Car buying isn’t easy unless you know what you want. In today’s ever rapid growing world of technology, trendy design schemes, and up-to-date trends, it can be tough to make a decision. For some it’s about reliability, others technology or driving dynamics, safety features, or will it even fit the family’s needs.
Now that we’ve finally gotten behind the wheel of most mid-sized sedans on the market, it’s time to see how they compete when we look at them as a group. The line-up includes the Hyundai Sonata Sport 2.0T, Nissan Altima 3.5L SL, Toyota Camry 3.5L XSE, Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited, Volkswagen Passat 1.8T Wolfsburg Edition, and Mazda 6 i Grand Touring. The great thing here, is that every car in this comparison is family friendly, after all they are family sedans. They are all big, full-size-ish sedans that offer tons of room so kids can’t kick the seats so easily, lots of storage for things to get lost and stuffed between the seats, and they all have large trunks with folding rear seats so grocery’s can roll around freely.
Before you think we’ve gone crazy making the cheapest tester here at $24,955 last place. There is more than meets the eye than its base level trim.
Our sampled Passat featured here had the standard 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that cranked out a respectable 170-horsepower. You can have a Passat either with a 2.0-liter TDI, or a 3.6-liter V6. Paired to a fantastic six-speed automatic, the 1.8-liter does just fine. In a straight line, it has the ability to get to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds.
For a large sedan, and the largest here with epic amounts of interior volume, the Passat handles surprisingly well. The chassis is nimble and symbolizes excellent build quality. It handles well in the corners and provides a subtle ride quality around town. It has a rewarding experience and with the ability to achieve a 27 mpg combined rating and 550 miles to a tank, it’s an impressive piece of machine.
However, in this competitive segment, buyers don’t always look at how well a car drives anymore, but by how pretty it is and the amount of features it offers. Even though our tester arrived as a base Wolfsburg Edition, we’re looking at the bigger picture. The Passat is about as interesting as a gray polyester suit. You can get a Passat to look more business-like than a fly-by-night rental car by opting for something like the SEL model which offers 17-inch wheels, fog lights, sun roof, leather and Nav – but in our honest opinion at 32-grand for a top spec Passat, the other 5 choices below are still better alternatives as they can offer premium technology, better looks, and more refined interiors.
If Volkswagen redesigns the Passat to feature more interesting dynamics, even perhaps to closely resemble the new generation Golf, we could see this one climbing much closer to the top of our comparison list.
Being one of America’s top selling sedans next to the Toyota Camry, the Altima is a relatively good choice whether you opt for the base 2.5-liter engine or the more promiscuous 3.5-liter V6.
The Altima is an overall good all-rounder. It features handsome looks no matter what trim level. With our top spec SL we have 18-inch alloys, Bi-Xenon Headlamps, fog lights, and LED tail lights which class’ up the style a bit. Inside its simple minded, the SL here featured black leather interior and while gimmicky, comfortable Zero Gravity NASA inspired seats. Our tester did feature the $1090 Technology Package that offered up Navigation, Blind Spot Warning, Lane Departure Warning and Moving Option Detection – but that’s an option worth ditching as it isn’t very good.
Since we had the 3.5-liter V6, we managed to enjoy what the Altima had to offer. Matted to the only transmission available across its line-up, a CVT, the Altima V6 produces 270-horsepower and can haul to 60 mph in about 6 seconds. Opting for the V6 brings in column mounted paddle shifters for seven-simulated gears which can ultimately enhance the driving experience. Around town the Altima is smooth, quiet and feels right at home being a family hauler. It is far from being anything but sporty – but the V6 makes up for its lack thereof. If you’re economical, the 3.5L can achieve a combined 24 mpg rating and a mere near 400 miles on a single tank.
The Altima here is a good family mover and buyers will be pleasantly surprised with its comfortable features, amenities and available space. Even with the 3.5L SL starting at $30,820, it marks itself as good value. It falls to fifth place here because its design and technology is starting to fall behind being that of a 2013 generation while most of the competition have been redesigned for 2014/2015/2016.
Redesigned from the ground up for 2015, Hyundai is shouting from the rooftop “hey, we are a serious car maker now.” And that’s exactly what they’ve become. Before Hyundai was known for what they are now, it was always consider a poor man’s car (nothing wrong with that.) For the Sonata’s sixth generation which ran between 2009 to 2014; it was different and daring for a mid-sized car – Hyundai got their name out there and they sold like hot cakes. Now, they’ve stepped back a bit, gone in a more serious direction.
