A Luxury Value

By Derek Price

Buying your first luxury car can’t be an easy decision.
Older buyers, with either high incomes or big nest eggs saved up, might not care about depreciation or the pricey cost of maintenance that can result from driving a full-blown luxury barge.
Younger buyers typically don’t have the, well, luxury of not caring about those expenses, though. They’re more focused on what they get for the money.
That’s got to be a major reason this car, the Acura ILX, is such a hit with buyers under age 35.
The ILX is the most popular car in its segment for millennial buyers, Acura says, which is no surprise when you think about it. Acura may not carry the same prestige and cachet of Mercedes-Benz, Audi or even Lexus, but it’s got a lock on bang-for-your-buck value.
When you need money left over for baby formula and fun vacations, that’s a big deal.
Acura is racking up awards for it, too. According to KBB.com, Honda’s luxury division has the lowest five-year cost of ownership of any luxury brand. Additionally, Edmunds.com recently awarded Acura for having the best retained value of any luxury marque.
What about substance, though?

The Acura ILX has a sporty personality with good handling, minimal body roll and firm seats. Its dual-clutch transmission is incredible.

My ILX tester checked off the right boxes for cars in this class, including adaptive cruise control, a full-feature digital interface and a nicely refined lane-keeping assist system that makes the car nearly autonomous for brief moments. As long as the lanes are well marked, it can smoothly apply steering input to keep the car centered on its own.
While I wouldn’t call it exhilarating, the ILX’s performance is very competent with strong acceleration, crisp handling and good grip in corners. Like most cars in this class, including the Lexus IS and Audi A3, the ILX emphasizes sportiness over buttery comfort.
From the driver’s perspective, its standout feature is a brilliantly engineered dual-clutch automatic transmission. Its shifts feel indescribably beautiful — faster and more tactile than ordinary automatics, and smoother than the clunky dual-clutch units fitted to some of its German competitors. I’d almost recommend this car on the strength of its transmission alone, but I realize not everyone is so nerdy about such things.
The interior still benefits from a 2016 upgrade that emphasized its sporty demeanor. Aluminum trim and eye-catching, European-style stitching give it an athletic look inside, a good match for its firm, supportive seats.
Outside, the ILX is handsome but not too flashy. While this car looked more comparatively aggressive when it was first introduced, recent out-of-the-box styling overhauls by Lexus and Infiniti make it seem conservative in comparison this year.
It looks nice, but it’s not the kind of car you’d buy if you’re begging for attention.
My tester came with the A-Spec trim package, giving it Acura’s most aggressive look on this car. Black seat trim, a black headliner, contrasting gray stitching, red lights on the instruments and pedals made of aluminum help to set it apart.
I do hope Acura can come up with an even more eye-catching ILX A-Spec look for the future, though, more akin to the one on the 2018 TLX I drove a few weeks ago. The new TLX’s A-Spec makes the ILX’s version look subtle.

Active Noise Control helps keep the ILX’s cabin quiet on the highway while allowing the engine to resonate more loudly during aggressive driving.

To keep the interior quieter, every ILX comes standard with Active Noise Control. It “helps eliminate low-decibel booming noise entering the cabin,” Acura claims, while allowing the engine’s sound to resonate nicely at higher RPMs when the driver wants to have some fun.
I thought the system did its job well. On the highway, while it’s not the quietest car in this class, the ILX is perfectly pleasant and more silent than anything I can recall from its Honda cousins. And when you wind up the 2.4-liter engine, it lets out a pleasing wail as it approaches its peak output of 201 horsepower.
Pricing starts at $27,990 and tops out at $34,980 when you opt for both the Technology Plus and A-Spec appearance packages.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Acura ILX Tech Plus A-Spec ($34,980). Options: None. Price as tested (including $940 destination charge): $35,920
Wheelbase: 105.1 in.
Length: 181.9 in.
Width: 70.6 in.
Height: 55.6 in.
Engine: 2.4-liter four cylinder (201 hp, 180 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel economy: 25 city, 35 highway

Style: 7
Performance: 8
Price: 9
Handling: 9
Ride: 7
Comfort: 6
Quality: 9
Overall: 9

Why buy it?
It’s a lot of car for the money, especially when you factor in its strong resale value. Its dual-clutch automatic is one of the best transmissions in the world.

