If you don't like seeing bad things said about your favorite car than hit that back button because both bad things and good things will be said about each car. Won't be playing favorites.
I haven't test driven these Sport Sedans before because they've been out of my price range so I've always relied on magazines and webzines and just simply drooled before. Well those are great and all but at some point you just got to go try them yourself because we each have different tastes. Test drives are free so why not. So far the only dealership that cared to ask me what my job was (I'm guessing to see how serious I was) was the BMW dealership so I told him what he wanted to hear.
Now because these cars are what I deem expensive I'm going to hold these cars to a higher standard, so I will be a bit harsher than I normally would. Only comments I will apologize for would be if I listed some incorrect facts. That said, if you wish to defend a car I am always open to discussion. If you attack me for offering a different point of view I will just ignore you. I'm always up for fun talk ...especially about cars so friendly talk/debate is all good.
2011 Audi S4 Premium Plus Quattro
Torque: 325 @2900 RPM
Fuel Economy: 18/28
Pre-Owned: 21,017 miles
Listed Price: $46,221
Haggled Price: $44,200
This thing is a SPEED BEAST! Let's face it, we are talking sport sedans here. What is the point of owning one of these awesome cars if you are too afraid to open it up...? The S4 did not disappoint in the least. In fact, it places first in all my test drives so far. I am testing these cars at a fairly high elevation (5200ish ft) so I'm sure there is some power loss for cars lacking a supercharger. This car has that knock you back in your seat, opens your mouth, and makes your lips vibrate while begging for mercy speed. Ok that's a bit much but you get the point - thanks to that supercharger it knocks you back in your seat. Test driving this car made me feel like there wouldn't be many cars on the road faster than me, and of the ones that are faster would certainly be few and far between. From a pure speed perspective, it definitely had that WOW factor all the other cars failed to give me. Supercharger goes a long way, especially at this elevation.
One thing I did like was how the car felt like it was giving you everything. When you opened it up it felt as if the car was saying, "Here have all of me, I'm an easy ride!" But just like if you were to hear this from a girl the handling felt exactly like what you would expect. Felt loose. I always heard German cars, especially BMW and Audi, have the tightest handling of all the cars. My friend had an older Audi TT and the tight suspension and center of balance always impressed me as a passenger. So driving this car had me puzzled. There was a lot of play, more so than any other car. Now it is rather unfair to compare this car to the competition since it is the oldest (2011) with the most mileage (21k), but since the Carfax Report lists this as a 1-owner 0 accident car I figured it might not be an issue. Maybe the guy rode it hard. Maybe it is what it is. If I have time I will go to the Audi dealership and try a 2014 model. Though since I cannot afford one I will not promise to make this trip. This car was at a lot where I was already test driving other cars so that is why I was test driving '11. But ya, not a fan of the handling - would have loved the BMW or Lexus handling with this speed. To go back to a good note, I really did love how powertrain felt like it was giving you everything it had. Made you feel connected to the car in that regard.
Look and Feel - Interior Cabin
In a word - nice! This car felt like it is geared toward the single guy constantly out on the town trying to get from the Comedy Club to the Dance Club in 100mph or faster. It just felt like a manly car down to the Nav/Radio display (this card did not have Nav). Despite being a 2011 model I really wasn't disappointed with the interior. Sure it was showing its age and doesn't look nearly as nice as 2014 model but it was still nice. The seats didn't hug me which would have been nice for a car with this kind of speed potential. While they didn't hug the leather felt nice as it was softer than the other cars. Not too many features in this car so not a whole lot to talk about. I will say though, like the BMW the Nav Screen Display (what do you call this when there is no Nav?) looked very nice and something that appeals to the male crowd but wasn't extremely intuitive nor was there much to play with outside of selecting your radio station.
Look and Feel - Exterior
Nice, a bit dated now especially since almost every other car company has copied the Audi signature daytime running lights but still very nice. Like the interior it looks like a car that appeals to the young male crowd. In the sport sedan market and price range the German cars won't wow you with their looks but they won't irritate you either. It's a good looking car. Though I would take the 2014 model since the 2011's daytime lights look rather dated now with competition 1-up'ing it.
