R&T Six Cylinder Luxury Sedan Comparo

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, May 20, 2004.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield International Moderator Super Moderator

    Jul 6, 2001
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    Seven to the Power of Six - Can six cylinders and true luxury live in the same garage space?


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    By Peter Egan • Photos by John Lamm
    June 2004

    Audi A6 3.0 Quattro
    BMW 530i
    Cadillac CTS
    Chrysler 300
    Jaguar S-Type
    Mercedes-Benz E320
    Volvo S80 T6

    Remember how disappointed you were when your dad came home with a 6-cylinder family sedan, when he could have ordered a V-8 in the same car?

    Well, maybe you don't, but I do because it happened to me. Twice.

    Nothing really wrong with those inline-6s of yore, but to some of us they represented a lost opportunity for glory, and they were often part of the dreaded Skinflint Package, which included plain rubber floormats, the radio delete option and stamped hubcaps that looked like pie plates. Sixes were simply a way of cheaping out, or showing a debilitating penchant for thrift. Also, they didn't impress your friends or get the girls.

    Luckily, this has changed.

    Thanks to Science and the passage of time, many 6-cylinder engines now put out more horsepower and torque than the small-block V-8s of the 1950s and '60s. They are also generally lighter, longer-lasting, smoother and more fuel efficient. It's the inline-4 that now occupies the former place of the six as a base engine, and even most of those are remarkably lively, what with twin cams, fuel injection and electronic engine management. Prestige has moved down the displacement scale, and — with turbo- and supercharging — almost has no lower limit. Speed is speed.

    So, these days, the efficiency-conscious car buyer is more likely to be grappling with the choice between a four and a six, with the six representing that heady splurge into the realm of power and luxury. We still have plenty of fine V-8s out there, but they are no longer a social or physical necessity, unless you need to pull a huge horse trailer, flog an overweight SUV into forward motion or really smoke those tires as you exit a corner.

    Which, of course, sometimes you do.

    But the sixes work fine for most applications, and what we have here are seven 6-cylinder luxury sedans that get around quite nicely, despite their shortage of extra pistons. All are between 2.9 and 3.6 liters, two are inline-6s (one turbocharged and transverse) and the rest are naturally aspirated V-6s. Not one is related, spiritually speaking, to the 170-cu.-in. lump that made my dad's Falcon wagon such an enervating dud. They all go fast and make nice sounds.

    You may notice, however, that several of these cars are also available with V-8s. We noticed it, too, and in most cases have tested those cars. But we thought that, for once, it might be nice to deny ourselves the most expensive, highest-level versions of these sedans and test the slightly more sensible versions that most people buy.

    To do that, we drove northward from our hermetically sealed offices in Newport Beach, in inky morning darkness through the first rumblings of L.A.'s rush hour, out of the great city and up Highway 101 to a meeting spot in the parking lot of San Luis Obispo's famously kitschy Madonna Inn, with its many thematically unique rooms, the Caveman Room being my personal favorite, for obvious reasons.

    One of us, whom we will call Andy Bornhop here to protect his identity (his real name is Andrew), arrived in the Audi Quattro, slightly downcast. "I just got a speeding ticket on Highway 101," he said dejectedly.

    "How fast were you going?" asked photographer John Lamm.

    "Ninety," Andy replied.

    We all looked at each other, expressionless.

    "Well, duh-uh," John said.

    A financial disaster for the normally law-abiding Andy, but it was a tribute to the Audi Quattro — and all these cars — that you could almost accidentally cruise at 90 mph without really noticing. This never happened in my dad's Falcon. Things were looking up.

    For the next three days, we circulated through the green hills of the Coastal Range near San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, on some of the most beautiful and least traveled back roads in the West. Our Engineering Editor, Dennis Simanaitis, laid out a large triangle of varied roads on the map, and we drove all the cars back-to-back, trading places after every loop. "No racetrack lapping," our Editor had decreed. "These are luxury road cars, and no buyer is going to take them on the track. Find a combination of Interstate, city and country roads and drive them as the owners would." We took that to imply spirited but not manic driving, and drove accordingly.

