$38,000 Full-Size Sedan Challenge: Results

Group1

First, a quick reminder about whom our judges are:

  • Kelsey Mays, consumer affairs editor at Cars.com
  • Jennifer Newman, assistant managing editor at Cars.com
  • Kristin Varela, senior family editor at Cars.com
  • Fred Meier, automotive editor at USA Today
  • Brian Robinson, producer at "MotorWeek"
  • Bill Wegner of Skokie, Ill., our real-life family judge

Here's how the score broke down: The experts' scores accounted for 75% of the total score; 15% came from the family's scores; and 10% was based on fuel economy. To help you make your own comparisons of these sedans, we've pulled together a list of what you get for $38,000.

Challenge_FS_Sedan_14CHE_IMP_1

2014 Chevrolet Impala 2LT

Scorecard | Monroney Sticker | Research | Photo Gallery | Listings

What they liked: First impressions matter, and the new Impala's new, more Camaro-like look drew raves. "It looks great from just about every angle," Robinson said. And it wasn't just the exterior, either. "The wraparound [faux] leather-trimmed dash with contrast stitching extends all the way to the door panels," Varela said, "making you feel like a pilot in a sci-fi spaceship cockpit." "It's sleek and stylish, grown-up but not old," Meier added. Fear not; our judges are not superficial. "The Impala's drivability shines," Mays said, "and its ride comfort outshines even the Chrysler twins. It holds its own on the performance front." "It's easy to drive, with nothing pushing or pulling," Wegner said. "The last Impala I drove in was a '68. Wow! What a difference since then." Features weren't lacking either. "The interior has a ton of storage areas, including my favorite in the Challenge cars: an umbrella holder," Newman said. "The household AC outlet in the rear seat is a great feature for families," Varela noted. "Just think of the possibilities."

What they didn't: "The engine feels powerful (though not 305-horsepower strong), but the transmission and I never seemed to be on the same page," Robinson said. "The dashboard's a bit of a circus," Mays said, with cartoonish gauges and whimsical wraparound paneling." Meier agreed: "The near-premium interior is, if anything, a little overdone — the stitched seams are great, but do I really need them in two colors?" While Newman praised the Chevy for its "impressive" safety features, she added, "Thank goodness for all of the safety features, because they're essential; rear visibility is limited because of the Impala's narrow rear window."

The verdict: "The Impala got a great redesign that has really taken it from the worst vehicle in the segment to among the best," Robinson said, "if not the best."

Key Features

  • All-new for 2014
  • $35,770, as-tested
  • One of two cars with complimentary maintenance — two years/24,000 miles
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration five-star safety rating; Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not fully tested the Impala
  • Blind spot warning, forward collision alert and lane departure warning
  • Second-largest trunk at 18.8 cubic feet
  • Rear parking sensors and backup camera
  • Only car tested with Pandora integration from smartphone
  • Only car tested with household AC outlet in the rear seat

2014 Chevrolet Impala Payment Facts
Price as tested: $35,770
Monthly payment*: $735.77

Challenge_FS_Sedan_13CHR_300_2

2013 Chrysler 300S

Scorecard | Monroney Sticker | Research | Photo Gallery | Listings

What they liked: The 300's ride quality won over many of our judges. "The power and handling in the 300S is spot on," Varela said, and Robinson echoed that by saying, "The engine and eight-speed transmission work very well together." And "our sport-tuned 300S still held its own on the ride-quality front," Mays said. "This would make a nice long-distance ride," Wegner said. "I might be able to go all the way to Winnipeg in this." Its distinctive styling still works, several judges noted. "Its masculine looks make it a head turner," Newman said. Others described it as "sinister" and "classy." As for features, Varela called out safety as something that played out in real life. "The rear-cross path detection system literally saved our butts backing out of a parking space after dinner one night," she said, "when another patron decided to try to speed by behind us."

