Tested: 2009 Sports Sedan Showdown


From the June 2009 issue of Car and Driver.

For executives undergoing painful downsizing, may we suggest something in the $40,000 range, smart yet modest in posture compared with the usual CEO barge. Something in a sports sedan would keep the mood casual. Just in time, we have two new international choices: the bravely chiseled Acura TL and the softly molded Audi A4. The Acura, apart from its polarizing, sharply creased style, brings Honda’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive to the middleweight sports class. The A4 brings variable lift on the exhaust valves of the 2.0-liter turbo four, upping output 11 horses to 211.

They join two other old favorites that have been smartly upgraded for 2009: BMW’s ever-popular 328i gets new headlights and hood in front; new wheels, mirrors, and sills in the side view; new taillights, decklid, and bumper in back; and of course, an increment of $900 on the bottom line. The Infiniti G35 of last year is now vitamin fortified and rechristened G37 to reflect the V-6 upsizing to 3.7 liters from 3.5. The previous 306-horse version romped all comers at the drag strip. They should expect even less mercy now.

There are other appealing choices in this class: the flying-wedge Cadillac CTS is one, as is the mini-Benz C300 Sport from Mercedes. But league rules prevail (it’s our league, but never mind)—once a car is left behind in a comparison test, it’s off the roster when future test combatants are being rounded up unless there’s some significant transformation. In fact, the G35 finished second to the BMW 328i in our January 2008 meeting of this class. But as enamored of power as we are, the newly harnessed 22 horses of the G37 convinced us of its promise.

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

Meanwhile, you may have noticed that certain carmakers are hanging by threads, and car sales within the U.S. are running just over half of the rate considered normal a few years ago. With sales turgid, production is down and the choice of models available to us is thinner than we’ve ever seen. So we have two six-speed manuals here, matched against two automatics. The TL SH-AWD won’t be available with the car guy’s favorite lever until later this year. The A4 stick is in the catalog now, but the only version we could scare up before the deadline was a six-speed automatic wearing $13,000 worth of options. So the cars’ as-tested prices range more than $10,000 around our $40K target.

Okay, enough hemming and hawing. Let’s see how they stack up.

Fourth Place: Acura TL SH-AWD

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

This is the big guy of the bunch—8.3 inches longer than the next-largest Infiniti and nearly 300 pounds heavier, though most of the excess weight is a consequence of all-wheel drive (the AWD Audi is second heftiest). The hospitable interior pushes the TL to the top as a highway cruiser. The cabin is quiet, four passengers will find unmatched stretch-out space, and the well-stuffed seats are plush and elaborately contoured.

HIGHS: Hey-lookit-me visuals, plush leather lining, comfy in back (for two), hushed at high speeds.
LOWS: The steering’s zone of indifference on-center, flinty ride over small bumps, too many buttons.

The steering, however, is at odds with effortless motoring. It has a zone of indifference on-center, a band within which it seems undecided about the path. So suggestions from the road become action plans—cross the crown of a two-lane, and the TL suddenly gets a new heading. “Feels like a robot car,” wrote a staffer who felt not quite connected to the controls.

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

The TL has relaxed reflexes compared with the others, and the machinery sounds are generic. Mostly it’s the TL’s ride that suggests athletic capability, flinty over imperfections that look inconsequential.

Its track numbers are undistinguished in this group: 6.5 seconds to 60 mph noses it ahead of the Audi, but it isn’t within a sniff of the Infiniti and BMW, who get there in the fives. By the tiniest of margins, the TL topped the braking results: 158 feet in the 70-to-0 compared with 159 feet for the Infiniti and 160 for the BMW. Skidpad grip was identical for those three at 0.92 g, a commendable number for medium-size sedans, but there’s an asterisk attached—all of them roll on summer tires, which generally wear faster and lose their grip as temperatures drop near freezing.

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

If the exterior is dominated by crisp sculpting, then it is the buttons that take over inside, dozens and dozens of black buttons identified by white lettering in a thin font. “Too many” is the first response, followed by “intimidating,” but each driver eventually made peace with the layout. Honda’s way, these days, is to cluster entertainment, HVAC, and nav buttons in the center of the dash around a master control knob.

We notice that some of the initial intimidation is the result of styling. On the wheel, simple rockers are styled to look like multiple buttons.

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

Elsewhere, however, we found genuine limits. Only children will find adequate headroom in the center of the rear seat. At the track, the brakes mysteriously went to the floor after one acceleration run. One evening when we were parking the car for the night, a warning insisted that we must remove the remote fob from its dash receptacle (this is one of those modern cars that you can drive with the transmitter in your pocket or purse, yet a dock is provided for it on the dash for those who prefer to treat it as a key). Small problem: The fob was in the driver’s hand. Nonetheless, the controller wouldn’t lock the door because it knew, just knew, that we were about to lock the key in the car. So the TL went unlocked that night.

One such episode and you never trust the car again.

THE VERDICT: All the right stuff but can’t make conversation.

