$40,000 Smackdown: 2009 Acura TL Tech vs. Infiniti G37 Sedan Journey

January 22, 2009, 11:52 PM UTC
Fortune
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2009 Acura TL Tech

As the prices of entry-level German luxury cars like the BMW 3-series and Audi A-4 creep closer to $50,000, a gap has opened with models from Japanese luxury brands Acura and Infiniti.

If the new arrivals can’t compete with the Germans on heritage and brand equity, they can at least give the Europeans a run for their money on function, performance, and–most of all–value.

Acura is the most anonymous of luxury brands, and despite years of Effort by its parent Honda, IT has only succeeded in raising its profile by a smidgen. Acura is an interesting problem in reputation: The Honda brand rates highly with enthusiasts, but Acura gets very little traction.

I enjoyed my weekend in the TL, to my mind the most engaging of the Acuras. The styling was eye-catchingly attractive without being over the top, and its performance, provided by a 3.5-liter 280-horsepower V6, was sprightly without being aggressive. All the features, including navigation system with voice recognition, and rear-view camera, were included as standard equipment in the base price of $39,445 including delivery.

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Infiniti G37 Sedan Journey

The TL felt like a paradigm of the sport sedan, but only until I climbed into the Infiniti. Eight inches shorter than the TL and more than four inches narrower, it felt like putting on a slim-fit shirt compared with the Acura. Less steel means less weight: The Infiniti is also 135 pounds lighter than the Acura. And with its burly, 3.7-liter, 325-hp V6, the Infiniti handily wins drag strip honors. It gets to 60 miles per hour in a brisk 5 seconds, according to auto research group Edmunds, vs. 6.7 seconds for the Acura.

Enthusiasts, who see Infiniti as the most likely challenger to BMW, will tell you that the G37’s rear drive trumps the Acura’s front drive in handling and cornering. I couldn’t choose between them, and presumably the difference would be narrowed further by the all-wheel-drive options available on both. The Infiniti also carries a lower base price of $33,700, though the premium, sport and navigation packages cranked that up to $42,135 on the test car.

The TL and the G37 both represent excellent value, and I would be happy with either one. If you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose, I’d take the Acura–I’m a looser fit kind of guy.