The Truth About Cars » Lexus http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Lexus http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Lexus Reveals Its Most Important Product Since The LS400 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/lexus-nx200/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/04/lexus-nx200/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 17:56:01 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=796402 01-lexus-nx-concept-1

Lexus is launching their long awaited small crossover at this month’s Beijing Auto Show. Dubbed the NX, it will be the first Lexus product with a turbocharged engine.

Aside from the 2.0T engine, a naturally aspirated NX200 and an NX300h hybrid (which shares its powertrain with the Lexus ES300h) will also be offered. Exact specs haven’t been announced.

For TTAC readers, the NX is a non-event, another boring crossover to add to the ever-growing pile of soulless two-box vehicles that should be wagons. But for Lexus, this is a vitally important product, a competitor in the booming small crossover segment.

In Europe, Lexus has traditionally been an also-ran, fielding a lineup of cars that are considered uncompetitive thanks to thirsty gasoline engines, a dearth of diesel options and a lack of compelling reasons to pick one over a rival luxury brand. The NX is their best hope at changing things.

The small crossover segment could not be hotter, and if the pricing is right, Lexus might be able to make some headway against the Mercedes-Benz GLA, BMW X1 and Audi Q3. The lack of a diesel won’t help, but the hybrid version might do well due to low CO2 emissions, even though hybrids traditionally have not done well on The Continent. In markets like China, Russia and Brazil and India, the diesel conundrum is less important. What matters is the “premium” perception that goes along with the Lexus brand and CUVs in general. The NX won’t break new ground in quality and value like the LS did – but it might just kick off a second wind for the brand in the markets that matter most.

 

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Canadian Toyota Plants To Hold Union Vote As Early As Next Week http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/canadian-toyota-plants-to-hold-union-vote-as-early-as-next-week/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/canadian-toyota-plants-to-hold-union-vote-as-early-as-next-week/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 17:22:21 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=785369 ToyotaProduction

Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union (formerly known as the CAW), has filed to unionize Toyota plants in Canada. The Financial Post reports that more than 40 percent of Toyota’s 6,500 workers have signed union cards.

According the paper, Unifor president Jerry Dias characterized the move to unionize as an “internal effort”, with employees apparently creating their own union cards and sending them to Unifor.

The FP notes that

“Employees at the Toyota plants have raised concerns about several recent unilateral changes at the plants, including moving new hires to a defined-contribution pension plan and the hours they work. They also have concerns about the company ability to impose other changes, and other health and safety concerns. In order for the certification vote to pass, 50% plus one of the Toyota workers have to vote in favor of unionization.”

According to Dias, the effort to organize has more to do with workers having a say in the management of the plant, rather than compensation or benefits. Dias noted that Unifor would attempt to negotiate a new collective agreement if the effort was successful.

While it would be tough to speculate on the outcome of the vote, Dias has previously stated that he would delay a union vote until he was comfortable that a victory would occur. Previous efforts by the CAW to organize Honda’s plant in Alliston, Ontario, were unsuccessful, with workers repeatedly failing to organize. One Honda insider suggested that a successful campaign could even lead to a shutdown of a given plant, despite the recent investments made by Toyota and the Canadian government.

According to our source, the Japanese take a dim view of any outside forces trying to meddle in the management of their plant – unions included. Unions do exist in Japanese auto plants, but don’t aim to do this, or any other initiative that would be seen as hostile in the context of Japanese labor relations.

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Toyota Dominates Consumer Reports Used Car Recommendations http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/toyota-dominates-consumer-reports-used-car-recommendations/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/toyota-dominates-consumer-reports-used-car-recommendations/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 13:07:02 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=774913 2014 Toyota Camry

Several Toyota models dominated this year’s Consumer Reports list of used car recommendations, with 11 out of 28 overall belonging to the automaker’s Scion, Lexus and namesake brands.

Automotive News reports the 2011-2012 Camry and 2010-2011 Camry Hybrid among the best sedans between $15,000 and $20,000, while the 2006-2007 Lexus RX shares the same pricing space with the non-turbo 2009-2010 Subaru Forester. The 2004-2007 Prius, 2004-2006 Scion xB and the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix twins all took the $10,000 or less small car category, while the 2008-2009 Highlander Hybrid, 2011 Avalon and 2006 Lexus LS took their respective segment spots for vehicles between $20,000 and $25,000.

Overall, all but three of the 28 recommended used cars were made in Japan or South Korea; the 2011-2012 Lincoln MKZ, 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid and the aforementioned Pontiac Vibe were the only domestics to make the recommendation list.

Consumer Reports also unveiled their “worst of the worst” used car picks, where all but six were made by the Detroit Three, including the Chevrolet Cruze 1.8-liter and Impala, the Chrysler/Dodge trio of minivans, and the orphaned Saturn Outlook and Relay. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and MINI make up the remainder of the 21 picks to avoid.

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Uchiyamada: Hybrids Soon Reaching 20 Percent Of Global Sales http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/uchiyamada-hybrids-soon-reaching-20-percent-of-global-sales/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/uchiyamada-hybrids-soon-reaching-20-percent-of-global-sales/#comments Tue, 11 Mar 2014 15:00:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=769666 2014 Toyota Prius v

The father of the Prius and Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada foresees hybrid sales climbing from 13 percent of global sales today to 20 percent in the near future.

Automotive News Europe reports that while hybrids make up a good part of sales in the United States and Japan, they are currently a niche market in Europe in the face of equal- or better-performing diesels with lower price tags. However, Uchiyamada believes so strongly in his forecast that he didn’t factor plug-in hybrids in to his forecast, nor give a separate outlook for plug-ins.

Speaking of plug-in hybrids, Uchiyamada believes the key to success lies in higher volumes, especially among suppliers:

Suppliers need higher volumes to slash costs of components specific to plug-in models, including batteries that should be bigger and more capable than the ones used in traditional hybrids.

Regarding the Prius, Uchiyamada said the project — known as Project G21 — was a challenge, beginning with the proposal that the future Prius would net “one and a half times better fuel economy than anything that had existed before,” only to be told by top management to double the proposed number. Then, after a successful debut at the 1995 Tokyo Auto Show, he and his team spent 49 days trying to get the proto-Prius to move, finally doing so near the end of that year, “but only for 500 meters.”

Today, with 25 hybrids between Toyota and its premium brand Lexus, as well as a global total of over 6 million hybrids sold, Uchiyamada may have aged out of the title bestowed unto him regarding the Prius:

Maybe I am the grandfather by now.

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Review: 2014 Lexus GS 450h http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/review-2014-lexus-gs-450h-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/03/review-2014-lexus-gs-450h-with-video/#comments Mon, 03 Mar 2014 14:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=750313 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-004

Last time TTAC looked at the Lexus GS Hybrid, Jack and I descended upon Vegas, drank too much, shared too much and one of us got purse-slapped (it wasn’t Jack). In other news, Jack found the GS a willing partner on the track, I kept drawing comparisons to the Volvo S80 T6 and Hyundai Genesis, and both of us agreed the GS 450h would be the car we’d buy. Despite telling you all that we would have a full review in “a few months,” it has in fact been “a few years.” Since that pair of articles hit, the luxury hybrid landscape has changed dramatically.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-001

The GS used to be the only hybrid game in town, but times have changed and nearly everyone has joined the party. BMW has their turbocharged ActiveHybrid 5, Mercedes just launched the E400 Hybrid, Infiniti has re-badged their M Hybrid the Q70 Hybrid, Acura is finally selling the all-wheel-drive RLX Hybrid and Audi has announced the A6 hybrid will come to America “soon” . This means that the S80 T6 and Genesis are no longer on my list, because we have head-to-head competition now.

Exterior

Lexus used to be known for restrained styling but the current generation GS marked a change for the Japanese luxury brand. In addition to taking on more aggressive front end styling, the GS was the first Lexus to wear the new “spindle” grille. The schnozz that seemed so controversial three years ago seems downright demure today, especially since this form has been adapted to the enormous (and some say questionable) LX 470. Perhaps because the GS was the first to wear the corporate grille, the styling seems slightly awkward from the front 3/4 shot (seen at the top) but looks better in person. Unlike the IS, which gets some sheetmetal swooshes on the side, the GS’s profile and rump are luxury car restrained. Overall I think the Infiniti Q70 hybrid, despite being a little long in the tooth, still wins the beauty contest. The Lexus and BMW are a bit too sedate for my tastes, and the RLX and A6 suffer from decidedly front-wheel-drive proportions when compared to the rest and the Mercedes lands smack in the middle.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior

Interior

The GS’ interior is dominated by a large and tall dashboard with a strong horizontal theme highlighting a large 12.3-inch LCD. The interior arrangement is certainly dramatic, but causes the cabin to have a slightly oppressive feel in the black shades our tester was cast in. While other car makers are moving to stitched leather dashed, Lexus seems content to blend stitched pleather and injection molded parts together. The combination of textures and  “un-lacquered” bamboo (exclusive to the hybrid) make the interior look Scandinavian. The light wood is more attractive in person than pictures might indicate, and while I question the “renewable resource” marketing on a large luxury sedan, like the hybrid drivetrain, I’m sure it will make shoppers feel special.

Base hybrid models get very comfortable 10-way power front seats, but most of the GS 450h sedans I saw on the lot were equipped with 18-way seats. The high-end throne sports the same types of articulation as BMW’s excellent “sport seats” with an articulating back, inflating bolsters, adjustable thigh support, four-way lumbar and  “butterfly” headrests. Needless to say, if you have trouble finding a comfortable seating position, you’re not human. This puts the GS hybrid at a distinct advantage in front comfort over the Mercedes, Audi and Infiniti models. Out back the GS’s rear seats are spacious, comfortable and optionally heated. While the Lexus and Infiniti fail to offer a folding rear seat, the Mercedes E400 hybrid has a generous cargo pass-through behind its optional 60/40 rear thrones.

Infotainment

Wide-screen infotainment systems are all the rage, so Lexus dropped a 12.3-inch LCD in the dash. The system ditches the intuitive touchscreen interface Lexus used for the better part of a decade for the Lexus joystick (it’s officially called Lexus Remote Touch) but importantly doesn’t alter the software to adapt to the input method. I hate it. It occupies a great deal of room on the center console, and it takes far more hand-eye-brain coördination than a touchscreen. Every time I am in a Lexus I find myself glancing at the screen and fiddling with the little control pad far more than when I’m in a competitor’s luxury sedan. This increased distraction hasn’t gone unnoticed by my better half who constantly nags me about keeping my eyes on the road. Want to enter an address using the on-screen QWERTY keyboard? It’s obvious why Lexus won’t let you do that in motion.

To soften the blow Lexus throws in the same media device voice command interface as the other Lexus and premium Toyota products receive. The system is snappy, managed to figure out every command I threw at and has a more natural sounding voice than MyLincoln Touch. Helping counter the nagging LRT caused (see how that’s not my fault now), the available Mark Levinson sound system can drown out even the most shrill mother-in-laws.

Perhaps reinforcing that Lexus focuses on the “meat” of the luxury segment and not the one-percent, you won’t find the same level of gee-wizardry in the GS as some of the Euro competitors, even in this top-end hybrid model. You won’t find night vision, a full-leather dashboard, expensive ceramic knobs, massaging front seats, or LCD instrument clusters. Instead, Lexus doubles down on perfect seams, quiet cabins, a high level of standard equipment and quantities of bamboo that would Lumber Liquidators make blush.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Engine-001

Drivetrain

While the GS 350 recently got an update in the form of a new Aisin 8-speed automatic, the GS 450h continues with just a minor software update. This means under the hood you will find the same direct-injection 3.5L Atkinson-cycle V6 engine and RWD hybrid transmission that launched in 2011. Combined with a 1.9 kWh NiMH battery pack in the trunk the system is good for 338 combined horsepower, 286 of which come from the gasoline engine. This is essentially the same engine found in the Highlander and RX hybrids, but the transmission is more similar to what Lexus uses in the LS 600hL. The unit combines the two motor/generator units with a 2-speed planetary gearset to improve efficiency at high speeds (as in on the Autobahn) but without the AWD system standard in the LS 600hL. The 2014 software update improves “sportiness” in sport mode and now imitates an 8-speed automatic instead of a 6-speed. While 338 horsepower compares well with the 6-cylinder competition, the GS 450h has the unenviable task of trying to be both the most efficient GS and the performance version as well. For reasons nobody knows, the more efficient GS 300h which uses a 2.5L four-cylinder engine is not sold in America.

