Well it’s around that time to replace the aging Honda Accord (2001) sitting on the driveway. After some extensive research the test drive list was narrowed down to the Lexus ES350, Toyota Camry Hybrid, and Acura TL as a start.
Arriving at the combined Toyota/Lexus dealership in St. Catharines, we first went to look at a Camry Hybrid. Unfortunately the demo model was out for the afternoon and the other Hybrids were in a car lot elsewhere. As a result, we were only able to take a look at a non-Hybrid model and talk about financing and leasing options.
We were then introduced to a Lexus sales representative and went through the main features of the Lexus ES350. Shortly thereafter, we set out in an ES bound for the highway to mimic the typical daily use of the car. Even when pulling out of the lot, we noticed significantly less engine and road noise than the Accord we currently drive. Then again, there’s probably something wrong if a brand new Lexus isn’t quieter than a 7 year old Honda. We took some side roads to get to a slightly less busy part of the QEW, where we could stretch the car out. The car handled bumps and potholes with ease – the interior of the car was also pleasing. The somewhat small windows and the moonroof let in lots of light to make the interior feel quite roomy.
Accelerating onto the highway was satisfying. The V6 provided more than enough oomph to get around other vehicles on the road without creating a racket. The imperfections in the seemingly always-under-construction highways sent little vibration through the frame and as a result was very pleasing. We’re talking about a family car here, not a 20-something wanting a lowered Civic. There was one patch of service road that had been recently paved and with negligible road noise and extremely good engine sound proofing, it was like floating on a cloud.
Upon returning to the Lexus dealership, my dad decided to try out the RX350 as well. This was a bit surprising as my previous efforts to convince him to buy into any type of SUV typically ended in failure, with top issues being fuel consumption, increased price, and necessity. We don’t carry tons of stuff around and the vehicle would be used 90% of the time as a commuter to work, so mileage is important. Still, we hopped into an RX and set off for the highway.
The first thing I noticed was a distinctly noisier environment than the ES. Furthermore, with the heavily tinted windows in the back, it also felt a bit cramped, even if that was an optical illusion. Once on the highway, it was apparent that engine and road noises were significantly higher than with the ES. On some side roads, we also noted quite a bit of roll when going over bumps. I’m sure that’s a result of the typical ‘smoothing’ out by Lexus. Instead of taking a bump directly, the suspension sort of wallows to lessen the thud.
In the end I think it was good to drive the RX350, just so that we could knowingly cross it off the list of possibilities. Instead of wondering about the RX, we laid the idea to rest.
Hopping across the parking lot, we entered the Acura dealership and took a look at the TL. After a quick introduction with a sales rep, we got into the car and the representative drove us around to point out some of the features we wouldn’t have come across on our own. My initial impressions were of a more ‘modern’ interior design than the ES and a firmer seat. Once onto the highway, we noticed an abundance of road and engine noise. Even in city driving conditions, road noises and bumps were transferred readily into the interior of the vehicle. That probably has something to do with the ‘sportier’ market and different suspension tuning as compared to the ES or RX. Back at the dealership, the rep handed over the keys and told us to take it for a ride. We went along the same route as we had taken the ES and RX previously to make the comparison. It certainly felt less wobbly than either the ES or RX, but it wasn’t really what we were looking for. On the other hand, with the 2009 model incoming, I got the sense that the sales rep was more willing to negotiate on price and terms.
With the drives fresh in my our minds, I came home and crunched some numbers that night. The Acura TL was approximately the same price as the ES350 for the base model (higher MSRP, but better lease/financing rates) while the navigation package brought the ES350’s price well over the TL with navigation. Of course, the Camry Hybrid comes in far below either the TL or ES. In fact even with the navigation package, the Camry Hybrid comes in well less than both ES and TL base models.
We’re planning another day of driving when we’ll be able to test the Camry Hybrid and ES350 in quick succession to see if the ES is just a plush Camry or something that offers a significant difference from the Camry’s ride to justify the price.