    Later, back in Orange County, we commuted with the cars for a week, tested them all at the drag strip and skidpad, took notes, rated the cars and tallied up points. Here's what we found.


    7th — Volvo S80 T6 - 537.8 points

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    The "T" in Volvo's S80 T6 is short for "Turbo," two of them, to help the 3.0-liter engine produce 268 bhp. This power combines with exemplary comfort and security to make the Volvo an choice for that cross-country trek.

    Here is a very nice car that all of us would be proud to own, but it lost points in this group just because it's the most "normal" family sedan of the group and the least sporting.

    It's relatively softly sprung and a bit floaty at times. And, as the only front-driver in the group, it has less steering precision than the others.
    It feels a little vague on-center, with a moderate amount of torque steer as you put your boot into it pulling out on the highway, though the steering quickens up nicely as you turn into a corner. Another adverse side effect of fwd (and the transverse inline-6) is a very wide turning radius.

    The S80 has a "Four-C" (Continuously Controlled Chassis Concept) button on the center console to adjust shock-absorber damping stiffness using sensors that send data to a computer 500 times per second (we are told, but couldn't count), adjusting the suspension to bump and cornering loads. This reduces body roll and stiffens up the damping a bit, but doesn't effect a day-and-night transformation.

    But if the Volvo's handling is the least taut and concise here, it compensates with a very lusty and spirited 2.9-liter inline-6 with twin turbos. This silky-smooth, transversely mounted beauty puts out 268 bhp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque.
    It has torque at low speeds and builds boost quickly, so that you have little awareness of the turbos kicking in — until the revs climb and the car zings itself down the road. Get on it a little too hard cresting a curve, and you can induce a little front wheelspin. The 4-speed automatic shifts up quickly and has a gratifyingly immediate kick-down reaction to throttle input. The shift lever has a manual-mode side gate that lets you snick up and down through the gears with a short wrist movement.

    Most of our crew thought the S80's exterior styling was quietly handsome and likely to wear well with time, and the same could be said for the interior. A modest amount of polished wood trim sets off the clean tan interior, and the black instrument faces are set off with brushed aluminum dive-watch chronograph faces. All quite tastefully done, and the interior controls and switches are among the best of the bunch for effortless, intuitive operation. Even the radio can be turned on and off by an amateur, and simple pictographs explain the seat and ventilation controls.

    The Volvo has good seats with adjustable lumbar support; you sit a little more on them than in them, but side bolsters and wings hold you securely in place. As with all the cars in this group, the rear seats have plenty of leg room for full-sized adults, and they are well shaped for long-distance passenger travel.

    Speaking of which, one of our staff (he of the 90-mph ticket) said the Volvo is the car he would pick for a long cross-country trip. Comfortable, safe, user-friendly and, yes, a bit soft, but it still handles well enough to be fun and predictable on mountain roads. The S80 is not necessarily a standout in this group as a sports sedan, but it's remarkable for being an all-purpose comfortable road car that also happens to grip the road pretty well, while giving you a satisfying surge of power any time the pedal goes down. It's a high-performance family car.


    6th — BMW 530i - 541.5 points

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    BMW virtues of handling, steering, braking and driving excitement come as no surprise in our points totals. But other aspects of the new 530i disappoint us. Even those competent with its iDrive don't particularly like it. Some are coming to appreciate the car's exterior shapes; others feel it makes earlier BMWs look that much better.

    Here was the surprise of the bunch. Usually we go into these comparisons with half an expectation that the BMW (of whatever series), with its sporting pedigree, will end up somewhere near the top of the heap — if not first — but the 530i didn't engender that level of enthusiasm.