By design, the Lexus hybrid system is very different from the competition. The two motor/generator units and the electrical circuitry combine with a single planetary gearsest to “act” as a continuously variable transmission. This setup allows the drivetrain to act as a serial hybrid (kind of), parallel hybrid, electric generator, or a pure EV at low speeds. In contrast Mercedes, BMW and Infiniti combine a traditional transmission with a single electric motor that replaces the torque converter. Transitions between electric and gasoline drive modes in these systems aren’t as smooth as the Lexus system because of the clutch packs involved in reconnecting the engine. Meanwhile Acura combines a dual-clutch robotic manual transmission with a twin-motor pack in the rear for the only AWD hybrid luxury sedan in this category.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Interior-002

Pricing

GS 450h pricing starts at  $60,430 which is a considerable jump from the $47,700 GS 350, but in true luxury car fashion, you may be disappointed with what $60,000 buys you. Unlike BMW and Mercedes which offer plenty of ala carte options, the GS hybrid comes in three feature levels.  Base models don’t get navigation or snazzy LED headlamps. If you want those toys plus the 18-way front seats, semi-aniline leather, steering headlamps, heated steering wheel, 3-zone climate control, black and white heads up display, blind spot monitoring and a trunk mat, be prepared to lay down $72,062. A fully loaded $76,726 example gets the buyer heated rear seats, headlamp washers, a “high intensity heater” (an electric heater that will heat the cabin faster in cold weather), a windshield de-icer, water-repellent glass, radar cruise control with pre-collision warning, lane keeping assistant, remote engine starter, glass breakage sensor and a rear spoiler.

76 large may sound like an expensive buy, but the ActiveHybrid 5 takes the cake with a starting price of $61,400 and a fully loaded price of $87,185. Acura has been cagey about RLX hybrid pricing but their presentation at the launch indicated they plan on following Lexus’s pricing structure quite closely. Meanwhile, the Mercedes E400 hybrid delivered an unexpected value proposition with a low $56,700 starting price and when fully equipped with features not available on the GS it manages to still be slightly cheaper at $76,095. The Infiniti hybrid hasn’t changed its value proposition despite the name change and the Q70′s $55,550-$67,605 is the lowest in the group. Audi hasn’t announced A6 hybrid pricing but I expect it to slot in around the E400.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-003

Drive

To put things in the right perspective, I have to go back to the GS hybrid’s conflicted mission. Since Lexus decided to kill off the V8 GS sedan in this generation, Lexus doesn’t have a direct answer to the BMW 550i, Mercedes E550, Audi S6, or even the Infiniti Q70 5.6 (formerly known as the M56). This means the GS 450h has a secondary mission as the top-end GS trim while the other hybrids (except for the RLX) are middle-tier options and this puts the GS in an odd bind. Lexus tells us that the reason the GS lacks a V8 is that only 5% of the Germans are shipped with one. While that may be true in Europe, it certainly doesn’t seem to be the case in California.

The split mission is most obvious when it comes to the performance numbers. Despite having more power than the GS 350, the GS 450h is slower to 60 than its gasoline-only stable mate and considerably slower than the BMW, Infiniti, and even the Acura with the only the Mercedes being slower to highway speed. Still, 0-60 in 6-seconds is hardly slow and the GS performs the task with the silence and serenity you expect from a luxury sedan. Although Lexus describes the transmission as an eCVT, this isn’t a belt/pulley CVT like you find in economy cars. As a result, it feels more civilized and less “rubber-bandy.” I found the CVT manners throughly appropriate for a luxury car and the smooth acceleration befits a brand built on smooth drivetrains. Unlike a “real CVT,” engaging the eight imitation speeds is quick and easy with fast shifts from one “gear” to another. Unfortunately this does little for the GS hybrid’s sport credentials and in no way helps it compete with the V8s from the German competition.

2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-009

Although the GS gives up plenty in the thrust-department, it really shines in the bends. The GS’s chassis is well sorted and nearly perfectly balanced. All GS hybrid models get a standard adaptive suspension system with several levels of damping, but unlike the air suspension in the Lexus LS, the GS’s adaptive suspension is based on electronically controlled struts much like the BMW system. This eliminates the “disconnected” and “floaty” feeling you get with air suspensions found on full-size luxo-barges. When pushed in the corners the GS quite simply feels better than the BMW. Yep. I said it. Today’s 5-series has a more luxurious mission in mind, so the little it gives up to the GS shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Mercedes and Infiniti feel very accurate, although heavy, and the Audi and RLX are a mixed bag. Unless Audi works some unexpected magic, the A6 hybrid will remain decidedly nose-heavy. The Acura RLX, although it has a similar weight distribution problem as the Audi, has a slick torque vectoring AWD system in the back. Not only can the RLX torque vector in power-on situations like a electronically controlled conventional rear axle, but it can torque vector in “neutral” and “power off” situations as well. Although the RLX feels by far the most “artificial” in the group on winding mountain roads, it is one of the better handling sedans and at the moment the only AWD hybrid in this category.

Of course the primary reason for buying a hybrid is to save on gas. Right? Maybe. With a 29 MPG City, 34 MPG Highway and 31 MPG combined rating there’s no doubt that the GS 450h is a fuel sipping 338 horsepower luxury sedan. However at more than $10,000 more expensive than a similarly equipped GS 350 it would take you more than 20 years to “save money.” We did average an excellent 31.5 MPG over 800 miles with the GS hybrid, a notable improvement over the Infiniti hybrid and the short time I spent in the RLX hybrid. Although we haven’t extensively tested the BMW and Mercedes hybrids yet, brief spins in both indicate they will slot in under the GS. There’s one more problem for the GS: Mercedes’ new E250 diesel. No, it’s not a speed daemon, but at 34 mpg combined it not only makes up for the higher cost of diesel with the higher fuel economy, it starts around $9,000 less than a GS 450h as well.

The GS 450h is without a doubt the best Lexus GS sedan available. It gives up little in terms of performance while delivering excellent fuel economy, a quiet and comfortable cabin and most of the gadgets and gizmos a luxury shopper could buy. Trouble is, unless the Lexus dealer is the only game in town, nearly every other alternative in this segment has a list of reasons to buy it over the GS. The RLX has a trendy AWD system despite the discount brand association, the Q70′s brand image isn’t quite as premium but it’s thousands less, the Mercedes takes the sweet spot in the middle known as “value” (how’s that for a surprise?) and the BMW offers the best performance and the biggest list of options if you can afford it. As the top end trim for the GS line the 450h also has troubles coming in just about as expensive as the competition’s V8 offerings but offering no better performance than the GS 350. The biggest problem for the GS however is the price. If the GS 450h was $5,000-$7,000 less expensive,  this would be an easy win. As it is, the GS manages to be the car I liked the most in this segment, but the one I’d be least likely to buy.

 

Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.88 Seconds

0-60: 6.01 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.49 Seconds @ 104 MPH

Average observed fuel economy: 31.5 MPH over 800 miles

Cabin noise at 50 MPH: 68 dB

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Japanese Brands Dominate Consumer Reports Rankings, Detroit Three Struggling http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/japanese-brands-dominate-consumer-reports-rankings-detroit-three-struggling/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/japanese-brands-dominate-consumer-reports-rankings-detroit-three-struggling/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 15:30:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=754369 2014 Lexus GS 450h Hybrid Exterior-004

Though quality and performance have improved as of late for products made by the Detroit Three, they still have a ways to go to beat the Japanese brands dominating Consumer Reports‘ current rankings.

Automotive News reports seven of the top 10 brands rated for overall reliability and road-test performance as conducted by the magazine are Japanese, while the two top Detroit brands — Buick and GMC — tied for 12th; Ford and Jeep tied for last place.

The top-rated brand for the second consecutive year was Lexus, scoring 79 out of 100 for their lineup deemed “quiet, plush, and very reliable” by Consumer Reports. Following the luxury brand were Acura, Audi, Subaru and Toyota (tied for fourth place), Mazda, Honda, Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW and Volvo (tied for 10th).

As for where the remaining Detroit Three brands landed, Chrysler took up the 14th position while Chevrolet, Cadillac, Dodge and the aforementioned Ford and Jeep rounding out the bottom of the rankings behind Nissan, the lowest ranked Japanese brand in a tie with Volkswagen for 19th.

Ford and Jeep’s dead-last ranking is the result of technology woes for the former’s MyFord Touch infotainment system, and a “crude and outdated” lineup — including a Grand Cherokee suffering from weakened reliability, and a Cherokee that the magazine says “isn’t that competitive” — for the latter. Ford, in particular, is a “sad story” according to CR director of auto testing Jake Fisher:

The Ford Fusion, not only does it look, but it drives like a good European sports car. It really does. The problem is the reliability, and that’s what’s dragging down that brand.

Meanwhile, Fisher notes that if General Motors had “a whole lineup of Impalas,” considered the best large sedan based on road tests conducted by the magazine, the automaker would be at the top of the rankings. Overall, Fisher believes the Detroit Three as a whole are “going the right way” in terms of reliability and performance.

Regarding individual models, the Ram 1500 was rated the Best Pickup over the Silverado/Sierra twins in part due to the lack of reliability information for the latter two, while Hyundai captured the trophy Best Mid-Size SUV for their Santa Fe, Subaru holding off the Honda CR-V with their Forester for Best Small SUV, and Tesla, whose Model S holds the highest overall score ever given by the magazine: 99 out of 100, takes home the Overall trophy.

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Chicago 1989: Where Are They Now? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/chicago-1989-where-are-they-now/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/chicago-1989-where-are-they-now/#comments Thu, 06 Feb 2014 17:10:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=735185 1989-Acura-NSX-prototype-during-Chicago-Auto-Show-public-days

The 2014 Chicago Auto Show marks the 25th anniversary of the introduction of two of God’s most perfect creations: The Mazda Miata and the Acura NSX. Long-time readers will know that I have a strong affinity for both of these cars. The Miata was the first car I ever owned, while the NSX remains a focal point in my relationship with the automobile.

Automobile Magazine takes a look at both of those cars, as well as three others – the Lexus LS400, the Infiniti Q45 and the Nissan 300ZX – in what is considered to be a very strong draft class for the Japanese auto industry. Four of the five cars still exist in one form or another, with the NSX said to be just around the corner – though that’s been the word since it was discontinued roughly a decade ago.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is that even today, these cars still stand the test of time, whether it’s a pristinely preserved Miata or a tired LS400. Get behind the wheel of any of them, and they still manage to thrill and excite, even if they don’t seem quite so fresh.

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Capsule Comparison: Infiniti M35h vs. Lexus GS450h http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/capsule-comparison-infiniti-m35h-vs-lexus-gs450h/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/capsule-comparison-infiniti-m35h-vs-lexus-gs450h/#comments Mon, 20 Jan 2014 14:00:20 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=702946 GS450h_01

Both Infiniti and Lexus know how to ruin a car. The Lexus GS 450h and the Infiniti M Hybrid are what results from taking a fundamentally good car and adding a bustle full of batteries. It’s more galling now because of what’s happened to these two. For years, both the M and the GS were mildly interesting also-rans that couldn’t compete with the established segment leaders on any measure but price/value. But now, you’ve got an Eastern Jaguar and a crisp Arleigh-Burke class sedan that are mounting a more credible challenge against the benchmark Germans. The M and GS have learned how to control dynamics to deliver the Patris, fillii et Spiritius Sancti of performance, handling and luxury. Hybrid versions of these cars seriously blunt the excellence, and it’s a damn shame.

First, holy crap are they expensive! Cars that cost like a Cayenne and don’t deliver on their promise of increased performance are offensive. For all that extra blood and treasure, you get a GS 450h and an M Hybrid that are as satisfying as non-fat bacon. The very thing Lexus and Infiniti charge a premium for is what totally mars the driving experience.

M35H_01

The M35 Hybrid is an example of Infiniti aping more than just Jaguar’s styling. This sedan that’s all swoops and haunches comes in at a Coventry-worthy $54,750 base price. The Malbec Black M35 Hybrid I drove a few months back was certainly good looking. The wine-inspired color looks black in most conditions but blooms a subtle deep purple in bright sunlight. It’s pretty, and Infiniti does great interiors, especially this car with its Deluxe Touring Package upgrades. There was buttery leather all over the place, and the light-colored Stone upholstery contrasted handsomely with the dark exterior. Glossy wood accents and organic forms round out the cabin in the Infiniti, all to beautiful, expensive-feeling effect. That’s good, because who wants to spend the $67,000 for the M Hybrid I tried and get a cheaped-out interior?

M35H_17

To get from the $55K base price to $67,000 takes just three steps. The Stone interior with White Ash silver-powdered wood trim requires the addition of the $4,200 Premium Package and its Deluxe Touring Package cohort, a $3,900 sidekick. That $8,100 spiff buys you navigation, Bose audio, heated steering wheel, climate-controlled seats, and rear sonar in the Premium Package. The Deluxe Touring Package side of the packing sheet is how you get the silvered wood and deeper-dyed semi-aniline leather, more soft-touch materials, stitched meter hood and suede-like headliner. Wonder what it would take to get an actual suede ceiling. You get surround sound too, silly in an automotive interior, especially for content that’s largely *not* surround-encoded, but whatever. None of this has anything to do with the enthusiast’s definition of touring, deluxe or otherwise.

