2005 All-Wheel-Drive Luxury Sport Sedan Comparison Test

2005 Audi A6 Sedan

(3.1L V6 AWD 6-speed Automatic)
  • 2005 Audi A6 Picture

    2005 Audi A6 Picture

    With no sport package, our A6 was soft in the corners, but most editors liked its nimble feel at the track. | September 25, 2009

52 Photos

  • Comparison Test
  • Editors' Evaluations
  • Second Opinions
  • Top 5 Features
  • Final Rankings and Scoring Explanation
  • 2005 Acura RL Specs and Performance
  • 2005 Audi A6 Specs and Performance
  • 2006 Infiniti M35x Specs and Performance
  • 2006 BMW 530xi Specs and Performance
  • 2006 Lexus GS 300 Specs and Performance

Twelve months ago you could have counted the number of all-wheel-drive luxury sport sedans with two fingers. Now you need both hands. New entries to the segment include the 2005 Acura RL, the 2006 Infiniti M35X, the 2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD and the 2006 BMW 530xi, the first ever all-wheel-drive 5 Series. Even the 2005 Audi A6 3.2 quattro, the spiritual and mechanical godfather of the segment, was redesigned just last year.

All five use six-cylinder engines, automatic transmissions and cost about $50K, but which one offers the best combination of performance, luxury and value?

To find out, we drove each over a thousand miles in two days on a road trip that included long stretches of highway, twisty mountain passes and a stop at Buttonwillow Raceway Park road course in Bakersfield, California, for some hot laps. Along the way we filled every cupholder, looked for rib joints on the navigation systems and became addicted to ventilated seats and satellite radio.

Why All-Wheel Drive?
SUVs have convinced buyers that all-wheel drive is a necessity whether they live in Michigan's Upper Peninsula or Florida's panhandle. By adding all-wheel drive to a rear-wheel drive luxury sedan, like the BMW, Infiniti and Lexus, it becomes a more attractive alternative to a luxury sport-utility. Now you have a real all-weather friend that delivers better handling, quicker stops and better mileage than any Escalade or Land Rover ever could.

But all-wheel drive isn't just about blizzards and black ice. Adding all-wheel drive to front-wheel-drive platforms, like those under the Acura RL and Audi A6, also gives the car more balanced handling.

The Contestants
The RL's midpack mid-pack price, high content and 300 hp made it a favorite going into this contest, and the Acura proved accommodating the minute we left town. Its excellent navigation system kept us out of traffic, and it found us a good place for lunch once we reached our destination. It also ran the fastest speed through our slalom test, proved competent on the twists and turns of Buttonwillow and was a pleasure on the long slabs of Interstate 5.

Of the five, only the A6 offers all-wheel drive with V8 power, but sticking with the V6 made it the cheapest sedan in the test at just over $45K. The low sticker price didn't seem to matter as the Audi became a favorite by the first stop. Even without a navigation system or a sport package it felt luxurious, handled competently and it looked good inside and out.

A sticker approaching $60K made the BMW the most expensive car in the test and by the end of the first day it was obvious where all that money was spent. With the best steering, suspension and brakes, the BMW was clearly the driver's car of the group. It lost points, however, for a stark interior and flimsy cupholders.

Laps at the Buttonwillow road course made the Infiniti feel like the winning ride. It had the biggest, stickiest tires, loads of power and an automatic that matches revs with every downshift. Like the BMW, the Infiniti was a driver's car that suffered lost points for the design of its interior.

Too soft and slow to attack the Buttonwillow road course, the Lexus was the ride of choice for the ride home. Its soft seats, plush ride and finely detailed interior make any drive seem relaxed. If luxury is your priority, it's worth the $50K.

One Winner
By the end of the road trip two things were obvious: Bakersfield is not the home of the babyback and the Acura RL is the all-wheel-drive sedan of choice. What it lacks in distinctive styling it more than makes up for in solid overall performance, a well-designed and comfortable interior and a standard features list that'll impress the neighbors. The Audi A6 snagged a distant second, while the Infiniti M35x barely edged out the BMW 530xi for third. The competent but slightly less athletic Lexus GS 300 AWD pulled up the rear.

First Place: 2005 Acura RL

It's not the fastest or the flashiest, and in this test it wasn't even the cheapest, but the 2005 Acura RL ran away with first place anyway. We were looking for the all-wheel-drive sedan with the right balance between performance and luxury and we found it most often in the RL.

At $49,470 it was the second most affordable of the five and with everything standard all you have to do is pick a color. Its styling won't get you many second looks, but you'll never second-guess yourself for buying it either.

Technology That Works
Acura calls it Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. In the RL it sends varying degrees of power to each individual wheel to help get you around corners faster. And if things get slippery just going in a straight line it will help you there, too.