    A couple of factors brought it down in points. First was price; as tested, at $54,120, it's the most expensive car here by nearly $4000 (ahead of the Mercedes) and it's nearly $20,000 more expensive than the Chrysler 300. It also finished last in ergonomics and exterior style.

    Most of the ergonomic complaints focus, predictably, on the recently simplified but still distracting iDrive accessory control system, about which much has been written already.
    Our Tech Editor said the system might have been designed for people "who like to study something, then lord it over their pals." In any case, the inability to get what you want, when you want it, out of the sound and climate controls is a constant irritant, and people don't buy cars in this class to be irritated. They have computers at home for that.

    Most also found the detent-less turn-signal stalk disconcerting. When you flick it up or down, you are always left wondering if it "took" or shut itself off. Or if it will shut itself off. It's a lost tactile link to a normally simple control, but maybe you get used to it.

    And the styling? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but these seven staff beholders found the BMW the least appealing of the group. It seemed to be the rear-deck treatment that came in for criticism, along with the dragon's-eye headlight surrounds, which one editor noted had a distinctly Japanese "Samurai-inspired" look. It may be that this car isn't so bad-looking as "un-BMW-like," as one editor put it. Maybe familiarity will gradually breed admiration.

    Now, let us turn to the 530i's virtues, which are several. On the dynamic level, it came out very well. In our subjective ratings, it placed second in handling, steering, brakes, gearbox and driving excitement. It was also second in grip on the skidpad, just behind the Mercedes and tied with the Cadillac, Audi and Jaguar. It also tied two other cars for second-best fuel mileage in our driving.

    Surprisingly, the BMW also managed third fastest in 0-60 and quarter-mile times, even though its turbine-smooth 3.0-liter inline-6 is rated fifth in horsepower and lowest in torque of the seven cars. The engine doesn't have quite the zap you feel in the lighter 3 Series cars, but it is still a very sweet-running unit, and it loves to rev. It works nicely in concert with the 6-speed Steptronic transmission to keep the power down on a winding road, and the chassis cooperates by providing a confidence-inspiring ability to handle undulations and bumps without losing its footing.

    Speed-sensitive, variable-assist power steering allows you to knife through corners with little effort, but it doesn't have quite the direct mechanical feel we are used to in the 3 Series cars. The 530i feels massively competent, but a little more insulated from the road than its smaller brother. In this respect, it almost seems to have switched roles with the Mercedes E320, which is decidedly quick and sporty-feeling for a Benz.

    Some found the BMW's interior a bit severe and industrial in design, but it is still beautifully finished and richly detailed, with a pleasant mixture of wood trim and sharply defined shapes.
    The 530i's seats are also among the best in the group, adjustable to provide glovelike comfort with excellent wing and bolster support to hold you in place for fast driving. It's a comfortable cockpit.

    Overall, the BMW is guilty only of giving you, perhaps, more than you want rather than less, its complexity tending to mask the traditional BMW virtues of lightness and sports-car-like feedback to the driver. The emphasis here is on luxury.


    5th — Audi A6 3.0 Quattro - 542.3 points

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    The Audi A6 3.0 Quattro is comfortable, stable and predictable. Its all-wheel drive contributes mightily to this, but this system's weight and complexity also give the Audi the least spirited straight-line performance of our group. Depending on one's eye, the A6 styling is clean and timeless, or is it looking dated?

    Several of us were sorry to see the Audi relegated to 5th place — this writer in particular — because it's such a handsome, useful, all-around car, and if you live in a cold climate, as I do, it's the one that'll go through the snow. It also has a light, quick and agile feel on tight, twisting roads, unlike some of the more staid and vaultlike cars in this group, and it feels narrower and smaller than the others, even if it isn't. Also, the Quattro all-wheel-drive system claws its way convincingly through uphill hairpins, especially when the pavement gets loose and rough. It's got some rally car in it, albeit softened and rubberized a bit for civilian use.

