Midsize cars remain the heart and soul of automakers’ lineups, and the selection of four-door family-minded models has never been richer, which can make for some tough choices. Not only do today’s midsize sedans offer top-notch performance and impressive fuel economy, many offer an array of upscale components and advanced safety features that were, until recently, relegated to the luxury segment.
Here’s how four of the most-popular family sedans – all which received major redesigns for 2013 – stack up.
• Chevrolet Malibu. Short, wider and delivering slightly less rear legroom than its predecessor, the redesigned 2013 Malibu comes powered by either a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a sufficient 197 horsepower, or an optional turbocharged 2.0-liter powerplant that gets a V6-like 259 horses. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard. An “Eco” version leverages a 2.4-liter engine and “mild hybrid” system to get an estimated 35/37-mpg city/highway.
Though not particularly sporty, the Malibu delivers a reasonably smooth ride and easygoing handling. Available features include heated leather seats, Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system, and lane-departure and collision warning systems. MSRP: $22,390-$30,165.
• Ford Fusion. This popular midsize sedan gets a radical makeover, with truly handsome exterior styling and revamped powertrains. The latter include a 175-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, and turbocharged 1.6- and 2.0-liter fours at 173 and 231 horses; a fuel saving start-stop function is optional with the 1.6-liter engine. A six-speed manual transmission is standard with a six-speed automatic standard or optional depending on the model. All-wheel-drive is available with the 2.0-liter engine. Handling is pleasingly crisp and controlled in the European tradition.
Available safety and convenience features include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot and lane-keeping warning systems and a self-parking feature that steers the car into a parallel parking spot automatically. The car’s interior is roomy and nicely designed, but the confounding MyFord Touch infotainment system makes operating key systems more difficult than necessary. MSRP: $21,700-$32,200.
• Honda Accord. This model features a sleeker look inside and out and improved driving dynamics. The recast 2013 Accord remains one of the top models in a hotly contested segment. The standard powertrain consists of a new direct-injected 2.4-liter 185-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a choice of a six-speed manual or gearless continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic that maximizes both fuel economy and acceleration. A 3.5-liter 278-horsepower V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission combination is quicker and more refined, yet less efficient.
The Accord’s Sport version delivers the sharpest handling; otherwise the car’s steering is a bit numb, though the suspension does a nice job of absorbing bumps. The sedan’s cabin is spacious, quiet and features a simple but tasteful design and supportive seats. An audio system with smartphone integration is standard. Available safety systems include lane departure and forward collision warning systems. MSRP: $21,680-$33,430.
• Nissan Altima. The Altima received considerable upgrades for its 2013 makeover; it challenges the segment leaders with dynamic styling, a spacious cabin and lively performance. The standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine generates a sufficient 182-horsepower and is rated at an impressive 38 mpg on the highway. A responsive CVT is standard, though like most CVT automatics it can get whiny under moderate-to-full throttle. A smoother and stronger 270-horsepower V6 is alternately available.
A revised suspension array delivers acceptable cornering abilities, though the Altima feels more at home on long highway stretches. The car’s front seats, developed in conjunction with NASA, are among the most comfortable in the industry. Options include lane departure and blind-spot warning systems, a heated steering wheel, smartphone connectivity with hands-free text messaging and an Easy-Fill Tire Alert that chirps the car horn when a tire has reached the correct pressure. MSRP: $21,700-$30,500.