It sounds like Japanese techno overkill, but it works. Not only did the RL post the fastest speed through the slalom course, it was the easiest car to drive through it. Keep your foot in the gas, point it in the right direction and the computer does the rest. In the other cars, all-wheel drive is almost an afterthought. In the Acura, it's as important to its performance as the engine.

The 3.5-liter V6 does its part, too. With 300 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, it managed a 0-to-60-mph run of 7.3 seconds; only the Infiniti was quicker. The RL stopped in a short 123 feet, second again to the M35 at 119 feet, but it lost points for heavy fading during road-course hot laps.

The suspension is soft and the steering slow, so the RL feels big and heavy when you're running hard. Steering wheel shift paddles invite you to switch gears yourself, but the transmission is still a second or two behind your fingers. On the track, the RL held its own, but compared to the BMW and the Infiniti, the Acura was out of its element.

Road Trip Nirvana
Getting to the track was a different story. The RL is a nearly perfect road-trip car, with a standard features list that includes everything but someone to do the driving for you.

With its keyless ignition, you never even have to take the keys out of your pocket, and the power-adjustable steering wheel and eight-way driver seat assure a perfect driving position. Rear passengers get plenty of room and a sunshade on every window, while the wide trunk opening makes the most of the Acura's modest 12.7-cubic-foot cargo capacity.

The standard navigation system works painlessly with maps that are bright, detailed and easy to read. Hit the voice activation, say "nearest ATM" and the screen lights up with every money machine within a 10-mile radius. The premium audio system not only sounds great, it comes with a year of satellite radio, a godsend when you're deep into AM radio country.

The suspension and steering that felt so awkward at the track make for a perfect high-speed cruiser on the highway. No constant corrections needed, it just hunkers down and goes. Passing requires a flat right foot to wake up the V6, but you otherwise hardly know it's there. Our mileage for the week was 17.5 mpg, about midpack in this group.

It Has its Flaws
Picking your way through the cluttered center stack to find the fan speed button is a constant annoyance and the seat heaters could barely melt an ice cube. The wood trim isn't bad but some of the switchgear looks cheap for a $50K luxury sedan. Same goes for the gauges which look almost cartoonish next to the elegant dials in the Audi.

Can't Argue With Success
If you want an eye-catching valet star, there are other cars that might be better. If you want the best all-wheel-drive luxury sport sedan for the money, the 2005 Acura RL is as good as it gets.

Second Place: 2005 Audi A6 3.2

What the Audi lacked in performance and features it made up for in style. A distinctive new front end and Canyon Red Pearl Effect paint scored it the most points in the editors' personal picks category. A sticker price of just $45,370 didn't hurt either.

Doesn't Look Cheap
From the driver seat, the 2005 Audi A6 3.2 certainly didn't look $4 grand cheaper than the Acura. From the chrome-ringed gauges to the wood trim on the console, the cabin looks and feels like a luxury car should. It earned top scores for its interior design, materials quality and overall build quality.

With most of its controls buried within its one-knob-does-it-all MMI system, there are fewer buttons on the dash than the Acura or Infiniti. And unlike BMW's clunky iDrive controller, the MMI knob feels good and is easy to use. Separate dials on the center stack give you direct access to the climate controls. Satellite steering wheel controls do the same for the radio.

Nothing New to AWD
All A6s come with Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system. It uses a Torsen center differential to distribute the power to the front and rear wheels as needed. Unlike the more active system in the Acura, you rarely feel the A6 shifting the power around.

Without the optional sport package the A6 was hampered by less aggressive all-season tires and a softer suspension setup. It rolled more than the BMW and Infiniti during our road-course hot laps, but most editors liked its predictability, precise steering and nimble feel. More than one editor said they liked the Audi second only to the BMW.

Its six-speed automatic can be manually shifted but it will shift on its own when it hits the redline. Better just to leave it in sport shift mode as it will hold gears through corners and otherwise shift when you would anyway. The brakes felt strong lap after lap, but only managed a stop of 131 feet during instrumented testing. The Acura's best stop was 8 feet shorter.

Smooth Power, Just Not Enough of It
The Audi's 3.2-liter V6 looks good on paper, but with 3,957 pounds to carry around it doesn't feel as strong as the much lighter BMW. Rated to produce 255 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque, the direct-injection V6 takes 7.7 seconds to get the Audi to 60 mph, three-tenths slower than the 255-hp BMW and a few hundredths slower than the 245-hp Lexus.

The Audi has more torque than both the BMW and the Lexus, but it still feels soft on the low end. That softness had us digging into the throttle pretty deep more often than not, resulting in an average of 18.5 mpg.

Not as Sturdy, but Spacious
On the highway, the A6 doesn't feel as hunkered down as the BMW. The lightweight steering requires more corrections and even the steering wheel itself is thinner. One editor said you could feel the difference in price between the Audi and the BMW just by taking it around the block.