    Interestingly, the Audi tied with three other cars (Caddy, Jag and BMW) for second place in skidpad testing, just behind the Mercedes, yet it and the BMW only managed to best the Chrysler through the slalom by posting an identical 60.7 mph. It likes to be tossed. On fast sweepers it's a little less settled, and can be ruffled by bumps and undulations, compared with, say, the Mercedes or BMW, but it enjoys being hustled through the tight stuff. Steering is quick and accurate, but, as an awd car, doesn't have quite the sensitivity of the rear-drivers in the bunch.

    And that same awd and its lost efficiency probably hurt the Audi a bit at the drag strip, where it was last in the quarter mile and in 0-60-mph acceleration
    , despite having respectable horsepower and excellent torque at low rpm. On our road trip, the Audi had to be wound out and thrashed a little harder to keep up with the others, but the gearbox provides a direct and instantaneous connection between the engine and the four tires. The Tiptronic 5-speed automatic transmission allows manual shifting up and down in a side gate, but almost works best left in the S (Sport) position, which keeps revs up and the engine on full boil in each gear.

    Inside the car, we have supportive seats with good lumbar adjustment and a burled-wood on gray dash and door treatment variously described as "beautifully executed" and "classically clean and simple, with quiet good taste," or "plain Jane and downright austere." Take your choice. Either way, the car has large, easy-to-read instruments and sound system and air-conditioning controls that nearly everyone could operate while driving. Nice roomy back seats too.

    Opinions on exterior styling were more or less divided like those on the interior; it was described as "clean and timeless, with an appeal that ignores passing fashion," while others thought the car was beginning to look dated. Most agreed that the shape, though not brand-new, has held up well.

    Straight-line performance, price and the glittering new competition may have held this car down in points, but some of us thought it was the most fun and spirited car here — particularly in the twisty outback. One driver noted, "It's the ballerina of the bunch, or maybe — so as not to sound effete — the halfback. Quick on its feet and fun to drive, rather than just a reminder that you've earned your right to a solid and hefty car."


    4th — Chrysler 300 - 544.8 points

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    The Chrysler 300 is a return to the company's rear-drive heritage, and a very civilized one at that. Its 3.5-liter V-6 is smooth, though we'd prefer a bit more performance. Indeed, for the price of these others, we could have had a Hemi V-8; but that's another test entirely. Admired was the 300's interior, with clean and simple instruments. Not especially sporty, the car offers value of a different sort.

    This car is big news for Chrysler, being their first big, classic front-engine/rear-drive sedan after decades of fwd-only design philosophy. My late father-in-law, who drove some very swanky Chryslers in the '50s and '60s, would have been pleased. The 300 also represents a return to chiseled three-box proportions after a long run of smooth, cab-forward designs. The cab has migrated rearward. Our test car was a 6-cylinder version, but the 300 also comes with a Hemi V-8. The good times are back.

    Chrysler, like Cadillac before it, did not take lightly the job of stepping back into the fast-moving world of current sporty luxury sedans, and made a thorough job of it. Especially considering the 300 costs about $9700 less than the next most expensive sedan in this group.

    An economist would tell you all that value had to be extracted somewhere, but with the 300 there are only a few obvious corners cut. One place is the transmission, which is essentially a standard pattern automatic without any sport mode or slap-shifter gate. The only other omission is the lack of wood trim in the interior, which is nevertheless quite elegant in a simple, understated way and — except for a slightly cheap-looking silver steering-wheel finish — largely meets Chrysler's design brief for "understated opulence."

    Gauges are clean and simple, with Elgin watch-style faces. The gray and cream interior features a center-mounted analog clock, an easily deciphered navigation system and simple heater controls beneath it. Control stalks by the wheel have a high-quality Mercedes feel, as does the shift lever with its chrome center section. A button beside the seat also adjusts the entire pedal cluster fore and aft, for a personal fit. The fully adjustable seats are comfortable and well finished, but are not really buckets and have less side support than the others in this group. You sit rather high in the car — as Chrysler intended, adding 3 in. to the 300's height to give the owner a chance to sit more "proudly" in the car. Overall, it's a very civilized car, and it outscored all others in ergonomics.

