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Three for the Road: Sporty V6 Sedans

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Three for the Road: Sporty V6 Sedans

May 4, 2007 - Story and photos John LeBlanc

On the crowded streets of London, England, Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra sedans are a fairly unexceptional sight.

So common are these British family sedans that the London police force takes full advantage of their ubiquity by using them as "Q-cars" (Q for quiet). Fitted with sirens and lights mounted behind their grilles, these unmarked Fords and Vauxhalls are mainly used for clandestine assignments or chasing down unsuspecting London gangsters.

Want your own Canadian Q-car?

One you could pass off to the uninformed as daily family transportation, but a car that would also be able to deliver the driving goods when called upon?

In the form of their base models, Mitsubishi's Galant, Nissan's Altima and Saturn's Aura loyally perform the mundane functions of the model family sedan. Conversely, all three of these front-wheel-drive four-doors are available as souped-up, six-cylinder, quasi-sports sedans that any undercover Thames detective might relish.

But which one is worthy of the expense of the addition of sirens and lights?

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THIRD PLACE: 2007 Mitsubishi Galant Ralliart Externally, the Mitsubishi plays the Q-car role well. Its 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels are the only obvious clue that this is the sportiest Galant extant. Inside, the leather-covered steering wheel and shifter with their red piping, plus the leather seats and aluminum pedals, help dress up the Galant's otherwise plain interior. Despite its larger 3.8-litre displacement, the Ralliart's 258 hp rating falls short of the leading 270 hp found in the Altima. However, its 258 lb.-ft. is the Nissan's equal. Drop your foot on the Ralliart's accelerator and the five-speed manumatic transmission hooks up with the engine's broad, flexible power curve for dramatic launches. Zero-to-100 km/h times are in the mid-six-seconds range; on par with the Nissan, slightly behind the Saturn. Torque steer, especially on bad pavement, is noticeable in the Mitsu. But no worse than in the Saturn. And for a front-drive car, the Ralliart can easily be coaxed into a controllable amount of oversteer if you hang onto the brakes through a turn. Little or no feedback from the Mitsubishi's steering wheel is disappointing. And excessive noise from the Galant's engine, exhaust and suspension contrasts with the serene Saturn. PADDY WAGON ALTERNATIVE: 2007 Mitsubishi Endeavor SE FWD Base price: $35,998 Q-CAR FACTOR: The Galant's appliance-like looks jack up this number. Unfortunately, the overall lack of refinement overwhelms the Ralliart's positives. And the interior makes this car feel older than its birth certificate indicates.

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SECOND PLACE: 2007 Saturn Aura XR As the Aura is Saturn's version of the Vauxhall Vectra, it was born with Q-car genes. Especially the "quiet" part. Even with 18-inch, low-profile tires, the Aura XR's cockpit does a good impression of a monastery. The 252 hp, 3.6-litre V6 helps as well. It's a model of refinement, the smoothest mill here. The six-speed manumatic adds to the XR's sophistication. Smooth in its actions, one never feels in the wrong gear.The Saturn's drivetrain combo also makes the Aura XR a tick quicker to 100 km/h than the Mitsubishi and Nissan. There is mild torque steer at low speeds, but it dissipates once the car is up and running. Except for some wayward positioning of some controls, the Saturn has an excellent driving position and ergonomic package. Driver instrumentation is clear and straightforward, and the front seats are comfortable and supportive. Where the Aura XR's overall driving experience may be luxury car quiet, its steering needs constant correction, even when motoring in a straight line. And too bad the Saturn seems to forget its European roots on a twisty road. Push the front-drive Aura and the front tires lose their grip too readily with the stability control system taking over the reins post-haste PADDY WAGON ALTERNATIVE: 2007 Saturn Outlook XE Base price: $33,990 Q-CAR FACTOR: With its high-speed composure, the Aura is better suited as a highway cruiser than an urban Q-car. Handling and steering are more deliberate than the Altima. Nonetheless, for a first time effort from Saturn, the Aura XR impresses plenty.

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FIRST PLACE: 2007 Nissan Altima 3.5 SE Launched in 2002, Nissan's Altima was the genesis of a revitalized Nissan brand.When it came time to redo its family sedan for 2007, the previous model's critical acclaim and sales success gave the company the luxury to refine Altima's positives (engine, handling, styling) and address the negatives (torque steer, cockpit build quality). Improving the already powerful-for-its-class 3.5-litre V6 not only bumps horsepower up to 270, it also means the Altima now has 15 more cojones than Nissan's senior sedan, Maxima. Where the last Altima was chastised for an interior that screamed "$19-a-day with unlimited mileage," the '07 version seems to have been swapped from an Infiniti. The Altima's ride motions have been tightened through the use of more high-strength steel and a 25 mm shorter wheelbase. There's still torque steer, but the engine being lowered to allow the half-shafts to be mounted at equal angles has largely mitigated any front-wheel misbehaviour. When driven as advertised, the Altima 3.5 SE delivers balanced handling plus sharp steering with quick turn-in. It's the only sedan here with 17-inch rubber, yet hangs on longer in a sustained turn than either the Mitsu or the Saturn. The biggest surprise was the Altima's optional continuously variable transmission.To date, a CVT's nature of sustaining revs to maximize torque has jarred most driving enthusiast's sensibilities. But, combined with its powerful V6, the Altima unit's succinct actions made it feel just as good as Saturn's excellent slushbox with its conventional torque converter. PADDY WAGON ALTERNATIVE: 2007 Nissan Murano SL FWD Base price: $39,098 Q-CAR FACTOR: Nissan is on record saying that, with the new Altima, it set the bar at creating "the best performing front-wheel-drive sedan in the world. Until Nissan unwraps its even higher-performing Altima SE-R, it's hard to find fault with that boast.

- John LeBlanc, Publisher, www.straight-six.com

This article originally appeared in The Toronto Star's Wheels.

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wait a sec... did the HF3.6 just get rated as more refined than the VQ?

yep.. it says that. nice. ... so if GM corrected the "torque steer" it might have taken over 1st...?

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