The Contenders: Lexus and Lincoln vie for the top

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2006 Lexus GS 430/300
Lexus is making a run for the top with its 2006 Lexus GS, currently in dealer showrooms. Three models of the GS are available: the GS 300 ($43,550), the AWD GS 300 ($45,500) and the GS 430 ($51,775). With one exception, all three are stunning inside and out: the 300s carry 17-inch tires, while the 430 carries 18s and more stylish rims. The plush and comfortable interior of the GS is reminiscent of a five-star hotel. Perfectly tailored leather seats, exquisite wood and a surprisingly pleasant and uncluttered center console make up what can only be described as the new standard of Lexus.

It is under the hood that the GS models stand apart. The premier GS 430 is the fastest Lexus to date. It is equipped with a 4.3-liter, 300-horsepower aluminum V8 engine. Producing 325 pound-feet of torque, this variable valve timing power plant launches the car to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. Limited electrically to a top speed of 149 mph, the GS 430 gets 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 miles per gallon on the highway, while meeting ULEV (ultra-low emission) standards. For about $8,200 less, the GS 300’s very respectable 3.0-liter V6 propels you to 60 miles per hour in 6.8 seconds, using 225 horses, 230 pound-feet of torque and it gets a few more miles to the gallon. Note, however, that Infiniti’s new 2006 M35 V6 gets down with 280 horses, while its M45 V8 kicks out 335 horses.

The Lexus contenders include keyless entry and engine start; Blue-tooth wireless technology; Lexus’s VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management) system, which incorporates all braking, steering and vehicle stability, plus traction controls to anticipate, then correct, the onset of vehicle skids. And if the 10-speaker, six-disc sound system with cassette isn’t good enough for you, there’s always the optional 330-watt, 7.1-channel, 14-speaker, $4,030 Mark Levinson audio package with navigation.

 2006 Lincoln Mark LT2006 Lincoln Mark LT
All eyes were on Lincoln’s Mark LT pickup and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who is part of Lincoln’s urban marketing strategy, as we rolled up on the scene. Did I just say Lincoln and pickup in the same sentence? Yes. Is it luxurious? Yes, but not in the sense of Range Rover luxury. Is it larger than life? Yes. Think of a Navigator with a cargo bed. Does it do well what it’s supposed to do well? Sort of. It hauls loads, drives in comfort, tows (up to 8,900 lbs.) and makes you feel like someone special. Lincoln will be absolutely “brilliant” if it pulls off record-breaking sales figures for this one!

Inside, Lincoln attempts to set it off. While my daughter was strapped in her car seat she was able to enjoy Brother Bear on the optional ($1,295) rear-seat entertainment system. Usually a second row [crew cab] is rather tight. Not with the Mark LT. It literally feels like you’re in a true, full-sized SUV. The heated seats are leather and the mats are carpet. Conversely, the seating surfaces are a bit too firm. The dash is clean and provides a six-disc in-dash changer with MP3 capability.

The LT uses a 5.4-liter, 300 horsepower V8 with 365 pound-feet of torque and a four-speed automatic shift. Both 4×2 and 4×4 variants are available. Chrome accentuates the vehicle throughout! One weekend we loaded a tiller, wheel barrow, ladder and a set of garden tools in the 5.5-foot bed. A truck is supposed to handle that much weight, but we had to treat the LT as though we were going to the prom in a tux: real gentle. Maybe Lincoln spokesman Earvin Johnson will pull out his “Magic” and help Lincoln sell the Mark LT.

Nizam B. Ali contributed to this review. Kimatni D. Rawlins is the publisher of Automotive Rhythms and host of “The Urban Automotive Experience.” Visit www.AutomotiveRhythms.com.