2009 Acura TL SH-AWD
305-hp V-6, 5-speed automatic, 3975 lb
Base/as-tested price: $39,265/$43,995
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 6.5 sec
100 mph: 16.8 sec
120 mph: 29.0 sec
1/4 mile: 15.1 @ 95 mph
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 158 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.92 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 21 mpg

Third Place: Audi A4 2.0T Quattro

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

Audi steps up to the big-displacement sixes of the others with its peashooter turbo four—spotting them a full liter in the case of the BMW and 1.7 liters each to the Acura and Infiniti. Nice try, but no champagne. The rowdy 2.0T that charms us with its yeasty fun in the VW GTI seems, well, vulgar in these pricier surroundings. Its four-cylinder’s hums and thrums add a background rumble even at low speeds, a sound layer under the wind and road noise that is also well represented. Overall, the ears conclude that this is a loud car even if the sound-level meter doesn’t agree.

HIGHS: Well sculpted inside and out, a feeling of flingability, the interior’s “ash almond beige” wood accents.
LOWS: Road noise, wind noise, engine noise from a four that lacks the manners expected at nearly 50 large.

The four is outgunned in measures of acceleration, too. The Quattro grip gives a leap to 30 mph in two seconds flat, but 211 horsepower can only do so much. The Audi is last of the group to arrive at 60 mph, last to 100, and its quarter-mile speed is also lowest at 92 mph.

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

This A4 wears sensible shoes, the only one of the group to do so, year-round Pirelli P6 Four Seasons. As a consequence, its cornering grip is significantly lower, 0.83 g compared with a three-way 0.92-g tie for the others. But don’t confuse grip with fun. In fact, these tires have a loose, drifty, and extremely predictable feel as the limits approach. Gone is the Quattro’s resolute understeer. This A4 is much closer to a neutral balance. Chuck it into a tight turn and skitter through.

While this new-for-2009 A4 remains easily recognizable, Audi’s U.S. bestseller has been radically reproportioned, gaining a 6.3-inch stretch in its wheelbase. Rear-seat space is improved as the wheels intrude less into the cabin. Foot room is excellent and there’s enough elbow room for NBAers, but the seat cushion is relatively close to the floor. Pro ballers will find zero thigh support, and the rest of us won’t fare much better.

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

We’ve been consistently impressed with Audi’s interior design over the years, and this heavily optioned sample carries on the tradition as it dares to trim the interior in a honeyed wood-grain it calls “ash almond beige.” It’s so appealing it competes with the road for the driver’s attention. Elsewhere inside, however, the amalgam of textures, clefts, and swellings seems too busy, too insistent, too overheated for our Audi expectations. The front buckets don’t live up to the side-support capabilities of the others, either. And why no shift paddles on the steering wheel?

As tested, the $47,075 MSRP of this Audi towers over the Acura’s second-highest $43,995. Our advice: Avoid the $7350 Prestige level and skip all other packages that include “Audi side assist,” the lane-change warning system. To those of us who don’t leave home without our radar detectors (most of the staff), this annoying feature uses K-band radar in the fashion of an automated supermarket door as it looks for other vehicles in your blind spots. Trouble is, it sets off any decent detector within a half-mile behind, somewhat nearer in front. The maker of an enthusiast car should know better.

THE VERDICT: Could use another 50 horsepower. Or a hundred.

2009 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro
211-hp turbo inline-4, 6-speed automatic, 3770 lb
Base/as-tested price: $32,675/$47,075
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 6.7 sec
100 mph: 17.8 sec
120 mph: 28.4 sec
1/4 mile: 15.0 @ 92 mph
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 165 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.83 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 23 mpg

Second Place: Infiniti G37 Sport

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

In that narrow slice of marketing terrain where sports sedan overlaps muscle car is where you’ll find this mid-size Infiniti. Will it exercise the neck muscles? Have no doubts.

Will it satisfy your need for speed? Oh, yes, in megadoses.

HIGHS: Seriously fast, seriously groovy in the turns, serious seats well matched to the serious g capability of the chassis.
LOWS: V-6 is a little rough, the clutch takeup is abrupt and stiff besides, tight on toe space in back.

When the votes were tallied, the BMW 328i came out on top again this time but by a very small margin: two points. At the track, the Infiniti shamed the Bimmer in every contest except for skidpad (a tie). In acceleration, the chase wasn’t even close, with the G37 ahead by a half-second at 60 mph—5.4 seconds versus 5.9—and leading by 6 mph at the quarter-mile. The G37’s gap was narrower but still significant in the lane change. In braking, its one-foot-out performance from 70 mph—159 feet versus the BMW’s 160—is almost certainly insignificant, but we’ll call that one for the G on the superior detailing of its calipers, finished in glowing satin metallic etched with a subtle Infiniti logo.

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

The G37 Sport, designated by a red “S” on the tail—plus a subtly reshaped fascia and sill treatments—gets a six-speed manual, shorter final-drive gearing with a viscous limited slip, quicker steering, and very large brakes: 14.0-inch discs in front, 13.8s in back, all vented. Inside, there’s a highly supportive sport seat with power adjusters to tailor thigh and torso bolsters.

