Before trucks and utility vehicles became all the rage, large sedans used to be the heart of the American car market. They dominated thoroughfares and back roads of this country for decades. Big Buicks, mighty Mopars and forceful Fords were a way of life for drivers just half a lifetime ago.
These vehicles were embodiments of Detroit’s rolling-thunder mentality. As such they were equipped with monster V8 engines, dressed in acres of sheet metal and slathered with enough glimmering chrome to be seen from space.
Many cars of the era were USDA prime automotive beef; dealers practically sold them by the pound, admittedly with an unfavorable lean-to-fat ratio, though. For better (fuel economy) or worse (national pride) times are different; land yachts have gone the way of slap bracelets and radium water.
Fortunately large cars haven’t completely disappeared. Manufactures still offer sizable sedans, though they’re tighter and thriftier than ever. How do these machines compare and, more importantly, how much brisket can you get for 35 grand these days? Here’s a look at three noteworthy competitors, each with a healthy dose of features and six-cylinder performance.
Suggestion #1 – 2014 Chevrolet Impala 2LT
My how you’ve changed! If there’s an award for most transformed car this year the Chevrolet Impala would surely drive away with it. The new version is such a dramatic departure from its boring, municipal-grade predecessor it’s like comparing medieval bloodletting to a modern organ transplant. In fact the car has been so well received it’s topped Consumer Reports’ list of sedans.
The new Impala’s body is almost too stylish for its own good. Is this car really built by the same company that sells the frumpy Malibu? Its interior is just as well done with stand-up ergonomics and high-quality materials.
A midlevel 2LT model with numerous appealing extras can be yours for a little less than $36,000, including destination and delivery, sans any rebates. With a few of the options boxes ticked that price gets you things like a backup camera, rear-park assist and remote start. Keyless entry, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and push-button ignition are also part of the deal.
Inside you’re also treated to Chevy’s MyLink navigation/infotainment system with an eight-inch touch-screen display. Helping drivers rock out is an 11-speaker Bose sound system.
The Impala 2LT is powered by smooth-running 3.6-liter V6 engine. With direct fuel injection and variable valve timing it cranks out 305 horsepower with 264 lb-ft of torque. Those goodies are routed exclusively through a six-speed automatic transmission to the car’s front wheels only; this version of the Impala rides on 19-inch rims shod in all-season tires that likely provide no-season traction. We’re fans of dedicated rubber: one set for summer weather and another for winter conditions.
SEE ALSO: 2014 Chevrolet Impala Review
The car’s powertrain delivers a combined fuel-consumption score of 21 miles per gallon. That figure results from a rating of 18 mpg city and 28 on the highway. The Impala may be large but its economy is in charge.
Suggestion #2 – 2014 Volkswagen Passat V6 SEL Premium
This week’s Ask AutoGuide may be centered on all-American large sedans but we haven’t ignored the rest of the world. Our next contestant hails from Germany… sort of. Ok, not at all actually but it’s still a Volkswagen and that’s got to count for something.
The Passat is a Teutonic sedan with buttoned-down styling and a no-nonsense interior. Sit up straight and make sure your shirt collar is down or else your knuckles will have an unexpected date with the schoolmarm’s ruler.
This black-red-and-yellow German family car may wear a bright and shiny VW logo on its grille but it speaks with a Southern accent. The Passat is assembled at Volkswagen’s new manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. of all places. Howdy, y’all!
According to the U.S. EPA, VW’s Passat is technically a midsize car but who cares? Smart buyers will cross-shop all three of the vehicles in this week’s installment of Ask AutoGuide. They may be slightly different but they are competitors.
Despite its “midsize” rating the Passat is in fact very spacious inside. In particular it’s got vast amounts of back-seat legroom, like, enough to host a small-town’s Labor Day celebration complete with amusement-park rides, food kiosks and a petting zoo.
Under this car’s sensible-looking hood is a 3.6-liter, six-cylinder engine. But this powerplant differs from just about every other one in the world. It’s not a V-type engine in the traditional; instead Volkswagen calls it a VR6. Translating the German to English it means “V in-line.” Huh? Here’s what that mean? Keep reading…
Most V6 engines feature either a 60- or 90-degree angle between the cylinder banks. They also have two separate cylinder heads. The 3.6-liter VR6 has just 10.6 degrees of separation between banks, and it’s got only one head. It’s a diabolically clever way of packaging an engine into a small space. The VR6 isn’t too much bigger than a four-banger.
And the layout really works. It delivers 280 silky-smooth horses and 258 lb-ft of torque, though premium fuel is required. Additionally these engines make some of the greatest internal-combustion sounds ever to emanate from a mass-production street engine. Especially when uncorked they have a melodious warble that’s unlike anything else on the road. The early versions were especially musical.
As for fuel economy this car stickers at 20 miles per gallon city and 28 highway. These figures result in a combined score of 23 mpg. A six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission no doubt contributes to the Passat’s impressive economy scores.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Volkswagen Passat Review
Nuts-and-bolts issues aside the V6 SEL Premium model offers a lot of nice features. Passengers are treated to leather-covered seats and a four-year subscription to SiriusXM radio. Eight-way power front buckets, automatic climate control and keyless access are also included.
Niceties like remote start, a backup camera and a touch-screen navigation system are also part of the total package, which stickers for $34,715. That price includes $820 in shipping and handling fees.
Suggestion #3 – 2014 Toyota Avalon XLE Premium
Walking the line between Chevy’s exuberant new Impala and the understated Vee-Dub is Toyota’s stylish Avalon.
Midrange non-hybrid XLE Premium models sticker for right around $34,400, including those pesky processing fees, which total $810. Like the other two cars presented here this flavor of the Avalon gets you some really nice equipment.
Outside it has bright LED tail-lights, a power moonroof and somewhat small 17-inch alloy wheels. Heated outside mirrors with integrated signal indicators as well as chrome-plated dual exhaust tips add some glitter to the car’s body.
All non-hybrid Avalons are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine. In spite of its similar displacement it’s not quite as powerful and the unit under the Passat’s hood and it falls quite short of what motivates the Impala. Thankfully it’s supremely refined.
This bent-six whips-up 268 creamy-smooth horsepower with 248 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is your only choice, which really isn’t a choice. It too is slick and refined.
The tradeoff for slightly reduced output is greater efficiency. The Avalon should be able to stretch a gallon of regular-grade gasoline 21 miles in city driving and up to 31 on the highway. According to the EPA its combined score is an impressive 25 mpg.
Inside you’ve got dual-zone automatic climate control, a backup camera and a leather trimmed steering wheel. The driver gets an eight-way power chair but whoever’s riding shotgun has to make do with just four electronically controlled adjustments.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Toyota Avalon Review
At least all of the seats are covered in leather. Further easing the sting is a standard auto-dimming rear-view mirror, push-button start and cruise control. This car is ready for your next road trip.
CHOOSE THE ONE THAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU
Large cars have evolved tremendously from decades past. Today’s crop of sizable sedans offer high-end features, ample performance and fuel economy that’s probably better than what compact models delivered just a few short years ago.
Whether you choose the stylish and spacious Impala, the sensible and sophisticated Passat or the avant-garde Avalon you can’t go wrong. Each of these cars is a strong entrant in the market and each one has a bevy of plusses. These models demonstrate how automakers have shifted from selling cheap hamburger meat to Kobe beef; it’s a change we’re happy they’ve made.
COMPARE SPECS FOR YOURSELF: Chevrolet Impala vs Volkswagen Passat vs Toyota Avalon
If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to ask@AutoGuide.com. Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.