Acura 3.2TL vs. Chrysler 300M, Lexus ES300, Mazda Millenia S, and Five More Entry-Luxury Sedans

Acura 3.2TL vs. Chrysler 300M, Lexus ES300, Mazda Millenia S, and Five More Entry-Luxury Sedans Acura 3.2TL vs. Chrysler 300M, Lexus ES300, Mazda Millenia S, and Five More Entry-Luxury Sedans
Comparison Tests

Way to call 'em, Bucky! You've just scored big in the online trading game, and thanks to those NASDAQ Internet home runs, you're ready for a new ride.

But what to do?

A Ferrari 550 Maranello in the driveway will only crank up the neighbors. A Bentley Arnage Red Label won't fit in the carport alongside the riding lawnmower and the gas grill.

Something slightly smaller and more discreet is demanded, at least until you bag the 'burbs and business-class it to Maui and some proper beachfront digs. As an alternative, may we suggest what are sometimes called near-luxury sedans (also known as wannabe luxury, Wal-Mart luxury, not-quite luxury, junior-executive luxury, faux luxury, and route-man luxury) that offer most of the amenities found in Gold Coast four-doors at roughly half the price? Yes, for stickers one side or the other of 30 large, you can have yourself wheels that (1) look snappy, (2) ride like a Sealy Posturepedic, (3) go fast (or at least pretty fast), and (4) haul you and three passengers over long distances with the style and grace befitting a nouveau high roller.

In search of more road-test verities on this matter, a team of flinty-eyed staffers plunged into the wilds of Ontario and the Adirondack Mountains and sped along the shores of the cold blue St. Lawrence River seeking to determine the best among nine prime examples of this genre. Battling at least one raging snowstorm, vicious winds, frigid temperatures, and shotgun-waving locals, not to mention hours spent elbow to elbow at the bar of the elegant Bonnie Castle Resort in Alexandria Bay, New York, in intense contemplation of the breathtaking scenery of the Thousand Islands and the capabilities of the test machines parked outside, we struggled to produce the following results without creating a bad parody of the waffling conclusions normally reached by other empty imitations of this magazine.

Our dilemma was this: Unlike many other comparison tests, this one included no weak-sister automobiles or ugly ducklings doomed to last place from the moment the first remote door lock was triggered. Each candidate was a legitimate contender, prompting one observer to note, "Ten years ago, if any one of these cars had appeared on the market, we'd have treated it like the Second Coming. Now we tend to take superb machines like these as a constitutional right."

To be sure, there was an interesting mix of excellent iron from which to choose within this size and weight class (105-to-115-inch wheelbases; 3200-to-3800-pound curb weights). There were a pair with supercharged V-6 powerplants (the Pontiac Bonneville SSEi and the Mazda Millenia S Millennium Edition), one turbo five-cylinder (the Volvo S70GLT), and six powered by naturally aspirated 24-valve overhead-cam V-6 engines ranging in power from 210 to 253 horsepower. All but one, the Lincoln LS, were front-drivers, and all were equipped with four- or five-speed automatics with lockup converters, the single common link among them. Six of the nine share platforms with other marques in their various corporate lineups.

After four days of flogging, it was universally agreed that there were no overt winners and losers among the nine. Personal prejudices, individual preferences, Pecksniffian points of detail, and blatant subjectivity, therefore, came into play.

Technical parity being the case in most instances, gut-level reaction became our ultimate recourse. Yes, it sounds like the prelude to a shameless cop-out, but trust us, upon reading the words gathered here, you will be compelled to agree with our conclusions. If not, buy the Maranello, and to hell with the neighbors.