The A6's interior dimensions don't differ from the Acura by more than an inch in any direction, so it feels every bit as spacious. It was the only vehicle in the test with a manually adjustable steering column, but a standard 12-way power seat makes it easy to get comfortable. The rear seats tied with the BMW for best in the test. At 15.9 cubic feet, the trunk was the biggest of the five cars although its narrow opening makes it seem smaller.

In addition to having plenty of room, the A6 has small details that make it stand out. The cupholders are not only big enough and in the right places, they include a small notch in the side that will hold a cell phone snugly in place. We also like the one-touch lane-change turn signal, nighttime ambient cabin lighting and push-button parking brake. Things we could do without include the glovebox-mounted CD changer and lack of an "off" switch for the climate and audio systems.

The Verdict
If you like the look and can do without the horsepower, the 2005 Audi A6 won't disappoint. Keep the options down and you'll save a bundle, too.

Third Place: 2006 Infiniti M35x

Not as loaded as the Acura and rougher around the edges than the Audi, the 2006 Infiniti M35x trades refinement for performance. The luxury is there, but if you also want an all-wheel-drive sport sedan that makes good noises and can still get sideways the M35x is the sedan of choice.

At the Track
We rarely come across a car that would not be substantially improved with a V8 under the hood, the M35x is one of them. Its 3.5-liter V6 is so good there's no need for an upgrade. With 280 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque, it hits 60 in just 6.9 seconds, four-tenths quicker than the 300-hp Acura. It bolts off the line without a hint of softness and sounds good doing it.

The M35x gets the same five-speed automatic as the M45 along with a slightly shorter rear-end gear than the rear-wheel-drive model. It's the perfect complement to the strong V6 as it snaps through the gears with sharp, well-timed shifts. In manual mode, it won't upshift on its own and it matches revs on downshifts. You couldn't ask for anything more from an automatic, it's perfect.

With its Front Midship platform that sets the engine just behind the front axle, the M35 was built with quick handling in mind. The M35x doesn't get the active rear steering system that's available on rear-wheel-drive models, but it does have a slightly quicker steering ratio.

Combined with a firm suspension, the M35x cut through the slalom at 62.2 mph, just behind the BMW (62.4) and well off the Acura's pace (63.7). You can completely shut down the stability control, but that doesn't solve all of your problems as the M's tendency to oversteer at the limit requires careful inputs when you're pushing hard.

On the road course at Buttonwillow, the M35's big 18-inch 245/45R18 tires delivered tons of grip in fast sweepers. The brakes that stopped it in just 119 feet from 60 mph on the drag strip showed no signs of fade during repeated road-course hot laps.

The biggest setbacks to the M35's feel at the track were its size and weight. Compared to the BMW, the M35 is longer, narrower and taller. And at just over 4,004 pounds, it's carrying around an extra 366 pounds versus the German. You need more than just a good V6 to make up for an NFL lineman in the backseat.

On the Road
Those extra inches may not make for the most nimble-feeling car on the track but they do translate into a spacious cabin. Up front, the M offers the most legroom and headroom of the group and is just a few tenths short of the Acura in shoulder space. The backseat offers the most legroom, ties the Audi for headroom, and is just shy of the BMW for shoulder space.

The 10-way power seats up front are firm and supportive. Optional heating and ventilation controls make them nearly perfect. A thick steering wheel with plenty of satellite controls gives you plenty to hold onto and the gauges are easy to read, if not elegant to look at.

With its aggressive gearing and big tires, the M35x has noticeable engine and road noise on the highway. The firm suspension passes on the bumps more sharply than the others, too. None of it makes the Infiniti uncomfortable over long distances, it's just not going to lull you to sleep like the Acura.

Interior
The standard Rosewood trim gave the M35x a more refined look than the aluminum-trimmed M45 in our last comparison test. It didn't help much, however, as the Infiniti still got the lowest scores for interior design and materials quality.

An optional technology package added good stuff like a terrific Bose sound system, easy-to-use DVD navigation system and satellite radio. Intelligent Cruise Control is also part of the package and it works as advertised, keeping the M35 a preset distance from cars ahead of it.

The new Lane Departure Warning system isn't nearly as useful. It beeps at you if you get too close to the lane stripes without using your turn signal. The idea seems sensible, but it's more annoying than helpful, especially when you can't find the off button buried beneath the steering wheel.

Fun, but Not Elegant
If the right engine is more important to you than chrome around the gauges and soft window switches, the 2006 Infiniti M35x is your winner.

Fourth Place: 2006 BMW 530xi

Fourth out of five is not good. The 2006 BMW 530xi is better than that. It drives better than any other car in the test and is comfortable and practical, too. But with a sticker price of $59,815 it was nearly $10 grand more than the Infiniti and almost $15 grand more than the Audi. It's good, but not that good.

