Three of the six upscale sedans tested for the June issue of Consumer Reports, the Infiniti G35, Lexus ES350, and Nissan Maxima, posted "Excellent" overall ratings. It’s rare for so many cars to be scored so highly in a monthly test group.
The top-scoring and sporty G35 now ranks as the best car tested by Consumer Reports in the Upscale Sedan category, outpointing the previously- tested Acura TL. The quiet and comfortable E350 came in very close behind the G35. The Maxima rated somewhat lower overall, though still achieving an Excellent overall road test score.
The test group brought together a total of six very different sedans in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, with varying blends of sportiness and opulence. The more posh models tend to be quieter, have more interior space and ride more smoothly. Sporty models usually have less room inside, ride firmly and handle more nimbly.
The three other vehicles rounding out the group, the Lincoln MKZ, Buick Lucerne, and Saab 9-5, all achieved "Very Good" overall ratings. The MKZ was previously called the Zephyr.
Testing for this group of vehicles was completed earlier this year so that the overall ratings could be included in Consumer Reports’ Annual April Auto Issue. The G35 was named as CR’s Top Pick in the Upscale Sedans classification for 2007 in that issue. Its stable mate, the bigger and more luxurious M35, is a Top Pick in the Luxury Sedan category.
"The G35 is quick, agile, and sporty," said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center in East Haddam, Connecticut. "It’s a driver’s car that is pleasantly refined and rides comfortably. But both the cockpit and rear seat are snug and the trunk is small." The G35 was extensively updated for 2007. Consumer Reports tested both rear-wheel, and all-wheel-drive versions of the sedan as part of this test group. The all-wheel-drive G35X is just as good with a slight loss in fuel economy and a $2,000 higher sticker price-$39,400 Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price as tested. The G35 is nimble in routine handling. On the track, the G35 handled like a sports car with high and predictable cornering limits. The 306-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine is smooth and refined, with stronger performance than some V8s. The rear-wheel-drive version achieved 19 mpg overall on premium fuel in CR’s fuel economy tests, one mpg better than the AWD model. The five-speed automatic transmission is responsive and downshifts quickly. Braking performance is excellent, with short, controlled stops.
With a very comfortable ride, quiet interior, and lavish amenities, the ES provides a big luxury car feel and refinement in a trimmer package. It is quick yet relatively fuel efficient. Agility is not a strong suit, and the ES is not even remotely fun to drive. The ES350 ($41,289 MSRP as tested) is equipped with a 272-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that is smooth and responsive. It delivers both quick acceleration and a good 23 mpg overall on premium fuel. The smooth and refined six-speed automatic transmission optimizes throttle response and economy by keeping engine speed down while cruising. The brakes perform very well, with short, well-controlled stops.
The freshened Nissan Maxima has a roomy interior, logical controls, and quick acceleration. However, the ride is ordinary, handling is not agile, and the turning circle is wide. In some ways, the less expensive Altima is a better car. The Maxima 3.5 SL ($33,715 MSRP as tested) is equipped with a 255- hp, 3.5-liter V6 that delivers smooth and strong performance. The continuously variable transmission is extremely smooth and helps improve fuel economy. Stopping distances are very good from 60 mph on dry pavement, but were significantly longer in the wet.
Like its Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan siblings, the MKZ is a good car. But the Lincoln does not stand out in the upscale category. A new engine is more powerful without sacrificing fuel economy, and the ride is comfortable and quiet. Overall, the MKZ doesn’t offer much more substance than the less expensive Fusion or Milan. Stability control is almost universal in this class, but the MKZ does not offer it. The MKZ ($32,675 MSRP as tested) comes with a 263-hp, 3.5-liter V6 that is refined and strong. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. The brakes perform well.
The Luzerne CXS V8 is a quicker and more refined version of the Lucerne CXL V6 tested by Consumer Reports last August. Its standard stability control, better brakes, improved handling and ride control, and V8 power help it score considerably better than the CXL. The CXS ($38,935 MSRP as tested) is powered by a 275-hp, 4.6-liter V8 that delivers strong acceleration and is noticeably smoother than the coarse V6 in the less expensive Lucerne CXL. The four-speed transmission is smooth and responsive. Braking distances are reasonably short.
Dating back to 1998, the Saab 9-5 has seen only mild tweaks since then — the latest in 2006. The aging design was evident in CR’s battery of tests, in which the 9-5 fell short of the competition. It is neither sporty nor particularly luxurious and refined. It performs well enough overall, but lacks polish. The 9-5 ($38,635 MSRP as tested) is equipped with a 260-hp, turbocharged, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers lively acceleration-though it’s not as responsive as that from competing V6 powerplants. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly but could be more responsive. Braking performance is excellent.