Buy/Drive/Burn: The 2018 Mid-size Import Sedan Showdown

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

This will be our third Sedan Showdown in a row. Kicking us off were some basic full-size models, and through the “Not nice enough!” complaints, the Charger took home the win. Giving the people what they want, we turned the budget up to $45,000 and presented some luxury full-size sedans instead. Again, FCA took home a win; the Chrysler 300 easily overpowered the base Lincoln Continental, and pipped the top-trim Buick LaCrosse.

All the while, this third commenter-sourced trio waited in the wings, ready to pounce. Smaller than our previous two sets of cars, Bumpy ii wants to see you squirm and set fires. You ready? This couple is.

Today’s target budget was set around $30,000, for mid-sizers that lean toward full-size.

Volkswagen Passat GT

North America has had its own special iteration of the Passat since 2012. An update for the 2016 model year brought considerable visual change to the Passat, and in fact only the doors, roof, and side rails are shared with the previous version. Infotainment was the other big change with the 2016 model. VW’s MIB II is now under the dash, as well as automatic post-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, and other driver assistance safety features. Two engines presently provide Passat power; a 2.0-liter turbocharged mill in various states of tune, or a 3.6-liter V6. The latter is in today’s upmarket GT trim, providing 280 horsepower. Visually, the GT comes with the R-Line trim’s sporty bumpers, and is available in white, black, or grey. All GT interiors are black and grey two-tone leatherette, as VW does not like color in this trim. Power slips through a 6-speed DSG transmission. The only options here are dealer installed accessories, and there’s no navigation available. As a result, the Passat V6 GT rings in at $29,995, no matter which color on the grey scale you select.

Kia Cadenza Premium

The Cadenza is Kia’s mid-large size sedan, slotting in under the larger K900 model. As replacement for the (frankly hideous) Amanti, it’s been available on our shores since 2010. A second generation debuted for 2016 and featured sharper, less conservative styling penned by former Audi designer Peter Schreyer. The base Premium trim is the one available today, and all trims offer the same proven 3.3-liter V6 engine from Hyundai. 290 horsepower travel through the front wheels via the 8-speed automatic. A few more colors are available than the Passat, though some exterior colors select either the black or beige interior for you. Seating surfaces are real leather, but we can’t add any luxury packages because of the Cadenza’s steep base price. This means we’ll make do with the standard 7″ touch screen featuring Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay. Cadenza rings in at $32,290.

Nissan Maxima S

Our final competitor is the 4DSC-equipped Nissan Maxima. Nissan’s long-running flagship sedan has been around since 1982, when it replaced Datsun’s luxury 810. Now in its eighth generation, the most recent Maxima was born for 2016. All US-bound Maximas are built at Nissan’s factory in Smyrna, Tennessee, and every Maxima has Nissan’s ubiquitous 3.5-liter VQ V6. That engine has been around for nearly 20 years now (remember the I35?), and has powered the Maxima since 2002. Our budget today requires us to shop the base S trim. The S has the same 300 horsepower as all other trims, traveling through the front wheels via CVT. Four colors are available without extra cost, one of which is blue. Cloth is the only seating surface available here, and there are no additional packages to buy. “This version comes equipped with many standard features,” says Nissan. That includes Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, navigation, and remote start. Final asking price trumps the other two, at $34,155.

Which one goes in the garage? Can you resist setting only one of these on fire?

[Images: Bigstock, Timothy Cain, Chris Tonn, Nissan]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • CecilSaxon CecilSaxon on Apr 21, 2018

    For the love of Pete, that couple is just creepy looking. Those blank stares and soulless smiles.

  • Bd2 Bd2 on Apr 22, 2018

    Buy the Cadenza - it's a better, more elegant looking Lexus ES. Drive the Passat - still some Autobahn-driving DNA in it, even if it is the very definition of bland (sheetmetal). Maxima - burn; pains me to say it (as used to like the Maxima back in the day), but the sheetmetal is a prime example of "garish" Japanese design and the Maxima isn't the driver it used to be, esp. with that CVT.

  • Dartdude Having the queen of nothing as the head of Dodge is a recipe for disaster. She hasn't done anything with Chrysler for 4 years, May as well fold up Chrysler and Dodge.
  • Pau65792686 I think there is a need for more sedans. Some people would rather drive a car over SUV’s or CUV’s. If Honda and Toyota can do it why not American brands. We need more affordable sedans.
  • Tassos Obsolete relic is NOT a used car.It might have attracted some buyers in ITS DAY, 1985, 40 years ago, but NOT today, unless you are a damned fool.
  • Stan Reither Jr. Part throttle efficiency was mentioned earlier in a postThis type of reciprocating engine opens the door to achieve(slightly) variable stroke which would provide variable mechanical compression ratio adjustments for high vacuum (light load) or boost(power) conditions IMO
  • Joe65688619 Keep in mind some of these suppliers are not just supplying parts, but assembled components (easy example is transmissions). But there are far more, and the more they are electronically connected and integrated with rest of the platform the more complex to design, engineer, and manufacture. Most contract manufacturers don't make a lot of money in the design and engineering space because their customers to that. Commodity components can be sourced anywhere, but there are only a handful of contract manufacturers (usually diversified companies that build all kinds of stuff for other brands) can engineer and build the more complex components, especially with electronics. Every single new car I've purchased in the last few years has had some sort of electronic component issue: Infinti (battery drain caused by software bug and poorly grounded wires), Acura (radio hiss, pops, burps, dash and infotainment screens occasionally throw errors and the ignition must be killed to reboot them, voice nav, whether using the car's system or CarPlay can't seem to make up its mind as to which speakers to use and how loud, even using the same app on the same trip - I almost jumped in my seat once), GMC drivetrain EMF causing a whine in the speakers that even when "off" that phased with engine RPM), Nissan (didn't have issues until 120K miles, but occassionally blew fuses for interior components - likely not a manufacturing defect other than a short developed somewhere, but on a high-mileage car that was mechanically sound was too expensive to fix (a lot of trial and error and tracing connections = labor costs). What I suspect will happen is that only the largest commodity suppliers that can really leverage their supply chain will remain, and for the more complex components (think bumper assemblies or the electronics for them supporting all kinds of sensors) will likley consolidate to a handful of manufacturers who may eventually specialize in what they produce. This is part of the reason why seemingly minor crashes cost so much - an auto brand does nst have the parts on hand to replace an integrated sensor , nor the expertice as they never built them, but bought them). And their suppliers, in attempt to cut costs, build them in way that is cheap to manufacture (not necessarily poorly bulit) but difficult to replace without swapping entire assemblies or units).I've love to see an article on repair costs and how those are impacting insurance rates. You almost need gap insurance now because of how quickly cars depreciate yet remain expensive to fix (orders more to originally build, in some cases). No way I would buy a CyberTruck - don't want one, but if I did, this would stop me. And it's not just EVs.