The 7 best big sedans for the money
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$33,195; 121.3 cubic feet; $273.66 per cubic foot
If you've driven an Avalon, you know what it is—a Lexus minus the Lexus name. While the car is decidedly expensive, it drives expensive. And in this price class, the Avalon is pretty tough to touch, with its roominess, supremely quiet interior, and superb fit and finish. It's a big car with the smoothest engine of any on our list, save the Ford Taurus, and a ride that errs on the soft side, but never to the detriment of safety. You probably won't find yourself rallying it around curves like we did—you know, just to make sure that it could (check)—but if you have to hustle it past a surging flow of cars in the merge lane, the 268-hp V6 steams up nicely.
Inside, where it counts, the Avalon is due for a refresh (probably coming for spring), but nothing is radically amiss. The seats are huge and supportive, and only the Chrysler 300 can best the Avalon's front shoulder room (it's nearly a tie, at 59.4 inches for the Toyota and 59.5 for the Chrysler). The Avalon has the best rear shoulder room of the lot and the best rear legroom, as well. The big Toyota gets 20 mpg in the city; of the other V6s, only the Hyundai Azera can match that mileage.
$29,960; 112.6 cubic feet; $266.07 per cubic foot
The LaCrosse is expensive for its interior size, which is the smallest of any car on this list. It is a poised car and the only hybrid in this mix (the hybrid is the base model for the 2012 Lacrosse), which gives it a best-in-class fuel economy of 25 city/36 highway, and at a better horsepower rating than the VW Passat (182 hp versus 170 hp). Volkswagen might counter that its diesel Passat gets better fuel economy than the hybrid LaCrosse, but the diesel VW's price-to-cubic foot ratio climbs to $220.48—still slightly below the Buick's, but not by as much. (More on the Passat coming up.)
Mileage aside, this Buick is far more stable than your grandpappy's car with the Landau roof. It's not exactly a Porsche 911, but that's not what you'd want from a long-mileage cruiser anyway. The problem with the LaCrosse is that, while it's large enough to be compared with the big sedans, it simply can't match up. The Buick has the least amount of front headroom and the worst scores for rear hip, shoulder, and headroom. It also has the smallest trunk. Don't get us wrong—the Buick is a nice car that comes with an extra year and 50,000 miles to its warranty (everything else on this list is at 3 years/36,000 miles). But it's designed to spar with Toyota Camrys, Ford Fusions, and Honda Accords.
$27,170; 122.3 cubic feet; $222.15 per cubic foot
This Chrysler is huge. It's only a hair away from being the biggest car here. But frankly, it's much more expensive than it should be. The finish quality is decidedly lower than average for this class, with lots of sloppy details such as loose padding in the trunk, visible hardware and wiring harnesses—lots of stuff to remind you of the bad old days of Detroit and why you went the import route.
The 300 is a solid driving machine that obliterates highway miles as easily as any car in the lot, but you don't get the comfort of the Avalon, the German attitude of the Passat, or the clean trim and modern design of the Taurus. Plus, the standard 300 brings a five-speed transmission to a battle of six-speeds. That wouldn't be a big deal if you opted for the V8 that Chrysler offers, which overcomes everything with horsepower. But we're comparing the base versions, and this five-speed seems to always overshift on windy roads and never downshift when you need it to. Manually overriding is an option, but it is plagued by delays. The lighting that's reminiscent of a microwave oven and the cheap-feeling controls and dials remind us of the fine work Chrysler has already done with some of its Jeep and Ram products and make us wish the engineers would turn their attention to the 300 next.