2007 Lexus LS 460Click to enlarge picture

The 2007 LS 460 is a new, fourth-generation flagship Lexus sedan and features the world's first 8-speed automatic transmission.

In the large car segment, shoppers can find nearly two dozen autos in a wide price range. Manufacturer's suggested retail prices start at less than $21,000 for a Chevrolet Impala and go to more than $139,000 for a top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Intriguingly, the large cars from South Korean automakers—the Kia Amanti and Hyundai Azera—are higher priced than Chevy's largest car with starting prices of more than $24,000.

Photo Gallery: Large Passenger Cars

Carrying People in Style
Big cars have been known for their ability to carry six people. But the number of cars with front bench seats that can accommodate three riders has declined over the years.

Today, only about a half dozen domestic-branded autos in the full-size class offer six-passenger seating. They include the Buick Lucerne, Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marquis as well as Lincoln's Town Car.

Toyota officials dropped the bench seat offering in the Avalon large sedan because so many buyers—some 92 percent—chose Avalons with separate front seats, not the bench.

Rear-seat legroom in this segment is an obvious plus. There are no cramped legs in a vehicle like the Lincoln Town Car with extended wheelbase. Back-seat legroom is a whopping 45.5 inches, which is 5 inches more than what's found in the second or third rows of an extended-wheelbase Cadillac Escalade ESV sport-utility vehicle. Even the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans have generous rear-seat legroom of 41.9 inches.

New for the 2007 model year is the first extended-wheelbase Lexus. The LS 460 L is 4.8 inches longer than a regular wheelbase LS, with all the extra length going for rear-seat passengers. Indeed, the LS 460 L even offers power-operated rear leg rests and a fold-away table in the back seat.

Ample trunk space of more than 20 cubic feet can be found in many large cars, including the Five Hundred, Montego and Town Car. The Dodge Magnum is especially flexible with cargo room. The Magnum is a large station wagon that offers more than 71 cubic feet of cargo room when rear seats are folded.

But note that the stylish Chrysler 300 has trunk space more akin to that of a midsize car—15.6 cubic feet. The Jaguar XJ sedan has less than 17 cubic feet of trunk space, and Cadillac's DTS and BMW's 7-Series cars have less than 19 cubic feet of space in the trunks.

Some Long-Running Models
Some full-size models have been so popular over the years they've set sales records. For instance, the Mercury Grand Marquis dates back to 1975 and is the longest running, best-selling Mercury ever, with sales of more than 2.7 million.

Chevrolet brought back the Impala name when it introduced the current, front-wheel-drive large car in 1999. The earlier Impala was a rear-wheel-drive large car that was a strong seller in the 1950s and '60s.

Dodge brought back the Charger name in 2005 and put it on a large, rear-wheel-drive sedan. The current Charger includes a familiar engine name—HEMI V8.

Meantime, in 2006, Cadillac changed the name of its largest car. Formerly known as the DeVille, the large sedan now is called the DTS. The change brings the car in line with nomenclature on Cadillac's other sedans— CTS and STS.

Powerful Powertrains
The selection of engines in the full-size car category is breathtaking. Buyers can find V6s, V8s, V12s, turbocharged and supercharged engines in these cars. But there are no 4-cylinder engines in these hefty vehicles.

The Lexus LS 460 is the first Lexus with a V8 that puts out 380 horsepower. The new, 4.6-liter power plant is mated to a world-first eight-speed automatic transmission that's not only is geared for good get up and go. It helps this large luxury sedan get a government fuel economy rating averaging in the mid 20-mile-per-gallon range.

A V8 has returned to Buick. The Buick Lucerne sedan is the first Buick since the Roadmaster in 1996 with a V8. Specifically, the 275-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 in the Lucerne is a Northstar engine that's also in Cadillac's DTS large sedan. Northstar engines are known to be refined and strongly powered and have largely been exclusive to Cadillac. Both Buick and Cadillac are owned by General Motors Corp.

Jaguar's XJ has an uplevel V8 that uses an Eaton supercharger and twin intercoolers. This 4.2-liter XJ-V8 can generate 400 horsepower and is available on both short- and long-wheelbase XJs.

The Mercedes S-Class and the competing BMW 7-Series give buyers a choice of V8 or V12 engine. Power is palpable in these luxury cars. For example, the 6.0-liter V12 in the S65 AMG has twin turbochargers, resulting in peak horsepower of 604 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque for a 0-to-60-mile-an-hour time of 4.2 seconds.

Features Galore
Many full-size cars include features that pamper.

Would you believe seats in the LS 460 that have body heat sensors that help keep the car's automatic climate control set to the correct temperature for all passengers? How about a power rear door closer? It, too, is in the LS 460, which arrives with more technology features than any other new car in North America, according to the Telematics Research Group of Minnetonka, Minn.

Meantime, the 2007 Mercedes S600 comes standard with front seats that have 16-way adjustment that includes pneumatic chambers for tailoring seat comfort. There are other chambers that are used to massage the driver. And both front seats are heated and cooled.

BMW's 7-Series includes a wealth of technology, including Active Roll Stabilization that minimizes body lean during aggressive driving as well as automatic heater/air conditioner with humidity control.

Jaguar's XJ offers specialized Burl Walnut veneer with hand-inlaid Peruvian boxwood, while the Infiniti M cars include a sweeping dashboard with rosewood trim. Rear seats in the Audi A8 can be ordered with a recline feature.

Even the mainstream Impala has special touches. Rear seat cushions in this Chevrolet fold up for access to hidden storage spaces. Rear seatbacks fold down to accommodate long cargo sliding through from the trunk. Remote start is available, too.

Safety Standard
Safety is a highlight of big cars, which have a large amount of mass and substantial sheet metal to help keep crash forces from impacting passengers.

These cars tend to go beyond just weight and a lot of sheet metal, though. Increasingly, they have various electronic systems and the latest technology to bolster safety.

For example, the Lexus LS 460 and the Mercedes S-Class are equipped with pre-crash safety systems that can reduce collision injury and damage by activating certain car systems and seat belts when they anticipate a crash.

BMW's 7-Series has knee airbags for the driver and front passenger to help keep them properly positioned during a frontal crash. And adaptive front lighting, another feature, helps illuminate a turn or curve as the driver of an LS 460 steers into it.

Meanwhile, the Grand Marquis has received the federal government's highest safety rating-double five stars-for frontal crash protection since 1996.

Fuel Economy Lags
Don't look for great fuel mileage in this segment, though. Big, heavy cars tend to use more gasoline than smaller ones do.

Thus, a Dodge Magnum wagon with V8 is rated at 17/25 mpg. This falls to 14/20 mpg in the sporty Magnum SRT8, where the V8 is a 425-horsepower 6.1-liter HEMI power plant.

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