If I really was purchasing one of these cars I would not buy this particular car due to the loose handling. Though if it was in my price range I would definitely go test drive a 2014 model and see if that is just how Audi's perform or if it was because this car was ridden hard. The S4 is the only car that had that WOW factor in terms of speed and I really loved how the car felt like it was giving you it's all. Before someone writes an angry post not read my BMW review, the Audi's track results are pretty much on par with the BMW and posts the same 0-60 result (4.9s). I feel like the difference in speed I'm feeling is due to the elevation but I could be wrong and it simply could just be the difference in how a Supercharger feels in comparison to a TurboCharger.
2013 BMW 335i Xdrive
Torque: 300 @1200 RPM
Fuel Economy: 20/30mpg
Pre-Owned: 9,808 miles
Listed Price: $45,995
Haggled Price: N/A ...salesman not willing to negotiate unless ready to buy
No wow factor but definitely 2nd in the cars I test drove. Like the supercharger you can feel the punch when turbo kicks in but it's not nearly as pronounced. It is fast no doubt about that. The 335i had one thing about it I really did not like. After punching it and letting off the gas the engine whined as if it was left in a lower gear and the transmission forgot to upshift. It did this every time I let off the gas pedal so I wasn't sure what was going on there other than I didn't like it.
This is what "Bimmers" are known for. I heard other cars are starting to catch up so I had to try it for myself. BMWs are known as the "Ultimate Driving Machine" and the salesman made sure to remind me of this fact every mile we drove and even as we walked back into the dealership. His big sales pitch during the test drive was literally, "If you like the driving experience and it is quite clear you do than you will love a BMW." So I was expecting to be wow'd like the Audi wow'd me on pure speed, but to be honest... I wasn't. It had the best weight distribution as it felt about equal, which I like. I've always been extremely partial to cars with even weight distribution so that won me over as none of the other cars had that feel. It also felt very firm, tight and very technical. That is what I was expecting. I would easily expect this car to do better than the others on the track. After that though it lacked excitement. It was like a professor, very technical and correct in what it was doing but a bit boring. I'm sure this is going to get me flamed from all the bimmer fans but we all have different perspectives. If I had to rank this car's handling it would be 1st in my choice for track driving or if I was the next Transporter. For day to day driving on every day roads in every day conditions I would rank it 2nd. I love the equal weight distribution and I love the feel of the steering wheel connected to the drive train and before I test drove these sport sedans I thought that is all I needed in addition to tight controls. I'm not a big enough gear head to know what secret ingredient it is missing to make it feel so bland, but I will guess it is the suspension due to another car I test drove.
Look and Feel - Interior Cabin
This is where the Bimmer lost its sheen. BMWs are the Ultimate Driving Machine. But what happens when this is challenged? (Audi wins me over for speed and a car down below challenges the BMW for handling) Well it means it better impress me on the inside as well. Sadly there wasn't much to this car outside of AWD. It was as basic as it gets (no Nav, no heated seats, no rear view camera) as it pretty much just had dual zone climate control and that's it. Even the buttons looked dated. I would not be surprised if BMW has used those same buttons in the last 5+ years. It is possible to be minimalistic and still have a nice fit and trim. For a car of this price range (brand new it is $50k + due to the premium package) I expect higher quality materials. The Ford Fusion rental car I'm currently driving has higher quality buttons. Obviously the BMW has that higher quality stiff leather and uses real wood in its trim (not in this model) but overall I just looked at the cabin and went... meh. This wouldn't be an issue if it truly was "The Ultimate Driving Machine" but that is truly putting all your eggs in one basket and sadly the BMW didn't wow me in performance or handling. I did like the overall look of the Nav display (even tho this model didn't have Nav) as it felt very manly and professional looking ...well the radio at least (even though the salesman kept changing the radio to his likes, who doesn't like rock?
