Family sedans review

Four models we like—and two that are just ‘eh’

Published: October 2014

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Ah, the good old, dependable, midsized family sedan; it’s the core of the car market, with more than 2 million sold every year. Sedans are America’s do-it-all solution, with product lines that range from fuel-efficient base sedans to powerful, luxury-loaded versions that tickle the boundaries of prestige-branded models. Though the segment has been long dominated by the popular Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, we’re seeing some upstarts shake up our Ratings—while one model reclaims its spot at the bottom.

Click on the model name in the write-up for each car to read the comprehensive road test and get Ratings.

Chevrolet Malibu: Serenity now

The Chevrolet Malibu is among the segment leaders, thanks to its plush ride, serene cabin, and good all-around performance. Furthermore, it has straightforward controls and responsive handling. In a rather cookie-cutter segment, the Malibu styling benefits from some Camaro design cues, inside and out. Between two variations recently tested, the zippy Malibu LTZ turbo scored the highest. Both available powertrains fall short of rivals’ fuel economy, but the Malibu feels more substantial than most. Wide, flat-front bucket seats may lose support on long trips, and the rear seat remains relatively snug, despite updates to carve out more knee room. But for drivers seeking Buick-grade isolation for a Chevrolet price, the Malibu is the answer.

Price $23,290-$31,305
Fuel economy 26 mpg
Engine 196-hp, 2.5-liter 4-cyl.

Chrysler 200: It swings . . . and misses

Despite a thorough redesign for 2015, the Chrysler 200 continues to languish in the bottom of our midsized-sedan rankings. There have been improvements throughout, reflected in the higher score this year, but the deficiencies are still numerous. The 200 waddles like a larger car; it lacks agility, and the ride is unsettled. The base four-cylinder engine is unrefined and underpowered. The rough-shifting nine-speed transmission proves that having more gears isn’t always better. At least fuel economy is good, at 30 mpg overall. The polished V6 masks some flaws with its strong power. The cabin is tight, with the driver nestled in the cockpit while passengers pine for more leg and head room, especially in the back seat. Simply put: Every other sedan in this category is better.

Price $22,695-$31,190
Fuel economy 30 mpg
Engine 184-hp, 2.4-liter 4-cyl.

Honda Accord: So sensible

The segment stalwart, the Honda Accord has a reputation for being an easy recommendation among our staff. Its traditional dependability, versatility, efficiency, and responsiveness make it a simple one-size-fits-all package. The four-cylinder ought to satisfy most people, giving the spacious Accord fuel economy akin to smaller cars, without sacrificing performance through a well-tuned CVT transmission. The Accord brings enough verve to its handling and steering to give it some personality. Up-level versions have advanced safety features, but also a frustrating infotainment system. Stepping up to the virile 278-hp V6, which has a six-speed automatic, concedes 4 mpg overall, but it rewards with added refinement and a brisk 6.3-second 0-60 mph time.

Price $22,895-$40,570
Fuel economy 30 mpg
Engine 185-hp, 2.4-liter 4-cyl.

Hyundai Sonata: Well-behaved but ho-hum

The redesigned 2015 Sonata sheds its swoopy, aero design for a more upright stance—but with a bland appearance as a trade-off. It’s not a complete flop, because the new design means increased visibility and interior room—especially in rear-seat room. Dynamically, the Korean brand has never been about sportiness. The Sonata is well-behaved in routine driving conditions, but hard cornering and panic braking are unimpressive. The four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed transmission provides ample acceleration and returns 28 mpg overall. Even the interior appointments are rather humdrum, despite available amenities such as heated rear seats and a hands-free trunk. Although the Sonata is an easy car to like, it’s hard to love. It isn’t anything special.

Price $21,960-$30,310
Fuel economy 28 mpg
Engine

185-hp, 2.4-liter 4-cyl.

Subaru Legacy: Classy, not flashy

Photo: Subaru

Though Toyota sells 10 Camrys for every Subaru Legacy, the redesigned 2015 Legacy has put the segment on notice. The Legacy simply does everything well. The engine teams with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that creates artificial shift points, minimizing the irritating drone under acceleration inherent to the technology. The base powertrain combination returns 26 mpg overall—impressive for an all-wheel-drive car. Smooth ride, responsive handling, and best-in-class braking all impress. Top-of-segment crash-test performance combines with available active safety systems and a standard camera for backing up. Factor in a well-appointed, roomy cabin with great visibility, and you have a new sedan that ought to be on more car buyers’ shopping lists.

Price $22,490-$30,390
Fuel economy 26 mpg
Engine 175-hp, 2.5-liter 4-cyl.

Toyota Camry: Smooth and smart

Photo: David Dewhurst Photography

Known for a pliant ride, quiet cabin, and coddling passenger accommodations, the updated Toyota Camry continues to deliver smooth, dependable transportation that skews toward comfort and convenience. The overall solidity and consistency of the Camry means the V6 and four-cylinder models follow close behind the hybrid in our rankings, making them all smart choices. The 2015 Camry reskin (pictured right) offers upgraded interior electronics, more intuitive controls, noise-reduction measures, suspension tweaks, and more dramatic style, with a side body crease and prominent grille. Because of the popularity of the sporty SE trim, Toyota has added a higher-level XSE and SE Hybrid. The hybrid powertrain is the pinnacle of the lineup, delivering an impressive 38 mpg overall.

Price $23,795-$32,195
Fuel economy 27 mpg
Engine 178-hp, 2.5-liter 4-cyl.

Most reliable

Volkswagen Passat

Volkswagen’s peppy turbo-four Passat variant has emerged as a surprising standout with excellent predicted reliability in its first year. The sporty and fuel-efficient Mazda6 also joins the historically dependable Toyota Camry four-cylinder in receiving our highest reliability rating.

Best fuel economy

Honda Accord Hybrid

Stellar fuel economy is readily available from several hybrid power plants. Even with generous options lists, the Accord, Fusion, and Camry hybrids all deliver fuel efficiency that surpasses much smaller cars. Among this trio, the Camry shines all around, earning the highest overall test score.

Roomiest

Volkswagen Passat

Elbow and leg room are key to keeping the family comfortable, and these models offer generous passenger space. The Passat has a limolike rear seat. The Sonata succeeds in providing comfortable quarters in a modestly sized car. The efficiently packaged Accord is very roomy.

Best ride and handling

Ford Fusion

Don’t be swayed by luxury brand advertising; “mainstream” labels can create sophisticated sedans, too. Ford’s Fusion provides a civilized ride and delivers delightful handling. The Legacy has responsive handling and a premium ride. The Malibu gets points for plush comfort.

Safest

Subaru Legacy
Photo: Subaru

In this family-centric segment, three sedans excel in accident avoidance and occupant protection. They top the class in emergency handling and for wet and dry braking. Each shines in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, and in roof-strength and head-restraint evaluations.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the December 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.



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