pleasing cabin in its class. Lieberman: "Gorgeous interior. Love the metalwork, especially the volume and tune knobs. Feels like they're off my old Marantz Quadradial. Extremely solid and finely made." Martinez: "From the classy analog clock to the soft leather lining the seats, center console, and doors to the near-perfect sport steering wheel and massive and clear multimedia display, this Lexus oozes modern sophistication." Evans: "This is my favorite Lexus interior ever. So refined and stylish. Not boring and not overdone."
Here are some numbers to consider: 0-60 in 5.4 seconds; the quarter mile in 14.0 at 101.0 mph; lateral acceleration of 0.94 g; figure eight of 25.4 seconds at 0.71 g; EPA fuel economy of 19/28; and observed mpg of 18.9. Not first, not last; just right in the sweet spot. Only 60-0 braking, at 110 feet, was behind the curve, but only by 4 feet versus the Audi and BMW. Then there's price. At $58,800 as tested, the GS F Sport, again, sits comfortably in the sweet spot.
OK, now for the whale in the room: the prehistoric fish face. "Predator," "Vader," and "abstract art piece" were some of the other terms thrown around. But as Lieberman summed up: "Please don't let the looks detract you from buying the Lexus GS, because it's without doubt the best car of these four."
So go ahead and trade in that old IS. This GS is a midlife crisis cure-all.