The mid-sized four-door family sedan market is arguably the most important category for automakers. Sales of family sedans could reach 3.3 million this year, or 22% of all auto sales. New designs, and better fuel economy has pushed sales of these cars up 23% through August.
This is the category where companies duke it out for "Best Selling Car in America" honors with Toyota Camry nailing the title for most of the last fifteen years, with occasional challenges from Honda. Ford Taurus used to vie for the title as well.
Good news for car buyers is that almost all the entries are brand new, or at least newish. And while there are styling and performance nuances among them, there are no total dogs here. Because it is such an important category, we thought it helpful to rank them based on our experience and driving tests at both AOL Autos and Autoblog and help you choose.
The big changes in this usually ho-hum conservative category? There is a battle between those cars that continue to try to appeal to everyone--not taking any bold stands in styling--versus those whose companies now believe that today's thirty-to-fifty year old parents and 50+ empty nesters are looking for a little pizazz even in their four-door sedan.
Check out our ranking of the sedans from last to first, with the caveat that some of the separation among these models can be measured by hairs rather than rulers or scales.
10. Chrysler 200
MSRP: $18,995 - $32,595
Invoice: $18,770 - $31,127
Fuel Economy: 21 mpg City, 29 mpg Highway
The Chrysler 200, and its similar sibling, the Dodge Avenger, have been substantially upgraded by the Fiat-Chrysler alliance. But the car still suffers from having the basic architecture designed during Chrysler's ownership by Mercedes and then Cerberus Capital, both of which cut lots of corners and lost the plot about how to design and engineer a world class four-door sedan for families.
Fiat has cleaned up some of the mess, especially in a much upgraded interior. And thuth is that the car is not unpleasant to drive at all. But this is a fiercely competitive category with lots of brand new entries. We are looking ahead to an all new sedan from Fiat-Chrysler in 2014. If the job the new company did on the Dodge Dart is a preview, it should be a huge step up. Meantime, feel free to take advantage of discounting on the 200, and test drive for yourself to see if it meets your needs and the limits of your wallet. But we would pick nine sedans ahead of it.
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MSRP: $20,725 - $29,990
Invoice: $19,575 - $28,316
Fuel Economy: 21 mpg City, 30 mpg Highway
The Mazda6 is a sedan we want to rank higher than no. 9 because it is actually more fun to drive than many of its rivals, and the styling is more expressive too.
There is something about this category that makes us put a higher premium, though, on the practical stuff. And as much as we like the Mazda6, fuel economy lags the competition, and some of the interior materials on the dash and console aren't as good as newer designs like Ford Fusion and Honda Accord.
The Mazda 6 is powered by one of two engines--a 2.5-liter inline-4 generating 170 horsepower or a 3.7-liter V6 that cranks out 272 hp. The four-banger is paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic, while the V6 is only mated to a six-speed automatic.
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8. Kia Optima
MSRP: $21,200 - $26,800
Invoice: $20,255 - $25,040
Fuel Economy: 24 mpg City, 35 mpg Highway
Much like the Hyundai Sonata, which appears later on our list, the Kia Optima will likely surprise people who haven't been paying much attention to the auto industry over they past couple of years. The reality is that Kia is making cars that are really, really good. The Optima is very comfortable, fun to drive, gets great fuel economy and simply looks fantastic. Throw in its low starting MSRP and you've got one heck of a sedan that presents a great value to budget-minded buyers.
The Optima is especially good if you opt for the SX trim, which employs a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 creating 274 hp.
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7. Chevrolet Malibu
MSRP: $22,390 - $30,165
Invoice: $21,606 - $28,506
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg City, 34 mpg Highway
An all-new redesigned Chevy Malibu comes in a few versions including a mild-hybrid with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder. The two-liter turbo-charged four-cylinder just getting out to dealerships now.
The Malibu benefits from a well-turned out interior with soft-touch material and switchgear, and an easy to use Chevy MyLink system that integrates the driver's smart-phone.
The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu midsize sedan is currently available in four main trims: LS, LT, LTZ and Eco. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg city/37 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined.
Springing for the top-of-the-line LTZ provides leather seating, heated front seats, an eight-way power passenger seat (with power lumbar) and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
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6. Buick Regal
MSRP: $29,015 - $34,980
Invoice: $27,854 - $33,581
Fuel Economy: 25 mpg City, 36 mpg Highway
Buick has made some tremendous strides in becoming more appealing for younger buyers and the Regal is a great example of this.
With a relatively low starting MSRP, a nice interior with luxury and techy features and great fuel economy, this small sedan is good enough to earn the number 6 spot on our list. It also comes in Turbo and GS variants, which add some solid power and performance.