Posted in Uncategorized

New Era of Luxury

By Derek Price

Call me old-fashioned, but when I turn the key of a $50,000 luxury car, I still anticipate hearing the velvety baritone rumble of a V8 engine.
When I fired up the new Lexus GS tester in my driveway, though, I didn’t hear a baritone. I heard a mezzo-soprano — a wispy, airy, higher pitched voice emanating from its turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
Yes, four.
It’s a far cry from the days when you could tell a luxury car apart from its mundane cousins based on the cylinder count. But it’s also not unusual, as younger buyers and the reality of fuel-efficiency expectations mean more cars than ever — including premium models from upscale brands — strap turbochargers onto tiny engines to create big horsepower.
Automakers are finding there is, indeed, a replacement for displacement.
In the case of my GS200t test car, the cylinders only displace 2.0-liters, the same volume as in the diminutive Mazda Miata two-seater.

The Lexus GS has adopted the brand’s aggressive front end that is a good match for its contemporary, tech-centered cabin.

What’s remarkable, though, is that Lexus’ twin-scroll turbo boosts its output to 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, both respectable numbers. I never did get used to the sound that comes forth, but I was happy with the performance from the moment my toes touched the gas pedal.
If you need more power, you can step up to the GS 350 with a 311-horsepower V6, or the even faster GS450h hybrid that puts out 338 horses.
You can get a V8 in your GS if you want it, but you’ll have to pay up for the privilege. The high-performance GS F model starts around $84,000 and makes 467 horsepower from eight cylinders, something increasingly rare in today’s luxury market.
The fact that the GS has a quiet, smooth ride is no surprise. Floating lucky drivers in serenity down miles of American highways, with a hint of sporty flair, has always been its reason to exist.
The surprise is that it does so while looking so outgoing.
While Lexus was long known for conservative — if not downright boring — body styling, the current generation GS dresses to get attention. It’s trying desperately to turn heads, most obviously with its monster grille, but also by getting rather adventurous on the inside.
If your idea of a Lexus interior is “like a Camry, but nicer,” you’ll be shocked at just how avant-garde the GS’s cabin looks and feels. It’s taking cues from Audi by designing a space that seems more contemporary than classic, dominated by a gigantic digital display and the controls that make it function.
The look is very sleek and horizontal, necessitated by the dimensions of its optional 12.3-inch screen that delivers crisp, beautiful imagery.

An optional 12.3-inch display provides plenty of digital real estate for the GS’s navigation maps and connectivity features.

Unfortunately, it lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two systems that are becoming the industry standards for the intersection of smartphones and automobiles.
Its safety systems, though, are full-featured and come standard on every trim level.
Last year Lexus introduced its optional Safety System+ that came with Pre-Collision System (PCS), Lane Departure Alert (LDA) with Steering Assist, Intelligent High Beam (IHB) and Full Speed Dynamic Radar Cruise Control.
All those acronyms are impressively intuitive to use. I’m a big fan of the steering assist function that can keep the car centered in the lane reasonably well on its own, as long as the roads are clearly marked and you keep a hand on the steering wheel. I see it as a noteworthy, if still imperfect, step toward autonomous driving.
This year, that whole suite of features is standard on every GS, including the $46,310 basic trim.
Also new this year is an available limited-slip differential on F SPORT models, something that moves it closer to a legitimate sports sedan for people who want better handling at the limits.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Lexus GS200t ($46,310). Options: 18-inh wheels ($905), premium audio system ($1,380), navigation system with 12.3-inch screen ($1,730), intuitive park assist ($500), trunk mat ($105). Price as tested (including $975 destination charge): $50,175
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 192.1 in.
Width: 72.4 in.
Height: 57.3 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (241 hp, 258 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 32 highway

Style: 8
Performance: 8
Price: 7
Handling: 9
Ride: 10
Comfort: 10
Quality: 10
Overall: 8

Why buy it?
It delivers a sumptuous ride and reasonably muscular acceleration along  good fuel economy from its 2.0-liter turbo engine.

