All-wheel-drive sport sedan bonanza | SierraSun.com

All-wheel-drive sport sedan bonanza

Mark Lowenstern

All-wheel-drive sport sedans have come a long way from just a decade ago. Driving enthusiasts interested in AWD performance had two choices: Audi or BMW. Bring us to the new 2007 model year, and all of a sudden, there is a smorgasbord of all-wheel-drive sport sedans to choose from.

Tahoe locals should consider themselves fortunate as the real beneficiaries of manufacturers’ competition. These six exciting new sedans cater to both full-time and part-time residents.

I decided to review the fun-to-drive sport sedans ” the market in which most buyers are looking. The main criterion for an AWD sport sedan is good road handling, combined with exhilarating all-round performance.

I excluded the Subaru WRX and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo from the list because these cars were not designed to comfortably drive a family to Disneyland and back.

Japan’s manufacturers have recently joined Subaru in the AWD market with Acura, Lexus, Infiniti and Mazda joining the now-crowded auto segment. Obviously consumers are purchasing these vehicles in the flatlands as well.

The Audi A4 is the culmination of 20 years of both AWD design and road rally experience. The new wide-mouth grill design and smooth lines equate to a beautiful five-seat package. The peppy 2.0 four cylinder turbo engine and balanced sport suspension define what a ‘sport sedan’ should be. This car is just fun to drive. The multitude of options can easily bring the price tag above the $40,000 mark. The A4 comes equipped with a high-quality interior without a lot of distractions caused by extra buttons and compartments.

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BMW is offering a new body style and larger engine with the 2007 328xi. The 328xi is the first true AWD sport coupe. With an absolutely beautiful exterior, a near perfect 50/50 front to rear weight balance, the best six-speed manual transmission and precise handling, BMW has now set the new standard in AWD sports sedans. What most consumers don’t realize about BMW is they are a conservative company. The AWD 3-series has been built for 20 years with the same engine and suspension design ” just minor upgrades every few years. If you take care of this car, it will last you a long time.

Infiniti joins the fray with the G35X and the 280 horsepower V-6 engine, providing strong power and torque for quick response matched with good handling. The G35X is the kind of car that makes a driver feel instantly comfortable behind the wheel. The interior does not match the competition in appearance and the exterior could be mistaken for a lot of other mid-sized vehicles. Hopefully Infiniti will offer the beautiful G coupe in an AWD version.

For 2007, Lexus has added the new IS 250 AWD to their lineup. The car’s interior and exterior appearance match the style found in a luxury Lexus. The interior is the most sophisticated of the group and includes a variety of excellent features. The surprise is the smaller 204 horsepower power-plant instead of the 300 horsepower V6 used in the IS 300. A car weighing 3900 pounds once you add the options may be a bit underpowered with the 2.5 liter engine. The IS 250 comes with an automatic transmission and paddle shifters on the steering wheel for performance driving. I have never driven the new 2007 IS 250 AWD, but with the paddle shift system and stable suspension, it appears Lexus is making a strong entry into this market.

Subaru is now using the 2.5 turbo four-cylinder offered in the WRX. The acceleration offered in the Legacy 2.5 GT is the quickest of all in the class. This is mostly due to the lighter weight (due to thinner steel body) and the turbo boost. You can purchase the Subaru 2.5 GT spec B for $34,000 ” an improved version with stiffer suspension and a few other upgrades. Save the difference in money, purchase after-market suspension upgrades, and maybe a few engine upgrades (like cold air intake, performance chip plus exhaust) and you have a fun AWD ‘sleeper’ machine. In my opinion, the leather interior’s quality rates second behind the Lexus. The exterior styling is below the acceptable rating for a sports sedan.

The 218 horsepower turbo five-cylinder Volvo S40 T5 AWD is now offered with a roomier interior and a smaller body. The S40 definitely has an appealing and unique style attracting buyers on style alone with the benefit of Volvo’s safety. The car has a comfortably designed interior, helping to reduce fatigue on those nerve-wracking stormy late night drives. This vehicle’s seats have the best lumbar support in the group, an important feature if you are a “weekend warrior.” The handling is quick and nimble and worth a test drive to see if you prefer German or Swedish engineering.

I find the new BMW 328xi has an absolutely beautiful exterior appearance and may become a classic. The car has the most precise steering, is fun-to-drive and is a dependable vehicle. The Audi A4 is a close second with the new exterior and great driving feel with the sport suspension option. If you want a fast ‘sleeper’ vehicle, consider the Subaru Legacy GT. With its power it can be as much fun as any of the AWD’s.

If driving comfort is the most important factor, the Volvo and Lexus are at the top of the list. Keep in mind, once you add the options you want, the price with most of the cars reaches close to the $40,000 range.

Don’t just purchase the vehicle you want. If Audi is at the top of your list, at least try the BMW and Volvo first before you buy. Make sure to test drive your top two or three favorite vehicles before purchasing. Tell the salesperson you are going to test drive three cars and you are not buying today. Here is an important tip ” once at the dealership, don’t give salespeople your phone number or they will call you every day. Have fun shopping. You can’t go wrong with any of these AWD sport sedans.