Luxury meets power in rides from Cadillac, Lexus and Acura
CASEY WILLIAMS | Auto Reviewer
Some gearheads revel in speed and torque. Some revel in styling and design. But you don’t have to choose between power and luxury if you choose one of these amazing cars — all achievable in the mid-five-figures (though you can up the ante as your own tastes dictate.)
Open the door and step inside. Let the wealth of leather waft up your nostrils, beckoning your bum to have a seat. You should probably press the starter button and go for a drive, too. Since you’re already there.
If people buy Cadillacs because they like a car on the sumptuous, glitzy side, they’ll slip right into the CTS. Layers of cut-and-sew leather top the dash and doors, intoxicating occupants with their fragrance. Magnesium paddle shifters gleam as ambient light seeps from crevices at night and from the twin pane sunroof during daytime. Large expanses of carbon fiber and subtle chrome add sporting elegance.
Once inside, occupants will relax with heated/ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel and tri-zone automatic climate control. A power rear sunshade and manual side shades repel bright rays. Bose audio will please discriminating ears.
So will technology that will make retired space shuttle pilots long for lost orbits. Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system is accessed via touchscreen that scrolls like an iPad, can be controlled by voice and connects with USBs and Bluetooth calling/streaming audio. It clearly does not like my obsolete iPhone, but navigation and Apple CarPlay worked flawlessly for others in my posse. Drivers get a reconfigurable instrument cluster, head-up display, rain-sensing wipers and power tilt/telescoping steering column.
Step outside. From the eggcrate grille flanked by projector beams and LED light blades to sharply creased bodysides, formal rear roof, and vertical taillamps, it’s clearly a Cadillac. You know the car is big when 18-in. wheels look like quarters. Designers could push it further, but the CTS displays a strong affinity for Cadillac’s heritage.
If shuttle pilots want to feel rocket thrust, they should order a CTS-V with 650 horsepower V8, but this CTS suits private jet pilots. Understand: It’s not slow with a 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 335 horsepower through an 8-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel-drive ensures it goes to good use. Step easy and leave the annoying auto stop/start tech on to see 19/28-MPG city/hwy.
Underway, the CTS’ chassis is among the best. That’s because it was developed on Germany’s famed Nurburgring, fraught with complex crests and turns, that worked over the Brembo brakes and helped tune the suspension. Magnetic Ride Control, also used on Corvette, reads the road 1,000 times per second to stiffen and loosen the shocks for a near-magical erasure of rough pavement that would unsettle otherwise amazing cars. It feels natural, in tour or sport mode, with precision that’s more Jaguar than German.
Hauling fin at any speed, it’s nice to know there’s an armada of safety gear aboard. That big Cadillac crest in the grille hides the radar unit for adaptive cruise control and forward collision alert with auto stop. Always consult the rearview camera and surround view monitor in tight quarters, but rear cross path detection could save your bumper. Blind spot warning and lane keep assist also do their part. Need help parallel or perpendicular parking? The car can find a spot and do it semi-autonomously.
Cadillac’s greatest challenge may be getting drivers to step inside showrooms. Sure, the CTS’ back seat is a little tight, the interior is loaded with glitzy gadgets, and your cool gramps will like the styling. But, I’d put it against the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5-Series or Audi A6 any day. It’s as enjoyable to drive as it is to smell and caress, leaving you with a big leather hug.
The CTS starts at $45,560, but came to $66,425 as tested.
Lexus RX350 F Sport
Lexus knows its audiences, and while the cars have not been the most exciting in the past, that’s about to change. And it’s getting the message out. A round of new television spots includes one targeting LGBT drivers called “Ahead of the Curve” in which a stylish male couple in a modern house have a quick embrace between morning exercise and leaving for work. The RX350’s dynamic styling and performance are highlighted. If this doesn’t sound like Lexus, you need to drive the RX350 F Sport.
Gaze into the front and you’re confronted with a giant black mesh version of Lexus’ trademark spindle grille flanked by angry LED headlamps and running lights. At first, I didn’t care for the grille, but it has grown on me and looks good on everything from cars to crossovers. Move around to the side and you see a connection to the smaller NX200t crossover in its origami body creases, but they complement the steeply raked backlight, 20-in. alloys and floating rear roof design. It’s more dynamic and sportier while maintaining its connection to previous RXs.
Just the thickly-bolstered red leather seats and thick leather-wrapped steering wheel are enough reasons to go F Sport. They’re paired with a restyled interior that gets, in F Sport trim, curved striated aluminum on the console and doors — classy and modern merged. Being a Lexus, the interior is well-made with precision stitching on the dashboard, subtle use of satin silver trim and thickly-padded armrests. Rear passengers stretch their legs out. The cargo hold, with split/fold rear seats deployed, can swallow a bicycle, stroller or luggage for four.