M35H_19

 

The final push to $67,000 for the M Hybrid came courtesy of the $3,050 Technology Package, chock-full of crap to annoy you if you’re accustomed to the act of actively driving. That’s three grand better spent on driving courses. Or, if you like paying more to be aggravated, that sum buys a lot of current pop music that you can listen to on the horribly-phasey surround sound rig (it sounds fine in stereo mode.)

GS450h_02

 

The Lexus GS 450h may not have the outward expressiveness or interior decorator flair of the M Hybrid, but it’s no ugly duckling. Attractive in a more conservative way, the GS has straighter lines in its styling and that polarizing Spindle Grille up front. The interior of the GS 450h follows the same pattern. Well-assembled, high-quality, an overall solid effort that doesn’t try to break new artistic ground.

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Looking at the GS and M Hybrids next to each other, you might get distracted by the glitz of the Infiniti and think it costs more, but the GS 450h was the pricing heavyweight in this matchup. What I drove was $70,252 worth of disappointing cha-ching. In general, I’m not as over the moon for the GS model line as I am for the excellent new IS that slots in below it, but part of the mission of this model was to reinvigorate the Lexus/Toyota lineup with more passion and enthusiast-pleasing dynamics. It succeeds on those points except as a hybrid.

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As with the Infiniti, the Lexus GS 450h can push into territory that seems absurd, though I suspect there’d be less squawking if we were talking Roundels or Stars. The GS 450h starts at $59,600 promising V8-like thrust and fuel economy and emissions figures that look more like what you’d expect from a 2.0 liter. That’s two extremes of hyperbolic bullshit for the price of…both extremes. 338 total horsepower is not V8 level power anymore, and 2.0 liter engines do better than 34 mpg highway. A Corvette now comes close to that. The GS 450h is well-equipped out of the gate, with perforated leather seats, 10-way power adjustable with heating and ventilation for driver and front seat passenger, handsome matte-finish bamboo wood accents offering the Lexus counterpoint to Infiniti’s glossy wood, power window sunshades, a host of automatic features like rain sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirrors, climate control, power tilt and telescopic steering column, and premium audio.

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A spreadsheet comparing the GS and M hybrids is going to have lots of tit-for-tat checkmarks. These are closely-matched cars. The options and packages side of the GS 450h is a bit more a-la-carte than the way Infiniti does things with high-content (and high cost) packages. The biggest optional extra on this GS 450h was the $5,255 Luxury Package, which added power-folding self-dimming exterior mirrors, a power moonroof, 19” wheels, roof rails, memory for the driver’s seat, mirror and steering wheel settings and LED headlights. Adding navigation to make full use of the 12.3” LCD costs $1,735, and the heads-up display (a feature I adore and want to be mandatory in all cars) is $900. Blind Spot Monitoring runs $700, and the power trunk will empty another $400 out of your wallet. Intuitive Park Assist piles on with its own $500 surcharge, too.

GS450h_10

 

Both of these cars feature a farcical knob to adjust driving dynamics. Oh, it has an effect – selecting the sport settings on either will sharpen responsiveness and twiddle damper settings with noticeable results. It’s just that these are both still turkeys when it comes to being performance sedans. Low rolling resistance tires, the weight of a bunch of extra hardware and weird powertrain handoffs between electric motor, gas engine, regeneration and friction braking and numbed-up steering completely ruins it. There is no fun to be had here.

M35H_13

The GS undergoes a more dramatic shift when you call up the sportiest of sport modes. The steering, which is actually nicely weighted, gets appropriately heavier, but there’s still nothing tactile at all about it. What is tactile is the way the powertrain bumps and flails around between electric-only, gas and electric and gas-only propulsion. There’s good chassis discipline, though, even on the horrible tires that are probably the biggest contributor to the disappointment. The M Hybrid, with its more gruff engine note and even more pronounced sensations is worse, though it’s more willing to run farther and faster in EV mode. The M will sail along on the highway and readily kill the V6, something the GS is a lot more reluctant to do at 60-something MPH. Total M Hybrid power is a more robust 360 hp, too. Going hybrid with either of these cars is  an unsatisfyingly weird way to go about the business of being a premium sedan with some performance capability.

M35H_05

Against the most refined hybrids in the business, Toyota/Lexus, the Infiniti almost feels like a prototype. That doesn’t mean the GS got off scot-free. Lexus has done its best to isolate the occupants from the mechanicals, but that’s hard to do when the car is supposed to have some extra enthusiast appeal, where a palpable connection to the hardware is considered a feature. In both cars there’s a noticeable shudder when the gas engine is fired, and it also creates a surge, however subtle, in acceleration. On several occasions, the Lexus became very confused about what to do during steady-state cruising and set up its own odd and annoying throttle oscillation. Engaging the somnambulant Eco mode quashed that one.

 

Let’s talk braking. Regenerative brakes are de rigeur for hybrids, and they’re awesome at capturing kinetic energy and putting it back into the battery. They’re even now pretty good at the transitional handoff to the friction brakes, but they’re not perfect. In both these cars, the low-traction tires and regenerative brakes conspire to deliver less braking than you think you’re getting, leading to a couple days of “oh crap!” hard stops before you acclimate. The systems also sometimes didn’t know when to hand off, and would vacillate between a stab at the hydraulic stoppers and a dollop of regen, otherwise known as stopping like your Uncle Morty in his ‘78 St Regis. Barf.

Let’s be clear, I am a fan of hybrids. There are some vehicles like the Prius C, that I get a tremendous kick out of. That little hatchback, with its battery supply of automotive TPN, is a great time. It gets stellar mileage, it’s even entertaining to drive. The GS 450h and M 35 hybrid, do return improved mileage over their gas only counterparts, but the difference isn’t that large. The Lexus returned me about 29 miles per gallon average over 600 miles. That’s pretty good for a vehicle its size, and it’s right on the 29 mpg city number, but my driving was 60 percent highway, and so should have been closer to the 34 mpg highway number. The Infiniti M Hybrid is supposed to return 27/32, and I saw about 28.5 mpg average, though the experience lagged even that of the excessively-compromised Lexus.

M35H_10

So let’s address the inevitable “you’re missing the point, these are hybrids! They’re boulevardiers!” If that were true, would Infiniti be marketing the M Hybrid as the “fastest accelerating full hybrid on the planet?” Would Lexus be trying to make hay out of the GS 450h’s 5.6 second 0-60 time? Would there be a “Sport” mode in each of these? No, the point both Lexus and Infiniti are trying to make is that you can have your cake and eat it, too. That’s just not true. You’re right, though, these cars are boulevardiers. Good ones. There’s plenty of trunk space in each, the interiors are sumptuous, both cars look good in their own way. The overheated marketing must help them move iron by giving people who will never clip an apex a bunch of facts and figures to rattle off. Kinda like GTO in Two Lane Blacktop, without the GTO.

This can’t come down to a draw, there has to be a winner, and I think first place goes to the Infiniti M Hybrid. There is no official scoring, just an informed opinion and time behind the wheel. The Infiniti is more powerful, it’s more expressively styled, and it’s less expensive. Another plus is the Infiniti has easier to use tech. The Lexus does have more features and capabilities with its infotainment and driver-assistance features, but they’re not as easy to use. That opens the door for the years-older Infiniti system to better the much newer Lexus software and control. The Lexus system may be new, but it immediately feels dated and is more cumbersome to use. It will, however, read text messages to you, and when your friends find out, they’ll send you all sorts of amusingly vile phrases for Lexus-voice-lady to read.

The outcome would be different if we were talking gas-only, as there’s a better chassis and platform underpinning the Lexus GS. Since neither of these cars can come anywhere close to using their underlying potential, it comes down to which is less annoying to drive. That goes to the Infiniti M Hybrid. The fact that you can widen the price gulf further in the Infiniti’s favor by leaving off the Technology Package (again, it’s filled with stuff I immediately disabled and left disabled for my entire time with the car) makes it pull away from the GS even more.

M35H_08

The biggest takeaway from this comparison test for me is the fact that the next generation of both these cars will probably be really fantastic. I’m looking forward to the day these things go down the road seamlessly. Or, if you don’t want to wait for hybrids to get that good, get a Tesla now and be extra-smug.

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Lexus RC-F Unveiled Prior to 2014 Detroit Auto Show Debut http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/lexus-rc-f-unveiled-prior-to-2014-detroit-auto-show-debut/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/lexus-rc-f-unveiled-prior-to-2014-detroit-auto-show-debut/#comments Wed, 08 Jan 2014 20:11:13 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=695273 2015 Lexus RC-F 01

From the same division that birthed the Lexus IS-F and LFA comes the RC-F Coupe, which will turn up next week during the 2014 Detroit Auto Show to punch both BMW and Mercedes-AMG in the face.

Though the luxury automaker hasn’t dropped any hard numbers thus far, Lexus claims the V8 behind the unmasked Predator face will be their most powerful yet. How powerful? The IS-F dropped 420 horses in its day, so it’s possible the former’s 5-liter will be massaged to expel 500 horsepower to the rear wheels through its eight-speed Sport Direct Shift Transmission.

Aside from the aforementioned beastly visage, the RC-F Coupe — based upon the original RC that debuted at the 2013 Tokyo Auto Show — features tons of creased surfaces broken up by flared wheel arches. The front bumper directs airflow over the car and toward the brakes and engine, while vertical air vents positioned behind the front wheels allow heated brake air to escape. Stacked dual tailpipes and speed-sensitive active aero in the rear complete the package.

 

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Capsule Review: Lexus IS250 AWD http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-lexus-is250/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/review-lexus-is250/#comments Tue, 31 Dec 2013 16:28:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=690634 DSC_4625
It’s happened, all in a neat confluence of threes. By my decree, the third generation of the Lexus IS has surpassed the BMW 3 Series. While BMW has been busying itself creating niches for increasingly grotesque vehicle-type-things, Lexus has turned out a pair of legitimately great sports sedans, first in the GS and now in the new 2014 IS. This from a company who’s top sellers are Camry cousins.

After spending a week with the 2014 Lexus IS250 AWD it took me another couple weeks to shut up about it. That rarely happens, and when it does, it means that the car is simply fantastic. You’re probably all incredulous now, especially since this isn’t even the F Sport version with its stiffened suspension tune. This IS should be the least exciting of all, except it’s not.

There’s something about the way this car is pieced together and highly burnished that transcends the tiny 2.5 liter V6 and its equally-tiny 204 hp, not to mention the even-tinier 184 lb-ft of torque. A base-model Chevrolet Malibu has 10 more lb-ft and nearly as much horsepower from a four cylinder. A six-speed automatic, even with paddle shifters, pales in comparison to the eight- and nine-speed proliferation, and the IS has always been known for its cozy dimensions. And yet, it all comes together to just feel right.

Let’s get real for a minute. A 204 hp V6 in this era is only noteworthy for what it lacks, but look past the cylinder count and you’ll find that the output numbers square with the displacement. That Malibu I cited earlier has a 2.5 liter four cylinder, which, when you think about it, explains why the torque is better and the horsepower is about the same. The Lexus uses Toyota’s 4GR-FSE V6, which has 77 mm of stroke, while the Ecotec in the Malibu has a 100 mm stroke. There’s your torque difference, right there, though the Chevy’s 88 mm bore is also larger than the 83 mm cylinder diameter of the Lexus V6, which means bigger pistons travelling a longer distance and fewer firing pulses to go around. So, while it rocks a small V6, the power level is right on the money for a 2.5 liter engine, and because it’s a 60-degree V6, it doesn’t rock like a four.

The BMW 3 Series, the clear benchmark for anyone making this kind of car, now uses a four cylinder as its standard engine, and back when it was still an “E” instead of an “F,” it was about the same size as the 2014 Lexus IS. The 3 Series has put on inches and pounds while the IS 250 has stayed tight. The new Lexus styling language, Spindle Grille and all, is at its most handsome here, with characterful taillights that blend seamlessly into the creased shoulder line that runs across the tops of the doors and the pointed outer edges of the lenses align cleverly with a feature line rising from the rocker panels. The new IS is a handsome car.

Because of its standard V6, the IS 250 has fewer bad vibrations to manage, and maybe that’s why so many good vibes are able to make their way to the palms of your hands and the seat of your pants. The IS used to feel tiny and old. It was tighter than a Corolla, kinda growly and didn’t reward the driver for putting up with any of its shortcomings. The 2014 Lexus IS is still about Corolla-sized. In fact, there’s significantly more rear legroom in the lowly Toyota, and other dimensions, like wheelbase, overall length and trunk size are within spitting distance of each other. Just looking at the numbers might give you the impression what the IS is just a Lexus Corolla, but that’s just not so.

