(All measurements are given in inches)
Surprised to see the mid-size Maxima at the top of this list? So were we! That is, until we considered all the Maximas we've road-tested since the 2000 redesign. Nissan engineers made such efficient use of cabin space that the Maxima feels as roomy as a full-size American car. This may be encouraging to those drivers over six feet who are still hanging onto 10-year-old Chevy Caprices. It is possible to find a comfortable driving position without spending lots of money or settling for a big, stodgy car. The Maxima is available in four flavors for 2001: basic GXE, sporty SE, specially trimmed SE 20th Anniversary Edition and luxurious GLE. Of course, no Maxima really feels basic, given its standard 222-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 (the Anniversary Edition gets a 227-horse version of this powerplant). Add athletic handling characteristics, standard four-wheel antilock disc brakes and an available manual or automatic transmission, and you have an unbeatable package for the sedan buyer who likes to drive and wants to keep the price under 25 large. And if you can wait until the 2002 model year, you can have a Maxima with a 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 under the hood.
2. Lexus LS 430
Lexus' flagship has earned quite a following since the LS 400 was introduced in 1989, and it's easy to see why: The LS is a long-wheelbase luxury sedan with a refined V8 and an appetizing menu of amenities that costs thousands less than its more revered competitors like the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. And it's backed by legendary Lexus reliability. The current iteration, the LS 430, also promises to be the most spacious conveyance for the super-luxury sedan buyer. A smooth 4.3-liter V8 powers the LS 430, offering the same 290 horsepower as last year, but with 20 foot-pounds more torque for a total of 320. The engine is matched to a computer-controlled five-speed automatic transmission driving the rear wheels. The previous-generation LS was renowned for its ability to isolate the driver from the driving experience so much so that we found it rather boring to drive nor could its handling be called sporty. With the LS 430, Lexus has achieved a more pleasant balance: The car is still serene, but the ride is firmer and the steering more responsive you can even option the 430 with a sport suspension. Every LS 430 offers a richly furnished cabin with a long list of standard features (a climate control system with sun-sensing air registers, power adjustable rear seats, etc.) and an extensive list of options. While the LS 430 still doesn't deliver the handling characteristics or prestige of its German rivals, it tries hard to look the part of a European sedan. Which is just fine, if you want a little extra space, fewer trips to the service department and an out-the-door price of well under 70 grand under 60, even, if you're easy on the options.
As the only rear-wheel-drive full-size American luxury sedan still in production, the Town Car is also the roomiest American sedan on the market today. The Town Car can't match the power and refinement of foreign competitors (think BMW 7 Series, Lexus LS 430, Mercedes-Benz S-Class), but a starting MSRP of just over 40 grand makes it a more attainable package for consumers and businesses (limo companies, funeral homes). For general consumers, the Town Car is offered in Executive, Signature and Cartier trim. You can buy extended-wheelbase versions Executive L and Cartier L which offer 6 more inches of legroom for rear passengers. Every model comes with leather, automatic climate control and complimentary maintenance for the first three years or 36,000 miles. Our main complaint about previous Town Cars was their lack of horsepower, but Lincoln addressed this issue in 2001. The 4.6-liter V8 in Executive and Signature models now develop 220 horsepower and 265 foot-pounds of torque. Cartier models get a more powerful version of this engine that churns out 235 horsepower and 276 ft-lbs of twist. All models have a four-speed automatic transmission. As you would expect, these Lincolns perform most capably as highway and urban cruisers their soft suspension coddles passengers and floats over the harshest of pavement. Should you desire a more physically fit Town Car, you'll want to order the Signature Touring Sedan option, which bundles the 235-horse powerplant, a sport-tuned suspension and a shorter axle ratio for better acceleration, along with a number of cosmetic trimmings. Certainly, we can think of more polished, more exclusive luxury sedans, but the Town Car offers lots of room even the convenience of a 40/20/40 front bench seat at a comparatively low price.