Drives Like an Expensive Car
You don't have to know how much it costs to figure out that the BMW is expensive. Just get in and drive a few miles and it's obvious. The door feels substantial, the seats are firm and well contoured, the steering wheel thick and perfectly sized.

At speed, the BMW feels bolted to the road. The engineers in Munich have figured out how to make a car light without feeling frail. The 530xi weighs from 121 to 366 pounds less than the other cars in the test, yet it smothers bumps and potholes like it was made of lead.

The suspension is compliant enough to deliver a comfortable ride yet there's little body roll and even less road noise. In post-road-trip evaluations, the BMW earned the top score in the following categories: engine, transmission, brakes, suspension, tires, and fun to drive. That's more than just expensive parts.

Refined Performance
With less weight to throw around, the BMW makes good use of its new 255-horsepower straight six. At 3.0 liters, it was one of the smallest engines of the five yet its 0-60 time of 7.4 seconds was just a tenth slower than the 300-hp Acura.

The BMW is the only car of this group to offer a manual transmission. In fact it's standard. The six-speed automatic in our test car was a $1,275 option. In sport-shift mode the automatic will run right up to the redline. Shifting yourself in manual mode doesn't make it any better, as it will upshift for you before it runs out of revs.

The 530xi weaved through the slalom course at 62.4 mph, second only to the Acura. Vehicle-speed-sensitive steering is now standard on the 5 Series as opposed to last year's system that varied according to engine speed. The system feels heavy, but the feedback it delivers is worth the effort.

Although our test car had the optional Sport package, it only added shadowline window trim and 12-way sport seats. Firmer suspension settings aren't part of the deal and if you want larger wheels and tires they're another $600.

The suspension is firm enough as it is, so a stiffer setup doesn't seem necessary. Larger wheels and tires, on the other hand, might have helped through the slalom as the 530 ran out of grip when pushed hard.

The extra traction of BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system didn't help much through the slalom or during hot laps at Buttonwillow. With only 220 pound-feet of torque, you can't steer with the throttle like the Acura or Infiniti. Borrowed from BMW's X5 SUV, xDrive is more for icy roads than racetracks. It even includes Hill Descent Control for negotiating steep and slippery driveways.

Cold Cabin
Despite the long list of premium options, the interior of the BMW still looks cold. No matter how real it may be, gray wood trim never looks right. Mixed with the black dash trim it looks even worse.

A head-up display that displayed vehicle speed superimposed on the windshield seemed like a waste of $1,000. The $1,800 navigation system is more useful, although compared to the touchscreen system in the Lexus, the BMW's is a pain. Same goes for controls of the top-notch stereo. Other annoyances included a flimsy pop-out cupholder, lack of storage space up front and a CD changer buried in the glovebox.

Nice, if You're Willing to Pay for It
If you consider road feel luxurious, the 2006 BMW 530xi is the best car here.

Fifth Place: 2006 Lexus GS 300 AWD

With a V8 and the right options, the 2006 Lexus GS is a good sport sedan. Give it a V6 and a softer suspension with all-season tires and there's less to get excited about. Luxurious and capable, the Lexus didn't have enough personality to stand out in this crowd.

Some Sport Left
The all-wheel-drive Lexus GS 300 isn't all luxury and no sport. Its 3.0-liter V6 may only have 245 horsepower but it was quicker from zero to 60 mph than the Audi. Its six-speed automatic transmission can be manually shifted, and in sport mode it will kick down a gear or two as you slow down for corners.

It has solid brakes that don't fade and its 130-foot stop from 60 mph was as short as the BMW's best. Pushed hard around the Buttonwillow road course, the GS was predictable and surefooted. Finding its limits is easy and pushing past them brings on nothing more than some tire-scrubbing understeer and warning chimes from the stability control.

The extra pull from the front wheels doesn't give this rear-driver any noticeable advantages while cornering. It splits the power 50/50 during acceleration and will send as much as 70 percent of the power to the rear wheels during aggressive driving. Like the BMW, there's not enough torque on tap to feel the difference.

Better Off Sticking to the Highway
As good as it is on the track, the Lexus belongs on the highway. Its silent cabin would lull you to sleep if it weren't for the excellent Mark Levinson stereo. The seats are soft and accommodating instead of hard and heavily bolstered. You think they might be too soft at first but a few hours later they still feel great. Optional heating and ventilation controls certainly helped.

The same suspension that keels over in the turns makes for a smooth ride everywhere else. As a daily driver the GS 300 would be hard to beat. The steering is light and responsive, delivering good feedback without feeling twitchy like the Infiniti. Midrange torque is good, so passing is easy and it delivered some of the best mileage numbers with an average of 20.4 mpg.

Simple Design
A consensus on the cabin design was hard to find. Some thought it had too many cheap-looking plastics and not enough wood trim. Others admired the watchlike gauge faces and the soft-white ambient lighting.