Have you stopped dreaming about what a Lexed-up Corolla would be like? It’s not likely that you’ll confuse the workaday Toyota with the sufficiently premium 2014 IS. Getting into the IS 250 is a reminder of a time when cars didn’t trade visibility for crash test stars. The base of the windshield is nice and low, and from the driver’s seat it’s an easy lean to adjust the furthest passenger side HVAC vent. The IS is a cozy environment, with the A pillar topping out just above your forehead. And of course, there’s that back seat with a scant 32.2 inches of legroom. With just 101 cubic feet of passenger volume, claustrophobes need not apply.

The benefit of this dimensional tidiness is that it makes the tired, two-bit car writer phrases work. Controls really *do* “fall close at hand,” for example. The materials are high quality, from the supportive, comfortable, widely-adjustable seats to the plastics on the dash and door panels, right down to the knobs. The 2014 IS 250 feels good in your hands, even the secondary controls. The acorn-colored, handsomely-stitched seats with heat and ventilation were very agreeable, though the extra bolstering of the available sport seats would have been plenty welcome.

Control stalks feel precise, the steering wheel has nubbins to promote a proper grip for getting the most out of the chassis, and even the touch-sensitive cabin temperature adjustment is responsive and not infuriating like the button-free options in Cadillac or Lincoln models. It may be somewhat devoid of whimsy, but the interior of the 2014 Lexus IS is a den of quality. The Lexus mouse is right there, too, giving you control over the infotainment system that can link up with your phone and an online account and apps. The system can read text messages to you and there are also canned responses that you can send back through your paired phone while driving. You can add to the presets, as well, and that’s pretty slick, if not a whole lot less distracting than fumbling with a handset.

The IS is now highway bomber happy to strafe along in the fast lane at highly extra-legal speeds without being the least bit perturbed by it. It may be powered by a small engine, and the AWD version I drove has extra underbits to sponge up acceleration, but that tiny V6 is a heart of gold. In fact, while the IS 350 has 100 more horsepower that’s surely entertaining in its own right, the IS 250 doesn’t lack for grins. There’s fewer places where you can exercise the bigger stable, anyway, but you can enjoy the polished ride and handling balance that is a just-right blend of control and supple absorption. Someone at Lexus knows how to tune a suspension, and again, this isn’t even an F-Sport. Every corner becomes an opportunity to find the line, you get useful feedback through the steering wheel and it even loads up through corners just like it’s supposed to.

If you’re looking to be astounded in 2014, take a 2014 Lexus IS for a spin. Start with the 250. I promise it’s all I’ve cracked it up to be. To use another tired-ass hack autowriter phrase, the 2014 IS 250 AWD is truly a Goldilocks car. It’s always entertaining, it has AWD for crappy weather (probably only actually useful when paired with winter tires), it’s a high-quality car that’s very comfortable and highly composed, and even with the small V6, it’s confident and assertive on the road, if not outright speedy.

Here’s the highest praise I can give a car: I would buy this. That’s right. If I had $45K to spend on a car, the 2014 Lexus IS 250 AWD would be a purchase I’d happily make. Now you know the secret of what the car pundit would drive if this industry paid as handsomely as we wish it did.

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Vellum Venom Vignette: Ovoid Fixation Edition? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/vellum-venom-vignette-ovoid-fixation-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/12/vellum-venom-vignette-ovoid-fixation-edition/#comments Tue, 24 Dec 2013 13:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=686786

Ryan writes:

OK, so the granddaddy of oval car logos must be the Ford blue oval, but they sure do have a lot of imitators. So, how about a Vellum Venom on Comparative Oval Logos in the Automotive Industry? Or if you don’t like this pitch, maybe put Sanjeev on it. I bet he’d do this article.

Here’s the logos I can think of right now, all horizontal ovals:

  • Ford
  • Subaru
  • Kia
  • Hyundai
  • Toyota (the modern tri-oval T logo)
  • Daewoo
  • Infiniti
  • Scion
  • (Don’t forget Lexus and Land Rover – SM)

An oval (technically these logos are all ellipse-shaped, but nobody calls it the “blue ellipse”) is a pretty basic shape, but when I think of other corporate logos, I don’t see a lot of horizontal ovals (round logos? Yes, both in and out of the car industry). Even the proportions of these logos all seem pretty close (though Ford looks like the widest of the bunch).

Sajeev answers:

That Sanjeev jerk didn’t spend a year at The College of Creative Studies honing his immense drawing skills into an…ummm…dammit, he gets no airtime in this series!

Now, you have a very valid point: corporations be rippin’ off the Ford logo like whoa.

But it’s wiser to go Ford Oval instead of something potentially displeasing to the buying public, even though I can’t stand the copycat-ism either. Yet I found myself “under the influence” in CCS’ design studios.  The worst was a front fascia I made similar to a GEN I Prius, with a more exaggerated snout.  It was the first rendering of my second semester at CCS. And the result? Scorn? Shame and ostracization?

Nope.  People were kinda quiet, instead of openly critical.  Others, those I considered friends, said, “Whatever you did over Christmas break, it’s working! You are really getting the hang of it now!” Even my normally harsh teacher mentioned my progress.

It was bittersweet, as this wasn’t my best work. Even if it was…

So what’s the problem?  Design studios are all about concept inbreeding: if GM (Harley Earl, Bill Mitchell) does it, why not do the same as their cross-town rival? Fame and fortune await!  Or maybe we’ll hire their design honcho for ourselves (KIA), reaping even more fortune! As Grandmaster Flash said in the link above:

“Cause it’s all about the Money, ain’t a damn thing Funny.

You got to have a con in this land of Milk and Honey.”

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QOTD: Better Off Mainstream? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/qotd-better-off-mainstream/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/qotd-better-off-mainstream/#comments Wed, 27 Nov 2013 15:30:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=665738 SONY DSC

Speaking at a preview event for the next-generation Hyundai Genesis, Hyundai CEO John Krafcik defended his company’s decision to forgo establishing a seperate luxury channel for cars like the Genesis and Equus. While the rationale put forth usually revolves around the exorbitantly expensive pricetag for launching a new brand and an all-new sales network, Krafcik put it from another angle.

Speaking to Automotive News, Krafcik remarked

“I do believe that when the three premium Japanese brands were launched, it was during a certain time in the industry when there was a certain optimism about where the industry was headed,” he said.

“I really believe that if those three companies had a chance to really think about their path, they might have taken the path that we chose.”

The epoch that saw the launch of Infiniti, Acura and Lexus was the peak of Japan’s “bubble”, when Japanese automakers seemed to have limitless budgets for new vehicle R&D, marketing (think of those wacky home-market ads with Hollywood star endorsements) and sales channels (whether it was new luxury brands in America or multiple sales channels in Japan).

At the time, the rationale was that a Nissan President or Toyota Aristo was suitable for sale with a more plebian badge in Japan, but American consumers would not be willing to shell out premium car money for a luxury sedan sold alongside a Corolla or a Civic, no matter how good it was.

Nearly three decades on and Acura is largely confined to America and China, while Infiniti seems to be stuck in the mud as far as becoming a global luxury brand. Even Lexus, which has become a household name on par with BMW or Mercedes-Benz, hasn’t made any kind of dent in Europe. Do you agree with Krafcik’s assessment? Let us know in the comments.

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2013 Guangzhou Auto Show: 2014 Lexus CT200h http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/2013-guangzhou-auto-show-2014-lexus-ct200h/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/2013-guangzhou-auto-show-2014-lexus-ct200h/#comments Fri, 22 Nov 2013 14:00:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=660754

Click here to view the embedded video.

While other automotive sites are patting themselves on the back for their comprehensive blanket coverage of the Los Angeles and Tokyo Auto Show, the TTAC Staff robot has been burning the midnight oil to bring you news from the third major auto show being held this week, Auto Guangzhou, held in China’s third largest city. While not yet at the rank of LA and Tokyo, the Guangzhou show is major enough that Lexus decided to debut the new Lexus CT200h, the first major update to Toyota’s luxury version of the Prius hybrid since the CT200h was introduced in 2010. It gets cosmetic changes, being the last Lexus model to get the corporate “spindle” grille, as well as better structural rigidity, suspension refinements, better aero and improved NVH levels. Despite the sportier look, the CT200h continues with the same 134 horsepower 1.8 liter version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, driving the car through a continuously variable transmission. Lexus estimates EPA gas mileage of 43/40 mpg city/highway and 42 mpg combined. Lexus is offering the CT200h in red for the first time, and you can also opt for a two-tone finish with a contrasting black roof.

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Inside, Lexus says there are better materials and more features that are standard equipment, a new 4.2″ TFT screen in the instrument panel, as well as improved safety features and nannies. For the first time you’ll be able to deactivate traction control and if that’s not sporting enough for you, Lexus again offers the CT200h in an F Sport package, which comes with unique bumpers, 17 inch 10 spoke aluminum rims and more exterior and interior trim options.

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Tokyo Motor Show 2013: Lexus RC 350 & RC 300h, Performance and Hybrid Coupes http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/tokyo-motor-show-2013-lexus-rc-350-rc-300h-performance-and-hybrid-coupes/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/tokyo-motor-show-2013-lexus-rc-350-rc-300h-performance-and-hybrid-coupes/#comments Thu, 21 Nov 2013 14:45:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=658650 Lexus-RC-Coupe-Live-Shot-01

Toyota has been teasing a Lexus coupe for a couple of years now with the LF-FC concepts. At the Tokyo Auto Show introduced two versions of the new RC coupe, one oriented towards performance, the other with green cred, slated to go on sale some time in 2014. Based on the GS platform, the RC 350 sports a 314 horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 gasoline engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The hybrid RC 300h, has a combined 217 hp, from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine matched with a 105 kw electric motor, driving through a continuously variable transmission. Both RCs use double wishbones up front and a multilink rear suspension.

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Review: 2014 Lexus IS250 (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-lexus-is250-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/review-2014-lexus-is250-with-video/#comments Tue, 05 Nov 2013 20:58:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=639233 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior

After taking a sales hit due to tsunami-related production woes, Lexus has been trying to regain their mojo with a new product offensive. Things started out with the new Lexus GS sedan that Jack Baruth and I loved on and off the track, followed by a revised RX. With the redesigned IS, the bulk of their lineup has been overhauled. Initially, I was a little concerned that the Lexus IS sedan would receive nothing more than a new nose and some LED lights for 2014 but the Japanese 3-Series fighter came out swinging when we were invited to the launch event earlier in the year. I came away impressed with the IS 350′s road manners, but most buyers will be shopping for the less powerful IS 250 and it’s taken us this long to get our hands on one.

Click here to view the embedded video.

 Exterior

Instead of refreshing the IS, Lexus decided to give their smallest RWD sedan a complete overhaul for 2014. Lexus crafted a new IS platform with a 3-inch longer wheelbase that addresses a big complaint about the old car – it was too small inside for American consumers. The result is an entirely new unibody that is three inches longer than the old model riding on a three-inch longer wheelbase. In addition to the stretch the 2014 model gets a hair wider, a hair taller and ground clearance drops by half an inch.

2014 Lexus IS 250 2014 Lexus IS 350, Exteruiotr, F-Sport Front grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

In addition to the Lexus “Spindle” grille up front, the IS sports an entirely different side profile that is easily the most expressive in the small luxury segment. Although I like Cadillac’s new ATS on the outside, I think the IS provides a more balanced blend of aggressive and luxury styling cues from the angry front end, to the almost-Swedish shoulder bulges. Unfortunately I just haven’t warmed up to the Lexus daytime running lamps which are now divorced from the headlamps and have their own cut-out in the bumper cover. Lexus says they are styled after the Lexus “L” but they just look like Nike “Swooshes” to my eye. Even so, if it were my money to spend I’d be torn between the restrained but elegant BMW 328i and the aggressive but sometimes questionable IS 250. I like Cadillac’s angular lines, but I slot the design just below the BMW and Lexus in my mental tally. Add the F-Sport package to the IS 250 however and Lexus breaks the tie with a more aggressive grille. (In the picture above.)

2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Because the GS and LS share interior design cues I had expected the IS to follow suit, I was wrong. While the other Lexus models have opted for a more open and expansive interior theme, the IS feels tight and close to the driver. The feeling is amplified by a high beltline and a tall center console. If you like your car to make you “feel big,” then this is the sedan for you. Rather than the “double bump” style that seems to be popular right now, Lexus opted for a tall two-tier look with the infotainment screen positioned farther away from the driver than the gauges, and centered in the tall dashboard. Opting for the F-Sport package replaces the analog gauges with a configurable LCD cluster.

