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 2011. 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."
In this bargain-basement segment, two things are remarkable. One is that you can get a well-built car with some nice features. The other is that you can get a car that's enjoyable to drive. If you choose the new Ford Fiesta, you'll get it all. Quality materials and some unexpected features such as available keyless ignition/entry and Ford's voice-command Sync system for mp3 players and cell phones give this subcompact an upscale ambiance. Under way, the Fiesta's willing engine, precise steering, big-car feel and confident handling reinforce the notion that affordable needn't mean cheap.
The capable Honda Fit trades some of the Fiesta's athleticism and refinement for more practicality. The cargo and passenger space within this small car is simply amazing, as is Honda's way of allowing one to make the most of it. The flat-folding second-row seats, for example, have an additional feature where one can flip up the seat bottoms to allow taller items to be nestled in the space between the front and rear seatbacks.
While the Toyota Camry dominates sales in this category, we think consumers should consider one of the many newer, more compelling sedans in this price segment. One of our favorites is the Ford Fusion. Refreshed last year with an improved interior, additional high-tech features, new engines and better fuel economy, the Fusion is well-rounded throughout its model lineup. We're especially fond of its Sport model, which came out on top of a midsize-sedan comparison test.
The Kia Optima was once a forgettable also-ran amongst family sedans, but with sharp European styling, it's now a sedan to be noticed. The Optima shares its platform and engines with the also-appealing new Hyundai Sonata. The choice between the two is a tough one, but we ultimately prefer the Optima's handling and cabin design.
Also in this price range, but existing in a different size segment, is the perennial favorite Mazda 3. Available in four-door sedan and hatchback body styles, and with two different engines, the 3 is versatile, well-made and fun to drive. This is a car that should be just the right size and price for many, and we'd know, as more Edmunds editors own a Mazda 3 than any other car.
Keep in mind that most of the models in the previous price category are often optioned up to this level, so consideration of both is certainly wise. Having said that, this category features a diverse group of entries that includes full-size sedans, unique hybrid models and hot hatches. The Honda Accord is no longer the stand-out family sedan it once was, but continues to boast strong reliability, excellent resale value, an enormous backseat and for 2011, best-in-class fuel economy.
The Volkswagen GTI could easily be the only car you'd ever need. It has a backseat big enough for tall adults, a versatile hatchback trunk, strong performance, lively handling, thrifty fuel economy and the cabin quality of a luxury car.
You may be surprised to see a Toyota Prius here, but just because it's a hybrid doesn't mean it can't serve as a family sedan. Beyond its incredible fuel economy, the Prius has plenty of room for four adults and a hatchback trunk that can make a run to Ikea if needed.
This category consists of sedans that bridge the gap between regular family cars and those with luxury badges. Typically, you can find many of the trappings and technologies that are characteristic of a luxury marque at a lower price. Take the Volkswagen CC, for instance — a different sort of sedan that takes the rock-solid German-engineered mechanics of VW's Passat and puts them into a handsome coupe-inspired body. Although a V6 engine is available at a higher price point, the CC is actually more desirable with its standard turbocharged, fuel-efficient four-cylinder.
The new Buick Regal also has European-sourced engineering and style, but we're keener on its sibling, the Buick LaCrosse . The geriatric styling and half-hearted construction of past Buicks have been replaced with a striking design, a high-class cabin and a refined driving experience. We actually chose the LaCrosse over the more expensive Lexus ES 350 in a comparison test; it's certainly a savvy choice.
This class is chiefly comprised of premium-brand, entry-level luxury sport sedans. The perennial favorite, the BMW 3 Series, has what most consumers shopping here require: spirited and involving performance, a well-trimmed cabin, strong build quality and sporty styling. Offering a choice of turbine-smooth inline-6 engines, the 3 Series can be had with rear- or all-wheel drive — the latter, a good choice for driving enthusiasts who live in inclement parts of the country. The entry-level 328i offers more speed than its 230-horsepower rating suggests, while the turbocharged 335i boasts the sort of performance previously associated with the high-strung M3.
