March 2007
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Leaping ahead
Family sedans: The redesigned Nissan Altima accelerates to the top of our Ratings

Nissan Altima's headlight from side view
Nissan Altima

Kia Optima's side rear window
 Kia Optima

Saturn Aura's wheel
 Saturn Aura

Pontiac G6's third brake light
 Pontiac G6

Chrysler Sebring's headlight
 Chrysler Sebring
Photos by Tracey Kroll
The best family sedans provide agile handling and quick performance, and get decent fuel economy. And for years, the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Volkswagen Passat dominated our Ratings. But the redesigned Nissan Altima, perennially an also-ran, now ranks near the top of this segment.

For this test, we gathered basic and uplevel versions of five family sedans. Our selections include the four- and six-cylinder versions of the redesigned Nissan Altima, Kia Optima, and Chrysler Sebring. We also tested two versions of the new for 2007 Saturn Aura with different V6 engines, and four- and six-cylinder versions of the slightly revised Pontiac G6 (all models are available to subscribers). Prices ranged from $20,785 for the base G6 to $31,995 for the V6 Altima 3.5 SE.

Lack of reliability data keeps us from recommending some new vehicles, including the top-scoring Altima. We can recommend only the G6 GT, as it performed adequately and has shown average reliability in our subscriber survey.

The Altima 3.5 SE virtually ties with the Honda Accord V6, our top-rated family sedan. The four-cylinder Altima 2.5 S is relatively refined. Both are coupled to a smooth continuously variable transmission, which helps them attain commendable fuel economy. (A hybrid model has just gone on sale.) The Altima had good ride and handling, although the sportier 3.5 SE was stiff. At $31,995, our 3.5 SE had options such as heated leather seats, a backup camera, bi-xenon headlights, and a navigation system. Despite its hefty price, our tested car didn’t have optional stability control. At $22,705, our 2.5 S came with antilock brakes and a power driver’s seat as options.

An obvious virtue of the Optima is its low price, but it is also a pleasant sedan. We tested it in both four- and six-cylinder engine configurations. Both performed well overall. The Optima’s cabin is well crafted, and it has a comfortable rear seat. While its ride is supple, suspension noise was pronounced. Our EX V6 cost $23,900 with options such as ABS, stability control, and leather seats. Instead of getting the base-level four-cylinder Optima, we had to purchase a $22,795 Optima EX with options such as leather seats, stability control, and sunroof to get antilock brakes. We have insufficient data to predict reliability.

The Aura shares underpinnings with the Pontiac G6 and is more capable than its corporate cousin, but it still doesn’t rank with the better vehicles in the group. The 3.6-liter V6 XR is quick, while getting the same fuel economy as the less expensive XE with a 3.5-liter V6. The interior is better than those on previous Saturns but still needs smoothing out of some rough edges. The XR, which comes with standard stability control, has a stiff ride. The XE has a better balance of ride and handling. Our $26,820 XR came with options such as a power sunroof, power passenger seat, and leather seats. The major option on our $21,070 XE is a power driver’s seat. Reliability is as yet unknown.

The G6 now offers a base four-cylinder version, and steering is improved on V6 models. It’s a second-class car, especially with the noisy four-cylinder. The 3.5-liter V6 is more pleasant and performs better. Cabin access is awkward, rear seating is uncomfortable, and the interior finish is insubstantial. Our $25,989 GT V6 had options such as heated leather seats, power driver’s seat, sunroof, and side air bags. Our $20,785 base G6 had ABS and a sunroof as options. We recommend the GT, but the base version scored too low in our test to recommend.

The new Sebring is disappointing. Ride and handling are middling, interior quality is subpar, and the car is noisy. Our 2.7-liter V6 Sebring Touring had the optional sunroof, automatic climate control, power driver’s seat, and stability control, and cost $25,465. The four-cylinder version had a power driver’s seat and heated seats as options and cost $20,870. We couldn’t get the 3.5-liter V6 version in time for this test. Both scored too low to be recommended and reliability is yet unknown.