Big cars are back. While high gas prices have persuaded many car buyers to think small, automakers have been quietly rolling out a surprising number of appealing and moderately priced large sedans that don’t use nearly as much gas as older models do.
They’re betting that car buyers will go for more room and more comfort as long as it doesn’t cost a fortune and as long as it comes with luxurious features such as dual-zone climate control and leather seats. The latest full-size sedans don’t cost drivers a fortune at the pump, either. Some deliver close to 30 miles per gallon (mpg) or even more on the highway.
Six large, moderately priced sedans worth considering, in order of price*…
Ford Taurus. If you haven’t test-driven a Ford Taurus in a few years, it’s time to give the car another try. It was completely redesigned for 2010, and it has been updated again for the 2013 model year. The most recent round of improvements includes better styling and a new 3.5-liter V6 engine that is both more fuel-efficient and, at 290 horsepower (hp), more powerful than the engine it replaces. (An optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine, available later this year, is expected to deliver 237 hp and boost fuel economy by a few mpg.)
The Taurus provides a spacious interior…large trunk…quiet, pleasant ride…and relatively good handling by large-sedan standards. It’s a bit less luxurious and amenity-laden than some of the cars on this list, but it still is the best full-size sedan below $30,000.
2013-model fuel economy: 19 mpg city/29 highway. Price: From $26,600.
Buick LaCrosse features GM’s new eAssist “mild hybrid” system, which pulls off the impressive trick of boosting fuel economy to levels rarely reached by full-size sedans without boosting the sticker price above others in its class. The eAssist system does reduce trunk space, however.
Impressive fuel economy isn’t all the LaCrosse Hybrid has to offer—its exterior is attractive, and its interior is spacious, elegant and loaded with appealing standard features. These include dual-zone climate control and Intellilink, which allows you to use voice commands to control your entertainment and communications devices. The LaCrosse eAssist’s ride is comfortable and quiet, though not particularly exciting—its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine’s 182 hp will get you down the road, but it won’t be mistaken for a race car.
Fuel economy: 25 mpg city/36 highway. Price: From $30,170.
Hyundai Azera might not have the lowest base price on this list, but it just might be the best value. Completely redesigned for 2012, it comes loaded with an impressive list of standard creature comforts, including leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, heated front and rear seats, a touch-screen navigation system and even a cooled glove box. The Azera is spacious and comes with Hyundai’s best-in-the-business five-year, 60,000-mile warranty (10 years, 100,000 miles for the drivetrain). Its ride is very comfortable and quiet. Its 3.3-liter V6 provides a more-than-acceptable 293 hp and impressive fuel economy for a car its size.
Fuel economy: 20 mpg city/29 highway. Price: From $32,000.
Toyota Avalon offers a winning combination of comfort, quality, roominess and affordability. Its 3.5-liter V6 is relatively fuel-efficient and powerful—268 hp. It’s a good choice for those who like to buy American, too—despite the Toyota badge, the Avalon is built in the US.
A redesign for the 2013 model year, due out in late 2012, will significantly improve Avalon’s bland exterior styling. The redesign also will provide increased trunk space and additional air bags. The noncosmetic changes will be fairly minor, however, so if you’re offered a good deal on a leftover 2012 Avalon late this year, it might be worth snapping up.
Fuel economy: 19 mpg city/28 highway. Price: From $33,195.
Hyundai Genesis sedan combines the comfort, luxury and spaciousness of a full-size sedan with the excitement of a sporty rear-wheel-drive performance car—and it does so for a reasonable price. Hyundai’s excellent warranty is another point in the Genesis’s favor.
The base model Genesis comes with a 3.8-liter V6 that produces 333 hp, but that’s only the start—other options include a 5.0-liter V8 that delivers 429 hp, enough to leave the sedans listed earlier far behind. Providing sporty handling requires sacrificing a measure of comfort, however—the ride isn’t quite as smooth as that of many other full-size sedans.
Fuel economy: 19 mpg city/29 highway for the V6 (17 mpg/26 for the V8). Price: From $34,200 (from $45,500 for the V8).
Infiniti M, like the Hyundai Genesis, successfully combines the comfort, luxury and spaciousness of a full-size sedan with the driving excitement of a sporty car. The M’s exterior styling is striking…its interior spacious, is well-equipped and very upscale. This rear-wheel-drive car is a worthy rival to famed European sedans such as the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class—only at a lower price. Drivers who appreciate the smooth glide of a typical full-size sedan might find the M’s ride a bit firm for their tastes—other drivers will love the sharp handling.
The base model M’s 3.7-liter V6 produces 330 hp, while the optional 5.6-liter V8 offers 420 hp. A new hybrid 3.5-liter V6 delivers 360 hp.
Fuel economy: 18 mpg city/26 highway for the base model (27 mpg/32 for the hybrid, 16 mpg/24 for the V8). Price: From $47,700 for the base model (from $53,700 for the hybrid, from $59,200 for the V8).
*Prices and descriptions refer to the 2012 model year except where noted.
Source: Karl Brauer, founder of TotalCarScore.com, a Web site that combines a wide range of car reviews into a single score. He previously served as editor in chief of the automotive Web site Edmunds.com and, in 2004, was the first Web-based journalist to be named to the jury of the North American Car and Truck of the Year Award.