What they didn't: The interior didn't go over as well as the exterior. "It seems like Chrysler cheaped out a bit with the abundance of plastic on the door panels in the 300S," Varela said. Newman agreed: "The 300 is missing the luxury element," and she didn't care for the "odd, rubbery-looking dash. This interior is a miss." The 300's high belt line made visibility an issue for more than one critic. "Very little glass means at times it can be difficult to see out of," Robinson noted. For Mays, "the seats never worked for me. The backrests are too flat, and the head restraints feel too far away." And for good measure, he added: "Get rid of the electronic shifter, Chrysler. It's an ergonomic mess."

The verdict: "The 300 is a satisfying, big rear-drive car with elegant lines that seems more premium than its price," Meier said.

Key Features

  • Highest as-tested price of $37,925
  • Eight-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
  • Observed 27.9 mpg was second-highest
  • NHTSA five-star overall safety rating; IIHS Top Safety Pick
  • One of two cars capable of fitting three child-safety seats in the backseat
  • Blind spot warning, cross-traffic detection, adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning
  • Only car tested with front and rear parking sensors
  • Adaptive high-intensity-discharge headlamps

2013 Chrysler 300S Payment Facts
Price as tested: $37,925
Monthly payment*: $780.10

Challenge_FS_Sedan_13HYU_AZE_3

2013 Hyundai Azera

Scorecard | Monroney Sticker | Research | Photo Gallery | Listings

What they liked: "It's not often that a car can wear the adjectives 'sexy, exciting and safe' all at the same time," Varela said, "but somehow the Azera fits all these and more." Robinson and Mays commended the Azera's list of features. "You get lots of toys for the price," Mays said. "It comes with heated and cooled seats, a panoramic moonroof and rear sunshades in every direction — enough to schlep a Kardashian through a crowd of paparazzi." Of course, most shoppers are worried about how a car drives, and the Azera won fans there, too. "It feels every bit as quick as the Charger in accelerating," Wegner said, and he declared the Azera to be the car he would pick if he was buying one of the challengers with his own money. "The Azera's ride is really quiet with not a lot of road noise creeping in," Newman said. "The car felt responsive and secure on the road," Varela said, "yet not unduly harsh."

What they didn't: "The exterior looks very contemporary indeed," Robinson said, "but it looks a bit out of place. I don't think buyers in this segment are looking for flash." Interior choices puzzled Meier: "Why is there a giant wheel in the middle of the dash that looks very important but is just your basic radio knob?" he asked. "Like too many Hyundai products, the Azera suffers highway steering issues," Mays said. "The wheel falls into a dead zone at 12 o'clock that requires constant corrections." "It had a gorgeous panoramic moonroof, but that ate away at the car's headroom for the driver and front passenger," Newman said. A couple of related seat issues troubled Varela. "The driver's seat bottom was a little too long for my shorter legs (even after retracting the adjustable thigh support), causing some slight pressure just below my left knee," she said. "As a result of my slightly shorter height, the dead pedal for my left foot was too far forward to rest my foot on, and I found myself searching for a comfortable place to rest my left foot."

The verdict: "I like this layout the best," Wegner said. "It goes together very nice. It seems like the dash and such are more pressed back rather than right up in my space. I feel like a king overlooking my domain in this car."

Key Features

  • $37,255, as-tested
  • Longest warranty coverage of five years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain
  • Longest roadside assistance of five years/unlimited miles
  • IIHS Top Safety Pick; not tested by NHTSA
  • Backup camera, parking sensors
  • Power tilt/telescoping steering wheel
  • Panoramic moonroof, heated and ventilated seats, high-intensity-discharge headlights
  • Only sedan tested with power rear sunshade and side sunshades
  • One of two cars with heated rear seats
  • One of two cars with folding rear-seat release from cargo area
  • One of two cars with extendable thigh support

