Cars.comparison: Ultimate Gifts

If you're thinking about giving a car to someone (maybe yourself) this holiday season, we're here to help: We set out to find the Ultimate Gift from this collection of three luxury coupes, and a winner quickly surfaced. 

= Category winner
The Contenders
2011 BMW 335is2011 Cadillac CTS Premium Collection2010 Infiniti G37 Sport
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Base MSRP

$50,150

$47,010

$40,400

Price as tested

$58,000

$50,035

$43,485

Style and design

We like the classic BMW face, but there's not a lot going on between the wheels. Its proportions are nice, but the 3 represents how companies used to make coupes; it looks like a truncated sedan.

Your friends will pause from drinking their spiced eggnog if you pull up to the holiday party in this sharp-edged Cadillac. The tail looks bloated, but there's no questioning the CTS' street presence — or the way the design compromises visibility.

The G37's face isn't particularly memorable, and the design doesn't stay with you the way the CTS' does. From the front it's starting to look old, but the sculpted sides and rear are still compelling.

Power and braking

A universal favorite among the test team, the 335is' turbocharged inline-six engine feels strong in any gear, at any rpm, and the shifter feels worlds better than previous 3 Series manuals. Likewise, the brakes are marvelous, offering linear, easy-to-modulate stopping power. The BMW's performance would put it at the top of any enthusiast's wish list.

The two-ton CTS is the heaviest coupe here, and it's driven by the least powerful engine. The V-6 makes its peak torque high in the rpm range, which means you really have to let it rev to tap its potential. The automatic transmission is responsive, but the brakes offer terrible pedal feel — mushy at first, and entirely dull.

The G37's drivetrain doesn't provide the complete effortlessness of the 335is, but it possesses a slick manual that's a joy to shift, though less forgiving than the BMW's shifter. Apart from being a little grabby when making a hard stop, the brakes perform well.

Gas mileage(city/highway)

The 335is' 18/26 mpg rating with a manual is the best of this trio for that kind of transmission, but the 17/24 mpg estimate for the automatic is dead last.

The manual coupe gets 16/25 mpg, but our automatic-equipped test car gets 18/27 mpg. The BMW and Infiniti take premium gas, but the CTS uses cheaper regular.

You have to choose the Sport version of the G37 to get a manual, which gets 17/25 mpg. The seven-speed automatic is more frugal, rated at 19/27 mpg.

Handling

You fly through corners in the 335is at speeds that aren't comfortable in the other two. At the same time, it's incredibly easy — and exhilarating — to control the orientation of the rear end with a nudge of the gas pedal. While steering feel is a little vague when going slow, it's dialed-in at higher speeds.

The CTS hunkers down nicely in a corner, but it feels nose-heavy, and the chassis isn't in harmony with the highly assisted steering. If Cadillac wants to challenge BMW with this coupe, it needs to be more engaging.

You can make the G37's tail step out, but it's a little squirrely and not as easy to set as the BMW's tail. Midcorner, the steering is almost too twitchy. Infiniti is closer to cracking the BMW handling code than Cadillac, but it's still got work to do.

Ride comfort

Considering the magic the 335is makes on a winding road, its ride is very forgiving. It soaks up bumps well, yielding a comfortable ride. A one-trick coupe this isn't.

The CTS feels like the biggest car here, which it is, and even though it rides the softest, that doesn't make it the best. It's disrupted more easily by bumps than the others.

The G37's sport suspension results in a firm, bumpy ride that's the stiffest of these three coupes, but still tolerable. It settles in nicely on the highway.

Interior quality and appearance
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The BMW's cabin materials are suitably rich for the price, but the design is traditional to a fault. The middle of the dash where the air-conditioning controls are located looks as dated as "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on VHS, and the pop-out cupholders are terrible. We dig the thick-rimmed steering wheel, though.
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With nice material textures and finishes, soft ambient lighting and classy wood trim, the CTS' cabin is both warm and glitzy. The layout of the center controls is a little hard to decipher, but the interior nonetheless remains a showpiece for Cadillac.
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Despite decent materials, the Infiniti's all-black interior seems duller than the Cineplex usher working Christmas Day. Like the BMW's cabin, the design isn't particularly memorable. The gauges are bright and the leather upholstery is decent, but this interior isn't at the Cadillac's level.
Seating and roominess

The BMW's bucket seats feel a little puffed up, but what puts the 335is ahead of the other two is its spacious interior, particularly the roomy backseat. It may look the smallest on the outside, but it's roomy enough inside for the shopping mall Santa who didn't need to stuff his shirt.

The Cadillac's front seats are disappointing. They're very boardlike, and you tend to slide off the seats when cornering due to lack of bolstering. Rear headroom is best suited for Santa's elves — and the short ones, at that.

The adjustable torso and thigh bolsters for the driver's seat are a nice touch, enhancing driving comfort. Due to a lack of headroom, the backseat isn't as comfortable as the BMW's.

Overall value

In the classic sense of the word, the 335is doesn't offer a lot of value. It's the most expensive coupe in this test, but despite that you still have to pay extra for things like genuine leather seats and a USB input — features that are standard on the other two tested cars.

The CTS is feature-packed in Premium Collection form, with things like a heated steering wheel, a big sunroof and a navigation system with a pop-up screen. There's just one problem: the thousands-less-expensive G37.

Even with the optional Navigation Package, the G37 coupe doesn't break $44,000. A large sum for sure, but when you look at what you get for it versus the BMW and Cadillac, there's no comparison. Give this gift, and you'll have cash left over for more than a few stocking stuffers.

Editors' choice

Some may question the price disparity among these coupes, but all you need to know is that we'd sell what we could — baseball cards, jewelry, plasma — if it meant being able to step up to a 335is. Its supremacy is palpable, and it's our Ultimate Gift.

More show than go, the CTS impressed from the curb, but it couldn't keep pace once you took to the road. The driving experience needs to be more dynamic, and it needs better seats.

The G37 is a better car than its one section-win suggests, as it was competitive in many categories. For some, the comparatively affordable price will make up for any shortcomings.

© Cars.com 12/16/2010
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