Cabin plastics in the IS lead the competition, especially those farther from the driver’s usual reach. While BMW cut a few corners with the current 3-Series by using hard plastics low in the dash, the IS maintains a quality feel no matter how low your hand wanders. As you’d expect from Lexus, one can still get acres of stained wood and soft leather. “Can” is the operative word here,since  real leather can only be found in the top two option packages in the IS, while all other models get Lexus’s faux-cow that is bonded directly to the seat foam to prevent stretching or folding as the seat ages. The imitation-hide is perfectly convincing and the only covering available in the IS 250 F-Sport.

Front seat comfort proved excellent during my week with the IS 250, easily besting the Audi A4, Mercedes C250, Cadillac ATS and the base seats in the BMW 328i – but if you want the best seats in this segment, you’ll find those in the Volvo S60 or the optional M-Sport seats in the BMW. Thanks to the wheelbase stretch, rear legroom is up by 1.6 inches over the last generation IS, while front leg room grows about an inch at the same time. The improved rear legroom is welcome as that has long been an IS shortcoming, but it’s obvious by both Lexus and Cadillac’s latest 3-Series fighter that nobody expected the 3-Series to grow as much as it did in this last generation. As a result the 328i beats the IS 250 by a whopping three inches of rear legroom. The Lexus does counter with a slightly larger trunk, but I found the overall trunk dimensions to be slightly more advantageous in the BMW balancing out the extra cube the IS offers.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

Although I couldn’t find a single example on a dealer lot, the base IS with no options is the only way you can escape the infamous Lexus Remote Touch joystick. All other models use a small controller with haptic feedback to control a software interface originally designed for use with a touchscreen LCD. Regardless of the input method, all IS models get a 7-inch color LCD positioned far away from the driver. The base model sports a noticeable low resolution screen while all other models get a high resolution screen of the same size. The distance from the driver and the large plastic bezel conspire to make the screen look much smaller than it is. The problem is further compounded by the screen being actually smaller than the competition as well.

2014 brings some mild software updates to the infotainment software including a new home screen (shown above), HD Radio support and traffic information via HD radio instead of satellite so you don’t need an XM subscription to get a color-coded traffic map. If you can get beyond the input method, the system proved reliable and moderately intuitive. Overall however I am still forced to rank this system below BMW’s iDrive, Audi’s MMI, Infinit’s new two-screen setup, Volvo’s Sensus, and even Mercedes’ aging COMAND system. The only system to offend my inner-nerd more is with the Cadillac CUE system.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine, 2.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Operating by the “if it isn’t broken, don’t fit it” mantra, there are no significant changes under the hood for the IS 250 this year. That means we have the same 2.5L, direct-injection, 60° V6 engine as before, good for the same 204 ponies and 185 lb-ft of twist. (The IS 350 gets a 3.5L version of the same engine, making 306 HP and 277 lb-ft.) Just as before, we have a 6-speed transmission on offer (The RWD IS 350 gets a newer 8-speed), with AWD commanding $2,535 more. Should you opt for the F-Sport package, Lexus will add a sound amplifying snorkel to the intake plumbing to amplify the engine’s growl.

With everyone else moving to forced-induction four-cylinder engines, the smooth V6 engine is what sets the IS 250 apart. I know that calling a V6 “smooth” or, dare I say it, “buttery smooth” sounds like sacrilege, but since BMW no longer offers their naturally aspirated in-line 6 under the hood of the 328i, the refinement crown goes to Lexus.  There is more going on here than just the numbers however, because the small turbos not only deliver more torque, they do so across a much broader RPM range than Lexus’ 2.5L V6. Even the Mercedes 1.8L turbo in the C250 blows out more torque across a broader band than the six cylinder mill in the IS 250. For reasons known only to Lexus’ product planning team, the 220 horsepower IS 300h, which mates the same engine to Lexus’s RWD hybrid drivetrain, remains forbidden fruit on our shores.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The IS’s 2.5L V6 may be down on power compared to the Americans and Germans but it is no contest when it comes to refinement or engine note. Sadly refinement isn’t what propels you to 60, so when the light turns green you’ll have a whisper quiet view of the competition’s rear bumpers. Our tester ran to 60 in 7.02 seconds, a full 1.3 seconds slower than the 328i and 1 second slower than the ATS 2.0T.  Even the 1.8L turbo in the Mercedes C250 and the bargain-basement BMW 320i beat the IS 250 to 60 MPH by a few tenths.

The responsiveness of the IS in tight corners demonstrates how much time Lexus spent engineering the 2014 model. The old IS came across as isolated, perhaps even sloppy, while the third generation chassis is sharp and crisp. Every system in the IS feels like a team player from the numb suspension to the transmission shift logic and the revised double-wishbone front suspension. While the IS isn’t the hard-core corner carving machine the ATS 2.0T is, the IS 250 feels more harmonious and balanced on the road. Oddly enough, the BMW is the wild card. The E90 3-Series (previous generation) was precise and engaging, but the F30 (current generation) has traded handling prowess for a softer ride and a ginormous back seat. Meanwhile the Audi and Volvo plow like a John Deere when they encounter a corner and the Mercedes feels just as you would expect: heavy and soft. That’s not to say the IS is the performance winner. The Lexus is a hair heavier in the nose than the BMW, so at-limits handling is not as neutral as the ATS and because of the power deficit, the 328i is faster around the track. While the Lexus feels more precise and engaging than the BMW, the 328i’s better weight balance means it is both faster in the straightaways and holds its own in the corners. How about the Cadillac? It beats both the Lexus and the BMW hands down.

2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-004

Without taking price into consideration, the IS 250 makes a compelling argument for those that value smooth drivetrains, excellent steering feel and chassis dynamics. If however you value performance, luxury amenities and cabin room, the BMW is your best bet. If you’re a BMW shopper that is after the “ultimate driving machine” then you need to visit the Cadillac dealer.

Reviews are nothing without pricing information however. The IS 250 is the cheapest car in this shootout by a long shot. The IS undercuts the BMW 328i by $3,600 (adjusting for feature content) and even manages to be $1,700 less than the BMW 320i. Option up the BMW and Lexus with navigation, sport pack and leather and the delta grows to more than $5,000. The story is the same with the Cadillac and Mercedes with the ATS ringing in $4,200 to $7,500 more and the C250 a whopping $5,500-$7,500 more. The Infiniti Q50 may seem like a natural competitor but Infiniti has yet to release a model that competes directly with the low output options in this segment.

After a week with the IS 250 and a few hours in the Cadillac ATS and 328i in the same week something dawned on me. Lexus and Cadillac have managed to do what they set out to: beat BMW at their own game. Cadillac has nearly replicated an E90 3-Series in terms of handling and chassis performance, Lexus has crafted a drivetrain and steering rack that are superior in smoothness and feel to what BMW is selling. But just when the competition caught up BMW decided to play a different game. By chasing luxury, roominess and fuel economy, BMW has shifted the focus away from driving dynamics. (Yep, I said that out loud.) And in the process BMW is laughing all the way to the bank. By chasing BMW Lexus has created the finest IS 250, yet the sales indicate what Lexus should have been chasing is the customer.  For a car guy like me, the way the IS 250′s systems seem to work in perfect harmony combined with the low sticker price make it a winner. For the average shopper however, Lexus is an 8-speed automatic and a four-cylinder turbo away from true competition.

 

Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.58 Seconds

0-60: 7.05 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.37 Seconds @ 89.1 MPH

Cabin Noise at 50 MPH: 66 Db

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 27.5 MPG over 591 miles

2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine 2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine, 2.5L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Engine-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-001 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-004 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-005 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-006 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-007 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-008 2014 Lexus IS 250 Exterior-009 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-001 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-002 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-003 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-004 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-006 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-007 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-008 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-009 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-010 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior-011 2014 Lexus IS 250 Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus IS 250 Trunk ]]>
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Lexus Reveals RC Coupe, LF-NX Concept http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/lexus-reveals-rc-coupe-lf-nx-concept/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/lexus-reveals-rc-coupe-lf-nx-concept/#comments Mon, 04 Nov 2013 17:20:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=641737 2013.10.29 LPMPD

Two of the newest Lexus products got an early reveal prior to their Tokyo Motor Show debut. The Lexus RC (above) is a coupe version of the new IS, with the IS350′s 3.5L V6 carrying over. World markets will get a hybrid version, dubbed the RC300h. Also debuting is the LF-NX concept, expected to preview a sub-RX sized crossover.

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Piston Slap: The Extended “Luxury” Period http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/piston-slap-the-extended-luxury-period/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/11/piston-slap-the-extended-luxury-period/#comments Mon, 04 Nov 2013 13:44:32 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=641089 Mehran writes:

First of all I wanted to thank you for your great blog, I read it daily. Now I recently have bought a 2010 Lexus RX 350 with 30K miles on the clock. the original warranty will expire this coming January, since I have bought the car I have put about 5K on it without any problems, now should I buy the extend warranty or not?

The car was a returned 3 year lease which I got a pretty good deal since the dealer was a family friend; at that time they quoted me $2000 for the 5 year 75K extended warranty.

Sajeev answers:

Thank YOU for contributing!  Everyone who clicks/reads/writes to this series helps fuel Citizen Sierra and fund the rotisserie restoration on my other brown project from 1983, a Fox Body Lincoln Continental.  But enough about me and my fantastically bizarre life with cars…

In general, consider these points:

1. Factory or no?  Factory warranties can make life easier: problems with warranty claims goes smoother with a call to Lexus’ official 1-800 number compared to a no-name aftermarket warranty company. Will you ever have a claim problem with a factory warranty, fixed at the dealer?  What about servicing at the dealership where there’s a shiny new Lexus loaner car, gourmet coffee and snacks, high-tech lounges, spa treatments and all the other luxurious crap this brand is (sometimes) famous for? Depending on the amenities of your local Lexus dealer, consider the luxuries before signing anything.

2. Do you need a warrantyany warranty?

  • Parts Cost: they shall be cheap, even the unique Lexus bits from the dealer.  The RX is basically a Toyota Camry with a lift kit and a far nicer body/interior. Any wear items (unplanned, not brake jobs and the stuff in the owner’s manual) in the next 70,000 miles won’t necessarily “outspend” the warranty cost…including labor.
  • Parts Availability: I don’t expect significant downtime waiting for Lexus RX spares. The odds of having parts on backorder from a Japanese/American brand is less likely than the low-volume models from Europe with unique engines/interiors/etc.
  • Knowledge Base:  who can actually fix your car properly?  Is your local mechanic gonna cringe at the sight of an electrical problem on your Mercedes E350 Lexus RX?  Again, refer back to the Camry heritage.
  • Labor rates:  Some cars are harder to diagnose and remove/install parts.  The Camry based RX isn’t making me sweat, compared to other vehicles with super-tight access and tons of mechanical bits like turbocharging plumbing.  More to the point, there’s no need to swing open the RX’s face like a barn door to access the front of the engine like some Audi products.

Considering all these factors, I wouldn’t recommend an extended warranty on a vehicle that’s so cheap to fix, so reliable and so commonplace.  Then again, if you want the piece of mind and the free loaner cars at the Lexus dealership…

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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Lexus No. 1 in Reliability, Ford Near Bottom http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/lexus-no-1-in-reliability-ford-near-bottom/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/lexus-no-1-in-reliability-ford-near-bottom/#comments Thu, 31 Oct 2013 13:00:29 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=638705 2013-Lexus-LS-460-3

If reliability is the No. 1 trait your next car must have, you may then opt to visit your nearest Lexus dealership before considering anything from the Ford dealership across the street as far as Consumer Reports is concerned.

Lexus, Toyota and Acura dominate the consumer magazine’s Top 10 in reliability for 2013, with a total of seven Japanese automakers taking almost all of the marbles; the only non-Japanese makes to make the Top 10 were Audi (No. 4), Volvo (No. 7) and GMC (No. 9).

Meanwhile, Ford was pushed into the No. 26 slot after being stranded in the 27th position last year. Lincoln fell back to No. 27 on reliability, with BMW’s MINI in dead last on the side of the road. Reasons for both Ford and Lincoln being where they are include complaints about the automaker’s MyFordTouch system, and problems with their EcoBoost engine.

If you’re at the Toyota dealership, however, Consumer Reports recommends anything but the Camry, Prius v or RAV4. The magazine retracted its recommendations for the trio due to poor results in crash testing as conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a decision the publication doesn’t take lightly according to Consumer Reports Director of Auto Testing Jake Fisher:

Honestly, we don’t take this lightly, but virtually every vehicle now in the family sedan category has been tested and the only one that has gotten a ‘poor’ is the Camry. At this point, we don’t feel we can continue to recommend people buy a Camry when there’s other good choices out there that do better on the test.

