Americans have a love affair with sedans. After pickup trucks, they are the most-purchased vehicles in the country, ahead of crossovers, wagons, coupes, hatchbacks, and so on. It’s only natural, then, that sedans represent the cutting edge of design and innovation; except, until a year or two ago, that wasn’t the case.
Sedans were popular in part because they were simple, understated, and got the job done. It’s hard to look at some of the sedans from the early- to mid-2000s and convince yourself that they were the best cars they could be. Excluding luxury models, many were, at best, quite boring.
However, it seems automakers have finally gotten the formula right, and the midsize-sedan segment is flourishing like never before. New technologies, better designs, and a far more premium feel are now the new standards of the sedan category, and the cars arguably look better than ever before.
Here’s a sampling of some of these new designs, to which automakers are pinning their hopes of big sales for America’s favorite type of car.
1. Chrysler 200
The Chrysler (FIATY.PK) 200 slogged through a few generations as both the Chrysler Sebring and 200, with little to show for its progression. It was widely thought of as one of the more boring players in the sedan segment, and despite sedans being America’s most popular type of vehicle, the 200 has always sold in numbers fractional when compared to its rivals. The new model should change all that; it looks good, reportedly performs admirably, and is ready to carry Chrysler into a new era under its new Italian parentage. Buyers can choose from the 184 horsepower 2.4 liter Tigershark inline four or the 295 horsepower 3.6 liter Pentastar V6.
Like the Chrysler, Ford’s Fusion — meant to be its volume seller — was lacking. It didn’t look bad, but it certainly didn’t look exciting, and the performance was almost exactly what you’d expect by looking at it. Thankfully, the Fusion was completely retooled for 2013, into what is perhaps one of the best looking midsize sedans on the market now. Suddenly, other brands found themselves scrambling to compete with the Fusion’s Aston Martin-esque looks, and its EcoBoost equipped- and Energi plug-in hybrid models ensure that the Fusion is as exciting underneath as it is from the surface.
3. Volkswagen Passat TDI
Whereas the Fusion was designed to be bold and striking and aggressive, the Volkswagen (VLKAY.PK) Passat was intended to be the opposite: conservative, unassuming, and visually appealing in its simpleness. It’s not the exterior though that sets the Passat apart from the rest of the club, but rather its 2.0 liter TDI diesel engine, which is rated for over 43 miles per gallon on the highway and over 30 in the city. In fact, the Passat TDI is so efficient that it’s the record holder for the best sustained average miles per gallon: 77.9, over 8,122 miles. Of course, you have to be trying pretty hard, but that’s still damn impressive. Further, the car is rated to travel up to 795 miles on one tank of gas — if that doesn’t set it apart, we’re not sure what will.
4. Chevrolet Malibu
Chevrolet’s Malibu sedan was once relegated to rental lots and corporate fleets. No longer, however — the new car is the latest attempt to shake the fleet-filler reputation, with modernized updated styling and a far more swanky interior. Numerous options allow buyers to deck out the interior with all sorts of goodies like a 7-inch diagonal touchscreen, Chevy MyLink, wood trim, and other stuff can make you feel like you’re in a far more premium car than a Chevy — and it’s far and away better than the flavorless Malibus of years past. Highway mileage is up to 36 miles per gallon, and it can provide up to 259 when properly equipped.
5. Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid
On its own, the Honda Accord isn’t exactly a game changing car. Like the Passat, it’s more conservative and simple than some of the competition; however, the plug-in hybrid variant quickly changes that, with its 115 combined miles per gallon equivalent rating. Even when it’s running on gasoline alone, it still manages impressive 47 city and 46 highway mileage ratings, and it has a combined gas and electric driving range of 570 miles. For those who just need to skirt about town, it’ll travel 13 solid miles on pure electricity alone.
6. Mazda Mazda6
The new Mazda6 has been welcomed with great acclaim from critics, largely for its swooping, attractive styling and its commendably efficient engine. It’s also been hailed by many as a deceptively fun car to drive, with crisp handling and simple and straight-forward, but not boring, interior. It can manage 40 miles per gallon on the highway to boot, making it one of the most efficient non-hybrid or non-diesel sedans in its class.