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    Brut Force Versus Graceful Performance in Sedans

    By Philip Ruth–

    I’ve been thinking a lot about BMW lately. A new CEO, Oliver Zipse, has been installed to prioritize electric and autonomous car technologies, and the world waits to see if an executive who began at BMW in 1991 can re-imagine the company’s paradigm to compete in today’s forcefully altered landscape.

    BMW has a lot to lose with these changes, and this was highlighted by a seven-year-old BMW sport sedan that I’ve been helping a gay Realtor to sell. Among the reasons BMW once enjoyed nearly-unrivaled profitability are the two big ones borne by its owners: high entry prices and expensive replacement parts. My client’s example reflected both, with a ritzy presence accompanied by a stupefying stack of repair receipts, which continued to thicken while the car was listed.

    Therein lies BMW’s dilemma. Electric cars nix about three-quarters of a gas car’s maintenance needs, and vehicles driven on subscription roll those costs back to BMW. And, driverless cars nullify the mystique of the Ultimate Driving Machine. Suddenly, the elements that built BMW into a much-copied tastemaker are nudging the brand toward gradual irrelevance.

    That’s a “mind-blown” moment for car enthusiasts; BMW’s influence on the principles of premium-car desirability cannot be overstated. The producers of the sport sedans we’re examining this week—the Lexus IS350 and Infiniti Q50 Sport 400—clearly had BMW on the brain when they cast them into being.

    Yet, they have a lot in common as more mainstream answers to the German question. Their prices fall in line with that, for starters. The tested Lexus checked in at just over $52,000, and the Infiniti just crested $60K. Both are performance-enhanced: the Lexus carries the $3,195 F Sport package, with 18-inch wheels and tires taking the dictates of the F Sport’s signature, its varied suspension programs.

    The Infiniti takes it a step further with 19-inch wheels and a suspension customized by the driver to produce a tailored result. The Q50 Red Sport 400 AWD driven here was also much more powerful, with 400 horses on tap from its twin-turbocharged V6 engine. The tested IS350’s V6 skipped the turbos for 311 horsepower; it countered in silky strength what it lacked in the Infiniti’s brute force.

    This characterizes their handling as well. The Infiniti’s steering had meaty resistance and race-car directness, while the Lexus more gracefully took the driver’s lead. Adjustable suspensions were once a gizmo-approximation of a truly well-tuned setup, but here, each car exhibited dramatic shifts in personality as the settings were plumbed, more than could be fully fleshed out in a week-long test period. This promised to be a source of entertainment through the lengths of the payment agreements, not just the first years.

    Inside, the Infiniti was impressive, with long curves and quilted leather. The Lexus expressed its fanciness with a padded center console that rose high enough to give a true cockpit feel, which is rare in a sedan.

    They’re both engaging enough to make you glad that true autonomous cars are still decades away. Trends change, but fun is fun.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant ( www.gaycarguy.com ). Check out his automotive staging service at www.carstaging.com