The technology suite centers on a joystick-controlled 12.3-in. high-definition screen in the center dash. Use it to access navigation, radio, climate control and iThings connected via Bluetooth or USBs. Bring your best music because the 15-speaker Mark Levinson Premium Surround Sound system is divine. Another knob adjusts the chassis and throttle for Eco, Normal and Sport for a range of fuel economy and performance personalities.
Drivers sit behind an 8-in. LCD instrument cluster and command safety technology including radar-based adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist with steering correction, and forward collision alert with pedestrian detection and auto stop.
But it’s the going that’s fun. The RX is available as a hybrid, but we went for the 3.5-liter V6 that sends 295 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque to the all-wheel-drive system through an 8-speed paddle-shifted automatic transmission. The exhaust is tuned so you hear more engine noise as you tromp the throttle (in a Lexus!). Still, nearly 300 ponies are enough to kick the RX350 smartly down the road while returning 19/26-MPG city/hwy.
It’s not all perfection. To be truly competitive, the engine needs about another 50 horsepower. And, 26-MPG is at least 5-MPG below what should be expected in a mid-size crossover today. I happen to like the joystick infotainment control, but they’re a little distracting. Plant those big wheels over rough pavement and you’ll feel every bump — but quietly, cuz it’s still a Lexus.
In the past, it was rare for a Lexus to make me tingle. But, every Lexus I’ve driven lately has melted my resistance. Combine exciting styling and performance with Lexus’ reputation for quality and service. That’s a crossover — a crossover like the RX350 F Sport — that my husband and I could really embrace.
A base price of $41,900, and $56,935 as tested, puts the RX350 against the Audi Q5, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Acura RDX and Infiniti QX70.
Acura RLX Sport Hybrid
Recalling a little history, Honda’s Acura division was the first Japanese luxury automaker to roll tires upon American soil in 1986. The brand’s flagship Legend sedan enticed buyers of European and American luxury brands to embrace Honda’s renowned quality and reliability in a more posh package. After the onslaught of Lexus and Infiniti, and a switch to alphabet soup RL/RLX nomenclature, sales tumbled. Still, one drive in the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid convinces me the car has the moves to be a real contender.
It may appear as a glorified Accord, but the RLX is much more than that. It’s larger, and significantly so, dominating driveways with a long arching body highlighted by Acura’s satin chrome grille, Jewel Eye LED headlamps, strongly-formed front fenders, and a rounded rump with LED taillamps. It plants the road with 19-in. alloys, a dominating presence wherever it rolls, but maintains a simplicity appreciated by Acura owners.
That’s also true of the comfortable interior. Five passengers stretch out in leather — heated/ ventilated upfront and heated in the rear. Drivers tap a heated steering wheel, heads-up display, electronic push-button gear selector. The Krell audio system with 14 speakers sounds good when cranked, but lacks the definition of other high-end systems at lower volumes. Rear sunshades and power sunroof filter light.
For some reason, I didn’t level expletives at the RLX’s infotainment system quite as much this time. Don’t get me wrong: I still think the two-screen arrangement is decrepit, but I’ve learned to connect smart-tech through Bluetooth/USBs, scroll through satellite radio stations as if an Intel 286 is in the dashboard, and plot navigation when it’s not updating for 10 minutes. It’s complete nonsense, but Honda’s latest systems are dramatically improved, so there’s hope.
Until then, stay safe with comprehensive safety systems like Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist, Collision Mitigation Braking and blind spot detection. Around-view cameras and front seatbelt E-Pretensioners, that anticipate crashes and cinch preemptively, go further.
While competitors dance it out with potent V8 engines, Acura sticks with a V6 — albeit one “supercharged” with a hybrid system. The powertrain combines a 3.5-liter direct-injected V6 with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and 1.3-kWh lithium-ion battery pack for 377 horsepower. The gas engine drives the front wheels while twin electric motors turn the rear. Fuel economy rates 28/32-MPG city/hwy.
Acura’s flagship sedan would benefit from a sophisticated electronic suspension like Mercedes’ air system or GM’s Magnetic Ride Control. Real time damping would transform the ride quality from thump-a-bump to hushed silk without heaving in turns. The right bones are in place, but fall shy for a true luxury flagship.
The RLX is a fine luxury car that needs an identity and a little polish. Sales could only go up with LEGEND chromed across the decklid. Trash the two-screen infotainment system, add electronic chassis control, and Acura’s finest would give grief to the Hyundai Genesis, Buick LaCrosse, Lexus GS Hybrid and Cadillac XTS.
Prices start at $54,450, but came to $66,890 in loaded Sport Hybrid trim.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2016.