If you’re looking for a car that can keep passengers comfortable, entertain the driver, and look sharp at the golf club, the best bet is a full-size, V-6-powered sedan like the three we’ve gathered here -- all priced at around $40,000
The Hyundai Genesis arrived on American shores for model year 2009, and just three years later has undergone a hefty refresh. The 2012 Genesis benefits from new fascias, restyled headlights, new wheels, larger brakes, and a revised suspension. Its base 3.8-liter V-6 gains 15 percent more power, for a total of 333 hp and 291 lb-ft of torque, thanks to the addition of direct injection. The new model year also brings Hyundai’s new eight-speed automatic transmission.
The Genesis 3.8 starts at $35,050. On top of that, our car had the $4000 Technology package, which adds a 17-speaker sound system, navigation, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, parking sensors, heated rear seats, and a cooled driver’s seat; and the $4800 Premium package, which includes a sunroof, power rear sunshade, power folding mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, a backup camera, and 18-inch wheels. Our tester’s final sticker price was thus $43,050.
Chrysler launched the second-generation 300 for 2011, and its basic recipe remains the same as when the 300 first debuted in 2004: a luxurious, all-American rear-wheel-drive sedan with a choice of thrifty V-6 and brawny V-8 engines. The new base engine is Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, offering 292 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission.
Our tester was a Chrysler 300 Limited V-6, which stickered for $31,195 before options, which included the $2795 SafetyTec package consisting of power folding mirrors, adaptive HID headlights, parking sensors, collision- and blind-spot warning systems, and adaptive cruise control; a $1295 panoramic sunroof; and the $795 UConnect touch-screen navigation and entertainment interface. Our 300 also had the $3250 Luxury group with niceties like leather seats, LED interior lighting, a power sunshade, heated and cooled front seats, and heated and cooled cup holders. With all its options, our tester’s sticker price climbed to $42,770.
The Toyota Avalon is the only front-wheel-drive sedan in this group. This iteration of the Avalon was introduced in model year 2005 and was refreshed for 2011. The update brought a new grille, rear bumper, revised interior trimmings, and restyled wheels. A 3.5-liter V-6 provides 268 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque, which is routed through a six-speed automatic transmission.
We opted for the $36,445 Avalon Limited with the $1450 Navigation and Premium Audio package, which includes a touch-screen navigation system, backup camera, 12-speaker sound system, plus iPod and Bluetooth connectivity; and the $393 Preferred Accessory package, which nets carpeted floor mats, a first-aid kit, and a glass-breakage sensor for the alarm. The as-tested price was $38,884 -- the cheapest of the bunch.
Which of these full-size V-6 sedans deserves your hard-earned paycheck? Read on to find out how the three cars stack up.
When it comes to sheer panache and visual presence, the Chrysler 300 wins hands-down. Its muscular lines, LED-accented headlights, and optional 20-inch wheels add up to a car that exudes far more presence than the Toyota and Hyundai. The front three-quarter view may be worth the price tag alone: a flashy chrome grille and squared-off headlights lead into broad shoulder lines than run the length of the bulky car.
Sitting in the Chrysler 300 can feel a bit dark and gloomy, as our tester was filled with dark leather and burled-wood trim. The dashboard and center console are upscale and attractive, showing that Chrysler really put effort into refreshing the 300 for 2011. Although the gauges are ornately trimmed in chrome and the cabin is swathed in blue LED lighting, many of us think the interior looks a bit overdone. Nice touches include heated-and-cooled cup holders and a big panoramic sunroof.
With the Genesis, Hyundai has taken a more European approach to luxury-car styling, producing a car that looks compact and taut next to the bloated Chrysler. Smart creases border the grille and run across the hood into the car’s A-pillars. Its profile is accented by subtle chrome strips, and head- and taillights that wrap onto the fenders. Some of our staff feel the exterior is too plain and that Hyundai could have gone a little further with the 2012 refresh.
Sitting inside the Hyundai Genesis reveals an interior following the same styling mantra as the outside: stylish and upscale. Leather and aluminum trim pieces mix with soft-touch plastics and smart switchgear. The cabin feels special and looks expensive without flashing its luxury pretentions in your face. Again, some of us think the interior is starting to look dated and deserved a more thorough freshening for 2012.
We were least taken with the styling of the Toyota Avalon, which struck us as bland and generic. The Avalon's profile is the quintessential shape of a car: a hood, a passenger compartment, a trunk, and four wheels. Although it looks somewhat like the Genesis from the side, the Avalon's plain lighting designs, massive C-pillar, and protruding trunk aren't as pretty as the Hyundai. Colleagues noted that the Avalon vanished in their rear-view mirrors, a testament to the car's anonymity on the road. The Toyota's derivative looks mean it will never stand out from the crowd in a parking lot.
