Like a loyal canine, a thrifty sedan can be your best friend
A family sedan can be your best friend, just like a dog. But there are good dogs, like Lassie saving Timmy, and bad dogs, the kind that rip up the furniture and tear the garden apart. Here then is a list of 10 well-behaved midsized sedans, ranked by annual fuel cost, because when it comes to cars, no one wants to buy a dog that drinks too much gas. In compiling our list, we took EPA ratings, 15,000 annual miles – 45 percent highway, 55 percent city driving – and a price of $3.51 per gallon of gasoline into consideration, then picked the ones we recommend. Or, make your own list here…
By Staff Photo Credit: Staff, Automakers
Pontiac’s midsize sedan, with its 3.5-liter, V-6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission isn’t quite as sporty as the automaker wants us to believe, but as a family hauler it gets the job done. Engine output is 219 horsepower and 219 lb.-ft. of torque. Handling is decent, the audio, climate and other controls are intuitive, though the driver might not be as comfortable as in other sedans.
Psssst, this version of the Passat is turbocharged. That's right, a dash of fun with the frugality. With a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine producing 200 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque fed through a six-speed manual, this VW serves up a nice interior and smooth ride. While the manual gearbox is standard, an automatic is available but nicks the mileage a bit.
Slotted between the compact Focus and the larger Taurus, the Fusion easily meets the needs of a small family. It does trade economy for power, although the 160 horsepower and 156 lb.-ft. of torque produced by the 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine are enough for the daily commute. Best fuel economy is achieved with the five-speed manual transmission.
Mazda trims off a little "zoom" from the same 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine used in the Fusion and ups the mileage. It's only 156 horsepower and 154 lb.-ft. of torque instead of the Ford's 160 and 156 respectively, but good for almost a $100 of gasoline a year. Double wishbone front and multilink rear suspension provide spirited handling. Mileage is the same with either transmission.
Honda's venerable sedan has always been frugal, especially with the four-cylinder engine. This year's 2.4-liter version produces 177 horsepower and 161 lb.-ft. of torque. Even the base trim level comes with a lot of standard features, including audio controls on the steering wheel and a six-speaker, 160-watt audio system. The manual gearbox model is easier on gas than the automatic.
With the lowest starting price here, the Spectra is quite the bargain. Drivetrain warranty is 10 years or 100,000 miles. The four-cylinder engine produces 138 horsepower and 136 lb.-ft. of torque. Interior materials are nicer than the price suggests, and it's nimble and utilitarian. We found the seats wanting and excessive engine drone at 75 mph or higher, but for a commuter car those might not be deal breakers.
Much praise has been heaped on the new Malibu, and it's well deserved. Chevy has made a car worth consideration. Hybrid power comes from a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine and electric motor. Output is 164 horsepower and 159 lb.-ft. of torque fed through a four-speed automatic. A much-improved interior features sophisticated fun touches, such as modern gauges and mood lighting.
Hyundai, as we've said many times, has come a long way from its rocky entry into the U.S. Improvements in quality and reliability have brought respect and buyers to the Korean automaker's vehicles. Case in point: the Elantra. With a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine producing 132 horsepower and 133 lb.-ft. of torque, places it third in a tough field. Six airbags and the seats are supportive and comfortable.
Nissan's Altima sedan has proven to be one of the company's more popular models. Equipped with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, assisted by an electric motor, this hybrid gets mileage north of 30 mpg. With 158 horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque most drivers won't be wanting for power in their daily excursions. We like the upgrades inside and out in with the latest model, but found trunk space limited.
The reigning champion is back. Perhaps one of the clean diesels will dethrone it, but for now the Prius costs less to operate for a year than any other family sedan. You have to get over the practical but frumpy styling. Do that, and your reward is mileage in the 40s and a roomy interior. The 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and electric motor produce 110 horsepower and 82 lb.-ft. of torque.