Drivers who buy new cars today usually don’t have to worry about whether the car will break an axle on the side of the road, or whether its brakes will give out on a steep hill. We can expect to get air-conditioning and heated front seats as standard items, and we can expect that the technology inside the car will work intuitively and will enhance, rather than inhibit, the driving experience.
That doesn’t mean all modern luxury cars are created equal. Far from it. Some have shoddy interior materials lining their walls, others lack the power and torque to rival competitors. Others are just plain boring. In today’s world of wild and crazy supercars, coupes, and SUVs, there is no excuse for that. I won’t be rushing to drive these five vehicles again.
Lexus LC 500
My quibble with the Lexus LC 500 isn’t about how it looks on the outside. I like its swooped body, big wheels, and low, smooth roofline. If I had to buy a Lexus, it might even be this one. It’s the most exciting of that family. Unfortunately, that isn’t saying much.
No, my problem with the LC 500 is twofold: For one thing, it doesn’t compete, performance- and craftsmanship-wise, with others of its type and price point. Compare it to the Acura NSX and the Porsche 911, and you’ll find each of those a much more pleasurable and emotional experience to drive. They’re precise and immediate when you turn the steering wheel and when you press the brakes. They’re quick and sharp to drive: It’s as if they anticipate what you want to do. The LC 500, by contrast, takes a beat to digest your request and then, maybe, it’ll get back to you. It doesn’t have the visceral feel of guts under that bonnet or aggression in its gears to help it go fast. It’s lukewarm.
Second, and more annoying, the interior of the LC 500 feels plastic and lightweight. The screen and technology system is so bad it equals those of the Cadillac line-up, which is terrible. The Range Rover Velar contains the most exceptional example on the market today – yes, even beating out Tesla – while the screen controls and performance in Lexus’s LC 500 feel light years behind the times. The “touchpad” at the bottom of the centre console and the vertically oriented design will annoy. Have you ever heard anyone say: “I’d like to have to use a semi-responsive, tiny, black flat screen set near my knee when I drive?” Doubtful.
The technology is imprecise at best. And certainly not intuitive. In fact, the one from this Lexus made our Bloomberg Businessweek story about the best and worst car touch screens on the market today.
Here’s the problem with the Audi S4: It’s boring. Both inside and out. That is not a crime, but it’s inexcusable in this day and age. Tesla makes an electric sedan that is more interesting, visually, than this car is, for goodness sake.
It has a ho-hum V6 engine that produces 354 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, which, admittedly, is 164 more horsepower and 133 more pound-feet of torque than the A4 model.
That translates to a zero-to-60 sprint time of 4.4 seconds. The base-level BMW M3 can do 60mph in 3.9 seconds, and the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG can do it in 4 seconds flat. There’s really no comparison.
As I say in my review, the S4 is a good example of what the generic modern luxury sedan is – safe and rounded off, like a politically correct public service announcement at the airport: blah, blah, blah, if you even notice. Take the badges off, and I’ll bet you US$100 you could not identify this as an Audi.
Audi is a great carmaker. I expect more from it than this. You should, too.
Aston Martin DB11 Volante
You are probably surprised to see a gorgeous convertible from such an esteemed brand on this list. But stick with me. Unlike the case of the Lexus LC 500 – opposite to it, really – I have no quibbles with how the DB11 Volante drives. Its V8 engine will hit 62 miles per hour in four seconds and has a top speed of 187mph. A cursory glance at one as it passes can send shivers of happiness down the spine. This car looks good in that sort of squint-your-eyes and don’t-look-too-close way.
But spend any amount of time with it, and – from the inside out – the design of the car is difficult to embrace. With the top up, the canvas cover looks stretched to threads over the infinitesimally small rear seats. Hung wide across the car’s low body, it compromises every otherwise beautiful body line the brand has worked so hard to develop and protect. It diminishes half the sight lines from behind the wheel and makes everything feel cramped and too busy inside. If I owned this car, I would never have the top up, for fear of ruining its otherwise-fine exterior body lines.
On the inside, too, you run into trouble. With the top up, the interior, which seemed relaxed when open to the breezy air, suddenly begins to feel stressful. This is because Aston Martin has rather oddly taken to spec-ing out its press cars: They’re garish and gaudy, with multiple leathers and woods and stitching colourations on the seats and doors and dash that all clash. From the (uncomfortably stiff and straight) front seats, it’s like sitting inside a cramped karaoke bar with no escape in sight. And I wouldn’t wish the back seat on anyone I cared about – even remotely.
If you want an Aston Martin convertible, steer yourself toward the Vanquish S Volante. It offers more space and sight. If you go for the Volante, keep the top down and forget about driving in the rain.
Infiniti recently debuted a special “Project Black” hybrid sports car inspired by Formula 1. It has 563 horsepower and a hybrid-electric power train developed by Renault. That is the best car Infiniti makes – and it’s not even available for normal consumers. On the other side of the family table, so to speak, is the QX50 SUV.
This SUV looks large but comes with only four cylinders and 268 horsepower. (Step on the gas and you’ll feel the anaemic response.) It rolls and lumbers around corners. The interior cabin displays look as if they came directly from 2008: as dull as the exterior body, except for the multiple, differing fonts used in graphics displays, which are disconcerting.
The QX50 has room enough inside its cabin, as well as adequate storage space. And it does drive. I guess that is something.
I cannot imagine one solitary reason to buy the Acura RDX.
The RDX has a few more horsepower and torque than the entry variants of the Porsche Macan and BMW X3. But the fit and finish inside, the robotic exterior appearance with awkward front grille, the lacklustre handling, and the quirky design of the technology altogether sap the car’s overall appeal sufficiently to make it an afterthought for those looking to buy a crossover like this one.
Inside, the interior materials feel cheap, like plastic, and the entertainment and climate apparatus with touchpad and centre control knob (the “Acura True Touchpad Interface”) is beaten only by Lexus for weirdness of design. (Exhibit A and B: touchpad controls, vertical alignment in the centre of the console.) Outside, the lacklustre handling and dearth of any discernible personality or driving character – a throaty engine note or meaner torque would be nice – earn it side-note status at best, compared to its competitors.
For the discerning buyer, the small Porsche or BMW SUVs would be worth considering. Or better yet, if you want to save money, buy the exceptional Volvo XC60. For now, skip the RDX.