). Like the Audi there wasn't much to play with and options weren't exactly in intuitive spots so it kind of felt like an afterthought overall but the look at least complimented the BMW prestige.
Look and Feel - Exterior
Now here is where I would place the BMW #1. As I said with the Audi, German cars won't excite you (or should I say, me) but they also don't do anything wrong. Well ok one thing I really didn't care for was the eyelids on the headlights, those suck. But overall this car is a great looking car. It's hard to not like a BMW, it's got that mass appeal look. It just stinks of prestige. You look at it and it looks like someone of great importance or well respected drives it. It's best trait is also its weakness too though. Since it doesn't take chances it doesn't really have much personality on its own. Unless you are a gearhead or a Bimmer fan it is unlikely you would be able to tell the difference between it and prior years. Though on the flip side of that coin that could be another pro since normal people won't feel the need to upgrade to the newest and "greatest" model. Your BMW is likely to look good for years to come. The Germans are really good at keeping their signature look as well. You know what's coming at ya down the street a mile away. Though it doesn't dare to be different it's still my choice for the best looking exterior.
Great overall car! Though it didn't wow me on the speed and is in close competition with another car (see below) for handling it does do a lot of things right. My biggest disappointment to be fully honest is what you DON'T get for what you pay. It truly feels like you are paying for the name. Though one great thing about BMW is that for 4yrs/50,000 miles you pay for no maintenance so you do get some (no where near enough for me) of your hard earned dollars back. The car below that challenges the BMW for handling is $14,000 cheaper for similar option package. The 335i Xdrive may start at $45,000 but if you want it with most of the options you would expect on a car of this caliber it is $58,100 (pre-haggle). That is a very steep buy in price. To make it worse, if you really want a BMW you have to be very flexible in the options you want and the colors you want. Some people really hate black cars and/or black interiors but many of the 328s coming in are black or charcoal gray with black interior ...all with various option packages (perhaps nav but no rearview camera, perhaps rearview camera but not much else, etc.). In fact they had no new 335s on the lot. The next 335i is coming in on Dec 11 and you better like Silver with black interior and want to pay for the Sport Line, Cold Weather, Driver Assistance, Premium and Technology packages because they have no clue when the next 335i is coming in after that as this dealership didn't even have another 335 at the factory being built yet. Now I did not ask if I could customize my own BMW, but I am planning on going back to test drive a 328i since that seems like a model that I really should be comparing to these other cars so I can ask then. Sadly I got the salesman that rushed to greet me even though he had a client coming in shortly which meant he only had time for 1 test drive. Which kind of annoyed me since all the other salesmen weren't doing anything but yapping on their smart phones. He wanted to set up an appointment but he'll be on my time now since he didn't have time for me then. I don't think he was used to my silent nature because his original sales pitch was "We have virtually no mark-up so there is very little room to negotiate on" to back flipping and saying "We have about a 7% mark-up and we have a very aggressive sales quota so there is room to bargain on when you decide which car you are going with." Though he was still unwilling to give me a haggle price until I know I am buying. I would press harder if I was actually going to purchase in this price range.
2014 Lexus IS 350 F-Sport
Torque: 277 @4800 RPM
RWD (the AWD variant is 6-speed)
Fuel Economy: 19/28mpg
Listed Price: $46,000ish
Haggle Price: $44,400
Noticeably less than the S4 and surprisingly just a little less than the bimmer. I say surprisingly because the S4 and the 335i should be nearly identical in performance (same 0-60 time, etc.) but I also feel like I was experiencing some power loss due to the elevation. Or perhaps it is just because since this car lacks the supercharger and turbo the other two cars have so it doesn't have that punch they do. That said, it is still fast. This will be plenty of power for most people. I was able launch very well and go from a safe distance behind another driver to passing him and getting in his lane in a very short time. So it has plenty of day to day power even if it's not a track star. Where as the S4 felt like it could get me in trouble the BMW 335i and the Lexus IS 350 F-Sport felt right on the money for the power I like. The power curve was very nice too. This probably should go in the handling section but one thing I really liked about this car was when I past that truck just before pulling back into the dealership and let off the gas it didn't stay in a lower gear like the 335 did but slowed down so I didn't have to slam on the breaks. If felt very controlled. Considering this car doesn't have a supercharger or turbocharger it has a nice finely tuned engine to pull over 300 HP. The bummer part of course is that at such a high elevation those two boost would sure help prevent that power loss since the air is thinner up here.