That said, there may be hope for redemption regarding the Camry: Toyota’s engineers have gone over the car’s failings, and will retest with IIHS in December.

Fisher also said that with 50 vehicles tested by the IIHS, his publication has enough data to begin weeding out any vehicle with a “poor” rating. Thus, expect to see more recommendations retracted on some cars the next time you head to the newsstand to pick up the latest issue of Consumer Reports.

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Capsule Review: Lexus LS460 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/capsule-review-lexus-ls460/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/capsule-review-lexus-ls460/#comments Tue, 22 Oct 2013 13:00:19 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=631442 2013-Lexus-LS-460-2
This is the Lexus LS460, the luxury boomer that built the brand. It was the Lexus LS that launched the Automotive Battle of Hastings back in 1990, attacking the European establishment with devastating competence. The 2013 Lexus LS460 is still that great, and yes, the ride is still more Chris Craft than hardtail.

Lexus has seemed distracted. The HS250h and CT200 are not surprise success stories, but predictable failures. At leas the best-selling ES350s and RX crossovers aren’t tone-deaf attempts like the other two. You might even be worried about Lexus. The LS 460 will restore your faith that Lexus is not becoming Toyota’s Mercury.

Here’s the hard-boiled car review stuff on the LS460. The 386 hp V8 is 4.6 liters of unrealized potential. Wind it up and you get the power, plus an overly-muted V8 roar, but the rest of the car doesn’t want to play along. Even selecting SPORT mode with the Drive Mode Select knob doesn’t seem to do a whole lot, though Lexus says it “alters the powertrain for faster gear changes and more dynamic throttle mapping.” In this case, “alters” is more aptly defined as what happens to Fluffy the Domestic Short Hair during a visit to the vet.

Drive Mode Select also includes an ECO mode, which turns out to be handy in stop and go traffic thanks to its heavy filtering of driver inputs. Manually shifting the automatic is only somewhat encouraged by the manual gate. Let’s face it, an LS 460 bouncing off its rev limiter might seem untoward, so instead it upshifts for you. Why bother with the half-hearted measures?

For a car that’s credited with creating such a splash, the LS 460 certainly blends in. It won’t command the attention of the Nimitz-class Mercedes or BMWs, the LS is more like a Littoral Combat Ship that navigates under the radar. The exterior styling is attractively innocuous and the interior is both comfortable and blandly luxurious. Lexus would probably dispute that, but just look at how much Camry there is in the LS. Or is it LS in the Camry? Does it matter, either way?

Well, that’s about the long and short of it on the car end. The Lexus LS 460 is as the LS has always been, now with some added technology to serve as press release talking points. The bigger thing going on with Lexus is that it’s become a part of the establishment it was conceived to slap around.

In 1990, the Mercedes-Benz S Class was the top dog, a resolute car that was also never short on innovation. The LS 460 is every bit the obsessively-fettled accessible high-ender it’s always been. This car is a known quantity, and the impressions of the original LS 400 are pretty much the same thing you can say about the LS 460.

When did the Lexus LS go from gob-smacking revolution to same-as-it-ever-was? Maybe around the time Autoblog said something like “Lexus-quiet,” but probably before that.

The LS 460 is passionless and competent. It’s got all the acronyms, there’s more tech than you’ll want to bother with, let alone learn to master. The haptic controller is both loved and loathed, but the heart of the matter is that the Lexus way of navigating around its app suite and infotainment system can be a more positive experience than stabbing at a screen with your finger. Those that hate it probably want to hate it.

There’s a lot of words in press releases, but the LS 460 doesn’t create a lot of conversation about itself. It’s quiet, comfortable, it ticks all the boxes, but it’s still not likely to get your ticker going.

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Review: 2014 Lexus LS 600hL (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-lexus-ls-600hl-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/review-2014-lexus-ls-600hl-with-video/#comments Wed, 25 Sep 2013 11:00:30 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=520497 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The LS 600hL is the pinnacle of Toyota and Lexus engineering. It is the largest Lexus sedan, the brand’s most expensive model, the most expensive hybrid in the world and, with the death of BMW’s V8 ActiveHybrid system, it is once again the most powerful hybrid on sale. Yet the LS 600hL hasn’t had an easy time of things. The large luxury sedan has been lambasted for being the antithesis of green thanks to its EPA combined 20 MPG score. Critics also question whether the 600hL’s enormous premium over the LS 460L can ever be “justified.” I too questioned the logic behind the 600hL at first, but then I spoke with someone who changed my mind. Before we dive in, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The 600hL starts at $119,910. With all the options checked, you land at $134,875. Without destination. Put your eye balls back in their sockets and click past the jump as we dive into an alternate universe.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

I don’t live in a world filled with chauffeurs, champagne and caviar. Heck, I don’t even live in a world with indoor plumbing. (Seriously, my house doesn’t have an indoor shower, but that’s a story for a different time.) This meant I needed help in order to view the 600hL through the right lens. Fortunately I have a family connection with a guy in Atherton who is exactly the kind of guy I was looking for: one with deep pockets. Being the private jet/vacation mansion owning guy I was looking for, I expected him to be put off by the LS 600hL’s simple lines and unmistakably “discount” $71,990 LS 460 roots. Instead he had an opinion I hadn’t considered.

In a town where the money is piled high and deep, but paradoxically being flashy is considered tasteless, the LS 600hL strikes the right balance. Or so I am told. By looking like a lesser LS, it doesn’t scream “I spent twice your salary on my car,” but at the same time your neighbors will know your trust fund is still returning 15% a year. While he agreed that a similarly expensive 2014 S-Class was far more attractive and exciting, he felt it was too “nouveau riche.” From the mouth of babes…

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. DykesInterior
$119,910 doesn’t buy you a leather-clad dashboard standard, if you want that you have to add a few options to your spendy hybrid. No matter what package you add, the age of the LS platform shows in the front seats. Sharing the same mechanisms with the pre-refresh 2012 LS, the seat fails to contort in the same variety of directions as the Germans, or even the cheaper Lexus GS which has more modern seat frames. Still, 600hL buyers are likely to only experience the front seats when Jeevs has a day off.

Because 2013 is more of an extensive refresh than a clean-sheet design, the LS 600hL doesn’t get a fancy LCD instrument cluster, opting instead for a four-dial arrangement with a “wine glass” shaped multi-function display in the center. A full-disco-dash arrangement isn’t a requirement for me as there are plenty of traditional gauges in this segment but I had hoped for more from a luxury car designed in a country obsessed with electronic gadgets. The same thing can be said for the large 12-inch display in the middle of the dash. The display is bright and crisp but the software hasn’t been significantly re-worked for some time making it feel dated.

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-009

Gadgets & Infotainment

No 600hL would be complete without the $7,555 Executive Package. For the cost of a used compact car Lexus adds an Alcantara headliner, deletes the middle rear seat for a fixed console, covers the dash in leather, wires up a 120V inverter, and installs the best rear seat available in America.

That seat is the 600hL’s raison d’être. It is also so mind-blowingly insane, I have decided it will hence forth be known as the “Lexus throne”. The 600hL’s throne contorts in 10 ways via controls in the substantial center console and boasts manual butterfly headrests. If that isn’t enough it will also vibrate and massage your royal personage while you put your feet up on the power ottoman. The massaging function isn’t like the systems employed by the German competition in the front seat. Those systems use a series of air bladders that inflate/deflate in a pattern to initiate a massage. The result feels more like a rodent trapped between the foam and the upholstery. The Lexus system uses a system more similar to the pneumatic rollers you find in airport “massage station chairs.” Only classier. And without the stench of the peasantry.

Activating the massage is easy once you get the hang of the 17-button remote control nestled next to the 26-button infotainment remote inside the 45-button console. If you rank your rides by button count, we have a winner. Lexus tosses in a blue-ray DVD player, wireless headphones and a single LCD that drops down from the ceiling. Although the Lexus Remote Touch joystick lives on up front, those being coddled in the rear can forget about the clunky controller and can control many of the car’s functions via the button bank. On the one hand this is less integrated than BMW’s iDrive for rear passengers that allow them top play with the nav system, but it does shield the owner of the LS 600hL from dealing with the evil that is Remote Touch.

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

The wealthy are frequently in a hurry and have the resources to pay Texas-sized speeding tickets. Unfortunately for them, Lexus hasn’t updated the 600hL’s hybrid system for the new model. While I still think of the 600hL’s setup as one of the most advanced hybrid systems in the world, I just can’t call it “powerful” anymore. Rated at 438 system horsepower, it is outclassed by a wide variety of V8s in everything from a Dodge Super Bee to the German’s base V8 options. That’s even before we talk about the V12 luxury barges Lexus is attempting to target. The “old” S65 AMG cranked out 631 horses and enough torque to cause the earth to rotate in the other direction. What will 2014 bring? You can bet the answer will be: more.

Operating much like a Prius hybrid system on steroids, a 385 horsepower 5.0L V8 engine is mated directly to a planetary gearset employing two motor/generator units. The larger motor is capable of 221HP on its own, but the battery pack in the trunk of the LS can only supply 53 HP at a time limiting the EV mode to around 30 MPH. The engine and motors work together to provide seamless and linear acceleration unlike anything on the market save a Tesla Model S. This design is quite different from the pancake motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission that you find in the German hybrids. Lexus won’t comment on how much torque the combined unit is good for, but my gut tells me it is around 450 lb0-ft combined.

Lexus continues to use a 288V Ni-MH battery pack that is similar to the one used in the Lexus RX hybrid. The 1.6kWh battery pack isn’t as space efficient as the more modern Lithium based batteries but had a proven track record and allows high current discharges with a smaller number of cells. Unfortunately it’s not as slim as the trendier cells and occupies a large portion of the trunk. Combined with the plumbing for the four zone climate control and the massaging throne, they slice trunk capacity from 18 cubes to 13 making it difficult to fit large luggage in the rear.

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

With 5,500 pounds of luxury sedan riding (yes, you read that number correctly) on an air suspension, you can cross corner carving off your list. I suspect that such activities are frowned upon when the help is driving you anyway, but the weight and relatively narrow 245/45R19 tires mean stopping distances are long as well. Dynamically the LS has always been an excellent vehicle with a well controlled chassis, nearly perfect weight balance and a solid feel. When scaled up to the 600hL, you can tell those traits are still there but they are masked by the weight and the standard adaptive air suspension.

If I might digress for a moment, the LS platform is the perfect vehicle to experience an air suspension in on a test drive. There aren’t many cars that have a standard steel-coil suspension and an air suspension available in the same car and the LS is one. Air suspensions have an entirely different feel to them so when you compare an S-Class with Airmatic with a 7-Series that had only a partial rear air suspension it’s difficult to compare unless you’ve experienced what the air bags do to the feel of the car. I encourage anyone looking in this segment to give the LS a spin with and without the air suspension so you can really be familiar with the changes these systems make to the feel of a car.

Back on topic, let’s talk thrust. At the stoplight races the LS 600hL accelerates faster if the engine is already on. This is fairly logical since some of the motor’s twist would be consumed by starting the engine. Our numbers were taken with the engine “stopped” by the hybrid system which is the normal state of affairs. Thanks to the massive torque from the electric motor and the 5.0L V8, we hit 30 MPH after a scant 2.36 seconds. After this point the heavy curb weight comes into play with 60 MPH happening after 5.44 seconds followed by a 13.96 second quarter-mile. A BMW 750 and Mercedes S550 scoot to 60 about a half second faster while the V12 BMW 760 is a full second quicker. On the flip side even the new 8-speed ZF transmission feels like a farm tractor compared to the Lexus Hybrid Drive system. Acceleration in the 600hL is extraordinarily linear, unbelievably smooth and eerily silent. Comparisons to the Tesla Model S in terms of acceleration linearity and feel are entirely appropriate. All of a sudden the hybrid drivetrain combined with the throne in the back make sense: if I’m being driven, I want a smooth experience. Forget about the driver having fun, it’s all about the party in the back.

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

After a week with the LS 600hL I still have problems looking at the expensive cruiser in the “right” way, but I am closer to understanding the point. That point is less about fuel economy (which was 21.8 MPG over all by the way) and more about silently and smoothly cruising below the radar. If that’s your mission, then mission accomplished. The LS 600hL is also the least expensive vehicle that I know of designed with the chauffeured set in mind. Except that makes the LS 600hL the oddest duck I’ve met. Being obviously designed for owners with drivers it makes a value proposition that logically shouldn’t matter to the intended audience. If you’re being driven, the smallest part of the expense structure over the life of a vehicle is the price of the vehicle. Your driver and his benefits are likely to eat the bulk of your budget. My sounding board in this process is still trying to convince me that looking at the LS 600hL in this light is missing the point. Perhaps, but it does explain why the LS 600hL sells in such small numbers. It also explains why he still has a 2010 XJ8.

