Taking A Back Seat
If you’re going on a long trip, the Toyota Avalon is indubitably the car to choose. Three adults can sit comfortable in the back seat, where they will find themselves almost totally isolated from road and wind noise. The rear seatback even reclines a few degrees. Though on paper it has the smallest volume at 14.4 cubic feet, the Avalon’s trunk is still commodious enough to swallow several large suitcases. A generously sized interior and plush seats make this the most comfortable car in our comparison.
It’s the Chrysler 300, though, that can hold the most cargo, with a plentiful 16.3 cubic feet of trunk space on offer. Our tester’s leather bucket seats are exceptionally comfortable, and the rear seat offers cavernous leg and headroom. However, the rear seats are low compared to the high beltline, making some shorter passengers feel claustrophobic.
The Hyundai’s back seat is the tightest, although that’s a relative term as there is still plenty of space for six-foot passengers. A low beltline and large windows mean the Genesis feels light and airy in the back. At 15.9 cubic feet, trunk space in the Hyundai is midway between that of the Avalon and the 300.
Advantage: Toyota Avalon
The Digital Divide
Chrysler’s array of in-car technologies is the most comprehensive in this test. The optional eight-inch Uconnect touch-screen interface has clear, bright graphics and a logical control layout. The system can even operate the climate control, though many staffers prefer the physical HVAC knobs located on the center stack. The system’s one demerit is that the screen requires a firm push to register touches. The optional SafetyTec package includes adaptive cruise and lane-departure systems, like the Genesis, adding two other safety features. A blind-spot warning system chimes loudly if the driver signals while another vehicle is in the 300’s blind spot, and forward collision warning sounds an alarm if the driver is about to rear-end another vehicle.
Of our three sedans, the Avalon has the smallest selection of driver aids and in-car gadgets, likely due in part to the car’s age. Though it’s available with Bluetooth, a touch-screen navigation system, a backup camera, and push-button start, the Toyota lacks several modern safety and convenience toys found on the other cars. Its touch-screen audio and navigation interface has blocky graphics that look dated, but the menus are easy to use.
The Genesis’ Technology package bundles two new safety features, adaptive cruise control and a lane-departure warning system. The former uses radar to keep pace with other cars on the highway: if the car in front slows, the cruise control automatically decelerates. Lane-departure warning uses cameras to monitor lane markings, warning the driver if he or she accidentally drifts out of the lane. The Genesis’ audio and navigation system is controlled via a rotary dial and several buttons on the center console, rather than a touch screen. The interface already felt outdated when the car bowed in 2009, and still feels unnecessarily complex. Given that cars without the Technology package feature a touch screen instead of the control knob, we wish that our upgraded tester would offer both control methods.
Advantage: Chrysler 300
And The Winner Is...
In spite of their many similarities, each of these sedans excels in a different area. The Hyundai’s enthusiastic performance, precise handling, and understated exterior provide the best combination of sportiness and refinement. It’s our choice in this group. Think of the Genesis as a cut-price Mercedes-Benz or BMW.
The Chrysler 300 will satisfy the driver looking to make a big impression on others. The 300 emerges from the factory in Ontario with an all-American swagger that can and does turn heads in parking lots. The 300 is the car that will most impress your neighbors, with to its masculine styling and glitzy trimmings. Though the 300 is fun and luxurious, it never feels quite as refined or complete as the Hyundai Genesis. The driving experience may improve somewhat when the new eight-speed automatic arrives. It should yield improved fuel economy and livelier acceleration.
Driving the Toyota Avalon is like eating mashed potatoes: it reliably serves a purpose, but won’t hold your interest for very long. There is no denying that the Avalon is the most comfortable, roomiest, and most genteel of these three cars. It wafts along highways and provides an ideal conveyance in which to shuttle five adults and luggage. However, there is no excitement to be had behind the wheel of an Avalon. The next version of the Avalon will arrive for model year 2012 with a litany of revisions and upgrades. Perhaps the new model will appeal to our enthusiast side as much as the current car keeps us comfortable.