Fun Stuff

Five Affordable Sedans for Effortless Cruising

Your writer has spent countless hours on the open road, with no less than eight hours and 800 kilometres on the highways between Central and Northern Ontario, weekly, and for years. As part of this ongoing process, I’ve come to accumulate a list of favourite highway cruisers: sedans that excel at delivering long-haul comfort, and are highly suitable for hours and hours of driving.

Some folk want a car that goes fast, sounds awesome, and melts nearby faces off with its glorious looks. Others want a car that’s spacious, tranquil, easy on fuel, and highly conducive to relaxation and socialization while watching the scenery fly by. The following list of my five faves cover rides that deliver on the latter.

So: here’s my list of top affordable sedans, ideal for long-haul cruising. Most are available from well under $40,000, and each provides world-class cruising comfort for a variety of reasons.

2017 Chevrolet Impala

This one’s a great all-around value on a competent long-haul cruiser, and a well-rounded overall package to boot. Stand-out attributes include Impala’s well-tuned suspension, which is soft and compliant, but without turning this big sedan into a gigantic rolling land-sponge. It’s comfort first, but not at the all-out expense of responsiveness.

The 3.6L V6 puts over 300 horsepower on standby for passing and merging, but achieves the best gasoline V6 fuel mileage I’ve ever measured during cruising. Logical control placement, a dead simple central command system, and a bevy of automatic features, including lights, high-beams and climate control, make for effortless comfort and convenience. Add in the just-right seats, and the push-button access to OnStar advisors 24/7, and you’ve got a cruiser that’s as comfy as it is confidence inspiring.

All said, this one’s roomy, relaxing, nicely tuned, easy to drive, and easy to interface with.

2017 Lexus ES

This one hits hardest for the feel and execution of its driving environment. The ES’s striking cabin flaunts great build quality and materials, upon even close inspection with the eyes or fingertips. The seats are gorgeous, and all interfaces, controls, switches and levers operate with a dense, quality feel. Rear seat legroom is surprisingly generous, and noise levels are kept very low, even at higher speeds. It all contributes to a relaxing and authentically luxurious environment in which to travel.

Careful calibration of the steering system makes this one easy to maneuver with minimal effort, though it locks nicely onto its line as the steering heavies up at higher velocities. The ES is not a handling weapon, and the ride is absolutely comfort-first: the most comfortable and serene of this group. Automatic lights, brights and wipers contribute to set-it-and-forget-it operation, and the track-pad central interface means drivers can control hundreds of functions with just a few millimetres of fingertip movement. Further, the V6 engine makes quick work of passing and merging, and the available four-cylinder hybrid can turn in a full day of cruising on a single tank of fuel. Great headlight performance is yours for the taking during after-dark drives, too.

End of the day, the Lexus ES demands blessedly little of its driver, and is an all-time favourite when it comes to just sitting back and enjoying the drive – and possibly some tunes on the available Mark Levinson stereo.

2017 Buick LaCrosse

Advanced technology gives this one a compelling blend of comfort and quiet. On centre stage in the LaCrosse’s long-haul comfort toolkit are features like Continuous Damper Control, which reads and responds to changing road surfaces in real time, working the dampers to deliver more consistent comfort on more surfaces, more of the time. Notably, this system absolutely nukes excessive body motions: hit a good dip, bump, or mid-corner expansion joint, and LaCrosse’s body reacts with little more than a slight squirm.

Further, Active Noise Cancellation intercepts and neutralizes incoming wind and road noise as it enters the cabin, putting noise levels on par with pricier rides. The striking cabin design, individual cockpit front seating arrangements, deep rear seats with legroom to spare, and built-in Wi-Fi are welcome attributes during a long drive, too. Finally, at highway speeds, steering heavies up, locking the LaCrosse onto its line nicely, and reducing the need to readjust.

With LaCrosse, some high-tech, and some attention to the finer details of steering and suspension tuning, make it a stand-out cruiser. This one looks great, rides even better, has a classy cabin, and absolutely excels at quietly hovering down the highway. Fuel mileage during steady cruising is highly appreciated too.

2017 Toyota Avalon

With the Avalon, a sense of space and a finely tuned ride come together beautifully on the open road. The layout of the cabin around the driver feels open and airy, enhancing the sense of space in what’s already a generously sized cabin. This one’s a great rolling social lounge, too – thanks to very generous rear seating accommodations with headroom and legroom in abundance, even for taller passengers.

All seats are comfortable and pillowy, the steering locks the Avalon into its lane but is easily manipulated when required, and the suspension feels durable, dense and finely tuned for comfort at virtually all times, but without wallowing and rebounding after bumps like a geriatric land barge.

The proven 3.5L V6 punches hard from low revs, mostly operates with a creamy smooth silence, and growls delightfully while flinging the Avalon along during passing or merging maneuvers. Notably, the big JBL stereo is a delight for the travelling audiophile, and a full complement of standard outward-looking hazard detection tech adds confidence and security on any drive.

This one feels like a pricier sedan, in many areas where it counts – and it’s very comfortable, but not at the all-out expense of driving enjoyment or precision. Ultimately, Avalon is very roomy, plush and luxurious, but without feeling like a soggy road-waffle.

2017 Volkswagen Passat

You needn’t be a luxury buff to appreciate a quiet and well-damped ride, a tidy interior, a smooth-as-glass engine, and a relaxing atmosphere from which to take it all in – and that’s just what the VW Passat delivers. Discreetly luxurious, VW’s top sedan is quiet looking, doesn’t shout for attention, and packs heaps of space in its bright, spacious cabin. Front and rear seats offer room to spare, and the tidy, logical and simple cabin layout encourage leisurely cruising. All controls and interfaces are logical and easily used: you get a tidy cabin that supports the laid-back ride, and supports the Passat’s calm character. The conventional shape of this machine, and its big, tall windows, enhance your outward view too.

The ride is creamy and smooth and laid-back with a touch of tautness dialed in for good measure – responsive enough, but comfort first, and all without handling like a bungalow. Quiet, too. And the steering is light and lazy, but not syrupy and vague. The drivetrain is all but undetectable unless opened up, operating nearly noiselessly, most of the time.

Like the Impala, the Passat impresses with a proven setup as a long-haul cruiser not for any particular set of reasons, but as an overall package.