Extremely Madeover Sedans

Toyota?s 2005 AvalonToyota?s 2005 Avalon
Toyota?s redesigned 2005 Avalon has been recast from its role as blue-haired Buick slayer to that of baby boomer cruisemobile. The extreme makeover into a fashionable five-passenger sedan should slice 20 years off the age of the typical Avalon owner. It?s a move-up vehicle for Camry owners, so they don?t have to jump to a Lexus or other luxury brand, Toyota says. The wheelbase is up by 4 inches for savvy on-road attitude, the car is wider by an inch and the length is up by 5.3 inches, which allows backseat legroom of nearly 41 inches. And with a flat backseat floor, three adults can fit comfortably on the bench, which will recline 10 degrees. There is no front bench seat option, so Toyota put the shifter on the floor console for a sporty American touch. Sold in four models, prices start at $26,890 and go to $34,080. All models use the new-generation power train with a gated five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode. The XL comes with 16-inch alloy wheels; the others move up to 17s. The Limited is a showcase of luxury-class technology.

The Touring, the second-least expensive model at $29,140, gets a stiffer suspension, darker graphite-finish 17-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, charcoal interior with metallic detail, leather-trimmed seats and a power passenger seat, perfect for the enthusiast.

The aluminum 3.5-liter V-6 is rated at 280 horsepower, and it exhales through dual rear mufflers.

Acceleration is lively and the handling pleasurable. Fuel economy ratings, using the recommended 91 octane, are 22 miles per gallon city and 31 highway. The interior is stylish, with complementing textures and colors.

Audi Corrals Two V-6s Audi Corrals Two V-6s
Nobody needs a 12-cylinder Audi luxury sedan. This hunk of boulevard jewelry is a want, a wanton desire. The $119,000 Audi A8 W12 provides 17 feet of secure, exclusive space on the road. Nicely equipped, the car?s price can easily run to $126,320. Critics can snipe at its $1,700 gas-guzzler tax, but not the miles per gallon. The 450 horsepower, 6-liter W12 returns 15 mpg around town and 21 mpg on the highway.

Instead of the conventional V-12 engine design, Audi has joined two narrow-angle V-6 engines at the crankshaft. Put two V?s together and you see the W. The W advantages, Audi says, are rigidity, shorter length and shorter height. More room in the engine area allows space for the quattro all-wheel drive system. Just as Audi says four brakes are better than two, four driven wheels are better for acceleration and cornering. The engine on start-up is a heady swirl of whir and roar. Bear down on the accelerator and Audi cites 0-60 mph in five seconds, which seems phenomenal for a 4,729-pound car. In the daily commute, however, the adaptive electronics of the six-speed Tiptronic transmission can make the throttle response seem less than overwhelming.

The A8?s interior is as quiet as a Lexus?s and as rich in character as a Jaguar?s. The oversize, chrome-wrapped grille that reaches from hoodline to below the front bumper is a good look, until it?s bisected by a license plate. The test car had 19-inch chrome wheels and Pirelli P6 all-season tires. A no-cost option adds Pirelli P Zero Rosso performance tires. There?s the standard backseat six-disc DVD entertainment system.

The interior is accommodating for the driver, with good sightlines and supportive seats. My biggest discomfort was getting a good view out of the diminutive side mirrors. All of the 12-cylinder cars in this luxury segment handle with intensity and surprising precision. The A8?s four-corner adaptive air suspension provides continuous damping and load leveling.

The enormous brakes?15.2-inch front discs?can be grabby and the electronic throttle can be a little numb in its response, resulting in too much or too little power. But there is much about this powerful sedan to like.