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Sedans Part I: The 2013 Calendar Year’s Finest-Cadenza, LS 460, RLX

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2013 has been a stellar year of debuts for model years 2013 and 2014. Some of the hottest designs and technological advances across the board are on the road and seeking to enter your driveway…

2014 Acura RLX Advance Starting @ $60,450

The flagship of the Acura fleet debuted in 1995 as the performance driven RL. Those who follow the brand would have to agree that the apparent and consistent effort has been to offer a superior, yet understated luxury product. But despite RL’s capabilities, Americans don’t always submit to the concept of “luxe on the low.” So, after model year 2012, RL took a brief hiatus, prior to resurfacing this year, for model year 2014, as the all new, luxury-performance RLX sedan.

Design wise, the new RLX is definitely a looker. Starting with a dazzling set of “Jewel Eye” LED headlights that certainly defy the norm, to the more rounded, yet angular body, the overall design is definitely in sync with the look of luxury today. The slightly raised belt line keeps it fluid and in motion even while standing still.

In terms of performance, a 3.5 liter V6 engine is powered by 310 horses, producing 272 lb. feet of torque and a very decent 20 miles per gallon city/31 highway, for a combined fuel economy rating of 24 miles per gallon.

But the handling is what really makes the RLX a blast to drive. After long hearing about the brands Super Handling All Wheel Drive, for 2014, it’s now about new Precision All-Wheel Drive. With it comes the ability to steer left and right side angles from the rear (toeing) to produce greater maneuverability at high and low speeds and greater stability during braking.

As with the Acura RL of the past, the RLX not only upholds, but bumps up its agility with Agile Handling Assist. Piggybacking on the Vehicle Stability Assist to help avoid, over-steering or under-steering, the Agile Handling Assist uses active braking, usually on an inside wheel to help you to trace the desired line through a curve with less steering.

Despite its midsize government classification, RLX delivers full size interior comfort, a challenge too great for the performance driven RL of the past. With 38.8 inches of rear seat legroom, 36.4 inches of tandem seating distance (36.4 inches) and the best front and rear shoulder room in its class, RLX is now a stronger than ever competitor in the mid-luxury class segment.

Up front, RLX uses beautiful wood grains and metals to accentuate the craftsmanship of the brand. Even the worst critics of the often perceived as “too busy” center stack in the RL of yesteryears and the Acura and Honda brands in general, would have to agree that the RLX offers a more clean and simplified instrumentation panel with two screens—one dedicated to navigation.

A new generation of AcuraLink with AcuraLink Real-Time Traffic features freeway traffic and all-new surface street conditions. Lane Keeping Assist, Forward Collision Warning safety systems and Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow have set a clear path for RLX to stand strong in the luxury sedan segment. Best of all, it’s a blast to drive!

2013 Lexus LS 460 Starting @ $71,990

Forget everything you thought you knew about the Lexus LS. Now enter the LS460 for 2013. Right off the back, you’ll notice the new spindle grill, which is the first hint of widespread added brand aggression. But behind the wheel is where the difference is most obvious.

Do nothing or push the selector and drive in “Regular” mode. Flip to the left and you’re in “Eco” mode, which is reminds me of the subtle, cushy ride my grand-mom and grand-pop would love. Flip the selector to the right and feel a drastic, far more all around aggressive feel in terms of throttle, engine output and steering. Suddenly, all 386 horses inside the 4.6 liter engine are engaged and in harmony, thanks to an eight speed sequential automatic tranny, all of which produces 367 lb-ft of torque, yet still delivers a combined fuel economy rating of 19 miles per gallon (16 city/24 highway). However, I am convinced that spending much of the time maneuvering about in “Eco” mode, with a sudden burst of adrenaline by way of driving in “Sport” mode here and there--the fuel economy for a full size vehicle of this grandeur, is truly impressive.

And speaking of a vehicle this size and weight, the handling of the LS460 is hands down far better than ever before. The ability to maneuver the flagship vehicle was damn near as fun as driving the GS—the brand’s true sports sedan, which debuted in the current generation as my first experience where a Japanese brand out drove a German brand on an actual test track comparison with the 2013 GS versus the Mercedes-Benz E Class and BMW’s 5 Series—each at entry level.

On the inside, it’s beauty reigns supreme, starting with the very stunning wood grain trim throughout the dash, console, doors and the optionally heated, wood and leather steering wheel. All other areas to be touched are also pleasing upon contact.

LS’s conveniences are well thought out, even down to the analog clog that’s GPS linked, the crisp LED interior lighting, and a 12.3-inch high-resolution monitor all worth mentioning. While at it, may as well mention Intuitive Park to help you ease into the perfect spot, and Auto Door Close as assurance that all people and all things are safe and secure inside the cabin. Speaking of safe, it’s always nice to know the LS can and will read your text and email messages (even respond) while you focus on the road.

To date, the LS has been about a cushy, technologically advanced ride. But for 2013, starting with the entry level model, engineers have created a master piece that is well suited for the man or woman who is young at heart, with deep pockets. With that said, God only knows what kind of fun Lexus brings with the new LS 460 F Sport!

2014 Kia Cadenza Starting @ $35,100

Speaking of top of the line, Kia’s new Cadenza is yet another game changer for the brand. Sure, they‘ve done an amazing job revamping the brand’s overall design, thanks in great part to the addition of Ian Callum. With the former Aston Martin turned Jaguar, Scottish born designer now commanding Kia’s designs, it’s no wonder Cadenza lives and breathes like a Jag. In fact, with every nameplate on the exterior and interior hidden, if you were to approach a Cadenza, get in and begin to drive, you’d swear you were in Jag—if you know the Jag brand.

While Korean manufacturers have long been notorious for discovering the luxuries Americans adore, and creating a more affordable version, never before has Kia scored this big in terms of styling, handling, performance and technology Cadenza delivers. Up until now, there was always some small matter neglected that let you know you weren’t quite there—close, but not quite. One of the issues I have always noticed with Kia is that the satellite signal is so easily lost as soon as anything overhead is detected. But not with Cadenza, which is also the quietest Kia ever. And that holds true for both exterior sound, as well as the outside and vehicle noise level inside the superbly sealed cabin.

Jag swag includes a sleek front fascia that pulls out and pushes back, slim sidelines with side mirrors that sweep up and fold down automatically at the detection of the approaching key fob--that small device that you keep in your possession that tells the car to unlock or lock the doors when you touch the handles and to start the car when you hit the “start” button.

Beneath the hood, the front wheel drive only Cadenza offers but one engine: A 293 horsepower 3.3 liter V6 engine producing 255 lb-ft of torque via a six-speed automatic transmission (with a government fuel economy rating of 22 miles per gallon combined, with 19 city/29 highway). While this may not sound like much in terms of power, the feeling is far more convincing. Add to that Cadenza’s agility, the set of 19-inch rims included in the $3,000 Technology Package (Advanced Smart Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Electronic Parking Brake and Hydrophobic Front Door Windows), UVO (the Microsoft system that provides Bluetooth connectivity and handsfree functions for making calls, playing music, receiving text messages and backup camera) and the panoramic roof with power sunshade included in the $3,000 Luxury Package, and you and everyone else will swear you’re ballin’!

Stay tuned to part 2, for a look at the Lincoln MKZ, Lexus ES350 and Hyundai Azera...

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