There are several ways you can have a Sonata that follow many, many trim levels; accentually however, there are three main engine choices – 1.6-liter, a 2.4-liter, or the gusty 2.0-liter turbo. For the sake of this test we have the Sonata Sport 2.0T, which is one trim level down from the Limited 2.0T.
From a visual stand point, the Sonata looks like every other car here – it has clean lines, a handsome face and an overall pleasant silhouette. The Sport trim here offers up a hearty black grille, 18-inch sporty wheels, and snarky quad-tip exhaust pipes. Under that hood lies a poise 2.0-liter turbocharged 245-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The Sonata has the slowest time to 60 mph as it takes nearly 8 seconds through its six-speed automatic. As long as you’re not in a rush, it’s a gracious setup – it’s smooth in acceleration, the gear changes are snappy and the available paddle shifters are nifty.
Around town the Sonata is a squishy kind ride – it’s smooth and comfortable but provides very little driver satisfaction – especially for being the “Sports” model. The chassis rolls around – the steering feels lifeless – and again at 8 seconds to 60 mph – it’s nowhere near its claimed name sake. However, with our test car starting at $28,575, it offers many touches of premium feel and with our equipped Ultimate Package for a mere near 5K more, it featured a Pano Sunroof, Heated/Ventilated Front/Rear Seats, Radar Cruise, Lane Warning, Blind Spot, Collision Alert and that beautifully thought-out 8-inch touch screen Navigation.
Overall, the cabin space is a pleasant one, the seats were cozy, the dash was well laid out (though a bit oddly designed for our taste), and there was tons of space available with exceptional user-friendly technology. Achieving around 24 mpg combined, it’s not the most economical with having a four-cylinder engine but with the ability to go 530 miles on a sink tank – that’s pretty impressive.
The Hyundai Sonata received fourth due to its lack of driver enthusiasm – however if all you’re interested in a handsome car with great technology, the Sonata here marks itself as good value for what you end up getting.
Before 2015, the Subaru Legacy was one of those cars that everybody knew existed but suddenly forget when it came to buying a new car. They always featured interesting designs schemes that tried to stay ahead of the times, so when a decade passed, they still look just as good as ever – granted, they always do.
For 2015, Subaru completely redesigned the Legacy to have a more family oriented feel and took it easy on the styling. The style is simple, classy – more likely to grow over time and with the family. 10-15-20 years from now this Legacy will still look like it belongs. Our tester is the big daddy of the bunch as the Limited which came with HID Headlamps, 18-inch alloy wheels, and Leather interior.
There are two engine options for the Legacy, a 2.5-liter BOXER four-cylinder or the 3.6-liter BOXER six-cylinder – all trims come standard with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive – which is nice. Our tester being the 3.6R, 256-horsepower was at our disposal and will easily hustle to 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds through a CVT transmission (only option available on both engines.) While the CVT here works quite well with the Legacy and using a simulated six-speed transmission, the power band here is simply the smallest of most V6’s in this segment. The Legacy is a comfortable family cruiser – it handles decently well and provide a subtle forgiving ride quality. With the AWD system the Legacy also will go through more fuel as it averages 23 mpg combined.
As part of the Limited, our tester featured very attractive, comfortable ivory leather interior with power adjustable heated front and rear seats. While not as much as the Passat, the Legacy features the 2nd largest interior volume and rear leg room in its class. Technology is no short of surprises here as the Limited features standard Dual-Zone Climate Control, Blind Spot Detection, and a 7-inch touch screen infotainment system with Navigation.
The Subaru Legacy earns third place mainly because all the other V6’s out there are quicker and offer more horsepower; however, in the end, if you live in the northern stats and need All-Wheel Drive, the Subaru Legacy is a sedan that won’t disappoint.
To be frank, this was the toughest decision in this comparison. The Mazda 6 should be number one – it’s absolutely brilliant in every single way imaginable – except for one very important part… which we’ll get to.
After nearly three years into its cycle, the Mazda 6 was updated for 2016 with a new exterior fascia and a completely revamped interior. The Mazda 6 is by far the sexiest car here, no matter the color option selected. And with our top tier i Grand Touring tester nested at a starting price of $30,195 – its excellent value for money considering you get handsome 19-inch wheels, LED lights everywhere, a fantastically comfortable leather interior, premium finishes, a new touch screen infotainment system, heads-up display and much more.