All of our drivers were put off at first by the heavy, abrupt clutch feel, and the shift lever slipped into sixth gear only after a Google search. But by the second day of driving, the complaints were gone. This is a serious machine: planted, professional, poised. The steering always knows how to find straight-ahead, and the effort builds progressively as you turn. Unlike most of the others, the brakes are not overboosted. They have a linear feel, just right for holding the edge of the friction circle as you trail-brake into curves.

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

The cockpit supports vigorous motoring. There’s a rest for your left foot in exactly the right place. The tilting column moves the instrument cluster so the dials are always centered within the wheel. The buttons and rockers on the wheel are the easiest of all to use. Only the buttons for shuttling through the trip-computer screens are an awkward reach.

There were a few Darth Vader cracks about the all-black interior, but the rice-paper finish of the metal trim contrasts beautifully.

The rear seat outscores the Germans’ for comfort, having much better thigh support, but ranks clearly behind the Acura on space. The Infiniti does not have an adjustable HVAC vent in the back of the center console, however. For considerations of cargo hauling, the decklid’s four-bar hinges do not intrude at all into useful space. The seat’s ski opening accommodates a few long objects, but the seat itself does not fold forward.

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

In January 2008, when we last set the Infiniti (G35 Sport then) against the BMW 328i, it fell short by 15 points. The G37 Sport narrows the gap to two points. These two are pros.

THE VERDICT: Muscular and poised, and low-profile about it; a machine for you, not your audience.

2009 Infiniti G37 Sport
328-hp V-6, 6-speed manual, 3682 lb
Base/as-tested price: $35,065/$40,585
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 5.4 sec
100 mph: 13.5 sec
120 mph: 19.6 sec
1/4 mile: 14.0 @ 102 mph
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 159 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.92 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 19 mpg

First Place: BMW 328i

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

If Moses had brought down from the big guy himself, chiseled into stone, the chart for rating cars, maybe we’d have a different conclusion here. But he didn’t. So we calls ’em as we sees ’em. Yeah, this is subjective, but we think BMW has a special way with sports sedans.

HIGHS: Sheetmetal stretched tightly over the machinery, smooth six-cylinder and six-speed, seat adjusts perfectly.
LOWS:
Pricey car has fake leather, manual adjusters instead of power, can’t see radio display with polarized lenses.

This car is so seductive that it’s almost embarrassing to read through the comment book: “Love the look, the way the skin stretches tightly over the machinery.” Or: “This is one Crisco-smooth ride.” And: “Clutch and shifter are the same as always, perfect.” Then: “Best shifter and clutch on the planet” and “Great back-road partner” and “Laser-straight steering welcome on long straights” and finally, “Six-cylinder sounds top Beethoven’s best.”

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

You get the idea. But the subjective side had to push hard against nagging reality. This stripper of a 3-series raises some value issues. Yes, the $36,475 as-tested price is lowest of the quartet, but fake leather on the seats? (BMW calls it leatherette.) No power on those many sport-seat adjusters? No satellite radio?

Add to that a short list of significant annoyances: “The fact that the radio display blanks out when wearing polarized lenses is, frankly, stupid. What is this, 1983?”

The starting ritual raises questions, too. “Why must I insert the remote fob into its dock, then move my hand to the start button? Why is that better than a key?”

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

“Why are the HVAC controls down by my knees?” And: “BMW must be the last holdout against indicating the fuel-filler location on the gas gauge.”

The 328i topped just one performance category, but it’s one that is increasing in social if not economic importance—fuel economy. Although the Audi does significantly better by the EPA method—23 mpg combined versus 21—the BMW outscored all on our 350-mile test trip at 25 mpg compared with 23 for the Audi, 21 for the Acura, and 19 for the Infiniti.

As a passenger hauler, we judged the BMW to be a shade better than the Audi for two in back but not enough for a full point. It has superior knee room, but the rear wheels encroach on the backrest, forcing occupants toward the center of the seat. Forget adding a third adult (none of the others will accept a third, though for different reasons).

DAVID DEWHURSTCar and Driver

In the last meeting of this category in January 2008, we summed up this way: “What the 328i does better than its peers is combine the ingredients of the perfect sports sedan: driving dynamics and luxury.” The luxury component has weakened significantly since, leaving a margin that’s sliver thin.

THE VERDICT: Drunk as we are on the BMW Kool-Aid, we once again behold the definitive sports sedan.

2009 Infiniti G37 Sport
230-hp inline-6, 6-speed manual, 3352 lb
Base/as-tested price: $34,425/$36,475
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 5.9 sec
100 mph: 16.1 sec
120 mph: 24.9 sec
1/4 mile: 14.6 @ 96 mph
Braking, 70­–0 mph: 160 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.92 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 25 mpg

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io

Trả lời

Email của bạn sẽ không được hiển thị công khai. Các trường bắt buộc được đánh dấu *