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Release Date: 12/01/2009

Toyota Avalon Tops in Tests of Large and Upscale Sedans

Avalon and Hyundai Azera both post “Excellent” overall test scores; Buick LaCrosse, Ford Taurus, and Lincoln MKZ receive “Very Good” scores

CR January 2010 Cover YONKERS, NY — The Toyota Avalon posted an “Excellent” overall score and outpointed competitors from Hyundai, Buick, and Ford in Consumer Reports’ testing of five large and upscale sedans for the January 2010 issue.

The Avalon earned an overall road test score of 87, outdistancing the Hyundai Azera Limited, which also earned an “Excellent” score, with 81 points.

The redesigned Buick LaCrosse, freshened Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKZ received Very Good ratings (73, 73, and 77 respectively.)

The Avalon remains one of CR’s top-rated sedans thanks to its quiet, spacious cabin; comfortable ride; strong performance; and good fuel economy. It rates only below the Hyundai Genesis and Lexus ES 350 in this category. The Azera continues to be a good value with a nice and roomy interior, but ride and handling show some limitations.

Changes to the Taurus and the LaCrosse redesign have left them virtually tied in CR’s Ratings, and they are very competent contenders in the class. Although the MKZ’s smaller dimensions might make it seem out of place in this group, it competes on equal footing in terms of performance, amenities, and price.

“Detroit’s new contenders measure up well,” said Rik Paul, automotive editor, Consumer Reports. “The redesign much improves the LaCrosse, and a freshening for the MKZ has brought many of the same improvements found in its platform mate, the Ford Fusion. The Taurus’s freshening results in a quiet, comfortable car, but styling has compromised some functionality.”

Consumer Reports also tested the Kia Forte, a small sedan that replaces the lackluster Spectra. The Forte is relatively roomy, with simple controls and very good fuel economy. Still, it landed midpack in CR’s Ratings of small sedans, with a “Very Good” score of 69.

Prices ranged from $31,670 for the Azera Limited to $37,555 for the LaCrosse CXS. All the cars in this test group are Recommended, except the LaCrosse, for which CR has no reliability data yet.  CR only Recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s Annual Auto Survey of its more than seven million print and Web subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

Full tests and ratings of the large/upscale sedans test group appear in the January issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale December 1.  The reports are also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org. Updated daily, ConsumerReports.org is the go-to site for the latest auto reviews, product news, blogs on breaking news and car buying information.

Tranquil motoring helps the Toyota Avalon pass for a luxury car that costs twice as much money. It has a vast, quiet cabin; a compliant ride; and a slick, muscular powertrain. The Toyota Avalon XLS, ($34,974, Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price as tested), is powered by a 268-hp, 3.5-liter 6-cylinder engine that provides smooth and strong performance and gets 24 mpg overall in CR’s own fuel economy tests. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and is very smooth. Braking is Very Good but handling is not particularly agile. The Avalon’s good-sized trunk includes a good pass-through to the passenger compartment that accommodates long objects like skis.

The Azera is a lot of car for the money. The powertrain is smooth and refined and the interior furnishings are impressive in design and quality. However, agility is not the Azera’s forte and the ordinarily smooth ride can become unsettled. The Hyundai Azera Limited ($31,670 MSRP as tested,) is powered by a 263-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine that delivers lively performance and 20 mpg overall. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts very smoothly. Braking is Very Good. Fit and finish is a notch above many competitors, giving the Azera a luxurious feel. The large trunk can be expanded by folding the 60/40-split rear seatbacks.

A freshening for the MKZ brought many of the same improvements found in its platform mate, the Ford Fusion, including a tighter turning circle and an interior upgrade. The ride is firm yet supple and controlled. The Lincoln MKZ, ($37,160 MSRP as tested), is powered by a 263-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that is smooth and refined and provides strong acceleration and gets 20 mpg overall. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts very smoothly and responsively. Braking is Very Good. Fit and finish isn’t that impressive for this class. The trunk is spacious.

The redesigned LaCrosse is a sophisticated and thoroughly modern sedan. It handles responsively while delivering a calm, steady ride. The Buick LaCrosse CXS, ($37,555 MSRP as tested), is powered by a 280-hp, 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 engine that delivers lively performance and 20 mpg overall. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts very smoothly. Braking is Very Good. The interior feels luxurious, with high-quality materials. However, styling resulted in compromised access and visibility. The trunk is a good size.

The freshening of the Taurus gave it an upscale interior, but the restyling brought diminished passenger space and a more restricted view out. Still, the makeover resulted in a quiet, comfortable pleasant car that rides and handles well. The Ford Taurus Limited, ($34,980 MSRP as tested), is powered by a 263-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine that provides smooth and responsive performance and 19 mpg overall. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Braking is Very Good. The interior is plush. Folding the rear seatbacks expands the already huge trunk.

The new Kia Forte is a big improvement over the Spectra, but is still a good notch below the best in this class mostly due to its stiff ride and pronounced engine noise. Otherwise, the Forte handles responsively and comes with standard electronic stability control—an important piece of safety equipment. The Kia Forte EX, (18,540, MSRP as tested), is powered by a 156-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that turned in just average performance but above-average fuel economy at 28 mpg overall. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. Braking is Very Good. The roomy trunk can hold as much as larger sedans.

With more than 7 million print and online subscribers, Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Web site and owns and operates a 327-acre Auto Test Center in Connecticut. The organization’s auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To subscribe, consumers can call 1-800-234-1645 or visit www.ConsumerReports.org.

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