 

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Best. Back. Seat. Ever.
  • Avatar on Blue Ray never sounded so good.

Quit it

  • Everyone will wonder why you didn’t buy an S-Class.
  • 438 ponies is hardly class-topping in 2013.
  • Despite being told otherwise, 21.8 MPG still seems to be missing the point.

 

Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

0-30: 2.36

0-60: 5.44

1/4 Mile: 13.96 @ 105 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 21.8 MPG over 623 miles

2014 Lexus LS 600hL Engine 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Engine, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-002 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-003 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-004 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-005 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-006 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-007 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-008 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Exterior-010 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-001 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-002 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-003 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-004 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-006 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-007 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-008 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-009 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-010 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-011 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Rear Seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-013 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-014 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-015 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-016 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-018 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-019 2014 Lexus LS 600hL Interior-020

 

 

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Cain’s Segments: Midsize Luxury Vehicles http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/cains-segments-midsize-luxury-vehicles/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/cains-segments-midsize-luxury-vehicles/#comments Mon, 16 Sep 2013 12:00:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=520201 TTAC_midsize-luxury-car-sales-chart (1)

Mercedes-Benz E-Class sales shot up 44% in August 2013, a 2008-unit gain. This improvement followed up on July’s 10% year-over-year improvement, which put an end to four consecutive months of decline for the now-recently facelifted E-Class, Mercedes-Benz’s core midsize model.

To Mercedes’ own credit, they’ve built four cars around the E-Class nameplate: a sedan, coupe, convertible, and wagon. (Sales of the CLS-Class fell 4% to 778 units in August.) Comparing the E-Class with cars like, for instance, the Jaguar XF, isn’t necessarily an apples-to-apples contest. But showing the E’s massive 6000+ unit August in the context of cars like the XF (757 August sales) or even the Audi A6 (2110 August sales) highlights just how commonplace the E-Class has become.

The E-Class’s category, however, doesn’t have the presence this year that it did in the first two-thirds of 2012. The still-fresh Lexus GS has taken a big hit. Infiniti’s M, soon to be called the Q70, is increasingly unpopular. In 2012, annual M volume fell below 10,000 units for the second time since 2005. The Volvo S80 – overlooked, ignored, forgotten – attracted fewer buyers during the first eight months of 2013 than the E-Class did in one August week.

The Cadillac CTS, a tweener which has often been compared with cars like the BMW 3-Series based on its value proposition, will be a more direct rival for the E-Class and BMW 5-Series when the third-generation variant arrives. For now, displaying it with these cars, the CTS is relatively popular, but nowhere near as common a purchase/lease as it was a year ago. CTS sales in 2012 slid 17%.

Speaking of BMW, while sales of the 5-Series skyrocketed in August, it’s actually down 32 units this year, a year in which the new vehicle market has grown 9.5%.

Acura’s flagship sedan has reported impressive numbers in 2013, but only if you compare them with the figures posted by the Acura RL last year. Nevertheless, of the 7775 extra Acuras sold so far this year, 2344 can be attributed to the RLX/RL pairing. (The RLX went on sale in February but Acura began combining figures for the new car and old car in May.)

The RLX still plays a low-key role in Acura showrooms, accounting for just 2.4% of all Acura brand sales through eight months. Indeed, only at Jaguar, where the XF is the best-selling car in a four-car lineup, does an automaker’s midsize luxury “sports” sedan generate as large a percentage of the brand’s lineup as the E-Class does at Mercedes-Benz. 21.2% of Mercedes-Benz’s non-Sprinter volume comes from the E-Class quartet.

Setting aside the category’s poor year-to-date performance, August was a great month for midsize luxury car sales. As anticipated, CTS sales slid. As anticipated, so did sales of the S80 and Infiniti M. With huge improvements elsewhere, the segment rose by 4877 units, a 30% improvement.

Expanding the scope to include the Acura TL, Audi A7, Cadillac XTS (and its predecessors), Hyundai Equus, Lexus ES, Lincoln MKS and MKZ, Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, and Volvo’s XC70 wagon produces a very different picture. In that case, August sales shot up 17.9% while the year-to-date total is up 5.4% to 254,856 units, buoyed in large part by the front-wheel-drive Lexus. The $36,370 ES sells more often than anything else in the group. ES volume is up 60% this year.

—-

Auto
August 2013
August 2012
August
% Change
8
mos. 2013
8
mos. 2012
YTD
% Change
Acura RLX/RL
459 41 + 1020% 2639 295 + 795%
Audi A6
2110 1569 + 34.5% 14,110 11,844 + 19.1%
BMW 5-Series
4359 1688 + 158% 35,107 35,139 - 0.1%
Cadillac CTS
3980 5136 - 22.5% 22,002 35,362 - 37.8%
Infiniti M
491 666 - 26.3% 3808 6259 - 39.2%
Jaguar XF
757 493 + 53.5% 5218 3951 + 32.1%
Lexus GS
2234 1831 + 22.0% 13,024 14,563 - 10.6%
Mercedes-Benz E-Class
6523 4515 + 44.5% 40,359 39,790 + 1.0%
Volvo S80
197 294 - 33.0% 1249 2442 - 48.9%
Total
21,110
16,233 + 30.0% 137,516 149,645 - 8.1%
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2013 Frankfurt Auto Show: Lexus LF-NX Concept – Live Photos http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/2013-frankfurt-auto-show-lexus-lf-nx-concept-live-photos/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/2013-frankfurt-auto-show-lexus-lf-nx-concept-live-photos/#comments Wed, 11 Sep 2013 06:30:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=515177 auto-show-photos (2)

Thanks to our friends over at Autospies, you can get a better look at the Lexus LF-NX crossover concept, officially introduced today at the Frankfurt Motor Show. One might say that the LF-NX is a polarizing design, that is, if there was anyone who said that they liked it. The response since studio photos were released last week has been pretty much unanimously negative. Judge for yourself.

You can see the complete gallery at Autospies.

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Lexus Launches A Compact Crossover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/lexus-launches-a-compact-crossover/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/lexus-launches-a-compact-crossover/#comments Fri, 06 Sep 2013 18:34:54 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=512105 lexusnxcrossover

 

Officially this is just a concept, but the Lexus LF-NX is supposed to preview an upcoming competitor to the BMW X1 and Audi Q3.  Using the familiar 2.5L 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain, the LF-NX will be available in FWD or AWD variants, though specific figures like power output have yet to be announced.

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Myths and Legends: Lexus LS400 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/myths-and-legends-lexus-ls400/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/09/myths-and-legends-lexus-ls400/#comments Sun, 01 Sep 2013 14:30:46 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=502793 IMG_6468

Most legendary cars achieved their status thanks to unique ideas, original design, character (whatever may that be) or joy they bring to their owners and drivers. So, is it even possible for a pragmatic, coldly efficient and mostly derivative car to become a legend?

When the first Lexus, called LS400, was introduced in 1989, it certainly wasn’t the most original car on the market. In fact, it not only looked a lot like a W126 Mercedes S-class of the time, it was even named similarly (remove the L and the car would fit right into the naming system Mercedes started using a few years later). And it was no coincidence – the LS400 was a result of Toyota brass’ decision to move their business upmarket. The Voluntary Restraint Agreement between the United States and Japan limited the number of Japanese cars that could enter the country, making it a smart idea to charge more for each of them and clear more profit. The LS400 might have been a bit of a loss leader at $35,000 for a base model that nobody ever saw in dealerships, but it paved the way for hugely profitable successors and showroom companions like the ES300 and RX300.

If you think of the Mazda Miata as probably the best classical British roadster ever built, the LS400 may too very well be the ultimate Mercedes-Benz. While the venerable S-class itself got very fat and a little bit vulgar in its W140 iteration, the LS400 closely resembles the W126, probably the most elegant S-class ever – just improved in almost every way. And, while the Mercedes’ reliability record suffered greatly in the 1990s, the Lexus came in with unbelievable levels of quality and workmanship, and of course with fantastic reliability.

IMG_6483

Case in point, the 1990 LS400 you can see on pictures here. I borrowed it from my friend and fellow motoring journalist, who bought it after he drove it in head-to-head comparison test with a new LS600h, and found out the old one is not only more comfortable than the current one, and even feels more solid. For a 23 years old car, bought for equivalent of little over $2,000 and which probably wasn’t exactly pampered, it is almost unbelievable.

For one, the thing feels much more modern than any quarter-a-century-old car has any right to be. From the cool illuminated instrument cluster with recessed idiot lights, creating a strange three-dimensional effect like something from Star Trek, to the well-muffled and very sophisticated sound of the four-cam, four-liter V8 providing 250 horsepower.

IMG_6447 (1)

The only decidedly non-modern thing about this car is the suspension tuning. Especially for us Europeans, being force-fed with Germans’ idea of the “good suspension” (which basically means using rocks instead of springs, so your big diesel limo can handle precisely at your standard cruising speed of 155mph) the LS400 is a revelation. The fact that the car was designed mostly for American market resulted in a suspension that combines the Mercedes’ sophistication with Town Car’s plushness.

Which means that the big Lexus is able to corner quite competently, if you want it to, but it also means that you don’t want it to. Instead of provoking you into a hurry, like many big German sedans do, the LS relaxes you and makes you completely satisfied with going 55 mph – so you arrived to your destination about five minutes later, but also well-rested, not dripping with adrenaline like when you drive BMW or Audi.

IMG_6441

It really does feel like someone took a big Benz and a Panther (or B-body), which count among my most favorite long distance cruisers ever, and combined the best things of both. So, it is only logical that I should totally fall in love with the LS, want to take it home, marry it and have little IS’s with it. And, in fact, I have been looking at those for quite some time, and I even watched this exact car in classifieds, with only lack of cash stopping me from buying it. Based on everything I read about it, I thought I will be stunned by it, and I was nearly sure this car was exactly what I need and want.

But it isn’t. And after a full day spent with it, I suddenly realized I don’t want to own it, and probably never will. But why?

It’s easy to answer and hard to explain. The car just has no soul. And while the absence of soul in Toyota Corolla sedan is pretty hard to explain to anyone who’s not a car guy, explaining the absence of soul in a rear-wheel drive, V8 sedan which is amazing in nearly everything it ever does is downright nightmarish proposal.

The LS400 mixes everything that’s good about a Town Car and S-class Mercedes, and makes it better. It drives right, it sounds right (when you can hear anything at all), it’s comfortable, it’s supremely relaxing to drive and never tiring, it is executed flawlessly and works well even after a quarter of a century. But driving it brings no joy.

Maybe someone of a different nature from mine might find joy and pleasure in the way the Lexus does exactly what it was designed to do. If it’s sophistication and comfort that rocks your boat, and if you like cars not to bother you with lowly chores of driving and even thinking about it, you will love it. And if you have to drive so much it gets tiring, you will love it even more, as driving this thing is hardly ever tiring to drive. I can imagine doing two or three hundred miles a day in this thing, and getting out more relaxed than when I got in each time.

But I love driving. And since I work from home, I don’t have to drive very far or very often. So I want every drive to be an event for me. I want to enjoy it and savour each minute behind the wheel and each mile driven. And LS400 doesn’t do this for me. It gets the job done, and it gets my admiration for its abilities. But it’s so good at isolating you from the experience, it ultimately becomes dull and boring.

Driving an LS400 is about as fun and memorable as sleeping. But also as refreshing…

Myth or Legend?
Legend. A new brand that took on the biggest names in the business, and got it right for the first time. And, even after quarter of a century, one of the most comfortable cars, ever.

Do I need to drive it?
Definitely. You will get out relaxed, and with totally new outlook on what “comfort” means.

Should I buy it?
If you need to drive much, and don’t fear 20+ years old automobile, definitely. If you want a toy, something you will enjoy each day, then look somewhere else.

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Review: 2014 Kia Cadenza (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-kia-cadenza-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/08/review-2014-kia-cadenza-with-video/#comments Fri, 30 Aug 2013 22:08:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=501244 2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Kia has big plans for America. The Korean brand that was written off in the 1990s, and is best known for making inexpensive cars with long warranties, isn’t planning an assault on the mass market. Kia has bigger plans: compete head on with Lexus, BMW and Mercedes. Say what? Yep. By 2017 Kia promises they will be ready. Rather than leaping right into the market, Kia is dipping their toes into the murky waters of the near-luxury pool. In many ways the near-luxury segment is a harder place to compete. This segment is full of aspiring brands trying to move up (Buick and Cadillac), brands that are floundering (Acura), brands that are treading water (Volvo and Lexus’s FWD models ), brands trying to expand down (Mercedes with the CLA) and brands that have no idea what their mission is (Lincoln). Into this smorgasbord lands a sedan that managed to be the most exciting car I have driven this year and the most awkwardly named. Now that I have that spoiler out of the way, let’s dive into the Credenza. I mean Cadenza.

