Crossovers, SUVs and minivans have all had their moments in the sun, but the traditional sedan continues to buck trends as America's vehicle of choice. Ranging from fuel-efficient subcompacts to opulent luxury barges, this category easily offers the widest spectrum of choice. This year's list is filled with many of the usual suspects, but there are a few notable newcomers as well as a few familiar names that have significantly stepped up their games for 2010. As you read, keep in mind our definition of a sedan: "a car with a four-door body configuration and a conventional trunk or a sloping back with a hinged rear cargo hatch that opens upward."
Buyers in this category are looking for a spacious yet fuel-efficient vehicle, but don't want to break the bank to get one. The Honda Fit and the Hyundai Elantra perfectly embody this sentiment. The Elantra is one of the best-kept secrets in the under-$15,000 range. It is larger, less expensive and offers a better warranty than most of its competitors. And for 2010, there is a new entry-level Elantra "Blue" trim focused on delivering maximum fuel economy.
We recommended the Honda Fit last year and still feel the same way. There are few cars in this class that can top its versatility and fuel-efficiency while actually being fun to drive. All Fit models come with an above-average level of standard equipment. When you have a compact hatchback that offers as much cargo volume as larger midsize sedans while costing a few thousand less, you know you've found a great car.
For 2010, this category features a trio of sedans that are new or have been redesigned. The Mazda 3 has been redesigned and now brings a number of luxury features to this price range. What the Mazda 3 lacks in size compared to its competitors, it makes up for in its handling, steering feel and value.
The Suzuki Kizashi is brand-new for 2010. This car is priced like a midsize sedan, but it looks and feels like an upscale German sedan. It's a bit smaller than its competitors, but with standard features like all-wheel drive, dual-zone climate control, and keyless push-button start, the Kizashi should be at the top of your shopping list.
The Ford Fusion can take you in many directions based on your needs and pocketbook. You can start out with the well-optioned S model or fulfill your enthusiast side with the Sport. The Fusion has been extensively revised for 2010, both inside and out. The result is a sharper-looking sedan with a higher-quality interior.
Surprised to see the Toyota Prius here? We're not. Just because this car is a hybrid doesn't mean it can't serve as a family sedan. Redesigned for 2010, this latest Prius is spacious, full of high-tech features, and this year's winner of our Fuel Sipper Smackdown.
The Volkswagen Jetta is not only one of the more upscale cars in this price range, it is also one of the better values. You can get almost any trim level for less than $25,000. This includes the loaded SEL, the fuel-efficient diesel TDI and the spacious SportWagen.
Not everyone wants a trendy or sporty car. Sometimes all you need is a well-built family sedan that gets decent mileage and has room for groceries and your kids. If that's your situation, the Honda Accord could be a great choice for you. This car boasts a high-quality interior, an ample amount of head- and legroom, and an excellent resale value.
One recommended sedan in this price category is a repeat winner, while the other is a familiar name attached to a radically different and improved car for 2010. The first is the Volkswagen CC, a different sort of sedan that takes the rock-solid mechanicals of VW's Passat and puts them in a handsome coupe-inspired body that brings style and sophistication to a category that's often dull and boring. Although a V6 engine is available at a higher price point, the CC is actually more desirable when costing less than $30,000 with its standard turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
Our second pick is the all-new Buick LaCrosse, a sedan that should completely alter the way you think of GM's dodgy Buick brand. Gone is the geriatric styling and half-hearted construction. In its place is a sharp-looking car inside and out with a high-class interior that matches and even surpasses Cadillac. The LaCrosse delivers the comfortable ride and spacious cabin you'd expect from a Buick, while offering more sophisticated driving dynamics and GM's latest catalog of high-tech features. It's a game-changing car that can be considered against big sedans like the new Ford Taurus and entry-level luxury sedans like the Lexus ES 350.
Don't expect any changes from last year -- the trio of victors from this segment return for a repeat performance. Let's start with the ubiquitous choice. The BMW 3 Series has been awarded more times than Meryl Streep and rightfully so. It is the standard-bearer for the entry-level sport sedan class by providing an unmatched combination of superb handling, comfortable ride and straight-6 engines that make you smile with every rev. Even as the current generation enters its fourth year and the competition continues to catch up, buying a 328i or 335i is always a good idea.
