Full-Size Car Segment Challenges - Motor Trend - Viva Auto Group

Blog post provided by Motor Trend at http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/sedans/1307_the_big_test_2013_2014_full_size_sedans/

Is there a more peculiar automotive segment than that of the entry-level, full-size sedan? Loved by comfort-seeking retirees, client-shuttling businessmen, and family-hauling parents alike, the full-size sedan means many things to many people. To us, the full-size segment should mean comfort, interior space, and lots of features. As a step up from the popular midsize market, these sedans are aimed squarely at those who can't quite afford (or don't want to pay for) a full-fledged luxury platform.

The last time we visited this space, we pitted the Toyota Avalon (the very same one we have here, in fact) against the new Hyundai Azera and the aging Nissan Maxima. The result of that comparison was a photo finish between the Hyundai and the Toyota, with the Avalon winning by just a grille. Now, we've invited the Avalon back to take on two brand-new-to-market challengers, the Chevrolet Impala and Kia Cadenza, along with two recent large refreshes, the Chrysler 300S and the Ford Taurus.
The winner will need to display superiority through multiple criteria, including ride comfort, interior refinement, performance, fuel economy, safety, and value. Full-size sedan shoppers are about as concerned with the fun-to-drive aspect as they are Justin Bieber, so we'll put our normal enthusiast perspectives aside for this one and concentrate on what makes a full-size sedan so desirable to so many people.

Ride and Handling

Let's face it: If you're shopping for a full-size sedan, ride comfort is paramount. Leave the kidney-busting, sport-tuned damping for the sport sedans of the world -- this segment is all about a ride that won't leave sloshed latte all over your business colleague's white-collared shirt.

Sad to say, a comfortable, composed ride is something the Avalon just doesn't have, as we noted in our last full-size comparison. Associate editor Mike Febbo found "it crashes and bangs over the smaller bumps, then just floats away over the bigger ones." Those crashes and bangs also transmitted a lot of noise through the cabin, leading to a "cheap and unrefined" feel, according to executive editor Ron Kiino. The Avalon's steering seemed artificial, though the Toyota did feel fairly nimble on the twistier sections of our drive route, in part because of its low 3557-pound curb weight.

The Chrysler 300 had a firmer than average ride as well, but managed to maintain a strong level of comfort and composure. It rolled little in corners and had plenty of grip, but as the only one in the pack to tip the scales at more than 2 tons, there was no hiding the 300's bulk. Perhaps most disappointing was that the Chrysler's rear-drive platform didn't make it feel much different from the rest of the front-drivers. Around the curves, the car felt much more nose-heavy than its best-in-test 51/49-percent front/rear weight split would suggest.

"The full-size segment should mean comfort, interior space, and lots of features"

By comparison, the 3968-pound Ford Taurus (the second-heaviest car here) was decidedly middle of the pack. "On the road, the Taurus is acceptable," said associate online editor Benson Kong. "The car bounces around a bit, but it isn't uncomfortable." That soft, floaty ride contributed to massive body roll in corners that, when combined with quick turn-in, tossed occupants around more than we'd like.

The Impala, while lighter on its feet than the 300, drew fans for its "American car" ride -- supple and never crashy, though well-composed and stable at the same time. Said Kong, "The Impala is my pick for most appropriate ride of the segment. There's a bit of a controlled heave to let you know, 'Hey, the car is going to provide as plush a ride as it can.'" Kiino agreed, "The ride is well composed. Much better than Toyota's and marginally better than Kia's."
But what of the Kia? Associate online editor Nate Martinez noted of the Cadenza, "It's extremely smooth, well-sorted, and amazingly comfortable." While the Kia's steering lacked much feel, it wasn't significantly worse off than most others in the group, and body roll was minimal. Also worth noting: The Kia drove like the smallest car in the group, even though it's larger in every exterior dimension than the Avalon.


Fun fact: Every vehicle in this test has a dual-overhead cam, 24-valve, 60-degree V-6 under the hood. In fact, the greatest variance between the smallest engine in our group (Kia) and the largest (Chrysler) is a measly 16 cubic inches. It's what they did with those cubic inches that mattered.

The Avalon impressed everyone with its smooth, punchy power delivery and a transmission that was quick to respond, especially in Sport. With the lightest weight and such an eager V-6, it wasn't a surprise when the Toyota posted the top quarter-mile time of the group. "The 3.5-liter V-6 is the best part of this car," said Kong.
Kia's Cadenza also impressed with its eager 3.3-liter mill and paddle-shiftable six-speed auto. Though only midpack on output with 293 hp on tap, the Kia tied for second-quickest quarter-mile time with the most powerful car in the group: the 305-hp Chevy Impala. On the road, both cars felt plenty quick merging into busy freeway traffic, but on winding, hilly roads, the Chevy's transmission hunted endlessly for the proper gear, resulting in frustration and a lot of engine noise. Manual mode is an option, but per Kiino, "The toggle buttons aren't the quickest or easiest to use. Give me paddles!"

Most editors found the Kia's shift paddles well-placed, but thought downshifts were a little slow to arrive, while upshifts were usually quick.
Another car in this pack to offer paddle shifters was the Chrysler 300S. Feedback was generally positive for the 300's 3.6-liter Pentastar engine and adjoining eight-speed automatic. Though the Chrysler was the heaviest car of the group, it trailed the Avalon by just 0.2 second in the quarter mile and did it with a burly rumble from its exhaust. The 300 also earned praise from Kiino for its quick-acting gearbox. "The eight-speed is sweet -- smooth, quick, and intuitive."

The Impala drew fans for its plush "American car" ride over rough stretches of road.

The Taurus brought up the rear of the pack in most performance measures. Slowest in the quarter mile and the longest-stopping car from 60 mph at 125 feet (the 300 and Impala were shortest at 115), the Ford had just 20 more horsepower than the Avalon to bring its additional 400 pounds up to speed.That said, its quick turn-in and huge 255-width tires were enough to bring it the second-quickest time in our figure-eight testing, behind the 300. Unfortunately, the Ford suffered from lots of engine noise and a balky transmission, with similar gear hunting and awkward button-style manual modes to those of the Chevy.

Categories: New Inventory