For years, the Germans owned the luxury sports sedan market. That is, until the last decade or so where the Japanese giants have begun cranking out very competitive offerings in this segment. This is all great news though, because with more players, more cars and some of the most advanced technology, the offerings in this segment today are truly phenomenal cars. I’ve recently had the treat of driving two of the latest top of the line luxury offerings from the two biggest premium Japanese brands. So I took the opportunity to put the 2014 Acura RLX Elite and the 2014 Lexus GS350 F-Sport head-to-head to see which of these two fun and classy sedans would be my choice.
From the outside, the RLX appears very understated and blends in with the common Accords and Camrys out on our roads. That said, Acura did a great job on the front end and the corporate grille really works well on the RLX. Combined with my favorite feature, the LED headlamps, the Acura’s front fascia does hint that it’s something special. The GS350 F-Sport on the other hand makes it very clear that it’s not your typical import sedan. The F-Sport package adds sculpted front and rear bumpers, side skirts, and gorgeous 19” charcoal-coloured rims inspired by the Lexus LF-A supercar. Finished in Ultra White Metallic on Garnet Red leather, my GS350 tester was absolutely stunning and caught the eyes of enthusiasts everywhere I took it.
Both machines are powered by their corporate 3.5L V6s, engines which both model the epitome of refinement and smooth power delivery. Acura’s powerplant puts out 310 horsepower, while the Lexus’ heart pumps out 306. On paper, these two engines seem almost identical, but from behind the wheel it’s obvious that they are very different beasts. The Acura’s power delivery is the smoother of the two, shifts from the 6-speed automatic are slightly dull and not as precise as those from the Lexus, and even when pushed the engine in the Acura hardly makes its presence known to passengers. The Lexus on the other hand isn’t shy to let its aggression show when you get on the throttle; in Sport+ mode, the 3.5L roars to life with a glorious growl and the 6-speed automatic snaps through the gears with authority. Without a doubt, from a seat of the pants perspective, the Lexus definitely feels like the quicker car.
The differences continue out on the road, and after driving the Lexus for the first time, the only way I could describe the steering was “perfect”. After spending a solid amount of time with the car, I still feel that way. The steering represents that perfect balance between precision, response and comfort. On-center the car tracks straight as an arrow with minimal inputs, but when asked to, the car’s immediate and forceful response to the driver’s inputs is simply sensational for a car of this size. The Lexus all-wheel-drive system also feels well sorted and does a good job keeping the power at the right place when the car is pushed through the corners – no drama at all.
The Acura doesn’t currently offer an AWD option, but the FWD car does have a little trick up its sleeve known as the P-AWS system. No it’s not something for your family pet, it’s Acura’s all-wheel-steering system and it makes the RLX an absolute breeze to manoeuvre around in cramped city parking lots and pull u-turns. However, doesn’t do a whole lot for the overall steering feel in the Acura, which feels a lot more relaxed and vague than the Lexus. As far as ride quality goes, I’d call it a draw. Both cars did an exceptional job absorbing the cracks and bumps in the now construction riddled city streets, and cruising on the highway both cars were nearly silent.
The highway actually, is where the RLX is at home. I can’t think of a car I’ve driven recently that’s better-suited or more comfortable for steady highway cruising. It’s the type of car you get into after a long day at work, shut the door, sink into the soft leather seats, turn up the phenomenal Krell 14 speaker audio system and you’re free of all the little annoyances of the world. When you do hit the highway, the Acura’s Active Cylinder Shutdown system makes a big difference in limiting fuel consumption and I noticed a dramatic difference between my highway and city numbers. At the end of the week I had managed a very respectable 10.4L/100km in the Acura.
The Lexus on the other hand is a much more rounded drive; it feels significantly more agile than the Acura, which I partially credit to its notably sharper throttle response. It’s the type of car you simply want to drive; it has the right feel and sounds to keep any enthusiast entertained for ages. Any chance to open up the taps a little bit and hear the heavenly roar of the V6 is enough to put a lasting grin on my face. That said, I did try my best to keep my foot out of the throttle long enough to log some respectable fuel economy numbers, and I learnt that there is a bit of a price to pay for the excitement from the Lexus’s V6, as I averaged 11.2L/100km.
In the daily grind the Lexus has all the comforts and toys that you could ask for in a top of the line luxury sedan, including a seats that are an absolute work of art. However, flip it into Sport+ mode, tighten up the huge power-adjustable seat bolsters, hit the twisty back roads and you’ll discover a much lighter, much smaller sports car – and that’s the appeal of a proper sports sedan. The GS350 is a car that’ll do everything you ask of it with style and grace during the week, but will still put a heck of a grin on your face come Friday night.
Both of these cars do a magnificent job at easing the pain of the daily grind, keeping their drivers in the lap of luxury and confidently in control at all times. But the GS350 F-sport has that little extra spark of excitement that, as an enthusiast, I find missing from the RLX. Combine that with the fact that the Lexus, as-tested at $57,500, is $7000 cheaper than the $64,500 RLX. I know where I’d be putting my own money.
Comparo: 2014 Lexus GS350 vs. 2014 Acura RLX Gallery