$38,000 full-size sedan challenge

Cars.com, USA Today and the "MotorWeek" TV series set out to compare full-size cars, procuring seven that each cost less than $38,000. The judges:

  • Kelsey Mays, consumer affairs editor at Cars.com
  • Jennifer Newman, assistant managing editor at Cars.com
  • Kristin Varela, senior family editor at Cars.com
  • Fred Meier, automotive editor at USA Today
  • Brian Robinson, producer at "MotorWeek"
  • Bill Wegner of Skokie, Ill., our real-life family judge

Here's how the score broke down: The experts' scores accounted for 75% of the total score; 15% came from the family's scores; and 10% was based on fuel economy. To help you make your own comparisons of these sedans, we've pulled together a list of what you get for $38,000.

2014 Chevrolet Impala 2LT

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What they liked: First impressions matter, and the new Impala's new, more Camaro-like look drew raves. "It looks great from just about every angle," Robinson said. And it wasn't just the exterior, either. "The wraparound leather-trimmed dash with contrast stitching extends all the way to the door panels," Varela said, "making you feel like a pilot in a sci-fi spaceship cockpit." "It's sleek and stylish, grown-up but not old," Meier added. Fear not; our judges are not superficial. "The Impala's drivability shines," Mays said, "and its ride comfort outshines even the Chrysler twins. It holds its own on the performance front." "It's easy to drive, with nothing pushing or pulling," Wegner said. "The last Impala I drove in was a '68. Wow! What a difference since then." Features weren't lacking either. "The interior has a ton of storage areas, including my favorite in the Challenge cars: an umbrella holder," Newman said. "The household AC outlet in the rear seat is a great feature for families," Varela noted. "Just think of the possibilities."

What they didn't: "The engine feels powerful (though not 305-horsepower strong), but the transmission and I never seemed to be on the same page," Robinson said. "The dashboard's a bit of a circus," Mays said, with cartoonish gauges and whimsical wraparound paneling." Meier agreed: "The near-premium interior is, if anything, a little overdone — the stitched seams are great, but do I really need them in two colors?" While Newman praised the Chevy for its "impressive" safety features, she added, "Thank goodness for all of the safety features, because they're essential; rear visibility is limited because of the Impala's narrow rear window."

The verdict: "The Impala got a great redesign that has really taken it from the worst vehicle in the segment to among the best," Robinson said, "if not the best."

Key Features

  • All-new for 2014
  • $35,770, as-tested
  • One of two cars with complimentary maintenance — two years/24,000 miles
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration five-star safety rating; Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has not fully tested the Impala
  • Blind spot warning, forward collision alert and lane departure warning
  • Second-largest trunk at 18.8 cubic feet
  • Rear parking sensors and backup camera
  • Only car tested with Pandora integration from smartphone
  • Only car tested with household AC outlet in the rear seat

2014 Chevrolet Impala Payment Facts
Price as tested: $35,770
Monthly payment*: $735.77

2013 Chrysler 300S

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What they liked: The 300's ride quality won over many of our judges. "The power and handling in the 300S is spot on," Varela said, and Robinson echoed that by saying, "The engine and eight-speed transmission work very well together." And "our sport-tuned 300S still held its own on the ride-quality front," Mays said. "This would make a nice long-distance ride," Wegner said. "I might be able to go all the way to Winnipeg in this." Its distinctive styling still works, several judges noted. "Its masculine looks make it a head turner," Newman said. Others described it as "sinister" and "classy." As for features, Varela called out safety as something that played out in real life. "The rear-cross path detection system literally saved our butts backing out of a parking space after dinner one night," she said, "when another patron decided to try to speed by behind us."

What they didn't: The interior didn't go over as well as the exterior. "It seems like Chrysler cheaped out a bit with the abundance of plastic on the door panels in the 300S," Varela said. Newman agreed: "The 300 is missing the luxury element," and she didn't care for the "odd, rubbery-looking dash. This interior is a miss." The 300's high belt line made visibility an issue for more than one critic. "Very little glass means at times it can be difficult to see out of," Robinson noted. For Mays, "the seats never worked for me. The backrests are too flat, and the head restraints feel too far away." And for good measure, he added: "Get rid of the electronic shifter, Chrysler. It's an ergonomic mess."

The verdict: "The 300 is a satisfying, big rear-drive car with elegant lines that seems more premium than its price," Meier said.

Key Features

  • Highest as-tested price of $37,925
  • Eight-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
  • Observed 27.9 mpg was second-highest
  • NHTSA five-star overall safety rating; IIHS Top Safety Pick
  • One of two cars capable of fitting three child-safety seats in the backseat
  • Blind spot warning, cross-traffic detection, adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning
  • Only car tested with front and rear parking sensors
  • Adaptive high-intensity-discharge headlamps

2013 Chrysler 300S Payment Facts
Price as tested: $37,925
Monthly payment*: $780.10