The Lexus doesn't connect the steering wheel directly to the drive train, it goes through a gear box so I was expecting a sloshy or lofty feel. Much to my delight I was wrong. It felt very tight and controlled. It wasn't as firm or technical as the 335i but it went exactly where you pointed it. I probably put this car through harder Gs than the other cars and there wasn't any play. I'm sure I could expose some if I tried but the fact it didn't reveal any from what I put it through sold me. Now it doesn't have that equal weight distribution that the 335 has so don't expect Jason Statham to sport this car in his next Transporter movie but it wasn't overly obvious either thanks to its suspension. This car has 5 modes if I remember correctly - Normal mode, Snow mode, Eco mode (ya whatever), Sport (S) mode and Sport + (S+ is only on the F-Sport model) mode. In Normal mode it was pretty ho hum and I would definitely give the edge to the BMW on all around handling. Strangely enough there was actually a difference between S and S+ and the car became more lively entering Sport mode. The suspension change actually took me by surprise. I have driven quite a few cars that have a "Sport mode" but was never really impressed by it. It's not just the Tachometer that changes when you enter Sport mode, the suspension changes making the Lexus IS 350 F-Sport more fun to drive. You don't feel as connected to the road as you do with the German cars (they know their mechanics) but only fan boys can ignore the fact a Lexus is actually competing with them. It's going toe to toe with the BMW! Both have their strong points so I feel like it is going to come down to what kind of feel you want when you drive.
Look and Feel - Interior Cabin
This thing is a flat out TECHNOLOGICAL BEAST! You are immediately greeted with a cockpit. Compared to the other cars it looks as though this car came from the future. The seats were perfect for me (I'm 6', 200lbs, athletic build ...with some slacker pudge) and hugged me tightly. The stitching was on par with others if not better. Outside of the analog clock it was a very modern design. But it wasn't just style, it had function and they were placed logically. The dashboard ...OMG the dashboard. Pictures really just don't do this car justice. The dashboard is inspired by the LFA and has a single Tachometer gauge for a pure minimalistic design. When you need to play with settings or want to control your radio or whatever the Tachometer literally moves to the right and a digital menu opens up to the left. When you are done you can collapse it back down to just the Tachometer. There are a lot settings to play with too allowing you to customize more things than I had time to play with. A for example... you can actually change the needle color on the Tachometer! Granted your only options are Red, White and Blue but it is more options than I had before. When the car is in normal mode the Tachometer is a black dial for a very subdued look but changes to a whiter outer ring when the car is placed in Sport/Sport+ mode. There were so many things to stare at and so many settings I almost looked for the bios options to overclock it. It will even integrate with your phone so you can play Pandora, iHeart Radio, whatever through it using BluTooth. As much as the S4 WOW'd me with its speed this car WOW'd me with its interior. Number 1 with no Number 2 in sight.
There are a couple things I did not like though. All these new cars are moving to this new turn signal where you slightly tap it and your signal stays on till you turn. Well that's great for when you are doing a hard turn but it becomes annoying when doing a simple lane change. The BMW also had this turn signal implementation but I felt as though the BMW was friendlier to use and more intuitive. The 2013 Ford Fusion rental car I am driving also has this feature and it drives me insane as more than once I tried to turn it off after the lane change and it made the signal go in the opposite direction. I guess if you like confusing the people behind its awesome! Now I was able to work the Lexus no prob during the test drive. That is even considering it was the first time I encountered this turn signal (got the Fusion after) with zero warning from the sales person. So it might be ok but it definitely took me by surprise and that is one change I didn't like. Also the Lexus seemed to have the smallest rear window. I personally like big rear windows to see who is behind me so that kind of turned me off too. The Blind Spot Monitoring system helped soothe that worry though it does make me wonder if there is a setting to have it make a noise rather than just being a warning light on your side mirrors.