The thorn in the Bimmer's side has long been the Infiniti G sedan, which presents a stronger value proposition thanks to its more spacious cabin and liberal standard features. This year brings the new entry-level G25, which allows the G to make this lower price point. The junior G may have a smaller V6 than its G37 sibling, but it is otherwise similar and still offers more than enough performance for most folks, along with that temptingly lower price tag.
The value leader here would have to be the Hyundai Genesis. Larger than midsize luxury sedans such as the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class yet priced like the entry-level compact models from these German brands, the Genesis offers generous room and a truly plush cabin. The big Hyundai also has all the latest luxury features (many that are standard) that one could want, along with strong performances from both its V6 and V8 engines. And if a 23,000-mile, virtually trouble-free tour of duty in our long-term fleet is any indication, the Genesis is also a very well-built car.
After years of rising prices and diminishing quality, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class has reversed itself, offering the kind of refined luxury that made it a legendary nameplate even as the price tag has been reduced by as much as $5,400 for the E550. In quality and equipment, the E-Class evokes the exclusive Mercedes S-Class, yet its practical size, buttoned-down ride and range of engine choices combine to make this a perfect all-around sedan for the way real people drive.
It's no surprise that the BMW 5 Series should make this list, as this car has come to express the idea of a sport sedan for grown-ups like no other. For 2011, though, the 5 Series has grown closer in size and spirit to the luxurious BMW 7 Series than the practical-size 3 Series, so comfort and speed are now its prime directives. The Cadillac CTS, ironically, might be the most sporting of these three choices — a measure of just how far the Cadillac brand has changed. Yet what makes the car sing for us is its refinement and luxury, as the sedan now drives in a mature, assured way that we formerly associated only with European sedans.
Initially, the Hyundai Equus may seem out of place among premium luxury brands, but this large luxury sedan has the credentials to stand among the established nameplates. Besides the high level of comfort, luxury and all of the niceties we expect from luxury sedans, the Equus' cup overfloweth with a features list as comprehensive as a $100,000 flagship model from Mercedes-Benz or BMW. Styling is on the plain side and performance isn't quite up to the competition's level, but these are forgivable flaws. The main drawback seems to be the Hyundai badge on the trunk lid.
The BMW M3 doesn't suffer from badge-itis, as it's consistently been on top of our lists for several years. In stark contrast to the other picks in this category, the M3 sedan is the enthusiast's choice, but it doesn't sacrifice comfort and practicality in the name of performance.
Yet another type of sedan is our third choice. The stylish Jaguar XF boasts a refined ride, sporty performance and luxurious interior among its strengths. While some controls are a little complicated, the XF has a bevy of neat little details that make it stand out from the crowd. Any one of its four available V8 engines will provide an ample dose of excitement.
Europe continues to reign supreme over this segment, but the ruling figureheads have changed in the past year, with the Porsche Panamera and Jaguar XJ representing a new standard in luxury sedans. Appearances aside, the Porsche Panamera is simply amazing. It's able to comfortably seat four adults in cosseting luxury while also performing on a level usually reserved for much smaller sports cars.
The new Jaguar XJ tied the Porsche in our voting, gaining our favor with its unique styling, relatively nimble handling and wide-ranging engine choices that motivate this new Jag with surprising authority. The XJ's exquisite interior easily rivals those of the most expensive luxury cars on the planet. The cabin is a veritable feast for the senses, with supple leather and rich wood covering nearly every surface.
Yet, let's not forget the old guard in flagship luxury sedans. The ever-popular Mercedes-Benz S-Class remains one of the highest-rated vehicles on Edmunds.com with core strengths that continue to define the luxury-sedan segment. State-of-the-art features, a top-notch interior, commendable performance, a refined driving experience and, let's face it, the Mercedes prestige make it the "go to" car. A wide variety of engine choices, including the S400 hybrid, also gives shoppers plenty of choices to fit their particular needs.