    Some of that civility comes at a price, as it's the least sporting car here, in terms of slalom and skidpad performance, and it tops only the Audi in acceleration testing.
    That said, its dynamics are still quite acceptable for reasonably spirited driving. Steering is light and accurate, ride is firm without being harsh, and it handles fast sweepers flat and predictably. Only in tight, hard transitions does it feel slightly softer than the other cars here, cornering with moderate understeer when pushed. It's a chassis without any discernible faults; the suspension is simply tuned more toward everyday driving than the sport end of the spectrum.

    The 300's 3.5-liter sohc V-6 is a smooth and lively performer that cranks out 250 bhp, spinning smoothly all the way to 6500 rpm.
    Performance-wise, it's slower than average in this group, but a sport shift mode would probably help it keep up on some of our tighter winding roads. So would a Hemi V-8, of course, but that's true of this entire group.

    Nearly everyone liked the styling of the 300, its slab-sided "executive hot rod" look a nice change from so many years of lozenge-shaped cars. Its chopped roof gives the car a slightly menacing machine-gun bunker (or maybe classic gangster car) look that may be over the top for some, but certainly draws the attention of other motorists.

    The Chrysler is a car that exceeded our expectations, and it has features and style that will no doubt please both traditional American-car buyers and European sports-sedan types, without offending the sensibilities of either. And, no question, it's the value leader of the bunch.


    3rd — Jaguar S-Type - 546.8 points

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    The Jaguar S-Type has carved a niche for itself as a real Jaguar, not just some rebodied Ford. Its styling continues to please; its interior is a comfortable, pleasant place in which to travel. Rated first only in exterior styling, the car scores well in all with an excellent balance of sport and civility.

    Here's a car whose styling sparked no debate or controversy; nearly all of us thought it was the best-looking car here, from almost any angle. It's been around for a few years, but the S-Type has a shape that continues to please, looking neither cloyingly retro nor aggressively avant-garde.

    The interior, too, came in for praise, and was ranked second only to the Mercedes for quality and style.
    As our Assistant Road Test Editor noted, it has the "warmest, coziest interior and classiest exterior by a good margin. Lots of wood goes a long way toward upping the coziness factor, and it has the snuggest-fitting interior, too." Another described it as, simply, "the nicest place to be — much better than the monastic Audi, and classier than the BMW and M-B." Sounds almost like a cottage in the woods, but Jaguar really does a very good job of combining nice materials and tasteful luxury with driver-friendly controls that don't overburden you with choices. Instrument faces are backed with green, steering and shifting are done with polished wood and the seats are both supportive and comfortable.

    None of this would matter, of course, if the car were unpleasant to drive, but it's not. The S-Type didn't score any firsts in performance, but it runs a very high average in a wide spectrum of ratings. It ran second-quick through the slalom and around the skidpad, as well as in ride quality, and was rated high on our list in driving excitement. Not bad for a cottage in the woods.

    Only in acceleration testing does the Jaguar drop out of the top contenders
    , despite its having the fourth-highest horsepower output in the group. That may be because it's a bit heavier than some, or just a function of gearing. In any case, the 3.0-liter V-6 has a fairly muscular midrange that moves the car nicely through traffic, and around other cars, emitting a subdued motorboat growl as it does so.

    For having such a comfortable ride, the Jag does very well in the twisties. It has good grip and tenacity in hard cornering, with a balanced, nicely coupled interaction between front and rear suspensions. It doesn't rotate easily, but just sticks to the road. Steering is quick and light — a little too light, some thought — and tends to overboost itself in side-wind corrections, but still gives you enough feedback to have fun throwing the car around. The ratio of input to direction change feels perfectly natural.