One of the 3 Series' aforementioned competitors is the Infiniti G37, a sport sedan that takes dead aim at BMW's classic formula and does so at a significant discount. Bang for your buck is the optimum term here. Unlike the Bimmer, the Infiniti comes with only one engine flavor: spicy. Its 3.7-liter V6 packs a hearty 328 horsepower and can go from zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. Sharing its rear-drive platform with the G37 Coupe and Nissan's 370Z sports car, it handles as the best sport sedans should. The G also has a fully stocked features list and some of the easiest-to-use electronic features around.
Not everyone wants a sport sedan, though, and for them the Hyundai Genesis is an excellent choice. This highly refined luxury sedan offers the sort of space, features and quality you'd expect from a car with a premium badge and an accompanying price tag that starts $20,000 higher. Although it is available with six- and eight-cylinder engines, in this case fewer is better, as the V6 provides similar enough acceleration and better fuel economy. You may not think "luxury" when you think of Hyundai, but the Genesis is guaranteed to make you reconsider.
We have two choices in this segment: one on the low end and the other on the high end. The Cadillac CTS is the car that brought GM's treasured luxury brand back into the discussion of the world's best sport sedans. While a little conflicted at times (it can simultaneously be not sporty enough and have a ride that's not comfortable enough), the CTS is the closest thing we have to a modern American luxury car that combines the latest engineering and technology with the type of styling that only the U.S. of A could come up with.
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class was completely redesigned for 2010 and unlike its predecessor, earns a spot on our recommended list. A new, more chiseled design inside and out is the most obvious change, harking back to the classic blocky Benzes of yore. Yet under the skin, the E-Class embodies the sort of bulletproof construction and meticulous engineering that we expect of a Mercedes, while showcasing the brand's myriad electronic features. This is a special sedan and best of all, it's significantly cheaper than the car it replaces.
Blessed with all-new direct-injected engines for 2010, the Jaguar XF adds more powerful and efficient V8 mills to what was already a luxurious sedan with looks to spare. The XF's surprisingly balanced and athletic chassis makes good use of the newfound urge from the state-of-the-art 5.0-liter power plants, creating a refined and remarkably swift sedan. The XF's interior continues to delight, with a truly unique design that complements its wealth of features. For those who seek some real performance with a large dose of style, the XF is a winning luxury-sedan package.
If you are looking for a veneer of luxury to soothe the prospect of living with an ultra-high-performance sedan, the BMW M3 is the enthusiast's choice, and our second pick in this loaded segment. If you live to drive, but still have practical concerns that require a four-door sedan, BMW's M3 provides a minimal distillation of the pure sports car. Though the M3 provides an extra set of doors and enough luxury to coddle day-to-day, it also packs a frenetic, high-revving V8 that will have you longing for any chance to unwind the tach. In the M3, the well-rounded goodness of the BMW 3 Series remains intact, coupled to an extensively widened performance envelope.
Our three winners in this class span the gamut of ultra-luxury sedans. At the traditional end of the spectrum, our selection goes to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. For those who seek a spacious flagship loaded with safety, technology and luxury amenities, the S-Class delivers. A reassuring cocoon of solidity, the S-Class rolls down any road with impeccable manners, motivated by potent drivetrains and surprisingly agile handling from a machine of such presence. Vaultlike construction and regal room for passengers make the S-Class a stunning choice for those who require real space in their luxury sedan.
BMW's 7 Series splits this threesome of picks down the middle, providing impressive doses of luxurious technology, but in a chassis that will speak to those who insist on doing the driving themselves. Loaded with safety and convenience technology, this large sedan also brings with it the enviable BMW trait of seeming to shrink as the pace rises and the road begins to turn. Happily absorbing even the worst pavement while muting the rigors of the outside world, beneath the subtle curves of the 7 Series' skin lies a remarkable performance sedan that -- much like the 3 Series -- feels better the harder you drive it.
As close as anyone has yet come to a four-door sports car, Porsche's new Panamera sedan defines a previously uncharted performance end of the large-luxury-sedan segment. A loaded and fully realized four-seat four-door, the Panamera is for those who want sports-car capabilities added to a machine that will coddle a quartet of full-size adults and their luggage. With acceleration and handling that will humble all but the most capable performance cars, the Panamera is not just for those who insist on driving, but want to arrive first.