Look and Feel - Exterior
I'm not sure how to score this car. Many people deem this car a love it or hate it car. They judge the entire car on its grill. I'm somewhere in the middle. I won't say I "hate" the grill but I definitely do not like it. It just screams trying too hard for me. I give credit to Lexus for daring to try something new and moving away from the "only old people buy this car" image they've always had. They are clearly aiming for the young business professional with this car. While a small sample size my co-workers fell into this stereotype as the old people hated it and the young people loved it. As with any stereotype it's not going to be an accurate statement for everyone, but it does support my theory of the demographic it is going for. While people hate analogies almost as much stereotypes I would liken this car to a pretty girl with a big nose. Fortunately for this car, she knows she has a big nose so she also has a good personality. Most people use the analogy of the Predator's mouth which I have to admit makes me laugh everything I hear it. Though I suppose you could use that to your advantage and barrel down on that slow driver lane hogging in left lane who thinks he owns the road and possibly try to scare him out.
Ok I admit that is a lot of hating. Despite its awkward lines I actually really like profile and if you're a butt fan, she has a nice one. The older model IS models had a pretty ugly rear profile. I also really like the Nike swoosh day time lights. So it's not all doom and gloom for the IS 350. Actually if it wasn't for that trying too hard grill I would probably rank this car first in looks, but instead I prefer BMW 335 and the Mercedes E350 more.
I will put this here so this section isn't 90% hate. One thing that really impressed me, especially after seeing the limited options BMW had, was the sales person told me without needing to ask that if they do not have the exterior/interior color options I want at the lot they would order it for me and give me a loaner car while I wait for it to come in, SCORE! That is customer service right there.
Great, great car. Despite its looks confusing me (hate it but still kinda like it) there are a lot things to love about this car. Only category it flat out wins, for me, is the Interior Cabin but man does it do it well. That actually means a lot to me since I will see the Interior more so than the Exterior. Also it provides the best value out of all the other cars tested since it was fully loaded and still came in below in price compared to the others. This thing had it all down to Blind Spot Monitor and other safety features. It had all those features you would expect a car of this price point to have ...and more. On top of that it had top notch materials to set it apart from a fully loaded Kia, Hyundai, Honda or whatever. When you step into this car it feels like it should. There is a WOW factor. It will impress all but the most pampered girls out there with its Batmobile cabin. On top of that it hangs in there with the competition on performance and handling. While the IS 350 isn't as technical as the BMW 335i Xdrive I found it to be more fun to drive. It doesn't have it all. It doesn't have that speed that most sport sedan lovers most likely crave but it does so well in so many categories that people in this category should give it an honest test drive. They might be surprised. I know I was!
Other cars I'm looking forward to driving:
- Mercedes E350
- BMW 328i
- Infinity Q50
- 2014 Audi S4
To be honest I'm not sure why I wrote this other than I am supremely bored working on Black Friday with pretty much no else here. I am most definitely not qualified to be writing any official reviews of these cars but maybe some might find this interesting enough to comment on. I do like to talk about cars even if I'm not a big gearhead.
If you haven't test driven any of these cars I highly recommend it! Even though my "review" will probably come across as harsh to most people these are all greats cars. I mean you can't go wrong with any of them. There is something to like about each one. Sites that are clear fanboys (looking at you Edmunds) don't really do a good job painting that picture. If I actually had to put my own money down and pick a car it would be a very tough decision. I would want the speed and drive train feeling of the S4, with the looks and technical handling of the BMW and the suspension and cockpit of the Lexus. Give me that car!
Lexus, if you're reading this... is there an overclock option in your car? Just curious.