Can you recommend a "near-luxury" vehicle? I'm looking at a Lexus and an Infiniti.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

I would like your recommendation on a new-car purchase. Currently, I have an '86 Toyota Celica ST and an '89 Acura Integra. At age 61, I want to indulge myself. I'm looking for a good-performing four-door sedan that's reliable, quiet and smooth. I've narrowed my choices down to the Infiniti I30 and the Lexus ES300. What do you think? If your choice is the I30, would you add traction enhancement? -- Arthur

RAY: You can't go wrong with either of these cars, Arthur. Go forth and haggle, my son. You have our blessing.

TOM: This category of car is called the "near luxury" segment. And there are a number of excellent cars in that $30,000 price range. But since you mention "quiet, smooth and reliable" at the top of your wish list, you can't do much better than the Lexus and the Infiniti.

RAY: "Traction enhancement" is not the same thing as the more sophisticated "traction control" (which is offered on the 1997 Lexus, by the way). Traction enhancement is Infiniti's name for a limited slip differential, an older technology that still works pretty well. It transfers the power from one front wheel to the other when one is slipping on snow or ice. And on a reasonably heavy car like this one, with front-wheel drive, that's probably good enough in the snow.

TOM: But I would definitely get one or the other of those systems if snow driving is part of your winter routine. Besides, on the Infiniti, I think traction enhancement comes as part of a package with the heated seats, and if you're looking to indulge yourself, Arthur, you gotta have those!

RAY: So how do you choose between these two great cars? Well, in this case, I'd go by instinct. Pick the one makes you smile more smugly when you test-drive it.

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