There was little disagreement on the ergonomics in the GS. With the clearly marked buttons and large, easy-to-read touchscreen, there's no learning curve for the controls. There's plenty of storage up front and the cupholders are where they should be. Rear-seat passengers have little to complain about as the GS stacks up favorably there, too, although its trunk was the smallest of the test at just 12.7 cubic feet.

Of the four cars with DVD navigation systems, the system in the Lexus was considered the easiest to use. It was also the only car in the test that offers knee airbags for the driver and front passenger.

Good, but Not Great
There's nothing wrong with the 2006 Lexus GS 300 as a luxury sedan, it's the sport part of the equation where it fails to measure up.

Evaluation - Drive
Evaluation - Ride
Evaluation - Design
Evaluation - Cargo/Passenger Space

Evaluation - Drive

Engine Performance
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW 530xi 9.0 1
Infiniti M35x 8.8 2
Acura RL 7.4 3
Audi A6 3.2 7.2 4
Lexus GS 300 AWD 6.8 5
Transmission
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW 530xi 9.6 1
Infiniti M35x 8.8 2
Acura RL 8.6 3(t)
Audi A6 3.2 8.6 3(t)
Lexus GS 300 AWD 7.6 5
Braking
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi A6 3.2 9.0 1(t)
BMW 530xi 9.0 1(t)
Infiniti M35x 8.6 3
Lexus GS 300 AWD 8.2 4
Acura RL 6.6 5
Suspension
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW 530xi 9.4 1
Audi A6 3.2 8.8 2
Acura RL 8.0 3
Infiniti M35x 7.4 4
Lexus GS 300 AWD 6.8 5
Tires
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW 530xi 8.2 1
Acura RL 7.8 2(t)
Audi A6 3.2 7.8 2(t)
Infiniti M35x 7.8 2(t)
Lexus GS 300 AWD 7.4 5
Steering
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW 530xi 10.0 1
Audi A6 3.2 8.8 2
Acura RL 8.0 3(t)
Infiniti M35x 8.0 3(t)
Lexus GS 300 AWD 7.4 5
Visibility
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi A6 3.2 8.8 1
Lexus GS 300 AWD 8.6 2
Acura RL 8.4 3(t)
BMW 530xi 8.4 3(t)
Infiniti M35x 7.6 5
Fun to Drive
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW 530xi 9.0 1
Audi A6 3.2 8.6 2
Acura RL 8.4 3
Infiniti M35x 8.2 4
Lexus GS 300 AWD 6.2 5

Evaluation - Ride

Seat Comfort Front
Vehicle Score Rank
Acura RL 8.8 1(t)
Audi A6 3.2 8.8 1(t)
BMW 530xi 8.8 1(t)
Infiniti M35x 8.6 4(t)
Lexus GS 300 AWD 8.6 4(t)
Seat Comfort Rear
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi A6 3.2 8.2 1(t)
BMW 530xi 8.2 1(t)
Acura RL 8.0 3
Infiniti M35x 7.8 4
Lexus GS 300 AWD 7.2 5
Wind & Road Noise
Vehicle Score Rank
Lexus GS 300 AWD 8.8 1
Audi A6 3.2 8.6 2(t)
Infiniti M35x 8.6 2(t)
Acura RL 8.4 4(t)
BMW 530xi 8.4 4(t)
Rattles & Squeaks
Vehicle Score Rank
Acura RL 9.6 1
Audi A6 3.2 9.4 2(t)
BMW 530xi 9.4 2(t)
Infiniti M35x 9.4 2(t)
Lexus GS 300 AWD 6.6 5

Evaluation - Design

Interior Design
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi A6 3.2 9.6 1
Lexus GS 300 AWD 7.6 2
Acura RL 7.4 3
BMW 530xi 7.0 4
Infiniti M35x 6.6 5
Interior Material
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi A6 3.2 9.4 1
BMW 530xi 8.6 2
Acura RL 8.2 3
Lexus GS 300 AWD 7.8 4
Infiniti M35x 7.0 5
Climate Control Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi A6 3.2 8.4 1(t)
Lexus GS 300 AWD 8.4 1(t)
Acura RL 8.0 3
BMW 530xi 7.6 4(t)
Infiniti M35x 7.6 4(t)
Audio System Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Acura RL 9.0 1(t)
Audi A6 3.2 9.0 1(t)
BMW 530xi 9.0 1(t)
Infiniti M35x 9.0 1(t)
Lexus GS 300 AWD 9.0 1(t)
Secondary Control Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Lexus GS 300 AWD 8.6 1
Audi A6 3.2 8.4 2
Acura RL 8.2 3
Infiniti M35x 7.4 4
BMW 530xi 6.6 5
Exterior Design
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi A6 3.2 9.6 1
Infiniti M35x 7.6 2
Acura RL 7.0 3(t)
BMW 530xi 7.0 3(t)
Lexus GS 300 AWD 6.6 5
Headlight Illumination
Vehicle Score Rank
Acura RL 7.0 1(t)
Audi A6 3.2 7.0 1(t)
BMW 530xi 7.0 1(t)
Infiniti M35x 7.0 1(t)
Lexus GS 300 AWD 7.0 1(t)
Overall Build Quality
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi A6 3.2 9.4 1(t)
BMW 530xi 9.4 1(t)
Acura RL 9.0 3(t)
Lexus GS 300 AWD 9.0 3(t)
Infiniti M35x 8.8 5

