Sure there were BMWs and Mercedes at the rally but the two most interesting luxury vehicles were the all new Land Rover LR3 and Acura RL. I was more impressed with the RL because of its power, handling and refinement but the LR3 is a greatly improved vehicle and is one of the quietest and best driving SUVs I've tested.

We'll start with the RL and its total overhaul in 2005.

The first question a lot of people will ask is if it?s as luxurious as the Germans or even Lexus. The answer is yes. I found the RL nicer than most Lexus models and it has more of a plush feel than the Germans. Everything was nice to the touch from the rubberized buttons and shift paddles on the steering wheel to the iDrive-esque center stack. But my favorite part was the ice blue glowing gauge cluster that seemed almost front lit. The effect was drastic, unique and attractive. Did I mention the car handled like no other?

All the hype about the SH-AWD or Super Handling AWD is well earned. On one great twisty suburban road (which would be a staple in every test for the rest of the day) the RL shined. The roads were wet but the tires never lost an inch of grip and I couldn?t feel any body lean. As a luxury car the RL has an excellent feel for the road and I think offers a real option for those who dislike the looks of the new BMWs and Mercedes.

Land Rovers never interested me. They were so tall and box shaped it looked as if any off-road application would topple them. Of course that was never the case and their off-road capability has been the company?s best selling point. With the LR3 the luxury SUV can safely say it handles the streets as well as it does the off roads. Sure it?s frigging huge, but out here in suburbia that?s not a bad thing.

There are three rows of rich leather seats to accommodate a large family and the driver has a commanding view of the road and the cabin. A number of ride settings allow the driver to customize the drive for regular roads, bad weather and off-roading all in a nice setting. On the street the LR3 was a cruiser in the extreme sense. Precise steering for such a large vehicle was also nice but even with all the changes taking the twisty road mentioned above wasn?t as thrilling as in the RL. But the LR3 was still remarkable.

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