October 17, 2013 | by Joe Phillips
Sizzling sports sedans

Partisan bickering. Gridlocked government. That federal shutdown. It’s enough to make anyone head for the hills. Luckily, these new sport sedans make that easy to do.

ACURA RLX

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Acura RLX

$49,000
Mpg: 20 city/31 highway
0-to-60 mph: 6.3 seconds

For racing fans with a “Rush” crush, the all-new RLX — which replaces Acura’s old-school RL flagship — combines speed and panache. There’s a low chassis with sculpted fascia and Angry Birds headlights. The raised rear is cut and pert, like David Beckham in those Armani underwear ads. And a 310-hp V6 has plenty of pep, even in eco mode. While Google may be working on a self-driving car, Acura already has one (sort of). Adaptive cruise control lets the RLX follow vehicles at a set distance, starting and stopping as traffic ebbs and flows. A “Lane Keeping Assist” system maintains proper lane position at freeway speeds, so drivers could almost take their hands off the wheel and not worry about drifting across or off the road. And the nav system’s large screen and rearview camera make parallel parking easy. But there are some downsides, such as the too-small sunroof and user-unfriendly audio system with too many buttons.

BMW 320i

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BMW 320i

$34,000
Mpg: 23 city/35 highway
0-to-60 mph: 6.7 seconds

Seems simple enough — create a more affordable Bimmer to attract first-time buyers. Yet the result is a mishmash of highs and lows. Yes, there is an all-new four-cylinder engine with great mpg. An “M Sport” package also offers a thick steering wheel and other niceties. But for drivers used to BMW’s stellar six-cylinder, the power here is so-so. And too many competitors (especially VW) know how to package high-end hoopla in bargain-priced cars. That means gussied-up interiors and gobs of gizmos. Unfortunately, hooking up an iPhone in the 320i was clunky, and a spring-activated gizmo to adjust the manual seats was so herky-jerky it felt like whiplash. But Euro cars are about the driving experience, and this one is sure and tight, especially on slalom-like curves. It’s just that, in a segment where even Hyundai and Kia offer luxe amenities as standard equipment, the 320i may be too barebones for some drivers.

HYUNDAI EQUUS

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Hyundai Equus

$61,000
Mpg: 15 city/23 highway
0-to-60 mph: 5.7 seconds

With the 2014 Equus, Hyundai isn’t — well — horsing around. Gone is any pretense the Korean automaker isn’t gunning for Mercedes. Both the rear-wheel-drive Equus (and its smaller Genesis sibling) have S-Class styling: wide-mouth grille, arching fender flares and bug-like headlights. Under the hood is a throaty 429-hp V8 — same as in a $100,000 Mercedes S550. Punch the accelerator and the Equus is off to the races. And yes, it’s loaded with luxury: 17-speaker audio, power-folding side mirrors, power-closing trunk and even a windshield wiper de-icer. Along with BlueLink telematics, there’s a huge 9.2-inch display. For safety, there’s pre-collision warning and brake-assist, as well as blind spot and rear cross-traffic alerts. For $7,000 more, the Ultimate model has power soft-close doors, head-up windshield display and front/rear surround-view cameras. Alas, the only thing missing is taut Teutonic handling, which many automakers just can’t emulate. Still, at $61,000, this is one blue-ribbon sedan.

LEXUS LS 460 L
$80,000
Mpg: 16 city/24 highway
0-to-60 mph: 5.4 seconds

The LS 460 L is the long-wheelbase model, with extra rear-seat leg room that’s great for cross-country jaunts. And a spacious backseat is perfect for large dogs (trust me, on a 10-hour trip to Chicago, our Ridgeback would have let us know otherwise). There’s also a ginormous trunk and lots of bells and whistles similar to the Hyundai Equus above. But steering and cornering are sharper and braking is top-notch. Bonus: a nifty Executive-Class Seating package adds a beverage cooler, DVD entertainment system (with drop-down screen, no less) and power ottoman.

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