Evaluation - Cargo/Passenger Space

Entry/Exit
Vehicle Score Rank
Acura RL 8.8 1
BMW 530xi 8.6 2(t)
Infiniti M35x 8.6 2(t)
Audi A6 3.2 8.4 4
Lexus GS 300 AWD 8.2 5
Expanding/Loading Cargo
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi A6 3.2 8.8 1
Acura RL 8.6 2
BMW 530xi 8.4 3
Infiniti M35x 8.2 4
Lexus GS 300 AWD 8.0 5
Storage Space
Vehicle Score Rank
Acura RL 8.4 1(t)
Lexus GS 300 AWD 8.4 1(t)
Audi A6 3.2 7.8 3(t)
BMW 530xi 7.8 3(t)
Infiniti M35x 7.8 3(t)
Cupholders
Vehicle Score Rank
Lexus GS 300 AWD 8.2 1
Acura RL 8.0 2(t)
Infiniti M35x 8.0 2(t)
Audi A6 3.2 7.8 4
BMW 530xi 6.2 5

Road Test Editor Dan Kahn says:
My personal pick of the litter is the A6. Audi has been building AWD sedans for years, and it shows. I loved the car's subtle yet muscular lines, opulent interior and confidence-inspiring handling. Its price tag was thousands of dollars less than the other cars, yet the Audi has the highest level of perceived quality. The 3.2 V6 did an adequate job of pushing the big sedan around, but I'll wait for the S6, thank you very much.

The Acura RL offers sleek lines, a classy cabin and more electronic gizmos than the Starship Enterprise. Features like Super Handling AWD may sound gimmicky, but on the racetrack the RL really floored me and the car was razor-sharp in the chicanes. I like the looks, I like the power, and I love the way it drives. I only wish I could use the computer without Scotty the Engineer explaining what all the buttons do.

BMW practically invented the sport sedan, so it came as no surprise that the 530xi was the athlete of the group. The engine pumps out a never-ending stream of torque, and steering feel was the best of the bunch. However, I have a feeling most buyers are more concerned with road manners and comfort than pure performance. The Bimmer's interior is drab, I absolutely detest the iDrive system and, honestly, I think the car is ugly. Sorry, I really tried, but I can't get used to a car that looks like a high school geometry experiment.

Going into the test, I thought the Infiniti M35x would be my favorite. It has an outstanding V6, all-wheel drive and performance suspension. Unfortunately, all the performance stuff I mentioned started to grate on me after 200 miles in the car. The exhaust note got annoying, the "sporty" ride started to bother my back, and the trans shifts felt a bit too snappy. This is a good car, but Infiniti needs to sand off a few of the rough edges.

The Lexus was exactly what I anticipated: Comfortable, easy to drive and inoffensive. The onboard computer is excellent, comfy air conditioned seats make long trips a breeze, and a smooth V6 offers solid (if not terribly exciting) driving dynamics. The Lexus is a good, responsible car. I simply have a hard time justifying the high price tag after driving the Audi, which bests the GS in style, comfort and speed.

Senior Content Editor Erin Riches says:
With a set of snow tires, any of the cars in this test could get you through a season of snow and ice. So when you're spending $40, $50 or even $60 grand on a midsize luxury sedan with all-wheel drive, it's got to be about more than traction on slick roads. All of the cars in this test were elegantly outfitted and, with rare exception, quiet and refined cruisers that kept me content for hours. But the BMW is the one that would get me out of my warm bed on a cold winter morning. Maybe it's not as fast as the Infiniti, but its smooth power delivery makes the M seem crude. When it comes to handling, the 530xi lives on another planet compared to the others. It draws you in close to the action and keeps you there.

Yet, I could be almost as happy with the less expensive Audi. Definitely the best-looking of the bunch, and our test car's unusual wood trim resulted in a positively gorgeous cockpit. Out on the road, the Audi feels smaller than the others and surefooted in the turns. It's not as precise an instrument as the 530xi, but it entertained me nonetheless.

