Discovering Automaker’s Awesome Original Websites: Japanese Luxury Roundup

In the mid-1990’s most automotive brands that existed at the time began launching websites as digital was rapidly becoming the next frontier and offered an opportunity to showcase products and influence consumers as they perform research. Early examples of auto manufacturer websites provide a unique window into brand identity as there were wild variations in style and tone compared to the much more uniform websites of today, where virtually all have a nearly identical layout and user experience.


Lexus:

Lexus then

Lexus.com, 1996

The first snapshot of Lexus’ website was recorded on December 22, 1996. Creatively titled “Lexus Centre of Performance Art”, the website navigation is overlaid atop an sketch that resembles an interpretation of an ancient Roman villa. Resembling a guide for tourist in a faraway land, perhaps Lexus employed this model to help guide brand-new internet users by leveraging a familiar map-based layout from traditional printed media. There is also a “concierge” named Alex prominently featured, who was doubtlessly utilized by befuddled website visitors back in the day. According to the description Alex is there to “help you at any time, on any page”. Perhaps the most striking element of Lexus’ homepage in 1996 was that there was no imagery of their vehicles. At this time the brand’s lineup consisted of the ES, GS, LS, SC and LX.

Lexus now

Lexus.com, 2018

Fast forward 22 years and we encounter Lexus’ website in 2018. Taking on a far more sophisticated look, the design has been cleaned up and organized. Alex the concierge has retired, however there is a “Shopping Tools” menu with visuals for top functions at the bottom of the page. As web users as a whole became more acclimated to navigating websites and assimilated to the digital word, we notice less copy and far more visuals. While less cluttered, the website has certainly lost some personality over time. Here’s a little message for Lexus: Bring back Alex! Perhaps he could be reborn as a virtual chat assistant. In 2018 the brand’s lineup has doubled in size compared to 1996. The current vehicles are the IS, ES, GS, LS, RC, LC, NX, RX, GX, LX.

RELATED: Lux SUV Olympics: Going For Gold!

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2018 Infiniti Q50

The 2018 Infiniti Q50 is a midsize luxury sedan that has a starting MSRP of $35,200. Combining a blend of sportiness and luxury, the Q50 places a major focus on technology and offers a suite of convenience and safety features.  With the availability of a base 4-cylinder engine, a sensible hybrid, and a powerful 6-cylinder engine, the Q50 appeals to a wide swath of buyers. Less opulent and refined than competition from Mercedes-Benz and  less dynamic than offerings from BMW, the Q50 squares off closest with the Acura TLX and Volvo S60 in terms of price and value proposition.

Pros: Available All-Wheel-Drive, Available Hybrid, Clean Exterior Design, Loaded With Technology

Cons: Less Overall Finesse Than Some Competitors, Interior Design Lacks Opulance

Looks Best In: Pure White exterior/Graphite interior

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Competition: Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Cadillac ATS, BMW 3 Series

Safety Score: The 2018 Infiniti Q50 received a “Good” rating for side crash worthiness from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, it has not undergone testing for the front small overlap test.

Summary: The 2018 Infiniti Q50 fills the rather small gap in the sedan market between optioned-out mainstream choices like  the Toyota Camry XSE and smaller but more proper luxury sedans like the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. With an attractive starting price, the Q50 can present itself well to a buyer looking to move out of the mainstream and have a more premium driving experience without breaking the bank. More discerning shoppers seeking a truly over-the-top experience will need to pony up for a C-Class or 3 Series.

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[Images: Infiniti]

 

Lux SUV Olympics: Going For Gold!

When shopping for a family-friendly three-row SUV that has luxury features and lots of utility, the choices are plentiful. In this evaluation we’ve narrowed down the choices to luxury brands only, as they generally offer upgraded dealer service, longer warranties, and more creature comforts than mainstream brands. However, shoppers on a budget or uninterested in all the gizmos can check out some top mainstream picks like the Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9, Ford Explorer, and Kia Sorento.

Next, we looked at price. Especially with luxury SUVs it’s quite easy for the price to skyrocket. The contenders here are all within the $45,000-$55,000 price range, making them far more fiscally responsible than offerings from BMW and Mercedes-Benz which carry a $10,000+ price premium for a similarly sized, or smaller, vehicle. Also a consideration is the price of ownership, so we looked at fuel efficiency is a ranking factor as well.