Exterior

Kia has long been accused of copying styles and jamming discordant cues into one product. The pinnacle of this was the unloved Kia Amanti, mercy killed a number of years ago. That model had Mercedes E-Class headlamps, a Jaguar-meets-Chrysler grille, Lincoln tail lamps and a decidedly Town Car profile. The 2014 Cadenza is so different you’d think it was from a different car company. The overall style is “Optima’s big brother” with the same “tiger nose” grille up front. The large grille strikes me as the best interpretation of this style yet, although the plastic accent strip inside the aggressive headlamps struck me as slightly cheesy. There is still something derivative about the Cadenza, the side profile is exactly what a FWD 7-series would look like. (Shorten the hood, stretch the overhang.) Overall the Cadenza’s “smoothed out Optima” lines strike me as conservative and elegant, something that appeals to me.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Before we go further, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the Hyundai Azera. The Cadenza isn’t simply a badge engineered Azera, but neither is it a unique vehicle. Through a convoluted set of financial arrangements, Hyundai and Kia are 32.8%  joined at the hip, which means Hyundai doesn’t “control” Kia and Kia can’t just grab an Azera and stick a Kia logo on the front. Instead what we see are two cars with common drivetrains, crash systems, hard points and bits grabbed from the same parts bin. Think of the Cadenza as the Azera’s younger cousin and not a corporate twin.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

Style is a subjective matter, there’s no way around that. I found the Cadenza to be traditional, almost to a fault, on the inside but still handsome. For me that’s a good thing as I don’t tend to gravitate to “ground breaking designs” like crazy asymmetrical dashboards or shifters that require an instruction manual and 30 minutes to master. I found the Azera’s interior to be more unique, but less to my taste. On the flip side there is little about the Cadenza’s interior that creates a burning desire, unless you like value. Being the cheap bastard that I am, words like “value” “bargain” and “deal” light a primeval fire in my loins. Keep that in mind.

As I have said in the past, value is all about cutting corners. Lately Kia has been displaying a level of perspicacity unseen in the competition. This balance is obvious when you look at the dash and doors which combine hard and soft touch plastics. This isn’t unique by itself, what is rare is the placement of the hard bits away from the driver’s reach and a careful matching of color and texture so that its hard to tell what’s hard and what’s not. This is something Lexus got totally wrong with the new ES. Most Cadenzas on my local lot had the optional Alcantara headliner and cream colored leather seats which have a huge impact on the feel of the interior. Faux-suede used to be something you’d only find on high-end European models, but it can be yours for under 40-large in Kia-land. Unlike Chrysler’s application of the soft-stuff, Kia also coats the A, B and C pillars in fake cow. Speaking of fake, the wood isn’t real. The lack of real tree bugs me a hair, but when you consider that a $60,000 Acura still has imitation burl I guess I shouldn’t complain. In terms of interior feel, the Cadenza ranks slightly above the new LaCrosse and Azera and just below the Toyota Avalon. While I think the Acura RLX’s interior was made of nicer bits, the Cadenza isn’t far off and almost everyone had a nicer interior than the current Lexus ES.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Front seat comfort proved good for the driver in the base model and excellent with the optional soft Nappa leather which adds a power extending thigh bolster. You should keep in mind that the front seats aren’t created equally and the passenger seat doesn’t have the same range of motion making it harder for your spouse to find an ideal sitting position. Trust me, I heard the complaints. Being self-centred, this didn’t bother me, but I should note the American competition offers matching controls on their front passenger throne. The Cadenza’s lumbar support hit me at exactly the right spot on my back which is fortunate because unlike the GM sedans the lumbar isn’t adjustable for height.

The Cadenza’s rear compartment was surprising, not just because the seats seemed designed for adults with cushy cushions suspended high off the floor, but because the plastics quality was consistent with the front cabin. That may sound like an odd thing to comment on, but most mass market entries and even cars like the Lincoln MKS and Lexus ES350 gets cheaper bits in the back. Speaking of the back, the Cadenza’s trunk is acceptable for the class at 15.9 cubic feet, notably below the Impala and Taurus with their cavernous trunks. It’s worth noting that the Cadenza’s rear seat backs don’t fold like some of the competition so keep that in mind if you’re a regular IKEA shopper.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Infotainment, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

The dashboard of the Cadenza is dominated by a standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment/navigation system dubbed UVO2. The Microsoft-powered system is bright, easily readable and a bit far from the driver. This distance could be a problem if you have short arms or long legs. The Cadenza gets the latest version of Kia’s software featuring full voice commands of your music library, allowing you to select songs and playlists with voice commands ala Ford’s SYNC. Also included is an array of OnStar-like services including vehicle diagnostics, car locator and automatic 911 dialing when your airbags deploy. Unlike OnStar however the system depends on a compatible smartphone being paired with the system and present for these services to work. The lack of a cell modem means you also need a paired smartphone for some of the data services to operate. In an odd ergonomic twist, Kia places the system’s button bank between the screen and the climate controls. The loaded Cadenza we tested gets a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster which houses the speedometer, trip computer, secondary infotainment display and navigation instructions.

Overall the Cadenza’s system is easy to use and intuitive but not as feature rich as some of the other options on the market. Notably uConnect and MyFord Touch offer sexier graphics and better app integration, although the Ford system crashes as often as a 1980s computer. Toyota/Lexus’ systems are getting a little long in the tooth at the high-end with older graphics and a smallish 7-inch screen, and their less expensive systems use small and dim 6.1 inch screens that are easily outclassed. GM’s direct competition is a bit disappointing because the LaCrosse and Impala use the same buggy software as the Cadillac XTS with a different brand attached instead of the excellent systems used in the Buick Verano and Chevy Malibu. If you want to know more, I take a deep dive into UVO2 in the video.

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

The Cadenza uses the same 3.3L direct-injection V6 engine as Hyundai’s Azera mated to the same 6-speed automatic transaxle. The six-pot is good for 293 horsepower at 6,400 RPM and 255 lb-ft of toque at 5,200 RPM. These numbers place the Cadenza in the middle of the pack, below the GM triplets and the Acura RLX, but above the Avalon and ES350 and a virtual tie with Chrysler’s 300 V6. When it comes to performance, curb weight and transmission design are  just as critical as raw engine numbers. At around 3,750lbs the Cadenza is lighter than everyone but the new Avalon and ES (around 3,550lbs). In theory, this should skew performance in the Cadenza’s favor, but when the numbers are tabulated the Kia is 3/10ths slower than the RLX to  60 and half a second slower than the Impala and LaCrosse V6. Compared to the AWD XTS, the Cadenza is a hair faster. (The XTS AWD was tested in-house which is why I don’t use a FWD XTS estimate.) The 8-speed V6 Chrysler 300 was the slowest to 60 by around half a second. What gives? The 300 isn’t a light-weight. Our last instrumented test of the Taurus V6 and MKS put the Ford at the bottom of the pack with the 300 and the MKS on par with the Kia.

GM’s 3.6L V6 not only delivers more twist, it also has a broader torque curve and the GM/Ford 6-speed transaxle has an extremely low first gear helping the Impala and LaCrosse get off the line rapidly. Chrysler’s 8-speed auto may be a gem but it can’t re-write the laws of physics, the 300 is just too heavy. At this time Kia isn’t saying if there will ever be an AWD version of the Cadenza, so if you need four-wheel-motivation you need to look to elsewhere.

2014 Kia Cadenza Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Pricing

$35,100, $38,100 and $41,100. That’s all you need to know about the Cadenza’s pricing since the up-scale sedan only comes in three flavors. Why the lack of variation? It keeps prices low and helps inventory issues as the Cadenza is made in Korea. The Cadenza is extremely well-featured at the base price with standard heated leather seats, navigation, backup camera, keyless go, dual-zone climate control, 10-way driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar support and rain-sense wipers. This price point sets the Kia at a slight discount versus the main-stream competition, and about $1,600 cheaper than a Lexus ES350 or Lincoln MKS. If that doesn’t sound like a “deal” yet, hang on. For $38,100 Kia adds a ginormous sunroof, HID headlamps, ventilated driver’s seat, heated rear seats, electric tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power extending thigh bolster (driver’s seat only), a seat/wheel memory system, power rear sun shade, a 7-inch TFT instrument cluster and snazzy Nappa leather seats. This level of Cadenza is where the value proposition starts slotting in $2,500 less than the LaCrosse and $4,000 less than an ES350 or MKS before you take into account the features you just can’t get on the competition. Jump to $41,100 and Kia tosses in 19-inch wheels, radar cruise control with full-speed range ability, blind spot warning, lane departure prevention, an automatic electric parking brake, water-phobic glass and (if you select the no-cost white leather) the faux-suede headliner. This is the option level where the Cadenza (like most Kias) starts to shine. The loaded Kia is a $7,000 discount vs the Lexus ES350 which is an apt comparison. The Kia doesn’t offer real wood but it does offer a nicer interior and a few features you won’t find on the Lexus like the LCD disco dash. Compared to the Acura RLX we had the week before, the Cadenza is nearly $20,000 less expensive. The discount is similarly large with you compare the Cadenza to the XTS and smaller vs the MKS.

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

The one area where the Cadenza didn’t surprise was behind the wheel. Kia’s relative inexperience in the near-luxury market shows, if you know where to look. However the delta between the Kia and the competition, once as wide as the grand canyon,  is now a light shade of grey. Although very well controlled, the Cadenza exhibited slightly more torque steer and wheel hop than you’ll find in GM’s Epsilon II triplets or the Avalon/ES sisters. Of course when it comes to driving dynamics the Chrysler 300′s rear wheel drive layout is the clear winner. When it comes to absolute grip, the Cadenza is likely the equal of the Impala and Avalon, however the steering is not as communicative and the chassis isn’t quite as predictable or refined. Don’t think that makes the Cadenza “feel cheap”, far from it. The Cadenza nails the ” substantial”  feel that this large sedan category is known for.

While drivers will notice the Cadenza is a hair less sophisticated than the competition, passengers are unlikely to notice. The Cadenza’s springs and dampers did an admirable job of soaking up road imperfections around town and are tuned to land somewhere between the Acura RLX’s sportier aspirations and the pillow-soft ride of the LaCrosse. Cabin noise in the Cadenza is extremely well controlled on all road surfaces and thanks all throttle positions. In some ways the Cadenza was too quiet, hushing the engine’s emissions during our 0-60 testing.

In a straight line the Cadenza’s gear ratios and relative lack of low end torque make the Kia feel sluggish compared to the competition, something I hadn’t expected given the engine specs. Part of this is a transmission that feels reluctant to downshift which takes some of the joy out of mountain driving. Fortunately Kia includes paddle shifters so you can command the gears, but in comparison the Ford/GM transaxle and Chrysler’s ZF sourced unit seem psychic in comparison.

2014 Kia Cadenza Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

When it comes to nannies and gadgets Kia took an interesting line. The Cadenza has lane departure warning but no prevention system tied to it unlike Lincoln and Acura’s systems. On the flip side Kia over-delivers with the radar cruise control system. Acura’s systems brake too hard and too early, Infiniti’s systems brake hard and late, most of the other systems on the market are a combination of the two and the majority give up when speeds drop below 20MPH. Much like the systems on current Volvo and Mercedes models however the Kia system drives like a moderately cautious driver, braking progressively but smoothly to a complete stop, and accelerating at a moderate rate when traffic resumes. The system is so fluid that passengers didn’t know the car was “driving itself”  in heavy traffic until I told them to pay attention to my right leg.

After a week with the Cadenza and 611 miles I have to admit I was hooked and that’s not something I say often. The Cadenza’s elegant but restrained looks, comfortable and well-assembled interior, heavy gadget content and value pricing are an incredibly compelling combo. The interior and sticker price more than justify the negatives I encountered during the week. The only major problem with the Cadenza is the Kia logo on the hood. This begs the question: is luxury looking expensive or feeling coddled? At higher price points I would argue you need both, but near luxury is about value and that’s where the Cadenza shines. I’m not sure about Kia’s Mercedes ambitions, but one thing’s for sure, the Cadenza puts Acura on notice and Lexus needs to watch their back.

 

Hit it or Quit it?

Hit it

  • It turns out you can have an Acura at Honda prices.
  • Alcantara headliners rock.
  • Near-luxury without near-pretentiousness

Quit it

  • Can you handle your premium car’s discount badge?
  • I had expected better performance numbers.

 

Kia provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested:

0-30: 2.51 Seconds

0-60: 6.08 Seconds

1/4 mile: 14.67 Seconds @ 97 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 24.5 MPG over 611 miles

 

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