Of the remaining three, the Lexus would be my pick. Our test car didn't have the rich forestland of the GS 430, but its soft leather seats were comforting and its simple touchscreen didn't assail me with mental puzzles. Unfortunately, the engine is down on muscle mass and although handling is stable and secure, I wouldn't think twice about taking the freeway instead of the back roads.

The Acura surprised me with its balance and grip during our track workout, but the night before on a dark, unfamiliar road, its brakes surprised me by fading like an Accord's. Not cool in a luxury sedan. I really liked its high-tech cockpit — the rolling curves of the dash, the blue-black gauges and the glorious sound system — but the control interface is far too busy.

Although quick and nimble, the M35x came across as a loudmouth. Short gearing has the V6 revving up a storm the whole time you're in the car, and the chassis is stiff to the point of dulling sensations that keep you from doing something unwise. And the driving position and control layout were awkward. I always felt like I was driving somebody else's car.

When you're buying a vehicle in this price range you expect it to have it all, and for the most part these vehicles did. Given their relatively loaded status as is, we decided to narrow the list down to just five features that we considered the most desirable for a sport luxury sedan. Any features that were standard on all five vehicles were ineligible, so safety items like side airbags and antilock brakes weren't included.

Features

Features
Acura RL Audi A6 3.2 BMW 530xi Infiniti M35x Lexus GS 300 AWD
DVD Navigation S O O O O
Premium Sound System S O O O O
Satellite Radio S O O O O
Sport Suspension N/A O O N/A O
In-Dash CD Changer S N/A N/A O O

Key:
S: Standard
O: Optional
N/A: Not Available

DVD Navigation: Modern navigation systems have evolved from hard-to-use gadgets into truly useful features. The maps are larger and easier to read, programming takes less time than before and they rarely make mistakes. Some are still better than others, as we consider the systems in the Acura and Lexus to be the best systems on the market thanks to large colorful screens, simple menus and easy-to-use interfaces. The Acura's system is also the only system on the market to offer real-time traffic info. The Infiniti and BMW systems work to get you where you're going, but their interfaces aren't as intuitive as the Acura or Lexus setups.

Premium Sound System: Nothing tops off a luxury car like a sound system that makes any kind of music sound great. The systems in these sedans are some of the finest factory setups on the road today, with all the latest features and enough power to keep you satisfied no matter how loud you like it. The Japanese sedans feature better layouts, but the Audi and BMW stereos sounded slightly better in our opinion.

Satellite Radio: This new feature gives you crystal-clear sound no matter where you are and a variety of content that you just can't find on standard over the air radio. Whether it's XM or Sirius, once you get used to having satellite radio you'll never go back.

Sport Suspension: We like the idea of getting a sport-tuned suspension if you want it. These options typically consist of a more aggressive wheel and tire combination along with stiffer springs and shocks. The Infiniti has a stiff setup to begin with, but you can't back it down if that's not what you're looking for. The Acura offers an A-SPEC package but we considered that a different model rather than a stand-alone option.

In-Dash CD Changer: Having a CD changer is great, but if you can't reach it while you're driving some of its usefulness is taken away. All three of the Japanese sedans had in-dash changers right up front while the German sedans still buried theirs in the glovebox.

Final Rankings

Final Rankings
Acura RL Audi A6 3.2 Infiniti M35X BMW 530xi Lexus GS 300 AWD
Personal Rating (10% of score) 60.0% 84.0% 48.0% 72.0% 36.0%
Recommended Rating (10% of score) 76.0% 96.0% 36.0% 56.0% 36.0%
Evaluation Score (20% of score) 81.5% 86.0% 79.7% 83.3% 77.8%
Feature Content (20% of score) 80.0% 33.3% 53.3% 53.3% 53.3%
Performance (20% of score) 92.0% 78.0% 94.0% 86.0% 78.0%
Price (20% of score) 91.0% 100.0% 90.0% 68.0% 87.0%
Total Score 82.5% 74.5% 71.8% 70.9% 66.4%
Final Ranking 1 2 3 4 5

Scoring Explanation

Personal Rating: Purely subjective. After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the sedans in order of preference based on which he or she would buy if money were no object.

Recommended Rating: After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the sedans in order of preference based on which he or she thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in this segment.

24-Point Evaluation: Each participating editor ranked every sedan based on a comprehensive 24-Point Evaluation. The evaluation covered everything from exterior design to cupholders. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on all test participants' evaluations.

Feature Content: Editors picked the 5 features they thought would be most beneficial to a consumer shopping in the luxury sport sedan segment. For each test vehicle, the score was based on the actual features it had versus the total possible. Standard and optional equipment were taken into consideration.

Performance Testing: Each sedan was subjected to a set of performance tests that measure acceleration, braking and speed through a 600-foot slalom course. Scores were calculated by giving the best sedan in each category 100 percent. Subsequent vehicles were awarded points based on how close they came to the best performing sedan's score.

