“So, you have disrespected my family?” says the Infiniti Q50 in badly dubbed English.
“You are as cowardly as a frog!” ripostes the Acura TLX, its multi-faceted eyes rolling wildly, “I will defeat you with my secret praying mantis technique. Which I have just told you about so it is no longer secret. Ha!”
“So be it! The one who is defeated here will be the one who is not me. That is to say: you!” snarls the Q50, adding a contemptuous, “Ha!”
*fifty or so more repetitions of “Ha!”*
“To battle!” they both scream, and the absurdly well-choreographed dance begins. On one hand, the newly repositioned TLX, bringing top-of-the-line super-handling secret-praying-mantis-style all-wheel drive and V6 power in a more compact package than the old TL. On the other side of the dojo, the Infiniti Q50, packed with technology and the same mighty engine that made the old G37 so good.
It's a samurai showdown on the Pacific Rim, a pair of super-Japanese luxury sedans eager to tear each other's throat out on the way to taking a slice out of the Germanic domination of the market segment. Were this an anime sequence, at this point people with unlikely haircuts would be freeze-frame leaping into the air, with plenty of action lines showing that a momentous clash was about to take place – to battle! “Hi-ya!”
One of these two cars strives for a specific appeal, the latter a general pleasantness. Which one suits you better will depend on where you stand on khaki trousers.
Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. One of these two cars strives for a specific appeal, the latter a general pleasantness. Which one suits you better will depend on where you stand on khaki trousers.
First, the Infiniti, with its muscular swelling hood arches and ovoid grille. The company's design language has a fluidity to it, relying more on curves than on sharp angles. Occasionally, this does not work all that well, as in the gas-bloated whale corpse of the QX80. Here though, it looks pretty great, and certainly different enough from the European competition.
Having said that, Infiniti's designers have built the car to look best with the Sport version's 19-inch alloys filling out the wheel wells. Actually, I once overheard lead designer Alfonso Albaisa tell someone setting up an autoshow display that 20-inch wheels were an absolute minimum. The 17s that come standard on the entry-level all-wheel-drive system look a little like the car's been skipping leg day.
In contrast, the TLX aims to avoid ruffling any feathers, and mostly succeeds. This isn't quite an apples-to-apples comparison as our V6 TLX is the top-spec Elite model, but any all-wheel-drive TLX comes with 18-inch alloys. I like 18s – it's a relatively inexpensive sizing when it comes to fitting winter tires or replacement summers and is right-sized to make a car look upscale without starting to compromise ride and handling with unsprung weight.
The rest of the TLX is fairly unremarkable, with the exception of its multi-LED headlights. You can get these in the MDX crossover and RLX full-size sedan as well (and soon the compact ILX), both places where they seem more insect-like than here. These and the shield-shaped grille are the TLX's sole exterior concessions to personality; where Infiniti's side profile is recognizably unique with its chicane-shaped take on the Hofmeister kink and long nose, cover up the badges on the TLX and most people will just guess Honda.
Interior Design and Comfort
While shrunk down from the TL in exterior dimensions, the TLX is essentially as roomy as the Q50 in nearly all dimensions. The Infiniti has a slight advantage in overall passenger volume, with more head and leg room front and rear, but it's narrower in both shoulder and hip. The TLX also has the larger trunk, one with a wider opening.
It's not volume that sets these two apart, it's the styling. As with the exteriors, the Infiniti has chosen a slightly more daring path, one filled with lots of curves and plenty of purple. I particularly liked the multi-part door cards, and the way the steering wheel manages to have all the functional buttons you expect, but still manages a mostly uncluttered three-spoke layout.
The TLX's wood inserts are quite nice, and its interior is only mildly less interesting than the Infiniti's. Some details, like the push-button starter, are much nicer than in the Q50. There's also a little more storage in between the seats thanks to the push-button starter, although it should be noted that Acura's take on the shifter doesn't appear to free up much real estate – maybe a rotary shifter would have worked a little better towards that goal.
In terms of comfort, flip a coin. The Q50's seats have a little more side bolstering, but both cabins are set up for broad appeal, and have few vices.
Given that both of these machines have twin screens dominating the centre stack, you might be forgiven for thinking that they're as close in the technology sector as they are in cabin size. Not hardly.
Here's the TLX's real Achilles' heel – Acura hasn't quite figured out what to do now that they've tossed out their previous button-heavy control systems. There are redundant touchscreen controls, touchscreen buttons, an iDrive-like controller and regular buttons to boot. I'm not saying you can't make it work, but like the push-button shifter, it's an inelegant solution where other manufacturers have already done the work.
