The Results Are In: The 7 Best Buys for Full-Size Sedans

Midsize sedans have proven to be an explosive market so far this year, and as fuel economy figures, ever-increasing utility, and bolder, sportier design themes continue to improve, it’s easy to see why.

However, for those who need some added space but are still looking for a sedan-bodied vehicle, there is another class that rests upon the midsize segments: the full-size players, designed for smooth, comfortable performance while putting the need for passenger space first.

USA Today and Cars.com set out to determine the best full-size sedan within a reasonable price frame, explaining: “We set the $38,000 cap, including shipping, taking into account typical transactions and equipment. We had seven contenders, with the automakers provided what they thought was the best configuration under the cap.” With some of the segment’s high-rollers eclipsing the $100,000 mark, the $38,000 cap — though on the higher range of a typical vehicle price — actually sits more toward the lower end for the class.

For a full methodology of the testing, details on the panel of judges, and full results for each model, you can check out the entire article here.

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7. Nissan Maxima SV

Coming in seventh out of the seven vehicles, the panel felt that, overall, ”What worked a few years ago for the [Nissan] (NSANY.PK) Maxima doesn’t anymore,” Jennifer Newman, assistant managing editor of Cars.com, said. “It fails to keep up with the competition.” The judges enjoyed the performance and handling, “good power and great handling for a car this size,” and “plenty of room for front passengers to stretch out,” Newman noted.

However, the dated design and features held the Nissan back against its competition. ”The nav screen is still partying like it’s 1999,” said Brian Robinson, a producer on PBS’s Motorweek. Others concurred, noting that “this navigation is like the one you would go buy at RadioShack, compared to the others.” As tested, the Maxima costs $37,475.

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6. Ford Taurus Limited

“[The Ford (NYSE:F) Taurus] steers like a champ” and “handles great for such a big car,” the panelists said. Comfort and acres of cargo space were both strong points for many, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 5-star safety rating plus its Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick status certainly make a strong and compelling case for the Taurus. However, like in the Nissan, internal gadgetry continued to pose a problem.

The MyFord Touch infotainment and control system “continues to disappoint with slow reaction times, tiny screen icons and awful capacitive non-buttons below,” while a cramped cockpit for drivers posed further issues.

“If you’re looking for lots of room up front, look elsewhere,” Robinson advised. Bill Wegner, an “empty-nester” from Skokie, Illinois, and the only non-journalist on the panel (presumably for a more real-world approach), said, “it almost feels a little sports-car-like, the way you’re in there,” adding that “your right leg really has no place to go.”

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5. Toyota Avalon XLE

“A luxurious-looking sedan with 10 air bags for around $32,000. That’s impressive,” Newman said. The Toyota (NYSE:TM) Avalon also boasts a “titanic backseat [that] has virtually no floor hump,” as well as the “most luxuriously finished interior,” according to Cars.com senior family editor Kristin Varela, “with a soft center console, cupholders wrapped in leather … need I go on?” If she did, she might note that the Avalon sports the best fuel economy in the group, with 30.2 miles per gallon combined.

On the downside, the judges noted the lack of features at the base price, pointing out that overall quality didn’t seem to add up to Toyota’s reputation. Apparently, the car makes a “metal-on-metal grating noise at highway speeds, random creaks at hard stops,” reported Kelsey Mays, the consumer affairs editor for Cars.com. Further, “Avalon’s steering isn’t responsive, and it takes a while to settle after bumps,” Newman said.

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4. Dodge Charger SXT Plus

It turns out that the second-highest price doesn’t buy the second-best car, so while the Dodge (FIATY.PK) Charger is the second-most expensive at $37,910, it sits at No. 4 in the ranking. However, the judges were able to see the car for what it was. ”The Charger trades luxury for fun,” Newman said, adding that driving it is “a blast.” Mays quipped, “Leave it to a couple of rear-wheel-drive cars to shame the front-wheel-drive competition.”

Though there is a Hemi V8 option available, USA Today automotive editor Fred Meier believes that ”the V-6 and eight-speed transmission are responsive and plenty for most buyers.” Though the Charger offered the most fun, that came at a cost: loud road noise and harsh suspension, which Varela noted could become increasingly irritating during average city driving.

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3. Hyundai Azera

“It’s not often that a car can wear the adjectives sexy, exciting and safe all at the same time,” Varela said of the Hyundai Azera. Meier added that the Azera, for its price of $37,255, comes with an impressive arsenal of features and gadgets, including “heated and cooled seats, a panoramic moonroof and rear sunshades in every direction — enough to schlep a Kardashian through a crowd of paparazzi.” Interestingly, the Azera “feels every bit as quick as the Charger,” said Wegner, who said it was the car he’d pick if he was buying one of the competitors.

Among the few drawbacks to the vehicle is that the exterior design “ looks very contemporary, but … I don’t think buyers in this segment are looking for flash,” Robinson noted. Highway steering also posed an issue, with ”a dead zone at 12 o’clock” that “requires constant corrections.” It’s apparently not an ideal car for shorter drivers, either, but it is certainly remarkable to see how far Hyundai has come since the early 2000s.

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2. Chrysler 300S

The ”power and handling in the 300S are spot-on,” Varela says, which is probably a good thing, since the 300S is the most expensive on this list, at $37,925. The drivetrain, dynamics and ride quality all provoked favorable reactions from the panel. ”This would make a nice long-distance ride,” Wegner said, while the ”masculine looks make it a head-turner,” Newman added. However, while it appears that Chrysler put all its efforts into the ride comfort and handling, some of the interior bits may have slid under the radar.

“It seems like Chrysler cheaped-out a bit with the abundance of plastic on the door panels,” Varela said; Newman didn’t particularly care for the “odd, rubbery-looking dash.” On a more real-world note, ”very little glass means at times it can be difficult to see out,” said Robinson, referring to the 300′s limited visibility.

Overall, Meier contended that ”the 300 is a satisfying, big, rear-drive car with elegant lines that seems more premium than its price.”

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1. Chevrolet Impala 2LT

“The Impala got a great redesign that has really taken it from the worst vehicle in the segment to among the best, if not the best,” Robinson said. Meier gushed that the new car is “an excellent full-size car that plays above its price ($35,770)– like the original (1958) Impala.” Certainly a far cry from fleet-fillers past, the refreshed Chevrolet (NYSE:GM) Impala ”looks great from just about every angle” and is “sleek and stylish, grown-up but not old.”

“The drivability shines, its ride comfort outshines even the Chrysler twins and it holds its own on performance,” said Mays, while Wegner notes that the Impala is “easy to drive, with nothing pushing or pulling.” Plentiful features like the Chevy MyLink infotainment and navigation system with an 8-inch HD screen, and general ease of use made the car thoroughly enjoyable for the panelists.

However, some minor hiccups with the transmission offered a small setback on what would otherwise be a nearly perfect car, it seems. ”The engine feels powerful … but the transmission and I never seemed to be on the same page,” Robinson said.

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