Price: The numbers listed were the result of a simple percentage calculation based on the least expensive sedan in this comparison test. Using the "as tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the least expensive vehicle received a score of 100, with the remaining vehicles receiving lesser scores based on how much each one cost.

Vehicle
Model year2005
MakeAcura
ModelRL
Drivetrain
Engine type24-valve SOHC V6
Displacement (cc/cu-in)3.5
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)300 @ 6200
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)260 @ 5000
Transmission typefive-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)7.4
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)15.2 @ 92.6
60-0 mph (ft.)123
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)63.7
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)18/26
Edmunds observed (mpg)17.5
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)3984
Length (in.)193.6
Width (in.)72.7
Height (in.)57.1
Wheelbase (in.)110.2
Turning circle (ft.)39.7
Legroom, front (in.)42.4
Legroom, rear (in.)36.3
Headroom, front (in.)38.5
Headroom, rear (in.)37.2
Shoulder room, front (in.)58.5
Shoulder room, rear (in.)56.1
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper4 years/50,000 miles
Powertrain4 years/50,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/Unlimited miles
Roadside assistance4 years/50,000 miles
Vehicle
Model year2005
MakeAudi
ModelA6
Drivetrain
Engine type24-valve DOHC V6
Displacement (cc/cu-in)3.1
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)255 @ 6500
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)243 @ 3250
Transmission typesix-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)7.8
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)15.4 @ 91
60-0 mph (ft.)131
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)61.5
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)19/26
Edmunds observed (mpg)18.4
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)3957
Length (in.)193.5
Width (in.)71.3
Height (in.)57.5
Wheelbase (in.)111.9
Turning circle (ft.)39
Legroom, front (in.)41.3
Legroom, rear (in.)36.9
Headroom, front (in.)38.7
Headroom, rear (in.)37.8
Shoulder room, front (in.)57.1
Shoulder room, rear (in.)55.9
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper4 years/50,000 miles
Powertrain4 years/50,000 miles
Corrosion12 years/Unlimited miles
Roadside assistance4 years/Unlimited miles
Vehicle
Model year2006
MakeInfiniti
ModelM35x
Drivetrain
Engine type24-valve DOHC V6
Displacement (cc/cu-in)3.5
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)280 @ 6200
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)270 @ 4800
Transmission typefive-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)6.9
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)14.9 @ 90.1
60-0 mph (ft.)119
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)62.2
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)17/24
Edmunds observed (mpg)17.5
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)4004
Length (in.)192.6
Width (in.)70.8
Height (in.)60
Wheelbase (in.)114.2
Turning circle (ft.)36.1
Legroom, front (in.)44.2
Legroom, rear (in.)37.3
Headroom, front (in.)39.6
Headroom, rear (in.)37.8
Shoulder room, front (in.)58.2
Shoulder room, rear (in.)56.9
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper4 years/60,000 miles
Powertrain6 years/70,000 miles
Corrosion7 years/Unlimited miles
Roadside assistance4 years/60,000 miles
Vehicle
Model year2006
MakeBMW
Model530xi
Drivetrain
Engine type24-valve DOHC inline six
Displacement (cc/cu-in)3
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)255 @ 6600
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)220 @ 2750
Transmission typesix-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)7.4
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)15.2 @ 92.6
60-0 mph (ft.)130
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)62.4
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)20/27
Edmunds observed (mpg)20.5
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)3638
Length (in.)191.1
Width (in.)72.7
Height (in.)58.3
Wheelbase (in.)113.7
Turning circle (ft.)39
Legroom, front (in.)41.5
Legroom, rear (in.)36
Headroom, front (in.)37.7
Headroom, rear (in.)37
Shoulder room, front (in.)57.3
Shoulder room, rear (in.)57.2
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper4 years/50,000 miles
Powertrain4 years/50,000 miles
Corrosion12 years/Unlimited miles
Roadside assistance4 years/50,000 miles
Vehicle
Model year2006
MakeLexus
ModelGS 300
Drivetrain
Engine type24-valve DOHC V6
Displacement (cc/cu-in)3
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)245 @ 6200
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)230 @ 3600
Transmission typesix-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)7.7
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)16.3 @ 90.1
60-0 mph (ft.)130
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)61.1
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)21/27
Edmunds observed (mpg)20.4
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)3759
Length (in.)190
Width (in.)71.7
Height (in.)56.5
Wheelbase (in.)112.2
Turning circle (ft.)37.4
Legroom, front (in.)43.5
Legroom, rear (in.)36.4
Headroom, front (in.)38.8
Headroom, rear (in.)37
Shoulder room, front (in.)56.3
Shoulder room, rear (in.)55.1
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper4 years/50,000 miles
Powertrain6 years/70,000 miles
Corrosion6 years/Unlimited miles
Roadside assistance4 years/Unlimited miles
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