Is the full-size 4-cylinder sedan really a thing? The short answer is yes, absolutely. Fuel economy concerns are prompting manufacturers to fit pretty much everything with a 4-cylinder engine these days (even Ford’s Mustang). However, just as 60 is the new 40, the 4-cylinder is the new V6 (and the new V8 too in some cases). Today’s best full-size 4-cylinder sedans handily match the power of their V6 forebears. Remarkably, in some cases, the best 4-cylinder engines even eclipse them to approach the power made by the V8 engines of yore. Thanks to advances in turbocharging, variable valve timing, and direct fuel injection, the best contemporary 4-cylinder engines make dazzling power while simultaneously achieving superb fuel economy.
The Best Full-Size 4-Cylinder Sedans
Buick’s Lacrosse is easily one of the best full-size 4-cylinder four-doors available today. Spacious, quiet, smooth riding, and bristling with the latest electronic technologies, the handsomely styled Buick LaCrosse is an outstanding consideration in the luxury family sedan category. The interior design is quite the eye pleaser as well. Standard features include a rear view camera, text to speech capability, and WiFi — in all except the base model. Further, the LaCrosse posts impressive crash test scores, as well as an all-wheel drive option. The 2.4-liter engine is supplemented by an 11kW electric motor to produce a total system output of 182 horsepower and 172 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission feeds the front wheels of the 4-cylinder powertrain. Pricing starts at $31,065.
One of the oldest American car models still in existence, for years, the words “Chevrolet Impala” and “family car” have been all but interchangeable. In fact, the Chevy Impala has been cruising American highways since long before most of us were born. However, a rather recent development on the Impala timeline is the advent of 4-cylinder power for the full-size sedan. Impala’s roomy interior, handsomely sculpted exterior, and cavernous trunk make it a family car favorite. What’s more, Impala is quiet, comfortable, and posts strong crash test scores. Standard features include automatic headlights, keyless entry, OnStar with 4G WiFi, Bluetooth, and iPod connectivity. The 2.5-liter engine makes 195 horsepower and 187 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission routes propulsion to the Impala’s front wheels. Pricing starts at $27,060.
One of the leaders in the family 4-door family car category for the past 30 years, while not officially a full-size sedan, the Honda Accord’s spaciousness and flagship status do make it mentionable in the same breath as the best 4-cylinder full-size sedans. Beautifully engineered, the smooth and efficient Accord has a spacious interior rife with high-quality furnishings. Further, the Honda makes good power, handles well, and its reliability is legendary. Standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, a rear view camera, and an eight-inch infotainment monitor. The 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder makes 185 horsepower and 181 ft-lbs of torque in standard trim. In sport trim, it makes 189 horsepower and 182 ft-lbs. A continuously variable transmission feeds the front wheels. Honda also offers the Accord with hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. Pricing starts at $24,665.
Another mid-sizer punching above class is the Subaru Legacy. Roominess, outstanding outward visibility, admirable crash test scores, and a complete redesign for 2015, easily get the Legacy included on this list of the best 4-door family-sized 4-cylinder passenger cars. The Legacy’s 2.5-liter engine makes 175 horsepower and 174 ft-lbs of torque. A continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters feeds all four wheels. It should be noted the Subaru Legacy’s 4-cylinders are horizontally opposed and arranged two-to-a-side, rather than situated four-in-a-row. Standard features include automatic headlights, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, satellite radio, and a touchscreen interface for certain secondary functions. Key options include navigation, a sunroof, rear cross traffic alert, smart cruise control, lane departure warning, and collision warning and mitigation. Pricing starts at $21,695.
Toyota Avalon Hybrid
You’ll have to go hybrid to get a 4-cylinder engine in Toyota’s flagship, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Toyota’s Avalon Hybrid is particularly noted for its sophisticated mix of cutting-edge tech with a smooth, and relaxed composure. What’s more, the Avalon Hybrid offers an upscale interior environment with lots of room in both the front and rear seats. Avalon’s trunk qualifies as cavernous too. Even better, despite its comfortable ride quality, the full-size 4-cylinder Avalon readily exhibits considerable agility on challenging roads. Available comfort and convenience features include keyless entry and start, Toyota’s Entune smartphone application integration, rain sensing windshield wipers, a tri-zone automatic climate control system, and heated and ventilated seats. For the 200-horsepower hybrid powertrain, Toyota’s 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is paired with an electric motor, front-wheel drive, and a continuously variable transmission. Pricing starts at $36,470.
Stylishly sleek and wonderfully sophisticated, the Volkswagen CC combines solid German road manners with an abundance of luxury features to more than satisfy your daily transportation needs. With the Volkswagen CC you’ll get dual-zone climate control, navigation, and a rear-view camera all as standard features. In other words, this 4-cylinder full-size sedan is in actuality an entry-luxury car in disguise. In addition to all of the cool standard equipment, the Volkswagen CC lives up to its “comfort coupe” nomenclature with a smooth and comfortable ride. The VW CC also demonstrates excellent road manners. Further, the CC’s four-door coupe styling makes it a unique offering in this category. The turbocharged 2.0-liter makes 200 horsepower and 207 ft-lbs of torque, which is fed to the front wheels through a choice of either a six-speed manual transmission, or a six-speed automated manual direct shift gearbox. Pricing starts at $32,995.
If the Volkswagen Passat seems more American than your typical German car, things are as the folks in Wolfsburg intended. Designed specifically for the American market, the Passat is a medium-size 4-cylinder passenger car on the outside, but a full-size 4-cylinder sedan on the inside. Tastefully drawn, and wonderfully spacious, if you’re looking for a comfortable 4-cylinder family car with a touch of elegance, the front-wheel drive Volkswagen Passat gets it done. Two 4-cylinder engines are offered. The turbocharged 1.8-liter produces 170 horsepower and 184 ft-lbs of torque. Transmission choices include a five-speed manual, and a six-speed automatic. The 2.0-liter turbocharged diesel delivers 150 horsepower and 236 ft-lbs of torque. With the diesel, buyers can choose between a six-speed manual transmission, or a six-speed automated manual direct shift gearbox. Pricing starts at $21,430.
Perhaps the most consistently overlooked car on this list of the best 4-cylinder full-size four-door sedans, the Volvo S80 is also one of the most luxurious. Handsome, but not quite a standout, this means you can enjoy the full array of luxury features the Swedish auto manufacturer offers without attracting undue attention to yourself. This is a Volvo we’re talking about, so you know comfort, security, and safety are paramount. What’s more, when it’s compared to similarly outfitted European luxury cars, the Volvo S80 represents a significant bargain. Standard features include keyless entry and ignition, leather, dual-zone automatic climate control, frontal collision mitigation, and Bluetooth. For the 2015 model year, Volvo’s engineering team replaced the base inline six-cylinder engine with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder powerplant, one good for 240 horsepower and 258 ft-lbs of torque. Pricing starts at $41,700.