However, while every car here in this comparison has available engines that can make driving much more enthusiastic, the Mazda is left with only one engine – a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder with 184 horsepower and 185lb-ft of torque. For being the only engine available, it’s not half bad – acceleration is decently quick at 7 seconds to 60 mph and when cruising on the highway, it has the confidence to pass slower drivers. However, the real problem lies with its six-speed automatic transmission. It’s a clunky system that struggles to find the right gear when it needs to downshift, and because torque doesn’t come in till after 2500 rpms, the whole car feels slow and sluggish.
If you don’t mind a little hiccup in your get along, the Mazda 6 handles beautifully. Almost like a sports car. The steering is spot on precise, it corners flat and level; it’s a car that can you can enjoy whether your driving to work or on a back country road. You will scarifies ride quality as the suspension is a tad rough. But if manage to drive economically, you can achieve 30 mpg combined. That’s more than every car here and if you’re extra careful on the highways, you can foresee as much as 44 mpg and a total output of 500 miles to a tank – which is astonishing.
The Mazda 6 is a great car, probably the best car money can buy in its class. It looks fantastic, the interior is well appointed, it handles like a sports car, and it’s excellently well-equipped. Mazda, just, get that gearbox fixed!
Here’s the thing, a lot of auto journalist are going to disagree with us on making the Toyota Camry number one, our top choice in this comparison. And well admit, it’s not exactly the most perfect car. But what is, it’s perfect at being what it was designed to do.
Allow us to explain. Amongst the line-up here, the Camry isn’t the best looking – it looks like an oversized Corolla. But it’s not ugly either – take our top spec’d $31,370 XSE model here (which is new for 2015), it’s got all the right curves in all the right places, it looks aggressive with its new bull nose and black honeycomb grille and a bit sporty with blacked out headlights and those 18-inch wheels. Mind you, we wouldn’t go for this Ruby Red – Blue Crush or Blizzard Pearl would do the Camry some much better justice.
It also doesn’t have the best looking interior – but all the fundamental important parts are there. It’s decent, has a nice fit and finish design, and everything is laid out in an easy to use driver format. And the navigation and infotainment system here is the most easiest to use out of the bunch. The XSE trim featured interesting use of suede and leather combinations – good to see a mix-up in a typical boring world.
The V6 in our sampled Camry uses 268 horsepower from its 3.5-liter engine. It’s the quickest to 60 mph in under 6 seconds through a simplistic six-speed autobox. Mind you the manual mode isn’t very good and steering paddle shifters are pointless – but they do look cool, don’t they?! This is a good engine, though it must be since it’s in nearly every Toyota/Lexus product. The acceleration is rapid and will make a good grunt when you mash the go paddle – the transmission can be a bit rough at higher rpms, but that’s just a friendly reminder to slow down.
By any means is the Camry a sporty sedan – the suspension is a tad rough thanks to the sport tuning in the XSE model and the handling is bit dull. The chassis though is good – it holds up to its end of the bargain and can provide a good driving experience.
With a good chunk of horsepower and fastest time to 60, the Camry is a bit thirsty averaging 21 mpg combined. It also has the smallest output of 350 miles to a tank. But that’s what the 2.5-liter is for… right?
Like we mentioned above, the Camry probably doesn’t deserve the top spot here, but in our eyes we really couldn’t find a reason why not – we walked away not finding a single thing we disliked. It does everything you expect out of it and it’s a Toyota, which means it will outlast its owner – which is what you want out of a family sedan?
|Mid-Size (Family) Sedan Comparison|
|Engine||Horsepower||Torque||0 to 60
|2015 Volkswagen Passat||$24,135||1.8-liter Turbo 4-Cylinder||170 HP||184lb-ft||7.5 seconds||24/36/28|
|2015 Nissan Altima||$30,820||3.5-liter V-6||270 HP||251lb-ft||6.1 seconds||22/31/25|
|2015 Hyundai Sonata||$28,575||2.0-liter Turbo 4-Cyldiner||245 HP||260lb-ft||8.0 seconds||23/32/26|
|2015 Subaru Legacy||$29,595||3.6-liter BOXER 6-Cylinder||256 HP||247lb-ft||6.5 seconds||20/28/23|
|2016 Mazda 6||$30,195||2.5-liter 4-Cylinder||184 HP||185lb-ft||7.0 seconds||38/40/32|
|2015 Toyota Camry||$31,370||3.5-liter V-6||268 HP||248lb-ft||5.8 seconds||21/31/25|