    Normal upshifts of the transmission are almost seamless, as if an added amount of slippage were built in, and automatic downshifts require a fair amount of accelerator travel to effect. For more immediacy in shifting, use of the manual J-gate is required. Brakes are powerful and effective, but slightly soft feeling at the pedal.

    In all, the Jaguar strikes a very nice balance between sport and civility, with a chassis that's tuned for everyday use, yet hangs on really well when pushed hard. Not much to dislike here. It's easy on the eyes, user-friendly and (did we mention?) a nice place to be.


    2nd — Mercedes-Benz E320 - 553.6 points

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    Virtues of Mercedes-Benz are legendary: vaultlike construction, a serious, purposeful nature. But this E320 shows us something surprising: a sense of fun. Its steering is light and quick; its suspension is well snubbed. And, oh yes, it's still a Mercedes, strong and capable.

    This comparison was full of surprises, and none more pleasant than the E320 Mercedes. In many of our past comparison tests, the Mercedes entry has typically been a car of vaultlike quality, high finish and plush, safe handling, but rather serious and purposeful in nature, without much sense of élan. Athletic but reserved, like a German businessman who can easily be taught to do the Twist, but doesn't really want to. This one breaks the mold and is genuinely fun to drive, while still retaining its depth of engineering excellence.

    It may be the steering you notice first. It's light and quick — the car can slice down a winding road with just your fingertips on the wheel — and turns in accurately with a feeling of bite from the front tires. The well-snubbed suspension quickly takes a set and holds the car on line with effortless grip. No matter how hard you push, the E320 is unflustered by rises, dips and other sudden transitions in the road, always remaining flat and level while soaking up irregularities in the pavement. Ride is slightly firm, but still compliant and comfortable on the highway. Overall, it feels wide, low, well damped and solid. Fast trips down the road are encouraged by the pleasantly guttural 3.2-liter V-6, which produces very broad midrange torque — if not stunning top-end horsepower — and an easy-shifting 5-speed automatic that can be toggled back and forth with an instinctive (i.e., no-brainer) motion to change gears in the manual mode. You always get the gear you want, with immediate engine braking. The brakes themselves are strong and linear, with a reassuring firmness at the pedal — followed by a minimum of dive in the suspension. Dynamically, the car cooperates quickly and positively with your wishes.

    And it does this while you sit in a nicely finished and rich interior.
    Door panels and the subtly curved dash are elegantly finished with wood trim, the leather seats are comfortable and supportive and the conventional round gauges are easy to read. Control stalks have a high-quality feel, and, as one driver noted, "There's a feeling that all the controls are damped with a thick, viscous fluid — steering, suspension, even shifts."

    Nearly all of us thought the car was fresh-looking and handsome — it finished a close second to the Jaguar in styling points, and first in interior styling — but also felt that it has a sophisticated dignity of line that will still look good years from now. More than that, it's fun to drive, and in the succinct summary opinion of our Senior Editor, "Utterly capable."


    1st — Cadillac CTS - 569.3 points

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    The Cadillac CTS's 3.6-liter 255-bhp engine has plenty of torque to propel the car to turn in the best acceleration times.

    It's not easy to finish first in this company — there isn't a car in this group any of us wouldn't be happy to have in our own garages — but the Cadillac led the pack on a combination of outstanding performance and relatively reasonable price. In every test there's one car that causes people to grin and say, "This is the sports car of the bunch." In this case, that car was the CTS.

    During our days of driving around the hills of California's central coast, it was the subjective favorite in handling, steering and driving excitement. And, lo and behold, when it was tested at the track it was the quickest in the quarter mile, 0-60-mph acceleration and (tying the E320) through the slalom. It finished a close second to the Mercedes on the skidpad. One of our test editors pronounced it, "The most athletic-feeling of the group, with firm springs, direct steering and a sticky tire at each corner of the body. It's what the BMW should feel like."