2013 Hyundai Azera Payment Facts
Price as tested: $37,255
Monthly payment*: $766.32

Challenge_FS_Sedan_13DOG_CHA_4

2013 Dodge Charger SXT Plus

Scorecard | Monroney Sticker | Research | Photo Gallery | Listings

What they liked: "The Charger trades luxury for fun," Newman said. "With its tight handling and V-6 engine, driving it is a blast." "Leave it to a couple of rear-wheel-drive cars [the Chrysler was the other] to shame the front-wheel-drive competition," Mays said. "The looks may make you think Hemi V-8, but the more frugal V-6 and eight-speed transmission are responsive and plenty for most buyers," Meier said. "And their lighter weight makes for more balanced handling." It's not just the driving experience, though. "The Charger has some of the 'fluffiest' extras that you never knew you needed," Varela said. "I laugh a little at the image of a rough-and-tumble muscle-car driver reveling in the Charger's cooled cupholders, daintily sipping a grande skinny mocha Frappuccino." At least two judges called out the Uconnect entertainment system for praise. "Works great, and it's easy to master," Robinson said, and Mays echoed that sentiment. "Uconnect exposes Ford's MyFord Touch for the dog it is. It has big icons, logical menus, fast response times. Learn from this, Ford." Finally, the Charger was clearly distinctive: "Looks mean," Robinson said.

What they didn't: But those "mean" looks also posed a problem, Robinson noted. "It looks like a cop car," he continued. "Whenever you get behind someone in this car, they immediately slow down to 5 mph below the speed limit." The sporty ride drew some criticism: "The ride is a little harsh, with a fair amount of road noise," Varela said, and while that can be "fun at first," Newman added, "It can be exhausting after logging many miles behind the wheel." Wegner questioned the need for paddle shifters: "Is that the gimmick of the 2000s?" In the end, Mays' issues bottomed out. "The sport seats that come with the Blacktop Package are overstuffed at the shoulders, and are too flat farther down," he said. "They never conformed to my back." And the Dr. Dre sound system was not the prescription for Meier: "The Charger's Beats system best fits folks whose playlist sounds good with thumping bass."

The verdict: "The Charger definitely has the highest driving fun factor of the group," Varela said. "However, its sportier suspension could be tiresome for long days spent driving over rough city streets."

Key Features

  • Second-highest as-tested price of $37,910
  • Eight-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
  • NHTSA five-star overall safety rating; IIHS Top Safety Pick
  • Blind spot warning, cross-traffic detection, rear parking sensors and backup camera
  • Only car with power-adjustable pedals
  • Heated and ventilated front seats, heated and cooled cupholders, and one of two cars tested with heated rear seats
  • Blacktop Package: 20-inch black wheels, black grille, rear spoiler, upgraded stereo, Sport mode and paddle shifters

2013 Dodge Charger Payment Facts
Price as tested: $37,910
Monthly payment*: $779.79

Challenge_FS_Sedan_13TOY_AVA_5

2013 Toyota Avalon XLE

Scorecard | Monroney Sticker | Research | Photo Gallery | Listings

What they liked: "The best thing going for the Avalon?" Newman asked. "Its price. You get a luxurious-looking sedan with 10 airbags for around $32,000. That's impressive. And the redesigned exterior is a knockout." Meier also gave it big points for the new look. "It's stylish, and not just for a Toyota," he said. "Huge improvement for the perpetually dowdy Avalon." It was "surprisingly fun to drive for a Toyota," Robinson said, and Mays said that "despite myriad issues, the 3.5-liter V-6 shoves you back in your seat with impressive ferocity, even for this group." Space in back was big. "The titanic backseat has virtually no floor hump," Mays said. "Seems to have the most luxuriously finished interior of the bunch," Varela said, "with a soft center console, cupholders wrapped in [faux] leather ... need I go on?" "It seems like a steak-and-potatoes car," Wegner said, "and I like steak and potatoes."

What they didn't: "The base model lacks features expected in these cars even at Avalon's lower price, such as backup camera or folding rear seat," Meier said. "It's not cheap, but feels cheap." Others agreed. "What? No ventilated seats?" Varela asked. "Toyota had me fooled for a minute. I guess it is a Toyota and not a Lexus after all." The driving experience raised some questions for some judges. "Several editors noted a metal-on-metal grating noise at highway speeds and random creaks at hard stops," Mays said. "Toyota quality? I'm skeptical." "The Avalon's steering isn't responsive, and it takes a while for the car to settle down after going over road bumps," Newman said. "I'm not really a fan" of the Avalon's center stack or capacitive buttons," Wegner said. "You can see all the fingerprints."

The verdict: "Toyota has been trying for years to build a Buick," Robinson said, "and they've finally done it. Although I like the design of the interior, the whole car still reeks of old money."

