Looking at the auto sales data for U.S. consumers, it’s easy to notice the prominence of midsize sedans. Nearly one in every two cars bought by American shoppers falls into the midsize category traditionally dominated by Honda and Toyota. For decades, no family car proved more efficient and reliable than the Accord or Camry in the driveway. One might argue a lack of legitimate alternatives from Detroit is what pushed U.S. automakers into such hard times early in the twenty-first century.
Those days may be coming to an end. The Accord and Camry will continue to rank near the top of the U.S. sales charts in the foreseeable future, but the popular Fusion and new sales leader Altima are changing the way the industry (and the highway) looks. Throw in the work of Korean automakers and the U.S. market is intriguing for consumers and analysts alike. Here are eight midsize cars driving the industry in 2014, listed with their base prices before destination charges.
1. Nissan Altima ($22,110)
Nissan’s entry in the midsize segment is the best selling car in the United States through February 2014. By unseating the perennial champion Toyota Camry by 1,000 units, the Nissan Altima proved it is gaining in popularity. It posted gains of 11 percent in February 2014 over sales from the prior year.
U.S. consumers gravitate toward the impressive 38 mpg highway in the base 2.5 liter model that delivers 182 horsepower. Drivers who want some more pop under the hood can opt for the 3.5-liter engine ($26,260) that’s capable of a maximum 270 hp. Fuel economy in the souped-up Altima dips to 31 mpg on the highway.
2. Chevy Malibu ($22,340)
It may not be a headline-grabber — or much of a head-turner for that matter — but the Chevy Malibu is doing plenty to make GM proud. U.S. consumers drove nearly 30,000 models of the midsize sedan off dealer lots in the first two months of 2014. February 2014 Malibu sales represented an increase of 18 percent over the previous year’s stats.
Consumers opting for the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder Malibu can enjoy fuel economy of 36 mpg on the highway and 196 hp. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine ($26,850) offers up to 259 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Slotted between the award-winning Impala and the Cruze (GM’s best seller worldwide), the Malibu provides a worthy center for the automaker’s car lineup.
3. Mazda6 ($20,990)
U.S. consumers are by now familiar with ads for Mazda’s lineup of sporty, efficient cars. By the looks of the sales figures, they are repsonding in kind to the most affordable midsize sedan on the market. Through February 2014, Mazda6 sales are up 46 percent, which is by far the biggest gain of any automaker in the segment.
The Mazda6?s popularity is intricately tied to the 2.5-liter Skyactiv engine under the hood. Able to deliver more horsepower and better fuel economy than the Camry and Accord, the Skyactiv engine inside the Mazda6 delivers the substance behind the car’s attractive exterior. It delivers a maxium 184 hp, 185 lb-ft of torque, and 40 highway mpg. Toyota was so enamored by the Skyactiv engine that it’s going to use them in the next generation of Yaris subcompact cars.
4. Toyota Camry ($22,245)
No matter how many gains competitors make, the majority of auto analysts believe the Toyota Camry will once again be the best selling car in the U.S. in 2014. It may not be in the Kelley Blue Book top 10 sedans under $25,000, have the fuel economy of the Altima, or the looks of the Mazda6, but the Camry is well known for dependability among U.S. consumers. One could say its reputation is preceding it at the moment.
The base model delivers 178 hp and 35 mpg on the highway, which makes it one of the weaker performers on this list. Sales through February 2014 are down 17 percent compared to the prior year’s numbers, though the numbers are getting better as the year progresses.
5. Kia Optima ($21,500)
Paired with a stong ad campaign featuring L.A. Clippers star Blake Griffin, the merits of the Kia Optima continue to win over U.S. consumers who have made the sedan the seventh-best selling car in the segment. Only the Detroit Three and the top Japanese automakers have sold more midsize sedans than Kia in 2014.
Offering an affordable base model that’s second only to the Mazda6 in pricing, the Kia Optima offers some pop with 194 hp in the 2.4-liter engine. Its one weak point is the fuel economy of 34 mpg on the highway. U.S. consumers who don’t mind the tradeoff with horsepower will gravitate toward the Optima.
6. Ford Fusion ($21,970)
Ford’s summer 2013 ad campaign parodied movie trailers to highlight the Fusion’s upstart appeal. Movie voice: “In a world where everything seems the same, one car is different.” In fact, the Ford Fusion looks a heck of a lot better than most boring midsize sedans. U.S. consumers have made it the fifth-best selling car in the U.S. thus far in 2014 (fourth in the midsize segment).
The base 2.5-liter engine offers drivers 175 hp and 34 mpg on the highway, while the Fusion Hybrid ($26, 270) bumps the fuel economy to a whopping 47 mpg combined. Kelley Blue Book named the 2014 Fusion the No. 2 sedan under $25,000.
7. Honda Accord ($21,955)
The Honda Accord is the perennial runner-up to the Camry in U.S. sales, but the 2014 model has a shot at beating the top Toyota dog by year’s end. Named a Top Safety Pick Plus by the IIHS, the top midsize sedan for resale value by Kelley Blue Book (followed by the Fusion and Optima), and a Top Recommended Sedan by Edmunds.com, Accord drivers can feel confident they are making a sound investment.
Under the hood of the base model, drivers find a 2.4-liter engine that hits a max 185 hp and 36 highway mpg. Upgrading to the EX-L V6 model ($30,345) means access to 278 hp, while the Accord hybrid ($29,155) can hit 50 mpg in the city.
8. Chrysler 200 ($21,700)
Among the top performers in the midsize segment, no car has attracted as much attention as the 2015 Chrysler 200 set to go on sale in spring 2014. Following its debut at the Detroit auto show, critics raved about the improved styling and overall mechanical improvements in the new model. The current Chrysler 200 is in sixth place on the U.S. sales list among midsize sedans in 2014 after posting gains of 13 percent in the first two months of the year.
Chrysler’s new 200 will feature 185 hp and 35 mpg on the highway, while the 3.6-liter Pentastar engine ($24,495) packs a wallop of 295 hp (best in the segment) while clocking 31 highway mpg. Once the 2015 line of 200 models hits the market, automakers will find a worthy adversary in the field. Consumers can’t find better horsepower for their buck.