By Cars.com EditorsJune 30, 2017
About the video
Watch the video to see how the competitors of our 2017 Luxury Sedan Challenge fared in handling on an auto cross course and on the road.
(car engine starts) Pure sports cars aren't as popular as they used to be. And one very good reason is that luxury sports sedans have gotten so entertaining to drive.
Especially when it comes to the handling of luxury sports sedans like those in our challenge. Here are some of our impressions after a few days of driving. The Alpha is the most pure bred sports car of this test. And that's especially apparent when you throw it into a corner. There's a ton of grip, the chassis is balanced. This is the most proficient corner eater. The Alpha Romeo is a hoot. Now in the autocross, I kinda felt like the all wheel drive wasn't super sophisticated, but out on the road, it seemed like they really got its bearings. On our street drives the Juliet really set itself apart as an exceptional sports sedan with its quick reacting steering, very powerful four cylinder drive train and road hugging suspension. [Joe Wiesenfelder] I think this is a car, especially with it's a really good summer tires and all wheel drive that is best appreciated at higher speeds where it can really stretch its legs. <v Mike>The A4's turbo-charged four-cylinder makes power immediately, and that was really helpful on our autocross circuit. But I noticed a lot of steering lag too, which really dampened the overall experience. Even though it's a nose heavy car and you feel it frequently, Quatro all wheel drive has the ability to throw some power to the rear or rear bias and at lower speeds that really helps balance it out and give it more of a rear wheel drive feel, especially if you're say starting from a stop or a low speed like in the autocross and you gun it. At higher speeds, I kinda feel like there's still a great advantage to a proper rear wheel drive car for balance. <v Joe proper>It doesn't feel as natural or as pure as the Alpha though. And even though it's doing somewhat of the same thing, the Audi feels a little cold in relation. <v Mike>The three series has a refined drive train with a strong four-cylinder engine and a quick reacting automatic transmission. Yeah, we know there are three series out there that handle well, but this isn't one of them. And that's mainly because of how it's equipped. It's a base suspension car, it's not the optional M sport, and BMW sent us one with winter tires and that numbs the driving experience. And there's a lot of under-steer and it's all just pretty ugly. You know, a set of tires here makes a huge difference. [Joe Wiesenfelder] It's always good to have a BMW's good weight distribution, and in this case rear wheel drive. The steering in the BMW has been criticized for a while that it's getting too soft and disconnected but honestly, among this group, it's still one of the better ones. <v Mike>If you're willing to put up with firmer ride quality, the ATS really rewards the enthusiast driver on the street, urging you to take corners quicker, and that highway on-ramp faster. Now, if any car gets the happy puppy award, it's the Cadillac ATS. That thing is just always ready to play. It's rear wheel drive, it has great balance, and when you pitch the thing into a corner and the tail wags around, it's just happy as can be. And it's a lot of fun and this is the car that's gonna make you smile. The ATS marked Cadillac's, and actually General Motors', big move toward lighter vehicles after having a lot of overweight models. And it is one of the lightest vehicles out of this group. I don't know what to tell you. To me, it felt heavy. It felt heavy persistently throughout the driving, both on the autocross and on the road. So maybe numbers lie, but I don't. Jaguar XE and the Cadillac ATS drive very similarly. They're like at the top of the list, as far as fun to drive and handling proficiency. I think the ATS has better steering, but the XE has more grip. You can just get more turns in the steering wheel on the XE and it was much more proficient around our autocross course. [Joe Wiesenfelder] For handling, the Jaguar XE is my favorite. It's the ballerina of the group. It's light, it's agile, it's a willing dance partner. I always prefer rear wheel drive. And this car probably has the best front to rear weight distribution and you feel it. I really had a lot of fun driving the Jaguar XE on our autocross circuit. It makes good power off the line and was one of the few cars you could really control it by how much you're using the accelerator pedal. On the street, the XE steering didn't quite feel as direct as the ATS did, but it offers a very livable blend of ride comfort and handling capability. <v Joe Bruzek>The Lexus IS with F sport package and summer tires is an extremely engaging car to drive. It's one of the few cars here with dedicated summer tires. And you can definitely tell on our autocross course where it had a lot of grip where the cars would kinda slide around or under steer, the nose would wash up the Lexus was planted and composed. <v Mike>The IS doesn't feel as quick as the other cars in our test. Power takes a while to build and that's partly because of very gradual gas pedal response. Lexus tends to make sporty cars with rear wheel drive and rear ends that are kinda squirrely. In this case, the IS 200t kind of countered that to an extent with really good summer tires and like it or not a little bit less power from the small engine. So all things considered, it ended up being one of the more controllable Lexus sports sedans that we've driven. So I was disappointed in the C class, partly because, well, we're so familiar with the car. We named it our car of the year in 2015. And this has the optional sports suspension, but it didn't really deliver on a very sporting character. It handled a little sloppily, the steering was loose and there was body roll. Some of that, I attribute to how few miles are on these tires. Tires have a break in. They're not gonna get their max performance until after a few hundred miles. And we were testing the car with only about 150 miles on it. Mercedes has come such a long way in improving the drivability and especially the handling of its cars. But it doesn't have the connected feel of some of these vehicles out here. It availed itself pretty well in the autocross. But then later when I did some avoidance maneuvers with it, like just trying to feel what the body roll was like. I was swinging the wheel pretty hard and the car was just kinda going like this. And I started to question if the wheels were in fact, connected to the steering wheel.