Posted in Lexus

RF Improves Miata

By Derek Price

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll state my bias up front: I love the Mazda Miata almost to the point of insanity.
I’ve owned a Miata most of my adult life and plan to keep at least one in my garage until the day I die.
From my perspective, it’s the perfect vehicle for everyone from teen drivers to grandparents to furniture delivery companies (because it has unlimited vertical cargo capacity when you put the top down!) It’s incredibly reliable. It gets great gas mileage. And most importantly, it’s the most fun-to-drive vehicle on the planet.
That also means I hold strong opinions about how you should and shouldn’t order your Miata. In my perfect world, putting an automatic transmission in a Miata would be a capital offense. Ordering one with a hard top would be a felony, at least before this year with the arrival of the Miata RF.
Before now, the retractable hard-top Miata was always an abomination that offends my sports-car puritanism. It added excess weight and looked a bit ungainly on an otherwise beautifully-penned exterior.

A sleek fastback rear end makes the Mazda Miata RF look somewhat like a pricey Italian sports car. It has a retractible hard top that motors away at the touch of a button.

But the new Miata RF, which stands for “retractable fastback,” has changed my mind because it does something I thought was impossible: make the Miata look even prettier.
Rather than just plopping a mechanical roof contraption on top of a pretty Miata, which is what Mazda did on previous generations, the new RF gives the car’s back end a whole new look. It’s sleek. It’s sexy. It’s absolutely stunning to look at, with swept-back pillars that make it feel like an exotic Italian sports car.
Yes, the RF version adds 113 pounds when it steps on the bathroom scale and takes an extra $6,640 from your bank account compared to the base Miata. My puritan side doesn’t like this sin, even though it atones for it with a quieter driving experience and better looks.
My bias tends to minimize the so-called faults this car might have, too, so my wife pointed out a few things she noticed. Storage space is almost nonexistent, without a glove box. The most usable storage bin is located next to the driver’s right shoulder — not exactly an easy place to access — and is covered with a flimsy feeling door. Rear visibility is awful, she says.
I’m blind to all that. All I can do when I step inside is turn the key and grin like a maniac.
In my mind, rear visibility doesn’t matter much because every Miata comes from the factory with an ingenious safety feature I call Automatic Sound Intrusion. When you put the top and windows down, ASI allows all the sounds and sensations from the world around you to come inside the cabin unimpeded.

The Miata’s cabin is spartan but also ideally designed for drivers. It’s a car that feels natural to drive, with a low seating position and perfectly placed shifter.

In a parking lot, you won’t back into shoppers because you can hear the shopping carts squeaking as they move behind you. On the highway, ASI notifies you every time a car enters your blind spot when you can hear the wind and tire noise screaming into your ear drums.
That’s why I always drive Miatas with the top down — for safety reasons, of course.
ASI comes at no extra charge on every convertible by simply lowering the top, and you can activate it in the Miata RF by pressing a button that stows the roof away in just 13 seconds. The entire fastback portion of the car lifts up to let the top fold under mechanically, origami style, to be neatly hidden in back.
If you need additional safety features, the Club trim comes with rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitoring. The fancier Grand Touring adds a lane departure warning system, high beam control, adaptive front lighting system and rain-sensing wipers.
More than anything else, my drive in the Miata RF proves an old saying is completely wrong. Money can indeed buy happiness, starting at $31,555.

At A Glance

What was tested?
2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring RF ($32,620). Options: Gray paint charge ($300), keyless entry system ($130). Price as tested (including $835 destination charge): $33,885
Wheelbase: 90.9 in.
Length: 154.1 in.
Width: 68.3 in.
Height: 48.6 in.
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder (155 hp, 148 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 26 city, 33 highway

Style: 10
Performance: 10
Price: 10
Handling: 10
Ride: 7
Comfort: 6
Quality: 9
Overall: 9

Why buy it?
The RF version makes the quintessential sports car even prettier. Its retractible hard top minimizes highway noise and looks gorgeous, whether the top is up or down.

Posted in Mazda