Key Features

  • Least-expensive tested at $32,010
  • New for 2013
  • Highest fuel-economy ratings (21/31/25 mpg city/highway/combined) and highest observed at 30.2 mpg
  • One of two cars with complimentary maintenance — two years/25,000 miles
  • NHTSA five-star overall safety rating; IIHS Top Safety Pick
  • No backup camera, navigation, satellite radio, parking sensors or split-folding rear seats
  • Only car with one-touch windows for all windows

2013 Toyota Avalon Payment Facts
Price as tested: $32,010
Monthly payment*: $658.43

Challenge_FS_Sedan_13FOR_TAUR_6

2014 Ford Taurus Limited

Scorecard | Monroney Sticker | Research | Photo Gallery | Listings

What they liked: The judges loved slinging the Taurus around. "The Taurus still steers like a champ," Mays said. "It handles great for such a big car," Robinson agreed. And a couple of the judges liked the driver's seat itself. "It was incredibly comfortable," Newman said. "It hugged in all the right places and had the perfect amount of cushioning." Varela found the backseat to be "the most comfortable of the bunch, even including the soft and cushy rear middle seat." "The 2010 Taurus redo raised the bar on style and performance for this class," Meier said, "and it's still a contender." And virtually every judge noted the Taurus' humongous "megatrunk," as Mays called it. "It's so big that it had me wondering if people have to climb into it to reach items in the very back," Newman said. She also threw Ford an unusual compliment: "Many Cars.com editors have complained about MyFord Touch, but I found it very easy to pair my phone to it."

What they didn't: Newman was alone in her praise for the entertainment system. "Despite countless revisions, MyFord Touch continues to disappoint with slow reaction times, tiny screen icons and awful capacitive non-buttons below," Mays said. He was not alone in holding that opinion. Another running theme for the Taurus was a cramped cockpit for drivers. "If you're looking for lots of room up front, look elsewhere," Robinson advised. "It almost feels a little sports-car-like, the way you're in there," Wegner said. "Your right leg really has no place to go," he said. The car's interior seemed dated to Varela, and reminded her "of a car that my parents would drive, and not in a warm, fuzzy, nostalgic way." Wegner, Mays and Newman noted poor brake response, and Newman also noted a lot of road noise during her testing: "Driving over any road imperfection — potholes, road expansion joints — sounded like there was a drum section in the backseat," she said.

The verdict: "Recent updates have made the Taurus' modest cabin space more hospitable," Mays said, "but Ford's capacitive controls need to go."

Key Features

  • $35,790, as-tested
  • Observed 25 mpg combined is lowest tested
  • Front-wheel drive
  • NHTSA five-star overall safety rating; IIHS Top Safety Pick
  • Power-adjustable tilt/telescoping steering wheel
  • Memory driver's seat
  • Backup camera with rear parking sensors
  • Heated and ventilated seats
  • Largest trunk tested at 20.1 cubic feet
  • One of two cars capable of fitting three child-safety seats in the backseat
  • Most cupholders (5)

2014 Ford Taurus Payment Facts
Price as tested: $35,790
Monthly payment*: $736.18

Challenge_FS_Sedan_13NIS_MAX_7

2013 Nissan Maxima 3.5 SV

Scorecard | Monroney Sticker | Research | Photo Gallery | Listings

What they liked: "It's just fun," Meier said. "The great V-6 and performance-tuned CVT [continuously variable automatic transmission] make it a driver's car." Mays agreed: "The Maxima has a nimbleness that underscores the fact that it's one of two cars in this Challenge below 3,600 pounds [the Avalon is the other]." This Maxima has Nissan's earlier generation CVT, which makes it snappy, a couple of judges noted. "Wow, this is pretty quick," Wegner said, "and this is a CVT?" "It has good power and great handling for a car this size," Robinson said. And roominess is not a problem for Newman, who praised both the headroom (despite there being a moonroof) and "plenty of room for front passengers to stretch out."