When carrying around precious cargo safety is a top concern. We evaluated ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to determine the winner in this test. It’s important to note that the brand-new 2018 Buick Enclave is a strong contender in the three-row luxury SUV segment, however since it has not been evaluated by the Institute it was not utilized in the comparison.

Finally, interior accommodations and cargo room were evaluated. When carrying around strollers, strapping in car seats, and tackling trips to Costco, having a capacious interior is very important. Often a key indicator of interior packaging efficiency is how much cargo space is available behind the third row, so that’s the criteria we’re ranking on.

The contenders are: Acura MDX, Infiniti QX60, Lexus RX350 L

So, which of luxury three-row SUV took home gold? See our the Lux SUV medal ranking below. But first, if you haven’t already, click here to join us on Facebook to receive the latest updates from Third Auto. We appreciate it!

Medal Rankings:

Bronze: 2018 Lexus RX350 L

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The new three-row version of Lexus’ best-selling RX line. With a bit more brand recognition and prestige than the other contenders, the RX earns points because that can translate into higher value retention over time. However, with an MSRP of $49,070, it’s nearly $4,000 higher than the larger and more fuel-efficient QX60. The RX350 L ties the MDX with a “Top Safety Pick” status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Read Third Auto’s full review of the 2018 Lexus RXL here.

Silver: 2018 Acura MDX

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The 2018 Acura MDX earns points for its “Top Safety Pick” status by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and offers cargo space behind the third-row only about one cubic foot shy of the first place Infiniti. Likewise, its base price when equipped with all-wheel-drive came out to $46,200, a $1,100 premium over the Infiniti. The non-hybrid model we evaluated was let down my a 21 combined MPG rating, which tied with the Lexus for second. A very competitive package, the MDX’s virtues makes it a strong contender, but aren’t enough to earn gold.Read Third Auto’s full review of the 2018 Acura MDX here.

Gold: Infiniti QX60

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With the lowest base price when quipped with all-wheel-drive, the most cargo room behind the third row seats and the best combined mileage, albiet only by 1 MPG, the Infiniti QX60 takes home the gold. It’s demerits include a poor rating for its headlights by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and a bit less brand prestige than the Lexus, however overall the Infiniti QX60 makes a great choice for shoppers in the market for a three-row luxury SUV under $55,000.Read Third Auto’s full review of the 2018 Infiniti QX60 here.

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[Images: Acura, Infiniti, Lexus]

2018 Infiniti QX80

Mercifully redesigned from its maladroit predecessor the newly released 2018 Infiniti QX80 has swapped the gaudy McMansion-on-wheels style for a more elegant and classy interior and exterior design philosophy, although it’s still a bit odd overall. Under the hood you’ll find a powerful 400-hp V-8. The cabin is lined in premium materials and the overall driving experience is relaxed. With a starting MSRP of $64,750, the 2018 Infiniti QX60 offers a unique alternative to the popular Cadillac Escalade and higher-end trims of the GMC Yukon. More value-minded shoppers still looking for a big traditional SUV experience can check out the QX60’s platform mate, the Nissan Armada.

Pros: Smooth Ride, Roomy Interior, Big V-8, Cabin Space, Towing Capacity, Rugged

Cons: Lacks Cache of Escalade, Design Still Not Fully Cohesive, Expectedly Inefficient

Looks Best In: Champagne Quartz exterior/Saddle Brown interior

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Competition: Mercedes-Benz GLS, Cadillac Escalade, GMC Yukon, Lexus LX

Coolest Feature: Dust off your CD collection! The QX80 is one of few new cars equipped with a CD player as part of the 15 speaker Bose surround sound system. On behalf of all people born prior to the year 2000- thank you, Infiniti!

Who wins battle of the grilles, the 2018 Infiniti QX80 or the 2018 Cadillac Escalade? You decide!