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5. Toyota Camry
MSRP: $22,055 - $30,115
Invoice: $20,181 - $27,404
Fuel Economy: 25 mpg City, 35 mpg Highway
The 2013 Camry was redesigned from the ground up for the 2012 model year, and made several upgrades from the previous version. Interior materials and switchgear was substantially upgraded, and the suspension and ride quality was made a bit more taut than the flaccid ride of the previous version.
The Camry is offered in L, LE, SE and XLE trim levels. The L features 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, power windows and mirrors, cruise control, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, split-folding rear seats, Bluetooth and a six-speaker CD sound system with USB jacks.
There are two engine choices--a 2.5 liter four-cylinder in the base model, and an optional 3.5-liter V6. Fuel economy on the four-cylinder is 25/35, while it is 21/30 on the V6.
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4. Hyundai Sonata
MSRP: $20,895 - $27,595
Invoice: $20,010 - $25,790
Fuel Economy: 24 mpg City, 35 mpg Highway
The Hyundai Sonata is a two-year old design, but holds up very well compared with newer offerings from Ford, Toyota and Honda. Indeed, the bold styling of the Sonata took its rivals by surprise, and has proved very popular.
A taut ride, premium looking interior, good fuel economy and a hybrid version, plus a thrifty starting price has made Sonata one of the fastest growing brands in the business.
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3. Volkswagen Passat (tie)
MSRP: $20,845 - $33,525
Invoice: $19,990 - $32,151
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg City, 32 mpg Highway
If you see more Passats on the road these days, it is because Volkswagen is building them in Tennessee now, and has priced the sedan much more affordably than the previous version that was built in Europe and imported into the U.S.
The Passat has the German premium feel you look for from VW, as well as a solid power-plant under the hood that offers a diesel engine as an option.
The only thing missing from the Passat is a modern day telematics system. But we like this car anyway, right down to the optional Fender sound system.
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3. Nissan Altima (tie)
MSRP: $21,500 - $30,080
Invoice: $20,114 - $27,492
Fuel Economy: 27 mpg City, 38 mpg Highway
Redesigned for 2013, the Nissan Altima provides the driver with great fuel economy, performance and comfort. Although it tends to fly under the radar for a lot of sedan shoppers, the Altima is among the best on the market right now.
Its base engine is a 2.5-liter I4, but for those of you looking for power, a 3.5-liter V6 is available, which makes for a respectable 270 hp. Additionally, it comes with some solid tech options, such as Bluetooth streaming audio, passive entry with push button ignition, rearview camera and Advanced Drive-Assist Display, not to mention its "Easy Fill Tire Alert," which you've probably seen advertised a time or two.
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2. Honda Accord
MSRP: $21,680 - $33,430
Invoice: $19,849 - $30,567
Fuel Economy: 24 mpg City, 34 mpg Highway
The Accord is all new for the 2013 model year, and sports the solid feeling ride and engine performance that we expect from arguably the best engine maker in the world.
The 2.4-liter direct-injection engine is quiet, and the continuously variable transmission (CVT) is an excellent job--the throttle responding very nicely when the driver asks for power.
Honda stumbled last year when it unleashed a Civic on the market that skimped on interior appointments and sound-proofing material. It seems to have has smarter folks on the Accord, which does not suffer from such penny-pinching.
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1. Ford Fusion
MSRP: $21,700 - $32,200
Invoice: $20,235 - $29,705
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg City, 34 mpg Highway
The Ford Fusion has been redesigned from the ground up for the 2013 model year, and tops our list for its combo of sleek, attractive styling, responsive engine and transmission, and well-tailored interior.
In short, the new Ford Fusion is the class of the mid-sized sedan market. Handsome and athletic enough to substitute for a much more expensive car that might be on your shopping list.
Ford, which many would have expected to play it safe with the new Fusion, actually almost copied the front grill design from Aston Martin. The profile and overall look makes us think of the much more expensive Audi A7.
There are lost of options when ordering a Fusion: front or all-wheel-drive, conventional gasoline with EcoBoost direct injection and turbo charging, and hybrid, automatic tranny or manual shift.
Fuel economy stands up to the rivals very nicely, with the 1.6 liter turbo scoring 25/37 and 2.5 liter four cylinder achieving 22/34.
Ford has been an also-ran in the mid-sized sedan category since the mid 1990s when the Ford Taurus jumped the rails in a design few buyers liked. The last Fusion was highly competent if lacking sharpness and emotion in its design. Now, Ford has gotten it all right, inside and out, top to bottom and front-to-back. If it can build enough in the U.S. to challenge the Camry for sales leadership, it just might work its way back to the crown with a package this good.
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