    On the open highway, the Caddy is not the plushest car here — ride is firm — but, like the Mercedes, it has nicely damped suspension with just enough compliance to keep it from feeling harsh or annoying. On canyon roads, it just plain carves, like a good set of shaped skis. The steering is nicely weighted, and the car turns in quickly, holding its line through sweepers with dead flat stability. In steady-state cornering it has the reassuring composure of a Can-Am car with big, blocky tires. Cadillac says this chassis was developed at the Nürburgring, and it's easy to believe.

    Our test car came with a sport package that included the StabiliTrak stability-control system, which was quite effective in keeping our car more or less parallel with the road, but some of our hot-shoe drivers liked it better turned off, so the car could be rotated more quickly in tight turns.

    Manual shifting of the automatic transmission is done in straight linear fashion, with the lever descending through three gears as it comes rearward from Drive. It works pretty well, but is not as intuitive as, say, the Mercedes slap-shifter. You have to look at it sometimes to see what you're doing. This sport shifter comes with the optional 3.6-liter 24-valve V-6 we had in our test car (a 3.2 V-6 is standard, with a Getrag manual), and it has a sport mode to hold each gear slightly longer and provide more engine braking.

    That big 255-bhp 3.6-liter engine, of course, is the main reason our CTS did so well at the drag strip, and why it feels so lively on the road; it gives away horsepower only to the turbocharged Volvo, and has more displacement than all the others. Cheating? Well, people complained that the 220-bhp 3.2 was a little anemic, so Cadillac upgraded this year. The CTS tied the Mercedes and BMW for second-best fuel mileage in the group, so it's hard to complain.

    Most of us liked the CTS's edgy and distinctive exterior styling, which is distinctly Cadillac and unlike anything else on the road, but the elders among us found the black plastic interior to be a bit stealth-fighter for our tastes. Younger guys liked it better, which bodes well for Cadillac. Otherwise, the interior is fine. The supportive and highly adjustable seats are superb, most controls are logical and easy to use, and the sound system came with XM radio, which allows the discerning listener to tune in nothing but Blues.

    Handling from the Nürburgring and Blues from the Delta, all in one fast American car. Nice combination.


    Final Thoughts

    So, do these sedans live up to the possibly specious notion that their 6-cylinder engines make perfectly good replacements for the V-8s that might otherwise reside under their hoods? Well, yes and no. There are moments in driving all of them when you get the feeling that the engines here are just the slightest bit overmatched in powering these option-packed, fully equipped luxury cars, none of which is exactly feather-light. You find yourself thinking, This thing is pretty quick. I wonder what it would be like with a V-8? The Chrysler 300, especially, begs this question.

    Still, you'd have to be pretty spoiled to complain about the performance of any of these cars. They are all fast and reasonably muscular, so the times you yearn for more power are few and far between. And we no longer need embrace the asceticism and self-denial that so often accompanied our parents' decision to buy a 6-cylinder car. We've come a long way from rubber floormats and the radio delete package. Maybe too far, in some cases.


    In My Opinion

    My choice is the Mercedes-Benz E320. Its accommodations are best, especially for those of longer torsos or bigger-than-average-bear physiques. Its skinned-down COMAND ergonomics are more intuitive than most. Its power, though not best in class, is more than adequate. The Mercedes has only two shortcomings: Its price is near heftiest of our group. And there's the potential that, in time, I would take for granted such integrity and luxury. Yeah, some shortcoming. — Dennis Simanaitis, Engineering Editor

    The two performance cars in this comparo are the BMW 530i and Cadillac CTS. It's hard not to be impressed with the 530i's superb steering, typically great BMW suspension tuning and the most intuitive-to-use (and smoothest) automatic transmission. Unfortunately, not even my mother could love its new shape. It is the Cadillac's superior fun-to-drive quotient-combining a seriously powerful engine razor-sharp handling-that makes the CTS my favorite of the lot. That it's American doesn't hurt either. — Mike Monticello, Associate Editor