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Summary: Big, brash and over the top, think of the QX80 as an Escalade that went to finishing school in Japan. It has unusual details inside and out that may be appealing to some and off-putting to others. Overall, it does its job well as an extravagant, flashy and comfortable hauler, and costs thousands less than an Escalade to boot. However, if you don’t plan on towing much and don’t need the off-roading hardware, check out Infiniti’s smaller three-row rig, the 2018 QX60.

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[Images: Infiniti, GM]

2018 Infiniti QX60

The 2018 Infiniti QX60 is the brand’s most popular model, and for good reason. The three-row crossover-style luxury SUV combines style and efficiency in a family-friendly package. The Nissan Pathfinder upon which it’s based remains the choice for value shoppers, however with a starting price of $43,300 the QX60 offers a much more upscale ambiance.

Pros: Smooth Ride, Powerful Engine, Flexible Interior Layout, Stylish, Efficient

Cons: Some Interior Materials Lack Opulence, CVT Transmission Hampers Spirited Driving

What You Should Know: Although the hybrid version has been dropped, the QX60 in standard form manages to deliver slightly better fuel economy than archrival Acura MDX.

Looks Best In: Black Obsidian exterior/Java interiorqx60 exterior.PNG2018 Infiniti QX60 InteriorCoolest Feature: Trick 2nd-row sliding/tilting seat

Competition: Acura MDX, Volvo XC90, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander

Summary: Nestled between the compact QX30 and the massive QX80, in Infiniti’s SUV lineup, the QX60 is just the right size.  With plenty of room for passengers, groceries, baby gear and the family dog to all fit in comfort, it combines utility with style.

Did You Know? According to Automotive News, Last year Infiniti achieved an annual sales record with over 230,000 vehicles sold globally.

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[Images: Infiniti]

Luxury Brand Sales in October 2017

Wow, Lexus and BMW were neck and neck in October sales! Even closer were Audi and Buick, just a few hundred units difference. Mercedes-Benz numbers includes 2,446 van sales, when we remove those the monthly tall comes out to 29,623, still well ahead of second place BMW.

So, what is Mercedes-Benz doing so right to be this far ahead? A combination of a robust SUV lineup and its push downmarket with the CLA and GLA have postured the brand to acquire more sales than BMW, which currently has no sedan below the $34,900 3 Series, while Mercedes-Benz has the CLA starting at $32,400. On the SUV side, BMW has no GLS competitor, which Mercedes-Benz sold 2,920 of in October. We hear an X7 is on this way, however until then we expect Mercedes-Benz to continue to eat BMW’s lunch.

gls.jpg

Looking at the mid-level of sales, Cadillac and Acura are very close. Will the new XT5 allow Cadillac to power ahead of Acura’s aging SUV lineup? About one thousand units separate Lincoln and Volvo. With both brands experiencing a renaissance of sorts, who will move ahead and who will fall back, like whoa?

xt5

Moving on to the low-volume brands, Land Rover and Porsche  were within a few hundred units. Meanwhile, Jaguar is being encroached on by two newcomers to the U.S. market. Genesis and Alfa Romeo both accumulated decent sales numbers given their lack of presence in the marketplace. Behind Alfa Romero and rounding out the group is Maserati with just over one thousand units sold.

As the year-end push gets aggressive within throughout the final months of the year as automakers and dealers look to move as much metal as possible, it will be very interesting to see how the current state evolve. Be sure to check in with Third Auto as we track every step of the way.

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[Images: Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac]

Infiniti And Beyond: With Its Recent Hot Steak, What’s Ahead for the Brand?

Propelled by the popular QX60, Infiniti is quickly catching up to Acura on the sales chart. Last month there was a difference of just 201 sales in the United States between the two brands. Sales are up double digits year to date while Acura’s are down by around 5%. Whether or not this momentum can be maintained is entirely contingent upon the brand’s SUV lineup.

Holding court in the compact luxury SUV field is the QX30, sibling to the Mercedes-Benz GLA. Although the QX30 sell in far fewer numbers than the GLA, it fills an important place in Infiniti’s lineup as the segment continues to grow. Next up the ladder is the QX50, formerly the EX37. Due to be replaced in 2018, Infiniti has previewed the new design with the QX50 Concept which debuted at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show. It does away with the awkward proportions that doubtlessly hindered sales of the old model and echoes the design aesthetic that has made the QX60 a head-turner and sales powerhouse. It will also feature a fuel-efficient Miller cycle engine, which Infiniti has stated will provide six cylinder levels of performance with the efficiency of a four cylinder.

