The traditional mainstream-brand large-car segment has been particularly hard hit as American consumers’ preferences have shifted to crossover SUVs. Buyers looking for more passenger and cargo room have been turning to SUVs in greater and greater numbers, and getting more-versatile interior space and the capability of a raised ride height and broadly available all-wheel drive in the bargain.
Given these marketplace realities, it’s not surprising that automakers are turning away from the large-car category as well. Five years ago, there were nine entrants in the class; for 2020, there were just five, and for 2021 there are only four.
These cars are a pretty homogenous bunch. All come only as 4-door sedans… no exceptions. V6 engines are standard across the board, and only two (the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger) offer an optional V8. Despite the not-so-bright future of the category as a whole, the good news is that the existing entrants serve their target audiences quite well. The freshest member of the class is the Toyota Avalon, which was redesigned for 2019, and the Kia Cadenza is not far behind—it was redesigned for 2017 and given a refresh for 2020. The basic platform of the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger dates back to the early 2000s, but both of those cars have been kept reasonably fresh via a steady stream of revamps and updates over the years.
HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2021
The Chrysler 300 loses its top-of-the-line Limited model. Last year’s optional Red S Appearance Package, which includes tweaked badges and available Radar Red upholstery, is now standard on 300S. The Touring L and 300S models now come standard with front and rear parking sensors, and rear cross-traffic alert.
The Dodge Charger amps up its muscle-car credentials yet again; the new SRT Hellcat Redeye has a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine with 797 horsepower. It includes the Widebody package that was introduced on the 2020 Charger SRT Hellcat. Dodge claims the Redeye’s 203-mph top speed makes it the “world’s fastest mass-produced sedan.” Claimed quarter-mile performance is an elapsed time of 10.6 seconds at 129 mph. The SRT Hellcat now has 717 horsepower from its supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine, the same as last year’s Daytona 50th Anniversary Edition. SRT Hellcat and SRT Hellcat Redeye models also share a new hood design with a functional hood scoop.
We don’t anticipate any dramatic changes for the 2021 Kia Cadenza; last year, the Cadenza received a thorough update that included revised front and rear styling, along with LED headlights and taillights. Inside, there was an upgraded interior with a revamped control layout that included a widescreen 12.3-inch touchscreen and a color display screen in the instrument cluster.
The Toyota Avalon is now available with all-wheel drive, and the Hybrid model has a new lithium-ion battery pack that replaces the old nickel-metal hydride battery. Android Auto capability has been added, and the XSE gets a blackout-trim Nightshade Edition.
As General Motors shifts its product focus to crossover SUVs, the Chevrolet Impala has been discontinued; 2020 was the model’s swan-song year.
MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL
The Toyota Avalon is the only vehicle in the class to offer a hybrid powertrain. The Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger are available with all-wheel drive in place of rear-wheel drive (the 300 and Charger are the only RWD vehicles in the class). But their real claim to fame is that they offer a V6, a burly V8, and, in the case of the Charger, really stompin’ V8s. A healthy 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is offered in standard models (it makes 363 hp in the 300 and 370 hp in the Charger), but the potent Charger R/T Scat Pack comes with a 485-horsepower 6.4-liter V8, and the Charger SRT Hellcat packs a supercharged 717-hp 6.2-liter V8. Then there’s the new SRT Hellcat Redeye, with an eye-popping 797 horsepower. These are executive hot rods that can rival some far more expensive premium sedans for performance.