There's a reason why the Crown Vic and Grand Marq are top choices for taxi drivers, police departments and Floridians these cars are cavernous. A standard V8 good for 220 horsepower and 265 foot-pounds of torque doesn't hurt, either. Sure, the underpinnings of these cars are decades old, but that means low prices for consumers. Both cars come in two trim levels: base and LX for the Ford and GS and LS for the Mercury. The equipment is largely the same throughout the line, but the Crown Victoria LX and Grand Marquis LS models are eligible for a longer list of options, including automatic climate control, a power passenger seat and a leather interior. Handling is predictably boat-like: The cars deliver a comfortable highway ride, but they're all too happy to float around over bumps. An optional handling and performance package adds a few horsepower (boosting output to 235 horsepower) and improves the car's stability on curvy roads. Alternatively, Crown Vic buyers can opt for a sport appearance package that includes a sport suspension, 17-inch wheels and front bucket seats in lieu of the standard 60/40 bench. Certainly, there are cooler cars to be had, but a spacious interior and a loaded price of under $30,000, may be enough to get you into a Crown Victoria or Grand Marquis. Or, if you can wait until mid-2002, a few Grand Marqs will be dressed as big, black Marauders with 300 horsepower and 300 ft-lbs of twist.
4. Mercedes-Benz S-Class (tie)
We don't suppose many of you will be cross-shopping the pedestrian Crown Vic with the stately S-Class, but dimensions for the driver and front passenger are roughly the same. However, while the Ford exudes the charm of a police cruiser, the S-Class presents itself as a mobile embodiment of your life's achievement all of your good breeding, financial security and refined tastes enclosed by its sleek bodywork. Assets aside, this largest Benz does offer an appealing package: Each one is engineered to be driven hard, steeped in luxury fineries and large enough to carry your passengers in comfort. Four models are available: the 275-horsepower S430, which comes with a 4.3-liter V8 engine, the 302-horse S500, which boasts a 5.0-liter V8 under the hood, the AMG-tuned S55 with a 5.5-liter V8 good for 354 horsepower and the S600, sporting a 362-horsepower V12. Standard features across the line include ABS with brake assist (reduces braking distance during panic stops), Electronic Stability Program (ESP), BabySmart child-seat protection, the esoteric COMAND (Cockpit Management And Data) system and a complete menu of airbags. And, of course, an extensive array of options awaits each S-Class buyer. The only real drawback to the Benz is that BMW's 7 Series cars cost less and are more fun to drive.
Although it is essentially a dressed-up version of the Maxima, the current generation of the I30 has its own stylish sheetmetal and a higher-output version of the Maxima's 3.0-liter V6. And apparently, the differences between the two models extend to the interior, as well: The I30 offers an inch less legroom and an inch less hip room. As you can see, though, this Infiniti is still one of the roomiest cars available, and it has the most spacious cockpit in the entry-luxury segment (think Acura TL, Lincoln LS, Volvo S60, and the like). Available in two trim levels, Luxury and Touring, the I30 comes well equipped in either guise. Luxury models are packed with the usual upscale tidings, including leather seats, an express-open sunroof, automatic climate control, 200-watt Bose audio system and a power rear sunshade. Step up to the Touring model and Infiniti adds a viscous limited-slip differential, sport-ride suspension, xenon high-intensity headlamps, 17-inch wheels and performance-oriented P225/50VR17 tires. Infiniti will give its sedan a freshening for 2002. A 260-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 will replace the current 227-horsepower V6 (which is already buttery smooth) and necessitate a change in nomenclature to I35. Other improvements consist of an upgraded brake system (electronic brake force distribution and brake assist have been added), an optional sport package for Luxury models, a stability control system (standard on Touring models and Luxury models equipped with the sport package) and cosmetic tweaks inside and out. Whether or not you wait for the 2002 upgrades, these Infinitis are reliable, fun to drive and loaded with content. Plus, you'll live the luxury sedan experience without the usual luxury sedan payments.
