Family cars used to be great hulking pieces of machinery boasting acres of vinyl seating and wide dashboards suitable for balancing drive-thru loot as moms, dads and kids motored their way across the country on yet another road trip. While full-size family cars still have their place in the automotive pantheon, modern engineering techniques have yielded mid-size sedans with extremely roomy interiors that in some cases rival those of their larger cousins.
Let's take a look at eight family cars that range from mid to full-size and see how they stack up.
The 2012 Chevrolet Impala is a big, comfortable American sedan that can seat up to six passengers within the confines of its full-size interior. Base Chevrolet Impala models come with air conditioning, power windows and door locks, Bluetooth connectivity and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, while the top of the line Impala LTZ offers features such as heated leather seats and an upgraded stereo system.
The 2012 Chevrolet Impala makes use of a 300 horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 that is a frugal improvement over the previous model year's mill. Also capable of generating 262 lb-ft of torque, this engine is managed by a six-speed automatic transmission and returns fuel economy of 18-mpg city and 30-mpg highway.
The 2012 Lincoln MKZ provides mid-size luxury suitable for transporting the entire family in relative splendor when compared against less premium-oriented models. Available features such as a surround sound audio system and a hard drive for storing digital music help to keep the young ones entertained on longer trips, while the optional Sport package's tight suspension makes things a bit more fun from behind the wheel.
All versions of the 2012 Lincoln MKZ are motivated by a 3.5-liter V-6 that provides 263 horsepower and 249 lb-ft of torque, sent to either the front or all four wheels (if optional all-wheel drive is selected) via a six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel mileage for the sedan checks in at 18-mpg city and 27-mpg highway.
The 2012 Dodge Charger is a big, four-door car that is intended to appeal to drivers who need a little extra snarl in their daily commute to and from soccer practice. The Dodge Charger boasts muscular, almost sinister looks and it comes with heaping helpings of both front seat and rear seat passenger room. Adding to the Charger's sporty personality is the availability of the Super Track Pak on top of the R/T trim level, which adds a race-inspired suspension system, bigger brakes and a shenanigan-friendly electronic stability control settings to the mix.
The 2012 Dodge Charger is initially outfitted with a 3.6-liter V-6 that can be counted on to generate 292 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque while retuning fuel mileage of 18-mpg around town and 31-mpg highway. Transmission choices include five-speed and eight-speed automatics. Much more grunt is available in the form of a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 that churns out 370 horsepower and 395 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is the only available gearbox with the eight-cylinder unit, and fuel mileage drops slightly to 16-mpg city and 25-mpg highway. Both engines can be paired with all-wheel drive.
The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu's stylish exterior is what initially attracts many family shoppers to Chevy showrooms. Once inside, the Chevrolet Malibu's respectable interior volume, availability of heated leather seats, automatic climate control and a Bose stereo system often seal the deal - as does its affordable purchase price.
The 2012 Chevrolet Malibu's base motor is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that is rated at 169 horsepower and 160 lb-ft of torque. Fuel mileage for this engine comes in at an impressive 22-mpg city and 33-mpg highway. The Malibu can also be ordered with a 3.6-liter V-6 located between the front fenders, one which has been tuned to provide 252 horses and 251 lb-ft of twist while delivering fuel economy of 17-mpg around town and 26-mpg highway. Both versions of the Malibu come with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The 2012 Dodge Avenger is another aggressive-looking sedan from the Detroit-based automaker, one which competes in the mid-size segment based on its value as well as the availability of options that include a fold-flat front seat, Bluetooth connectivity and the sporty ride provided by the R/T trim level. The Dodge Avenger's 173 horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder entry-level engine offers up 166 lb-ft of torque and fuel mileage of 21-mpg city and 30-mpg highway, while its larger 3.6-liter V-6 can be counted on to produce 283 ponies and 260 lb-ft of twist. Each engine is shifted via a six-speed automatic transmission, and the six-cylinder's fuel economy is reported as 19-mpg city and 29-mpg highway.
The 2011 Cadillac DTS provides one last look at what traditional American luxury was once all about: a huge passenger compartment (with seating for six), a floaty, isolated ride and superior insulation from the noise and harshness of the outside world. The Cadillac DTS might have been discontinued for 2012 but last year's model still has a lot to offer, including three zones of climate control, heated and ventilated leather seats and a navigation system.
The 2011 Cadillac DTS come with a 4.6-liter V-8 engine as standard equipment. When the car is ordered in Platinum trim, this unit is configured to provide 292 horsepower and 288 lb-ft of torque, while all other versions of the car flip those figures around and enjoy 272 horses and 295 lb-ft of twist. A six-speed automatic transmission comes free of charge with the DTS, and fuel economy for the big sedan shows as 15-mpg city and 23-mpg during highway cruising.
The 2012 Volkswagen Passat puts a German spin on the mid-size family car concept, albeit one which has been attuned to American sensibilities. The Volkswagen Passat was completely redesigned for the current model year, bringing with it an enlarged passenger compartment and copious equipment options.
The 2012 Volkswagen Passat is also unique in that it is the only vehicle on this list to be offered with a turbodiesel engine under the hood. The Passat TDI's 2.0-liter, four-cylinder unit generates 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque and returns a thrifty 31-mpg city and 43-mpg highway when paired with its six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission (a regular six-speed manual is also available). The VW Passat's base model comes with a 2.5-liter, 170 horsepower five-cylinder engine (22-mpg city / 32-mpg highway) that features either a six-speed manual or traditional six-speed automatic transmission, while the top end trim is available with a 280 horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 (20-mpg city / 28-mpg highway) shifted exclusively via the six-speed dual-clutch autobox.
The 2012 Mazda Mazda6 shakes up the mid-size family segment with one of the most sublime chassis to underpin an affordable four-door car. The Mazda MAZDA6 makes handling a priority without sacrificing practicality, comfort or interior room, and a number of options packages are available that can equip the sedan with features such as HID headlights, a navigation system and a sunroof.
The 2012 Mazda MAZDA6 starts out with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that offers up 170 horsepower and 167 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission allows drivers to row their own gears, while a five-speed automatic is also available as an option. Fuel mileage for the base MAZDA6 is reported as 22-mpg city and 31-mpg highway. A 3.7-liter V-6 that provides a healthy 272 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque is also available with the Mazda, and it comes with a six-speed automatic transmission and a fuel economy rating of 18-mpg city and 27-mpg highway.