Got about $30,000 to drop on a high quality Japanese nameplate sedan? Well, we got three of the best for a tryout.
First up is the Acura ILX. Yes, this is based on the Honda Civic platform, but is a far improved machine. Under the hood is a small 2.0 liter engine rated at 150 horsepower, and hooked to a 5-speed automatic.
As you would expect, it is not a rocket when pulling 1.5 tons, but it will do. Gas mileage is rated at 24-35 mpg. For those who want more zip, a 2.4 liter 210 horse is available with 6-speed manual for more money.
The interior was very nice, using high-grade materials. The controls are a-plenty, but easy to use. Room for four adults in here. Driving? Well, on the positive side, the steering, braking, and handling were good. But we went on the freeway and noticed, while wind noise was low, there was too much road noise circulating--a lot from the tires it seemed. Very annoying on long trips.
These are advertised starting at about $25,000. I had the ILX-TECH model that was loaded up with about everything, but the bigger engine, and had a $32,295 sticker, the most expensive of the three. But you can't beat Acura reliability and resale value.
Next is the Subaru sedan. These start at about $21,000. Mine had moonroof, navigation, and some high-tech goodies, so it was $30,605. For this, I got the 2.5 liter 175 horsepower engine hooked to a CVT automatic. It was slow getting off the line, but was lively once on the way. Gas ratings are 24-32. A larger six-cylinder, putting out 256 horses and connected to a 5-speed auto is offered, but not for me this time.
Driving performance was excellent, with quick steering, firm braking feel, and nice ride. The good weight distribution is there thanks to all-wheel drive, providing solid stability and traction as well. We also liked the interior, with outstanding materials, workmanship, and easy to use controls. This is one area where Subaru matches the European cars. Too bad they can't match their attention-getting styling, as the Legacy looks like any other Japanese car from a distance. Of course, so do the other three tested here!
The Altima was the least expensive, here at $28,745, and was loaded up with plenty of standard equipment. Under the hood was their proven 3.5 liter 270 horse engine with CVT automatic. I am told a 6-speed manual will still be offered for 2013, but have not confirmed this. No problem with power here--this car is plenty quick.
Gas mileage is listed at 22-31. I got 21 city, and 24 mixed. A smaller 2.5 liter engine is offered in the cheaper cars, starting at about $21,000.
The cabin wasn't as fancy as the other two cars, but I won't complain--it's good enough. The controls were very easy to understand and use. We get a big glove box, big console box, and the auto-dim mirrors have a turn-off switch. I did not like the paddle shifters, as they were located on the steering column instead of the wheel where they belong. This makes shifting while taking fast corners awkward--the only real point of having paddle shifters in the first place! Nissan has lots of racing experience on the track, and should know better.
The styling is rather plain, but that white metallic paint must have helped, as I got more complements from the Altima than the other two cars. Go figure.