Less than a million mid-size choices
Marc Stengel, Wed, 28 Feb 2007 08:00:00 PDT
A friend of mine called last week. Well, I'd better clarify that. Hee-mailed me; but reading his note felt like taking his phone call, because Iknow this guy well enough to sense in his writing the nuances of intonationin his words as if I'd been listening to instead of reading them. From thestandpoint of emotional truth, it's fair enough to say I had the impressionof talking on the phone with my friend when really all I did was read hisdamn note. Fair enough?
This is the gist of what he said, or rather wrote: The wife's got an AcuraMDX sport/utility vehicle that's she's enjoyed driving for a few years. Butlately it feels bulky ("beefy and hard-to-park," to be exact if it's okay toquote him according to the principles of "fair-use" enshrined in copyrightlaw). Now she "wants a sedan." There followed a bit of "howya doin'?" and"how's the family?" and "let's do lunch sometime"; then the kicker: "Yourthoughts?" About what kind of sedan the wife ought to consider, that is. (Tobe precise, he actually wrote "Your thoughts." with a period instead of aquestion mark; but I took it as a question. Anybody would.)
Yeah, I got thoughts. Lots o' thoughts; and I told him so or rather, wrotehim so. In the first place, I said that anyone driving an SUV who doesn'tneed an SUV ought to be congratulated for wanting to dump the SUV in favorof one of the many, several and various outstanding sedans on the markettoday.
I then went on to suggest a baker's half-dozen sedan models, recommended inlight of what I think I know of this couple's tastes and interests and, dareI presume, "price tolerance." I might have suggested nine models, but I waspartially preempted by my friend's own note. He wasn't eager to buy anotherAcura for now, even though the wife "enjoyed driving the Acura TL (loanerduring a repair)." He added, moreover, "I think the Passat is overpriced(you tell me)[,] and the Lexus line has never wowed me."
That was all I needed to hear or to read. It was certainly more than anypalmist or Tarot card reader discovers before consigning a client to his orher fate. As it happens, I would gladly have recommended Acura's TL sedan asan admirable combination of performance and value; but if my friend wants avacation from Acura in order to play the field, by all means he should takethis opportunity to do so. I concurred, as well, that Lexus models on thewhole suffer from a strange personality-deficit disorder.
While I conceded that Volkswagen's Passat might be construed a bit pricey,particularly in light of its close kinship with competing Audi models, myfirst recommendation was to step back a notch and test-drive thenew-for-2006 VW Jetta TDI. This is the diesel-powered version of VW's Gen-Xcult car that costs about $22,000 (base price), delivers 36 mpg/city and 41mpg/highway, and sports European-flavored road manners.
The Subaru Legacy sedan also merits a look. Featuring legendaryall-wheel-drive as standard equipment, and boasting a 2.5-liter "boxer" oropposed-cylinder H4 powerplant, Subaru's standard, Special and LimitedEdition models all make 175 hp and range in price from $21,695 to $25,295.These sedans, in contrast to their station-wagon siblings, are elegantlystyled to within a smidgen of the BMW 3-Series' status-appeal; and theirmechanicals, derived from rally racers, establish a paradigm for themid-size category.
Also from Japan is the Mazda6/Mazdaspeed6 duo of sport sedans, the latter ofwhich appeared here last week. Alas, the cost of Mazdaspeed6's sporty turbomaking 274 hp represents a performance tax to the tune of $33,325. But thestandard Mazda6 is itself no slouch. Two motors are available: a 2.3-literfour-cylinder making 160 hp and a 3.0-liter V6 worth 215 hp, for pricesranging from $19,110 to $27,260. Mazda6's entire premise rests upon nimble,sporty handling, if perhaps at the expense of interior space.
Volvo's elegant S60 grand touring sedan jumps into the next higher pricecategory with its sticker range of $30,270 to $32,045. Nevertheless, itscombination of refinement, styling, safety and performance make this acompelling contender. Standard power is 208 hp from a turbocharged 2.5-literinline-five; a T5 model produces 257 hp with a smaller but more highlypressurized turbo 2.3-liter. The all-wheel-drive 2.5T version would be mychoice.
Within this same price category dwell the kissin' cousins known as NissanMaxima and Infiniti G35 sedan. The latter's price ranges from about $31,000to $34,000, whereas the Maxima hovers between $28,000 and $30,000. Theirmasterful V6 powerplants are identical in basic design, although Infinititunes its version to 280 hp and Nissan settles for 260 hp. Both are roomyand powerful sedans, if not particularly noted for sporty handling. TheInfiniti wears the bolder styling; the Nissan makes a virtue of being staid.
The dark horse stalking this collection is Hyundai's new Azera. Content isking with this ambitious newcomer, and pricing from $24,000 to $27,000scarcely suggests how much standard equipment is available in addition tothe 3.8-liter V6 making 263 hp. Alas, neither handling nor fuel economy arestrong points; yet Azera certainly raises Hyundai's reputation by a peg ortwo.
What my friend and his wife will ultimately purchase remains, for now, amystery. Nevertheless their shopping exercise represents a declaration ofwar of sorts upon the SUV status quo, destined to disintegrate, I predict,into a million little pieces.
5-pass., 4-door; FWD & AWD; 2.5-liter DOHC turbocharged inline-5, 5-sp."shiftable" auto; 208 hp/236 ft.-lbs.; 20 mpg/city, 28 mpg/hwy., w/ premium;trunk: 14 cu. ft.; base price range: $30,270-$32,045
5-pass., 4-door; FWD; 1.9-liter SOHC "turbo direct-injection" inline-4,5-sp. manual or 6-sp. "DSG" auto; 100 hp/177 ft.-lbs.; 36 mpg/city, 41mpg/hwy., w/ diesel; trunk: 16 cu. ft.; base price range: $21,605-$22,680
5-pass., 4-door; AWD; 2.5-liter SOHC H4 w/ vvt, 5-sp. manual or 4-sp."shiftable" auto; 175 hp/169 ft.-lbs.; 22-23 mpg/city, 29-30 mpg/hwy., w/regular; trunk: 11.4 cu. ft.; base price range: $21,995-$25,295 (GT modelshown)