    If my morning commute resembled a section of Laguna Seca Raceway, the Cadillac would be my choice for its grip, locked-down chassis feel and direct steering. But for everyday use, it's the Mercedes that pushes the right buttons…capable handling, superb seats, cool gauges and a torquey engine coupled to a quick-reacting 5-speed automatic all garner points, as does the elegant, toned body style that will look good for years. — Douglas Kott, Executive Editor

    Edgy styling with excellent performance at a relatively low price makes the Caddy my winner. A trickle-down effect from the CTS-V program, the new 3.6 version is more aggressive, capable of tail-out fun, and just as comfortable to drive as any other car in this group. I commend Cadillac for raising the bar. Add XM satellite radio for sitting in traffic and a good navigation interface to make it my hands-down favorite. — Shaun Bailey, Assistant Road Test Editor

    I think the Mercedes is the best car here, overall, while the Cadillac has the most kick and the Audi offers the most spirited-and versatile-fun for those of us who live in snowy or rainy climates. I'd take any of them in a minute. But the one that most warms my heart is the Jaguar S-Type, just because it does so many things well. For my tastes, it's a perfectly balanced blend of sport and comfort, and it has a shape that I would never tire of upon opening the garage door. Also, the cockpit, as someone said, is a nice place to be. — Peter Egan, Editor-at-Large

    The Cadillac's the sportiest, by far, with quick steering, a firm ride and the added fun of XM satellite radio. Nevertheless, the Mercedes-Benz E320 is my best of the bunch, a bit roomier than the Caddy and a superb blend of everyday comfort and back-road bravado. While I'm happy Chrysler has returned to building big rear-drive sedans, the 300 isn't quite in the same league as its Mercedes cousin, though its price is certainly attractive. — Andrew Bornhop, Senior Editor

    Despite its age, the Jaguar S-Type is still a contender with its sporty, competent chassis and well-appointed interior. And the new Chrysler 300 delivers high-dollar presence — it's a poor man's Bentley/Rolls-Royce — and ride quality way beyond its price. But the Cadillac CTS rules this roost with its smooth yet instantaneously powerful engine and a chassis that's equally at home cruising Highway 1 or carving the sinuous California hills. — Jim Hall, Online Editor





    CU's Upscale Sport Sedan Comparo,

  2. GoGophers

    GoGophers New Member

    Apr 8, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Lots-o-Lakes, USA
    I had too many complaints from this comparo. First off I don't know how you can compare a Chrysler with a BMW 5 series. Then the 5 lost points because it is too ugly and has idrive :slap: ....oh come on now people. Then the Audi has an ugly interior? :ugh: I know my 00 A6 has a beautiful interior and Audi makes some of the best in the industry. Then they still could have used one with the 2.7T and sport suspension and still been within the money range. And I would have rather seen a loaded 3 series (hell there is a CTS so why not the lower range of the Audi/Benz/Bimmer).

    I do like the Cadillac and I'm glad the Benz and Chrylser faired well, but still. And since when did the Jag Stype start beating Benz, Audi, and BMW is comparison tests (granted not MB this time around). It always used to come in last. :dunno:
  3. someguy

    someguy WWMD?

    Feb 7, 2001
    Likes Received:
    They should have used a 530i with SP.
  4. Discrepancy

    Discrepancy Guest

    I don't like the way the E320 looks. :hs:
  5. TriShield

    TriShield International Moderator Super Moderator

    Jul 6, 2001
    Likes Received:
    You should examine the data panel, all the cars are roughly the same size. Not to mention they're all luxury cars that offer six cylinder engines. Cadillac doesn't make a 3-Series sized car.
  6. M4A1

    M4A1 :)

    Oct 25, 2001
    Likes Received:

    I love that shot

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