Test Drive Frenzy – 6/6/2010

2010 Nissan Maxima

In the pursuit of quieter and quieter cars, I test drive a lot of different ones.  I suffer from Tinnitus, also known as “ringing of the ears.”  It’s a bothersome thing, and some cars more than others will aggravate my condition, to the point of headaches and earaches.  The Lincoln MKS I had didn’t bother my tinnitus at all, but now my 2010 Maxima (review pending) does.  So yesterday, I went out and test drove some cars.  A couple of these are known for their quietness, another couple of them I just wanted to compare with.  How did I fare?  Click past the jump to find out!

Before we get started with the test drives, a little bit about my Tinnitus.  It’s been diagnosed as severe, and comes with some high frequency hearing loss, also diagnosed by an audiologist.  Also, through trial and error, it seems that cars which feature speakers on the top of the dashboard, or aimed at the driver from the “sail panels,” are cars which will bother my tinnitus.  See the picture below for an example of a sail panel.

Lexus IS tweeter location - sail panel

2008 Lexus ES 350

The first car I test drove was a 2008 Lexus ES 350.  Very similar to the 2010 model, but a lot cheaper, and with relatively few miles on it.  This car was whisper quiet, and super smooth.  I took the first three cars on the same driving loop, which involved both slow city speeds and highway speeds, with plenty of potholes, curves and different driving situations mixed in.  The car I test drove had about 35,000 miles on it, and looked about like a new car, and drove like it as well.  It was a CPO, Certified Pre-Owned, which for Lexus means they put new tires and brakes on the car, as well as performed any maintenance that is called for.

So, smooth, quiet, luxurious, the Lexus ES 350 was definitely nice.  But did it bother my tinnitus?  It seemed to, but further test drives will be required to confirm this.  The Lexus ES features speakers on the top of the dashboard, at the base of the windshield.  Perhaps fading the stereo to the rear would help – and that’s what I want more test drives for.

Other than the noise issues I had with the ES, it was a pleasure to drive.  The brakes weren’t in sports car territory, but they weren’t unresponsive either.  While I didn’t get a chance to test is, the car featured a navigation system.  Its touch screen was very responsive and the overall system seemed to work well.  The backup camera was crisp and clear, a given considering its high resolution.  Heated and cooled seats were nice, worked well, as did the automatic climate control.  The ES has a lot of luxury features, and I’ve seen 2007 and 2008 models at 60% of the cost of a new one.

2007 Lexus IS 250

Next up was a 2007 Lexus IS 250 AWD (all-wheel drive).  This is Lexus’ entry level car, a sporty sedan.  It’s a lot louder than the ES, given its sporty mission, so you hear a lot of road noise, tire noise, and a little exhaust noise and vibration.  None of this helped my tinnitus any, but the reason I took this car out was to see how its stereo was, since it had no speakers on top of the dash, only in the sail panels (explained and shown earlier).

Driving the IS back-to-back with the ES showed the differences in the two cars.  The ES is quiet, smooth, comfortable, and the IS is louder, but fairly smooth and comfortable, as a Lexus should be, given its perception and parent company, Toyota.  The IS had a lot of the same features as the ES, but in a smaller package.  I also felt like head room was at a premium in the IS, a feeling I didn’t get while driving the ES.

2006 Acura RL

Next door to the Lexus dealership was an Acura dealership, which is where I headed next.  I was given the keys to a 2006 Acura RL.  This is the previous body style, but still had plenty of creature comforts.  The RL had its tweeters located in the sail panels, aimed almost at each other, but facing slightly out, as seen below.  Click to enlarge the picture.

2006 Acura RL dash (tweeter is left of the steering wheel)

The stereo in the RL didn’t seem to bother me any more than the Lexus did, but the rest of the car did.  For the supposed amount of luxury, the nav/audio system was clunky, with a low-resolution screen and an overanxious announcer who wanted to tell me every little selection I made or was thinking of making.  The ride was nowhere near as comfortable as either Lexus, but the noise level was between the IS and ES, so it was fairly good.  This is partly due to Acura’s active noise-cancellation technology, which uses the stereo’s speakers to cancel out noise from the engine, exhaust and road.  It works pretty well, but is a highlight in an unimpressive drive.

2011 BMW 328i

Our final stop of the day was at a BMW dealership, which had a couple of their entry-level cars on hand for test drives.  The first one was a 2011 BMW 328i, with the 6-speed manual transmission, sunroof, and not much else.  At this point, my tinnitus or my sensitivity level was quite high, and the 328 seemed to bother it even more.  The 328 also lets in quite a bit of road noise, which didn’t help matters, but its stereo was decent.

Almost everything on this car was intuitive, except for the windshield wipers.  I couldn’t get them to sweep continuously, but after a quick look while at a stop light, I realized it had rain-sensing wipers, so I used those, and it kept the windshield free of view-diminishing water.

The 328 handled well, as you’d expect from a BMW, and even though it only had the 3.0-liter 6-cylinder base engine, it was still peppy and fun to drive.  Perhaps a 5-series BMW should be test-driven next?

2009 BMW 128i

Last, but not least, was the BMW 128i.  This one featured an automatic transmission, sunroof, power seats, base engine and base stereo.  Its drive was similar to the 328 I had out earlier, and that’s not surprising.  The 1-series cars are based on the previous-generation 3-series platform, and BMW tends to evolve their chassis from one iteration to the next, rather than starting anew.

The 128 was louder than the 3-series though, and nothing could help at this point.  It was after this test drive that I realized I had auditory fatigue from all the test drives and concentrating on the tinnitus, so we called it quits and will try again in a couple of weeks.

Overall, it was an interesting day, and led to some conclusions:  1, I will have to drive another Lincoln MKS, as that is the last car that didn’t bother my ears.  2, I will have to take another Lexus ES out and play with the stereo more.  3, I’ll have to look at some other brands and see what kinds of stereos they feature.  I have driven a lot of different Fords, and found that their stereos don’t seem to bother me much, if at all, so more research is definitely in the cards.

by John Suit

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7 Responses to “Test Drive Frenzy – 6/6/2010”


  • BMW 6 cyl. engines are all inline (due to the inherent smoothness of this design).

  • You’re absolutely correct! Thanks for the correction. BMW is one of the only manufacturers still using that design.

    -John

  • why dont you try the Lexus LS430. I have tinnitus as well and am also searching for a very quiet car. The LS430 is the best I have found and I plan on buying one soon. =]

  • Yeah, I was thinking about those, but in the mean time, I’ve begun taking a vitamin regimen that has gotten my Tinnitus to calm down a bit, and the Maxima no longer bothers my ears on a daily basis, only rarely.

    -John

  • good to hear…. what kind of vitamins, ginko and such?

  • good to hear….. what kind of vitamins, ginko and such?

  • Ginko, B-Complex, Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc. I only take them sporadically though – that’s about all I need them for.

    -John

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