5. Buick Park Avenue (tie)
Quiet and unassuming, Buicks are known for their expansive, comfortable interiors. The Park Avenue isn't cutting-edge in any respect, but that's the idea it keeps the customer base happy and the MSRP in check. There are two trim levels: Base and Ultra. Both come with a large array of standard features, but we would opt for the Ultra, which comes with a supercharged 240-horsepower version of GM's venerable 3800 Series II V6 engine. The base Park Avenue is no slouch, however, as it still develops 205 horsepower with the standard 3800 V6 under the hood. Interesting optional features include Ultrasonic Rear Park Assist, a system that helps the driver judge the distance between the rear of the vehicle and objects behind the car, and a head-up display that projects speed, turn signals, high beams and warning lights onto the bottom of the windshield. As you might expect, the Park Avenue is a gifted highway cruiser capable of absorbing everything in its path the result is a smooth ride for passengers. Elsewhere, the Buick's wallowy suspension is easily unsettled. Even though the Park Avenue is Buick's luxury nameplate, its construction and interior materials aren't quite up to Lexus standards. This could make it difficult for some to justify spending $40,000 on a loaded Park Avenue Ultra.
The A8 is Audi's entry in the super-luxury segment, and the S8 is the high-performance version of the company's flagship. The Audis rank third in this segment for driver and front passenger space behind Lexus' LS 430 and Mercedes' S-Class. While the A8 and S8 are styled conservatively, they resemble the rest of the Audi family and at once differentiate their drivers from those who choose a commonplace Bimmer or Benz. The A8 is available with a regular or extended wheelbase (A8 L) the latter increases head-, shoulder- and legroom for rear occupants. Both A8 models come standard with a 4.2-liter V8 that develops 310 horsepower and 302 foot-pounds of torque; the S8 gets a more powerful version of this engine good for 360 horsepower and 317 ft-lbs of twisting force. All models come with quattro all-wheel drive, stability control, electronic differential locking (low-speed traction control), electronic brake pressure distribution and a full menu of front, side and head curtain airbags. Other performance enhancements on the S8 include larger brakes, 18-inch wheels and a stiffer suspension. The A8 L comes with a few more standard luxury items than the others, including a navigation system and heated front and rear seats; these are available as options for the regular A8 and S8. The A8 L and S8 are also eligible for optional parking distance sensors and a wood/leather trim package (in case the standard allotment isn't enough). While the A8 doesn't have the handling characteristics to make us choose one over a BMW 7 Series, its sumptuous interior, long list of standard features and quattro all-wheel drive will make it an appealing alternative to some. The performance-oriented S8 is a little short on torque compared with competitors like the Mercedes-Benz S55, but like the A8, it comes loaded. It costs less than the S55, too.
6. Infiniti Q45 (2002)
The old Q didn't crack the top 10. But the redesigned 2002 Q45 added a couple of inches to the cockpit. More important to luxury sedan buyers: The new Q gained a naturally aspirated, 4.5-liter 32-valve V8 engine that produces 340 horsepower and 333 ft-lbs of torque. Infiniti's flagship should finally prove itself a worthy competitor against the German brands and Lexus that was always the idea, in fact, but the Qs of the 1990s couldn't keep up. And while handling isn't at the BMW level, a light curb weight, exemplary road manners and an available sport package (active damping suspension, 18-inch tires), make the Q a pleasant companion on winding canyon roads. Of course, the Infiniti has a perfectly opulent interior as well as all the usual luxury fare stability control, electronic brake distribution, brake assist, airbags galore, a 300-watt Bose stereo system with a six-CD changer and a voice-activated control system. Opt for the $8,000 Premium package and your rear passengers will be treated to heated seats and manual side and power rear sunshades, plus their own set of air-conditioning and stereo controls, as well as seat bottoms and seatbacks that move fore and aft. Even when loaded, the Q will come in under 60 grand, which will make it the value leader of the super-luxury sedan segment.
