Ignore The Following

advice ¡f you listen to nothing but the THE MC2 Lassa (blindfolded) and Markus prepare for the audio test by chattering classes on talk radio 24/7: establishing their safe word. The test tune was Miles Davis* "So What." You must spring for the premium sound system.

You'll get it for free in the value-leader, Hyundai Equus Signature, which comes with a Lexicon 7.1 system standard. It's very good, though in Harman Industries' hierarchy, Lexicon plays Buick to Mark Levinson's Cadillac, and sure enough, the Hyundai's system doesn't have the depth or complexity of the Lexus' Levinson setup.

The base Audi, EMW and Mercedes systems and the entry-level ($1440) Porsche/Bose system all delivered considerable medium-to-high-volume distortion. These lower-investment systems all sound muddy next to the premium-brand setups.

Though I'm no audiophile, I come closest among staffers on this comparo to acting like one, so I lent my 52-year-old ears to a blindfold taste-test faceoff of the Jag's Bowers and Wilkins and the Lexus' Levinson. I rode in the left rear seat of each car listening to most of "So What," from a CD of Miles Davis* magnificent "Kind of Blue," recorded in 1959.

I picked the Lexus' system. The Jaguar's superior speaker separation, apoarent from the driver's seat, was lost from the rear seat. Though I like the B&W's higher highs and lack of reliance on bass, the Mark Levinson system simply has more depth, more timbre. Bassist Paul Chambers' first lines in "So What" are so subtle and sublime that they wash out in most inferior audio systems. You hear them in the Jag's B&W system. You feel them in the Lexus' Mark Levinson. todd lassa

HOW THEY RANKED Here is how the seven stacked up against industry yardsticks as well as our senses and stopwatches.

PERFORMANCE*

1. Porsche 77

2. Audi 75

3. Jaguar 69

5. Lexus 59

6. Hyundai 56

7. Mercedes-Benz 48 "Compilation of acceleration/ braking/handling performance

LEASE RESIDUAL VALUE/MONTHLY PAYMENT*

3. Hyundai 51%/$1172

6. Porsche 44%/$1976

7. Mercedes-Benz 40%/$2016 *ALG 36-rnonlh, 10%, $0-down lease

JDPOWER QUALITY: IQS VDS*

1. Porsche 83 lO

2. Lexus 88 115

3. Mercedes-Benz 87 142

4. Hyundai 102 148_

5. BMW 113 165

6. Audi 111 182

7. Jaguar 130

"Problems per 100 vehicles across entire brand: Initial Quality Survey (90 days) and Vehicle Dependability Survey (3 years). Underscore indicates industry average (109/155)

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