Into the upper echelon, 2018 is expected to bring a restyled QX80. The QX80 Monograph concept which debuted at last at the 2017 New York Auto Show previews a streamlined design that does away with the ungainly proportions and McMansion-on-wheels bling factor of the current QX80.

Overall, Infiniti looks set to overtake Acura in the year ahead with a slew of updated models. With no SUVs below the RDX or above the MDX, choices are limited for shoppers and updates of the existing models might not be enough to plug the holes in Acura’s sinking ship.

[Images: Infiniti]

Who Will Kia’s Stinger Hurt The Most?

As Kia continues its ascent into the premium category with the flashy 2018 Stinger, questions arise over what models it will compete most closely with. On one hand, its RWD layout and performance focus mean it could conquest muscle car fans in need of more space than what’s offered in a Camaro or Mustang. In terms of brand identity, Kia is more traditionally aligned with Ford and Chevrolet.

However, now that features once exclusive to luxury cars like heated leather seats, premium stereos and panoramic sunroofs are widely available on even basic cars, what defines luxury is blurred and buyers may have less allegiance to prestige brands if the same features, and more, are available for less elsewhere. Kia’s own Optima, for example, can be equipped with quilted Nappa leather heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel and premium stereo, for less than it costs to get a Lexus ES 350 with fake leather covering the seats and none of those “luxury” features.

On the luxury side, the Stinger would compete with RWD-based Lexus IS, Cadillac ATS, BMW 3/4 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The Alfa Romero is a bit player in the market, but matches up closely with the Stinger in many ways. With pricing expected to start somewhere around $30,000, this will present a more enticing value to luxury car shoppers than the expensive and rather boring Kia K900.

With products like the Stinger, Kia is brining the heat to the luxury brands and stands poised to profit from consumers with weakened allegiances to luxury brands.

[Images: Kia]

Cars That Look More Expensive Than They Actually Are

When it comes to cars, sometimes you get more than you paid for, or at least it can appear that way. A select few cars are styled in such a way that they look more expensive than other vehicles within their class.

Although priced no more than their contemporaries, these vehicles have a more premium appearance that belies their price. Tasteful applications of chrome, restrained lines and proper proportions lend an air of elegance to designs that punch above their weight, and could fool anybody not in the know into thinking you’ve spent a small fortune.

Volkswagen Tiguan

Upgrade to the SE model and the added chrome window surround and lower door trim make the Tiguan look downright luxurious. Classic 10-spoke wheels and binged-out grille, rear bumper and exhaust outlets all make for a decidedly premium looking package. At $30,380 equipped with 4Motion, it comes across as much more mature and refined compared to the $30,350 Ford Escape SE 4WD, which is only $30 cheaper. The Honda CR-V EX-L AWD rings in at $30,595, $215 more than the Tiguan, but its garish wheels and odd proportions make it look cheaper, despite chrome window trim.

tiguan

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

escape

2018 Ford Escape

 

Chrysler 300

With all the hallmarks of a true luxury sedan like RWD proportions and imposing bodywork, the veteran Chrysler 300 still makes quite an impression. At $30,090 it has far more curb appeal than the Toyota Avalon XLE, which costs $33,500, $3,410 more. The 300’s classic lines can even hold a candle to the INFININTI Q70, which at $50,300, is a whole $21,070 more expensive.

300

2018 Chrysler 300

2018 Infiniti Q70

Ford Mustang

At $26,085 the V6 Fastback Ford Mustang is $140 cheaper than the  $26,225 Honda Civic Coupe Touring. Yet, its brawny styling and classic muscle car proportions make it look far more premium. Vintage-inspired five spoke wheels come across as classier than the Civic’s busy wheel design, and its iconic looks give it the curb appeal advantage.

mustang

2018 Ford Mustang

civiccoupe.PNG

2018 Honda Civic Coupe

[Images: Volkswagen, Ford, Chrysler, Infiniti, Honda]