7. Chevrolet Impala (tie)
Although the Impala and the upscale Chrysler LH cars tied for seventh place, they're not equally comfy. The Impala does offer the flexibility of a front bench seat (that is, seating for six), but its rear accommodations are short on head-, hip- and legroom such that it doesn't feel like a full-size car. If you need plenty of room in the front and rear, the LHS should be your choice. We're not too fond of the Impala (it finished last in our 2000 Family Car Comparison Test): Besides its overly flaccid suspension, notable build-quality issues and questionable styling, the current generation totes the burden of the rear-drive Caprice-based Impala SS with its glorious, Corvette-derived LT-1 V8 that met an untimely death in 1996 after only three years on the market. Under the hood of the current front-wheel-drive Impala is a 180-horsepower 3.4-liter V6 in base trim and GM's 200-horsepower 3800 Series II V6 in LS trim (optional for the base sedan). The standard equipment list includes antilock brakes, 16-inch wheels and tires, dual-zone climate control, rear-seat headrests, power windows and locks and a Radio Data System (RDS) AM/FM stereo (also, the clock resets itself when you drive across time zones). Side airbags are standard on the LS and optional for the base Impala. If you're shopping for a full-size American sedan, we think you can do better than the Impala: Consider instead the Ford Crown Victoria/Mercury Grand Marquis or one of the full-size Chryslers (Dodge Intrepid and Chrysler Concorde, 300M and LHS).
The 300M and LHS complement each other: If you want a full-size, modern-day muscle car (albeit a front-wheel-drive one), the 300M is your car. If you want a highway cruiser with lots of room in the backseat and trunk, then you want the LHS it's 10 inches longer. Both are powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that churns out 253 horsepower and 255 ft-lbs of torque. Power output is respectable for cars that weigh over 3,500 pounds. The LHS comes with a four-speed automatic, while the 300M gets AutoStick, Chrysler's automanual transmission. The big Chryslers come with tempting array of luxury standards: 17-inch wheels, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, air conditioning, heated leather seats with eight-way power adjustment and a 240-watt Infinity sound system with steering wheel controls. Options include side airbags, real wood trim and a four-CD in-dash changer. Additionally, the 300M can be optioned with the Performance Handling group, which includes a sport-tuned suspension and upgraded disc brakes. Both cars offer excellent steering, though the 300M's tidier dimensions and tauter suspension (even without the sport upgrade) make it the better handler. That's OK, because the more spacious LHS has all of the 300M's luxury items and costs a bit less. If you want a powerful, fun to drive, full-size sedan in the $30,000 range, the 300M and LHS merit a test drive.
8. BMW 7 Series
If you have the financial resources and need an entertaining, commodious transport for the clients or the relatives, the 7 Series would be our first choice. Such is not to say that the other super-luxury nameplates (Audi, Infiniti, Jaguar, Lexus, Mercedes) don't have their merits it's just that we prefer the BMW's blend of performance and luxury (a 750iL won our 2000 Super Luxury Sedans Over $60,000 comparison test). The lineup consists of the 740i, 740iL and 750iL. The numbers refer to engine size you can have a 4.4-liter V8 that makes 282 horsepower and 324 foot-pounds of torque or a 5.4-liter V12 good for 326 horsepower and 361 ft-lbs of twist. The "L" denotes the extended-wheelbase models, which increase rear passenger legroom from 36.7 inches to 41.9 inches. Also available are the 740iL Protection and 750iL Protection models that feature bullet-resistant glass and run-flat tires. A 750iL will easily close in on $100,000, but the 740i starts at a more attainable 60 grand. A long list of features is available to 7 Series buyers, including a sport package, traction control, stability control, brake assist, electronic suspension damping, park distance control, rain-sensing wipers, 16-way power seats, navigation system and more. Even if you select only a few of these amenities, you'll be getting a full-size luxury car that involves you in the driving experience like no other in its class.
