We recently drove a trio of sedans, from a limousine-style hybrid to the more modest, everyday luxury of an under-$40,000 car. Here are our impressions.
2013 Lexus LS600h L
Price: $120,060 start, $128,610 as tested.
For the executive who needs a mobile workspace, we present the hybrid Lexus LS600h L. It may look like a normal Lexus, but behind the now-familiar spindle grille, the LS600h L seems not so much a car as a test case for parent Toyota. Why else would you create an extended-wheelbase luxury sedan and give it two powerplants that make it exceedingly fast but not so economical? Why else would you stock it with every comfort and electronic-safety amenity available, including rear seating that pampers the occupant with everything except a manicurist? We suspect the LS600h L was designed in part for the emerging 1-percenters in the Chinese market who enjoy being driven. Surprisingly, you could actually use this car in daily life if you didn't mind doing the driving yourself or are not put off by its paltry estimated 19 miles per gallon (city) and 23 (highway). Lexus pairs its stout 5.0-liter V-8 with a high-output permanent magnet electric-drive motor; together they combine for 438 horsepower, and because of the electric motor, the low-end torque is outstanding. It also makes for great acceleration for a vehicle that weighs more than 5,000 pounds. The E-CVT hybrid transmission with sequential shift is one of the few CVTs we didn't dislike. Then there's the ride: The AWD car has adaptive variable air suspension that smooths out the bumpiest roads. And chances are, you won't hear those bumps either: Road noise is forced into a cavity in the 19-inch alloy wheels. The vibrations there cancel out the noise. It's an interesting concept. Inside, the car may be one of the quietest we've encountered thanks to those noise-canceling wheels, double-pane windows and an insulated hood and other features. Even the interior trim is one of our favorites: Lexus' attractive matte-finish bamboo. It makes for a Zen-like cabin. When you want to break that serenity, there's the 19-speaker Mark Levinson premium surround system. It's also loaded with safety features, from rear cross-traffic alert to an advanced precollision system to lane-keep assist. The sedan's elongated interior allows room for the Executive-Class Seating Package ($7,555), which includes a foldup tray table, power reclining seat complete with leg rest, multifunction massager, cool box and Blu-Ray player with wireless headphones. Is this car affordable or even practical for those of us who draw an hourly wage? No, but that's not the point. As Lyra said: "Peter, you can drive. I think I'll just relax in the backseat."
2014 Acura TL Special Edition
Price: $36,030 start. Special Edition: $37,530; $38,425 as tested.
Now in its fourth generation, the refreshed TL has less of a prominent "beak" for its grille than the earlier version that turned off buyers. It's paired nicely with slender headlights. The Special Edition trim adds polished 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, contrast stitching in the leather, keyless entry and push-button start, body-colored deck-lid spoiler and an oh-so-important "Special Edition" badge. When you push the bright-red start button, the rev-happy 3.5-liter V-6 and its 280 horsepower proves to be a lively performer: Acceleration is more than adequate, with confident merges and passing on the interstate. The engine is paired with a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission. Paddles are available, but it shifts so well that we never felt a need to take over. Our tester was a FWD, which is fine in most cases, but a SH-AWD and a 305-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 are available in upper trims. The ride is comfortable, yet athletic. Steering is well-assisted, perhaps too much so. The interior is attractive with a curved dash with metal-tone accents (plastic). The TL is still a solid choice in a premium sedan, but Acura is still wrestling with its sports versus luxury identity.
2013 Lexus GS350
Price: $46,900 start, $57,309 as tested
Toward the other end of the Lexus spectrum from the LS600h L is the rear-wheel-drive GS350, which is a nice way to endure your morning commute. Its 3.5-liter V-6 produces 306 horsepower and has a surprising — and pleasing — exhaust rumble, as well as lively acceleration and plenty of power in highway driving. (AWD is available as an option.) Still, the GS350 is no sports sedan, but it is a comfortable and enjoyable drive with lots of features. The powerplant is paired with a 6-speed automatic with paddles and a selectable drive mode. As we've come to expect from Lexus, the perforated leather seats are buttery and plush, and the interior is top-notch. But we wish Lexus and other automakers would cut back on the wood-trim-is-a-sign-of-luxury philosophy. Sometimes it just looks fake, as in the Linear Espresso Wood in our tester. (We do like the feel of polished wood on the steering wheel, though.) The huge 12.3-inch high-resolution split screen is nicely inset into the dash. Lexus' mouselike Remote Touch multimedia interface is an acquired taste, and some may find it difficult to use.