Our Infiniti tester, which should have theoretically been hobbled by a lack of goodies (it's a lower trim), was actually pretty good by comparison. The lower screen is larger, the app-like menu is easier to use, and the screen is in slightly higher resolution. If we add in available technologies, then the Infiniti's optional all-round camera system and customization options give it the nod.
But let me not be effusive with praise – both these systems are far more fussy than they need to be, and the Infiniti's unintentionally comical digitized analog clock face is symptomatic of the ridiculous option bundling on the Q50. Here's something you wouldn't expect to be discussed in the technology section of a luxury sedan comparison: the Infiniti has all-wheel-drive and no heated seats. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.
The higher up the range you go, the better the Q50 gets in the gadget department. Head for the mid-range stuff, and the Acura's better.
Outright speed is just one element of performance, and judging by the way former enthusiast-focused brands like BMW have moved towards a comfort-first attitude, it's not the most important one. The Q50 is the far better driving car here, but that's not an automatic win.
The combination of 328-hp 3.7L V6 and seven-speed automatic transmission combines with the rear-biased all-wheel drive for a confident, if not particularly inspiring drive. Sport models get magnesium paddle-shifters to stir up the transmission a bit, and a firmed-up suspension to go with lightweight 19-inch alloys. But not here.
Here we get an engine and transmission that feel plenty powerful, but steering and ride that are tuned softly enough to dull down any pleasure. As with the technology side of things, the mid-level Q50 manages only a pleasant demeanour, nothing to thrill.
The TLX isn't much of a corner-carver either, but it does have a bit more scoot when the selectable drive system is set to Sport+, but in all other modes, this is a fairly mild car to drive. The 290-hp 3.5L V6 makes a great noise when stirred up, but the nine-speed automatic can be clunky when cold.
However, the TLX's drive makes more sense for its target audience than the softened Q50 does. The torque-vectoring “Super-Handling” all-wheel drive handles power well enough to sling through a turn if you've overcooked it on entry, and has plenty of grip no matter how wet it gets.
Then there's the other major characteristic of the TLX's drive, which is that it's much quieter than the Q50. As a car that represents a graduation move out of an old Integra or a Honda Accord it offers less of the connection of the former, but the unruffled aplomb of the latter. It's less “sporty” than the Infiniti, but for most consumers, I'd call that an advantage.
Both the TLX and the Q50 significantly undercut the German competition, especially when a few options are added. They come well equipped for the most part, aside from gaffes like the mid-level Q50's missing seat heaters, and are both lease out and purchase well thanks to strong residuals.
The TLX range is broader than the Q50, thanks to an available front-drive four-cylinder version. The mid-range V6 SH-AWD version is within $50 of the Infiniti 3.7 AWD, and volume-selling models equipped with navigation are within several hundred dollars of each other. The Acura is a little more expensive in the latter case, but their Tech package includes not only navigation and premium audio, but driver's aids like blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning.
At the top of the range, the $47,490 price tag on our Elite TLX would get you a Q50S with all-wheel-drive, with enough left over for a steak dinner. However, the Infiniti would still be missing some features; the same level of technology will require additional packages pushing the price of the Q50 into the low $50K range.
Truth be told, this wasn't quite as exciting a showdown as it might have been: napping tiger, hibernating dragon.
Truth be told, this wasn't quite as exciting a showdown as it might have been: napping tiger, hibernating dragon. Even in Elite-spec trim, the TLX isn't the thrill that Acura's marketing department would have you believe it is, and the mid-level Q50 is watered down enough to have lost some of the charm of the old G-series.
Thus, it comes down to who is best at the less-exciting elements of driving – quiet, comfort and features. While not as floaty as an old Lexus, the TLX manages excellent sound suppression and a comfortable ride. The ergonomics of its infotainment system leave a great deal to be desired, but as a value package, you get a great deal for your money.
The Q50 makes more sense the more money you spend on it. Moreover, even though it’s softer than it once was, the carryover powertrain still has some of that same robust feel, and the styling is certainly sharper. When it goes toe-to-toe with the Acura on value, the Infiniti falters somewhat, but with the company's aggressive lease rates, pricing isn't wildly disparate for the two.
Still, it's the Acura that crane-kicks its way to victory here with an approach that doesn't shock or excite, but rather delivers on value, quietly appealing styling, and a history built on reliability. They need to fix the infotainment, and I'm not sure you wouldn't just be better off buying the front-wheel-drive four-cylinder version, but today, it's the TLX that has the last laugh. “Ha!”
|Base Price||Base V6 AWD: $39,990, Elite V6 AWD: $47,490||$39,950|
|Optional Equipment||None||$1,535 (Metallic Paint - $135; Moonroof package - $1,250)|
|Price as Tested||$49,664||$43,850|