Way, way back, when young baby boomers roamed the earth in the backseats of Chevrolet Impalas, Ford Galaxie 500s, Plymouth Furys and AMC Ambassadors, the automobile as behemoth ruled the earth.
Then a meteor called King Faisal struck the planet. The Saudi ruler spearheaded an Arab oil embargo that saw a barrel of oil spike from $3 in the fall of 1973 to $12 by the spring of 1974. The behemoths began dying out, replaced by Ford Pintos and Chevrolet Vegas and always-enduring insects like the Volkswagen Beetle. The Galaxie 500 became extinct. Not only did the Fury and the Ambassador disappear, so eventually did the Plymouth and AMC brands.
In the 40 years since, large sedans have made various attempts to return in numbers, but the herds are repeatedly thinned by ever-rising pump prices and nimbler creatures such as the sport-utility vehicle (SUV) and its replacement, the crossover wagon. Today, large sedans are a vanishing breed, despite the best attempts by car makers to breathe new life into these great and wonderful creatures (at least that's how us baby boomers see them).
Last year, sales of "affordable" large passengers cars, says DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, crashed by 14.8 per cent in a record year for Canadian sales. Since 2008, the successors to large sedans of lore – the Ford Taurus, Chrysler 300, Nissan Maxima and even the great survivalist, the Impala – have lost a full point of market share. Fewer than 4 per cent of Canadians who bought a car last year bought a big sedan.
That is a shame. Big cars have never been better looking, better equipped, more functional, more sophisticated and more fuel efficient. They've never been a better value, either. The proof is in the numbers.
Large, well-priced sedans will never become entirely extinct; as long as there are police forces, there will be a call for them. But with everyday consumer demand on the decline, car makers have spruced up their products and tamed sticker shock, aided by healthy discounts among a crop of four-doors that are more useful than their comparably-priced mid-size sedan cousins. Read on for the details.
Correction: The photo of the Chevrolet Impala has been changed to a 2014 model, and the Hyundai Genesis is now pictured as a 2015 model.
1. 2014 Toyota Avalon
2013 sales: 1,264 (up 196 per cent over 2012)
Base price: $37,355
Base engine: 3.5-litre V-6 (268 hp)
The discount: 1.9 per cent financing for 36/48/60 month
The story: Toyota gave the Avalon a stylistic do-over for 2013. The look is fresh and modern, though the power train has remained unchanged for many years. This is a big, dependable sedan – as true to its owners as many luxury cars. The ride is gentle as a summer breeze and no less exciting. In an Avalon, you calmly float from place to place.
2. Kia Cadenza
2013 sales: 195 (not for sale in 2012)
Base price: $37,895
Base engine: 3.3-litre V-6 (293 hp)
The discount: The single largest incentive is a $4,800 discount for cash buyers. But there are other impressive offers, including a $4,000 discount for those who take advantage of a financing offer and a $1,500 loyalty rebate.
The story: The Cadenza is among the most unappreciated cars sold in Canada. It is quiet, refined, powerful and loaded with technology. With discounts, it can be had for thousands less than its big-name rivals, yet the Kia offers more in many ways. This is a case of the Kia brand not being as strong as the product. If Toyota sold the Cadenza badged as an Avalon and sold at these prices, itmight sell two or three times as many as its own Avalon.
3. 2015 Hyundai Genesis
2013 sales: 1,062 (-11.9 per cent from 2012)
Base price: $43,000
Base engine: 3.8-litre V-6 (311 hp)
The discount: Hyundai has a $1,000 loyalty offer in play.
The story: First, note that Hyundai has reinvented the Genesis for 2015, making all-wheel drive standard and upgrading everything from the design to the seats to the technology. Here is a rival for some good German luxury sedans – BMW 5-Series, for instance – for as much as $20,000 less. Of course, the Bimmer has decades of engineering genius behind it, but few will ever take this car to its limits. As a refined luxury cruiser with good handling and lots of gizmos, the Genesis stands out.
