The domestic versus import debate might still rage between certain factions of the car buying community, but the fact remains that regardless of where a vehicle is built, it is very difficult to purchase a “bad” automobile in 2011. This is especially true when looking at the sedan market, which is one of the most competitive areas of the new car business. Manufacturers from Japan, the United States and Korea all bring their big guns to bear when it comes to developing top notch sedan options, giving shoppers a wide range of solid choices in the four-door segment.
Let’s take a look at five import and five domestic sedans that deserve a test drive before you make your next new car choice.
The 2011 Honda Accord can be considered the Swiss Army knife of import sedans. This mid-size model can be equipped as a basic commuter car, a comfortable long-distance hauler or a great family sedan, depending on the options or trim levels that are selected. The Honda Accord combines a spacious passenger compartment with a good size trunk, and a number of high end options are available such as leather seating and navigation which can add an almost premium feel to the automobile.
Underneath the hood, the 2011 Honda Accord sports either a 177 horsepower four-cylinder engine or a 271 horsepower V-6. A mid-level 190 horsepower edition of the four-cylinder engine is also available. Transmission choices include a five-speed manual or five-speed auto for the entry-level model, with the V-6 shifted exclusively through an autobox. Fuel mileage for the smaller motor checks in at 23-mpg city and 34-mpg highway.
The 2011 Ford Fusion could be considered one of the Accord’s most stalwart competitors, and it, too, has a lot to offer drivers seeking a versatile mid-size four-door vehicle. The Ford Fusion additionally comes in a more driver-oriented edition (the Sport trim) as well as a Hybrid model that provides 41-mpg city and 36-mpg highway without sacrificing any real-world capability.
The gasoline-powered version of the 2011 Ford Fusion starts out with a 175 horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood, which can be matched with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Buyers can choose to step up to either a 240 horsepower six-cylinder engine, or a more robust 263 horsepower V-6. Both are auto-only and add the availability of all-wheel drive. Fuel mileage for the four-cylinder model leads the way with 22-mpg in city driving and 31-mpg on the highway.
The 2011 Hyundai Sonata was completely redesigned for the current model year, and it brings with it radically revised styling that lifts the sedan’s aesthetics into a new realm. In addition to a higher grade of fit and finish inside and out, as well as an impressive list of standard features, the Hyundai Sonata also offers several new drivetrains, including an entry-level four-cylinder (198 horsepower), a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder (274 horsepower) and even a soon-to-be-released battery-assisted hybrid engine (169 horsepower). Engine choices include six-speed manuals and six-speed automatics, and the base motor returns fuel mileage of 24-mpg city and 35-mpg highway. The turbo unit comes very close to matching these numbers, while Hyundai claims the hybrid will deliver 40-mpg during highway cruising.
The 2011 Chevrolet Volt represents one of the most advanced hybrid vehicle designs currently available. The Chevrolet Volt derives all of its motivation from an electric drivetrain that delivers 149 horsepower, which in turn draws its energy from a battery pack that can be recharged by plugging into either a standard outlet or a special charging station. The battery pack provides just under 40 miles of range on its own, and the Volt features a special gasoline engine that can be used to charge the battery while the automobile is in motion, extending the range by another 300 miles. The Volt manages to accomplish this balancing act between electric and gasoline power while offering a driving experience that is almost indistinguishable from that of a traditional compact sedan.
The 2011 Honda Civic compact sedan provides an array of configurations designed to attract a wide range of drivers. The bargain-priced, entry-level Honda Civic DX comes with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 140 horsepower and returns fuel mileage of 25-mpg city and 36-mpg highway. This four-cylinder motor is the workhorse of the Civic lineup, can be matched with either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission, and can additionally be found under the hood of the LX and the EX editions of the car.
There are two other 2011 Honda Civic models that offer a more targeted driving experience. The Civic Si sport model comes with a specially-tuned 200 horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and an exclusive six-speed manual transmission. The Civic Hybrid offers a gasoline / electric drivetrain that delivers 40-mpg in city driving and 45-mpg on the highway, making it one of the most efficient vehicles in the entire Honda lineup.
The 2011 Ford Taurus is the Blue Oval’s flagship full-size sedan, and as such it has received significant attention from the company’s engineers and designers. Big inside and out, the Ford Taurus comes with a substantial number of comfort features, as well as an extensive list of high tech options and even a sport model, which is unusual in its segment.
The 2011 Ford Taurus is initially offered with a 3.5-liter V-6 that provides 263 horsepower and fuel mileage that is rated at 18-mpg around town and 28-mpg highway in front-wheel drive trim. All-wheel drive is optional with this engine. The Taurus SHO ups the ante with a twin-turbo edition of the same motor that grinds out an impressive 365 horsepower. All-wheel drive is standard with the SHO, and fuel mileage remains high at 17-mpg city and 25-mpg highway. Each version of the sedan comes with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The 2011 Nissan Altima sedan aims to satisfy the sporting desires of mid-size family car buyers who don’t want to give up a well-designed chassis in favor of day-to-day practicality. The Nissan Altima’s suspension gives it more of a “driver’s car” feel than some of its competitors, and the vehicle can also be had with equipment such as a navigation system and HID headlights.
The 2011 Nissan Altima sedan provides a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine as its entry-level option. Good for 175 horsepower, the unit also comes with a fuel mileage rating of 23-mpg in stop and go driving and 31-mpg on the highway. A 3.5-liter V-6 is waiting in the wings as an upgrade, bringing with it 270 horsepower and fuel economy numbers of 20-mpg city and 27-mpg highway. Both engines are matched with a continuously-variable automatic transmission. A hybrid version of the Altima, which offers 35-mpg highway, is also available.
The re-engineered 2011 Dodge Charger stands out on this list due to its rear-wheel drive architecture and the availability of V-8 power. The 2011 Dodge Charger offers more aggressive styling and a better suspension package than the 2010 model, and the full-size sedan additionally gains an all-new V-6 engine as the first rung on its drivetrain ladder. Capable of generating 292 horsepower, the engine maintains solid fuel economy figures for a full-size sedan (18-mpg city, 27-mpg highway) and comes with a five-speed automatic transmission. Also offering a five-speed auto is the Charger’s fire-breathing HEMI V-8 option, which produces 370 ponies but which drops only one-mpg city and two-mpg highway compared to the V-6, thanks to its advanced engine management system. The HEMI can also be paired with available all-wheel drive.
The 2011 Mazda MAZDA3 compact sedan is more elaborately styled than other automobiles in its price range, and like most Mazda vehicles great care has been taken to ensure that it offers a driving experience that is engaging and, on some models, exciting. This is especially true with regards to the Mazda MAZDA3’s handling. The automobile offers the choice between either 148 horsepower or 167 horsepower four-cylinder engines, with the smaller unit offering the most impressive fuel economy (24-mpg city, 33-mpg highway). The top of the line engine replaces the entry-level unit’s five-speed manual transmission with a six-speed gearbox, but maintains the option of a five-speed automatic.
The 2012 Ford Focus is another all-new entry onto our list of must-drive sedans. The compact Ford Focus does away with the idea that an affordable automobile must reflect its price tag in the quality of its features and fit and finish, with items such as the SYNC interface and automated parking assistance available on the sedan. The 2012 Ford Focus also comes with a fresh 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that provides 160 horsepower along with a very competitive 28-mpg city and 40-mpg highway. The Focus can be ordered with either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed dual-clutch automatic that outshines many other self-shifting gearboxes in its class.