As the family sedan of the Oldsmobile lineup, the Intrigue targets buyers who might otherwise settle into a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. And it outdoes them both in the area of front seat dimensions. On the other hand, we've found the backseat quarters tight for three full-size adults, though your kids may not mind sitting back there. Driving the Intrigue feels more like driving an import than a typical Oldsmobile. Speed-sensitive steering offers good feedback, and the brake pedal is easy to modulate. While the car is fairly big, it doesn't feel that way from the driver seat, thanks to responsive handling and good visibility. The soft suspension delivers a smooth highway ride but gets quite unsettled when the car encounters freeway expansion joints or winding two-lane roads. Fortunately, every Intrigue can be equipped with a stability control system. One of the car's best attributes is its torquey 3.5-liter twin-cam V6, which makes 215 horsepower. A four-speed automatic is standard. The GX is a fully equipped base model besides the V6, it has power everything, four-wheel disc brakes, ABS and 16-inch wheels. GL buyers get a CD player, dual-zone air conditioning, fog lamps, keyless entry and upgraded mirrors and seats. The uplevel GLS adds OnStar telematics, leather and faux wood trim. While its build quality doesn't match the Accord's or the Camry's, the Intrigue is still worth a test drive if you're shopping for a family sedan with extra room in the cockpit.
10. Cadillac DeVille (tie)
The DeVille is the biggest of the Cadillacs and offers generous room for its five or six passengers to spread out. In fact, those in the rear enjoy slightly more legroom than the driver and front passenger (43.2 inches compared with 42.4). Three versions of this front-wheel-drive American luxury sedan are available the base DeVille, a ritzy DeVille High Luxury Sedan (DHS) and a sporty five-passenger DeVille Touring Sedan (DTS). Each DeVille is powered by the 4.6-liter Northstar V8, though output varies. The LEV-certified V8 makes 275 horsepower and 300 foot-pounds of torque in the base DeVille and DHS, and 300 horsepower and 295 ft-lbs under the hood of the DTS. A four-speed automatic transmission makes the most of the revered V8's power curve. Aside from its size and performance, the DeVille is packed with technology. The most interesting bit of wizardry is Night Vision, a thermal imaging system that helps drivers avoid collisions by enhancing their ability to detect objects well beyond the normal range of their headlights. Other goodies include ultrasonic parking assist, the latest versions of Cadillac's stability control system (StabiliTrak 2.0) and continuously variable road-sensing suspension (DTS models only), a CD-based navigation system, tri-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers and heated front and rear seats. All DeVilles get OnStar telematics. On the road, the DeVille offers the comfortable, serene ride that Cadillac buyers expect. The big front-driver really isn't geared for canyon-carving, but should you test the limits, its technology will set you straight. In this price range, we would be inclined to go with a BMW 5 Series sedan for its superior driving experience and build quality. But if that isn't important to you, the DeVille offers a value-priced package of space, power and luxury amenities.
10. Pontiac Bonneville (tie)
The Bonneville is a full-size front-wheel-drive sedan for buyers who want to combine luxury features with Pontiac attitude (hence, its angular shape and cat's-eye headlamps). Standard on base SE and midlevel SLE models is GM's 3800 V6 engine, which sends 205 horsepower and 230 foot-pounds of torque in the Bonneville. Move to the SSEi, and you get a supercharged variant of the 3.8-liter V6 good for 240 horsepower and 280 ft-lbs of twist. A four-speed automatic is standard across the line. SE models come with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, 16-inch wheels and side airbags for front passengers. The midlevel SLE adds dual-zone climate control, a programmable driver information center, OnStar telematics, traction control, 17-inch wheels and a performance axle ratio. Besides its supercharged punch, the SSEi offers 12-way power leather front buckets with memory, a head-up display, an eight-speaker Bose sound system, stability control and variable-effort steering. Every Bonneville seats five, though the SE can be equipped with a front bench seat to increase capacity to six. The Bonneville is a satisfying highway cruiser, particularly if you're behind the wheel of the supercharged SSEi. However, we wish this Pontiac had a more responsive handling package to accommodate spirited runs on two-lane roads. As it stands, we would rather have a V6-equipped Lincoln LS or a Chrysler 300M.
(Other close competitors include the Volvo V70, Chrysler Concorde, Acura RL, Dodge Intrepid, Toyota Camry, Lexus SC 430, Lincoln Continental, Oldsmobile Aurora, Cadillac Seville, Volvo S60, Pontiac Grand Prix and Lincoln LS. Keep in mind that these rankings are based on dimensions alone varying seat design and instrument placement in the cockpit make an extended test drive essential.)