What they didn't: The Maxima is admittedly dated. "A few interior bits are starting to show their age, with outdated window switches and a gearshift that shimmies into Drive," Mays said. "The nav screen is still partying like it's 1999," said Robinson, and Wegner echoed that thought. "This navigation is like the one you would go buy at RadioShack, compared to the others," he said. "Backseat passengers get shortchanged in the Maxima," Newman said. "The roof slopes dramatically, leaving them with just a few precious inches of headroom." While the CVT was praised for its responsiveness, it comes at a cost. "With very pronounced wind noise on the highway, a CVT that groans loudly when punching it, and excessive road and tire noise, I may never have to hear my kids whine in the car again," Varela said. "See? There's a bright side to just about everything."

The verdict: "What worked a few years ago for the Maxima doesn't anymore," Newman said. "It fails to keep up with the competition."

Key Features

  • $37,475, as-tested
  • Only continuously variable automatic transmission tested
  • Observed 25.4 mpg is second lowest tested
  • No included roadside assistance
  • NHTSA four-star overall safety rating; not an IIHS Top Safety Pick
  • No parking sensors
  • Smallest trunk tested at 14.2 cubic feet
  • One of two cars with extendable thigh support
  • Only car with heated steering wheel
  • One of two cars with folding rear-seat release from cargo area

2013 Nissan Maxima Payment Facts
Price as tested: $37,475
Monthly payment*: $770.84


Cars.com editor Robby DeGraff contributed to this report.

*Monthly payment assumes good credit, no money down, 60-month loan with 5% interest rate and 9% sales tax.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that the Impala’s dash and the Avalon’s cupholders are wrapped in vinyl.


Index | Overview | Results | Mileage | Cargo


Comments 

Tony

I still don't see anything special in Impala looks. Rear is simply ugly. It looks better on pictures than in person. Cadenza vs Impala is a looker

Tony

Does any of these come with a fabric seats?

sheth

Looks are subjective. If you dont like it dont buy it. Overall its still the best based on ride, handling, space and value. The Cadenza is decent looking but definitely conservative and the interior is dated- which is crazy for a new model. The Maxima is too small to even be in this test. It's not a full sized car, its just the largest Nissan sedan.

responder

Consumer Reports says Impala is a better car than the Acura RLX. Cadenza is not in the same league with either. Take that, Tony.

Tony

I'll let Barak to drive Impala. In the end, he owns that whole company. In the end, non of these cars make any sense to me. If I want a nice handling, nimble car, I get Mazda3. If I want space, I get SUV. All that muscle? - worthless to me but worth a lot to petro-companies.

d

just rented a '14 Impala LT2(rents as a premium now)...not a bad car, decent on gas but couldn't believe all the missing features for its price...no auto dim rear view mirror, no remote start(even Sonic LT comes with it!), no heated seats....WTF Chevy?!

paul

just seems weird that these cars are copared when many of them...like the Taurus and the 300 are well past their years and their new gens are almost here.
Just seems like a very unfair review without making these points a major part of the review iself

Lance

All of these cars are on different gens and the redos are in different years. You have to pick sometime to do a comparo and someone's always going to be long in the tooth. This time it was Chevy that was lucky with the latest iteration. Who knows next time.

sheth

the avalon and azera arent exactly old. I believe the Avalon was new for 2013.

Jonathan

Where's the Kia Cadenza? Brand new offering to the segment, and getting rave reviews from other publications.

Belly

This list seems to be nothing more than a laugh. The Impala good looking from any angle? Did anyone look at the front? Or the back? Or the entire thing at once? I do agree with Shet that the looks are subjective, but come on. It really is ugly like the Buick Lacrosse in the back. There is no design there, just pieces scrapped together.

And the Impala has an umbrella holder and an AC outlet! How about it. The Vibe/Matrix had the AC outlet years ago, they must have been so crazy. I have ridden in the new Impala twice now, and I find it to be like the previous Impalas, it drives like a big car. Not surprising. I like that a four cylinder is offered but there is nothing about this car that wows.

I am beginning to doubt that the cars.com reviewers aren't just looking to say things that readers might find "surprising".