The Toyota Avalon has a spacious interior, but its dashboard layout looks the same as Toyotas from a decade earlier. In true Toyota fashion, the switchgear and gauges are arranged sensibly in a marvel of ergonomics. Perhaps to cater to the older generation known for buying the Avalon, the controls are labeled in a size-24 font.
Advantage: Chrysler 300
The Hyundai Genesis’ drivetrain provides the best combination of speed and smoothness in this pack. The V-6, which for 2012 gained direct injection for more precise control of fuel delivery, is now more efficient and more powerful than the 2011 Genesis. The engine is quiet, and the eight-speed automatic provides quick yet smooth shifts. Yet the engine is remarkably responsive when pushed, providing dramatic performance and sporty exhaust note. The Genesis is by far the quickest sedan here, easily pulling away from the Toyota and Chrysler on a blast through the rural roads south of our office.
The 3.5-liter V-6 under the hood of the Toyota Avalon is perhaps the smoothest and most mellifluous of this test. Though the engine and transmission are tuned primarily for comfort, the Avalon is surprisingly quick. The front-wheel-drive chassis struggles with the engine’s power, so it’s easy to accidentally squeal the front tires from a stop. The automatic transmission is decently responsive in Sport -- and yes, were surprised that the pedestrian Avalon even has a Sport mode. Left in Drive, the transmission delivers gear changes gently and without fuss.
In spite of horsepower and torque ratings that are mid-pack, the Chrysler 300 is noticeably slower than the other two cars. This lethargy is due in part to the fact that the 300 is the heaviest car in this trio. The blame can also be attributed to the aging five-speed automatic transmission (although an eight-speed is coming for 2012). The tall gears are optimized for fuel economy at the expense of acceleration. The 300 feels lazy when pushed, especially so because its transmission is hesitant to downshift. Chrysler’s V-6 was also the only engine to transmit vibration to the driver at idle.
Fuel economy is comparable among all of the cars. The Genesis is EPA-rated at 19 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, while the Avalon receives scores of 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. The 300’s weight and transmission once again penalize it on the consumption front, as the Chrysler returns just 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
Advantage: Hyundai Genesis
Behind the Wheel
These sedans are far from sports cars, as they prioritize occupant comfort over corner carving. But the Hyundai Genesis still imparts some fun to the driver, and feels lithe when asked to navigate twisting roads. Upgrades for 2012 include beefier brakes and firmer anti-roll bars, making it a willing companion for enthusiastic driving. The Hyundai’s steering provides a decent amount of weight and feedback for this car’s class. The Genesis’ suspension strikes a balance between that of the Toyota and the Chrysler, providing more insulation than the 300 from road imperfections yet a slightly firmer ride than the Avalon.
The Chrysler 300 feels solid and composed on the road. Its firm suspension and wide tires (the widest of this trio) keep the car under control, along with strong brakes and decent feel from the chunky steering wheel. While its handling responses are respectable, the Chrysler’s weight precludes it from feeling as energetic as the Hyundai. Although the ride is generally pleasant, it can be jarring over severe bumps and doesn’t feel quite as settled as the Toyota. The 300 also admits the most road and wind noise to the cabin.
The Toyota Avalon’s chassis is tuned for comfort rather than sport, meaning the Toyota wobbles and rolls in sharp corners. It is ill-suited to enthusiastic driving: one staffer even got the front brakes smoking after a few high-speed stops. Still, these are meant to be luxury cars, and the Avalon’s creamy ride allows it to float over bumps of all shapes and sizes. The Toyota’s sloppy dynamics disappointed our lead-footed staffers, but it undeniably has the most cosseting ride in this group.
Advantage: Hyundai Genesis
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.
2011 Chrysler 300 Limited V-6
Base Price: $31,195
Price as Tested: $42,770
Engine: 3.6-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 292 hp @ 6350 rpm
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
L x W x H: 198.6 x 75.0 x 58.7 in
Legroom F/R: 41.8/40.1 in
Headroom F/R: 36.9/36.9 in
Cargo capacity: 16.3 cu ft
Curb Weight: 4006 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 18/27 mpg
2012 Hyundai Genesis 3.8
Base Price: $35,050
Price as Tested: $43,050
Engine: 3.8-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 333 hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 291 lb-ft at 5100 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
L x W x H: 196.3 x 74.4 x 58.3 in
Legroom F/R: 44.3/38.6 in
Headroom F/R: 40.4/37.7 in
Cargo capacity: 15.9 cu ft
Curb Weight: 3824 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 19/29 mpg
2011 Toyota Avalon Limited
Base Price: $36,445
Price as Tested: $38,884
Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 268 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 248 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
L x W x H: 197.6 x 72.8 x 58.5 in
Legroom F/R: 41.3/40.9 in
Headroom F/R: 38.9/37.5 in
Cargo capacity: 14.4 cu ft
Curb Weight: 3616 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 20/29 mpg