4. 2014 Chevrolet Impala
2013 sales: 3,802 (-50.8 per cent from 2012)
Base price: $28,445
Base engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder (195 hp)
The discount: Various rebates that start at $750 and range up to $1,500.
The story: Few sedans have tested as well as the Impala. It’s stylish and roomy, pleasant on long road trips and nimble in everyday traffic. The technology is first-rate and the design is stand-out handsome. Best sedan General Motors has made in decades. The chief engineer did such a good job, he’s since been promoted to engineering vice-president.
5. 2014 Buick LaCrosse
2013 sales: 1,156 (-51.4 per cent)
Base price: $35,795
Base engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder (182 hp)
The discount: Up to $1,500 in individual rebates and some can be stacked or combined – including low-interest financing.
The story: The four-cylinder engine looks a little on the limp side, but keep in mind that this mill comes with GM’s EcoAssist system – a kind of electronic supercharger that allows for extra power when you need it, but helps with fuel economy. The LaCrosse doesn’t get the respect it deserves with its pretty looks and a refined ride.
6. 2014 Ford Taurus
2013 sales: 4,238 (-14.2 per cent from 2012)
Base price: $28,999
Base engine: 3.5-litre V-6 (288 hp)
The discount: A conquest program and a Costco rebate will bring discounts to $1,750 for the right buyer, plus zero per cent financing for up to 60 months.
The story: The V-6 may not end up being your first engine choice. For $1,000 you can get Ford’s EcoBoost four-banger and this is a good engine that will save you fuel as long as you don’t lead-foot it. Ford likes to position the Taurus as a luxury-performance sedan and the twin-turbo SHO version ($47,299) flies. The basic car, however, is nice and will surprise many. Like the LaCrosse, Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300 and Genesis, you can get all-wheel drive, too.
7. 2014 Dodge Charger
2013 sales: 4,588 (13.1 per cent over 2012)
Base price: $29,995
Base engine: 3.6-litre V-6 (292 hp)
The discount: A $2,500 factory rebate is on the table.
The story: The Charger, like the Chrysler 300, is a true rear-drive sedan. It’s solid, which is why police forces love it. The design is bold and the performance will surprise, you – especially if you head up-market and get the HEMI V-8.
8. 2014 Chrysler 300
2013 sales: 4,203 (-3.1 per cent from 2012)
Base price: $34,595
Base engine: 3.6-litre V-6 (292 hp)
The discount: A $2,500 discount is on the table.
The story: The 300 and Dodge Charger are twins under the skin, though the bodies are different. Here we have a rear-drive sedan that looks dressy and drives like a nice Brooks Brother suit would if it had four wheels. The infotainment system is among the best and the planted feel of this car at speed is hard to beat at any price.
9. 2014 Volkswagen Passat
2013 sales: 7,909 (-1.4 per cent from 2012)
Base price: $23,975
Base engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged (170 hp)
The discount: The one that jumps out is a $2,500 factory-to-dealer rebate, but VW has more sales sweeteners in play.
The story: The Passat is what a German from Wolfsburg would create in a North American sedan built in the U.S. south. It’s big and roomy, but it does not drive like a big, roomy European sedan would. That’s because a true European sedan would not start at less than $24,000 minus discounts. The smallest four-banger is underpowered, but don’t overlook the excellent diesel offering. The only car in this group with a diesel is the Passat and it’s a good one.
10. Nissan Maxima
2013 sales: 1,500 (-25.9 per cent from 2012)
Base price: $38,680
Base engine: 3.5-litre V-6 (290 hp)
The discount: A $5,000 rebate is waiting to be claimed, but you can’t combine it with the zero per cent financing offer.
The story: The Maxima stands out as good value, with that fat rebate in play. The power is good, fuel economy impressive, at speed, this big sedan is composed and comforting and reliability has been good. A new version of the Maxima is heading our way soon, which explains the price-cutting.