If it ranks the highest that is great, lets give some real reasons for that though. It sure isn't cheap (when it comes to price) and it will not hold a premium for resale value.

sheth

the impala drives like a big car? wow, shocking! Great insight there. None of these cars are cheap BTW- they can all hit $40k with options. Not sure how the Impala is to be criticized for offering comparable pricing to its peers.

Jonathan,
We noted in our overview story that Kia declined to take part in the Challenge despite being able to meet the price cap. We did recently review it however and I think it would have done well in this test too.
http://www.cars.com/kia/cadenza/2014/expert-reviews?reviewId=59702

Evan

If you had tested the Avalon that costs around $38,000 like all of the others, it would have had all the features you are complaining it does not have.

Joe

Compare a base Avalon to everyones top trim level and then complain about features? Try the XLE Touring model. Right on par with features and get Toyota quality, superior resale value and the best looking car in the group.

Darby

Tony, the government owns less than 14% of GM but the petro companies own the politicians.

Car Guru

Also Tony, if you're going to lambaste the President, at least spell his first name right.

wellshii

From what I was reading on dodges website,the charger has more features than any sedan in this class including reverse tilt mirrors,headed steering wheel,only thing mssing was the panaromic sunroof ,power fold mirrors....and the house grounded outlet. Most power too with the hemi.I hate my mom 08 charger v6,but looks like dodge really went to the drawing boards on this one,as did chevy with the impala.

Steve

I agree with you guys on the looks are subjective, but I can't understand the whoopla over the Impala either. I guess when the old model was put down and spit on all the time, ANYTHING is better. This just looks like a large Buick with a Camaro front end. The squared looked of the front transitioning with the curved features of the rear looks odd. It's nice it is better than the others, but I really haven't seen alot on the roads where I live. If people people bought the older POS Impala, this one should be a record setter??? Putting a base 4 cylinder from its mid size model in a large car will for sure make people drool over this one!

K.R.V.

I am the proud owner of a 2014 Charger R/T AWD, and paid 30K after rebates, yes I have cloth seats, but they are heated, and I also have a great sounding radio and U-Connect system that is easy to use, not to mention a Hemi, and get 27 mpg on a trip, or 17 in town which to me is not bad for a car that is great in snow, handles great, rides great, and in all black, with the AWD appearance package (black grill, door handles, and spoiler, 19" gloss black and machined wheels) looks great, and because you could say it looks like an under cover cop car, I have yet to have any one road rage on me, as a mater of fact, the cars in front of me part way and let me pass, and no one ever pulls out on me!! I was also able to get a big discount on a 6 year 70 K bumper to bumper warrantee with it, on top of the factory 5 year/100K powertrain warrantee, so I have no worries about how it runs for a long time, or at least till I normally trade anyway! The best thing I like about this car is the way it hauls a$$!! and is not a gas hog! even when driving at not exactly legal speeds, but not really speed racer either, I am able to keep up to any traffic, and get decent mpg, and get out of an ones way if need be!

norm

I find it hard to believe that a dodge and Chrysler are rated higher than a Toyota or ford!!! Who is paying you guys off?? I can buy a lexus we 350 for only a few thousand more than the Kampala and it won't be from a company that the government bailed out!!!
Drive the Chrysler when it gets a few miles on it then see I have driven the new Avalon and Kampala and couldn't't disagree more unreality

scott

Norm, please I agree on Chevrolet, but please do not defend a company that for over 10 years deceived the public on recalls and when the proverbial poo hit the fan lied to us and to congress about and tried to cover it up with a floor mat

bob good

i want a FULL SIZE car the ones you show are
GARBAGE

Post a Comment 

Please remember a few rules before posting comments:

  • If you don't want people to see your email address, simply type in the URL of your favorite website or leave the field empty.
  • Do not mention specific car dealers by name. Feel free to mention your city, state and brand.
  • Try to be civil to your fellow blog readers. This blog is not a fan or enthusiast forum, it is meant to help people during the car-buying process and during the time between purchases, so shoppers can keep a pulse on the market.
  • Stay on topic. We want to hear your opinions and thoughts, but please only comment about the specified topic in the blog post.
view posting rules

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In

Search Results

KickingTires Search Results for

Search Kicking Tires

KickingTires iPhone App
Ask.cars.com