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A Closer Look-Six Midsize Family Sedans

A Closer Look-Six Midsize Family Sedans

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012
2010 Ford FusionThe high cost of fuel today has many families rethinking their transportation strategies. While the average sport utility vehicle offers towing capacity, off-road prowess and highly configurable cabins, most households with children simply may not need all of those capabilities. In fact, some families are finding that a variety of fuel-efficient, front-wheel-drive, midsize 4-door sedans-the heart of the U.S. car market-fit the bill quite nicely.

The midsize sedan segment is comprised of nearly 20 models, including the Buick LaCrosse, Dodge Avenger, Chrysler Sebring, Subaru Legacy, Kia Optima, Mercury Milan, Mazda 6, Volkswagen Passat, Mitsubishi Galant, Suzuki Kizashi, Honda FCX, Suzuki Verona, and the Saturn Aura and Pontiac G6 (2009 was the final model year for the Aura and G6).

It also includes six models (the focus of this article) that sold in excess of 10,000 units in April 2010: the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu and the Hyundai Sonata. These six models accounted for 126,015 of the 156,140 total units sold in April 2010 for the entire segment.

2010 Honda AccordDimensions and interior room
The six sedans are all relatively the same size. The longest of the pack is the Honda Accord (194.1 inches), followed by the Chevrolet Malibu (191.8). The Nissan Altima (190.7 inches) and the Ford Fusion (190.6) are nearly identical in length. The Hyundai Sonata (189.8 inches) and Toyota Camry (189.2) are the shortest.

A longer wheelbase-the distance between the front and rear wheels-is often associated with improved ride quality. The Chevrolet Malibu, at 112.3 inches, has the longest wheelbase, with the Honda Accord (110.2) and Hyundai Sonata (110.0) only a couple inches shorter. The Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima have the same (109.3-inch) wheelbase. The Ford Fusion (107.4 inches) has the shortest wheelbase of the group.

Overall vehicle length is another indicator of overall passenger space available inside the vehicle. The Honda Accord is the largest of these family sedans, and it does deliver the most interior passenger volume (106 cubic feet). It is followed by the Hyundai Sonata (103.8 cubic feet), and the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion (all three tied at 101 cubic feet). The second-longest vehicle, the Chevrolet Malibu, delivers the least amount of passenger space (95 cubic feet). On the other hand, the trunk of the Sonata (16.4 cubic feet), Malibu and Fusion are the largest (16 cubic feet) followed by the Camry and Altima (15 cubic feet). The Accord (14 cubic feet) is the smallest.

When it comes to making U-turns, the Hyundai Sonata (35.8 feet) has the tightest turning radius. The Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima (36.1 feet) follow closely, followed by the Ford Fusion (37.5), Honda Accord (37.7), and the Chevrolet Malibu (40.4).

2010 Honda AccordFeatures and options
All six cars are also very similar when it comes to standard features. The Chevrolet Malibu, Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion all offer power windows, power door locks, power steering, and air conditioning as standard equipment. Second-row folding seats, remote keyless entry, cruise control, and steering wheel-mounted controls are also standard fitment.

The Chevrolet may be optioned with GM's OnStar telematics (navigation, vehicle diagnostics, remote door unlock, etc.), while the Ford can be optioned with the automaker's Sync infotainment equipment. Navigation and upgraded audio systems are also available on the Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota, and Honda.

Mechanically speaking, each of the sedans is fitted with independent front and rear suspension, variable-assist power steering, and disc brakes on all corners. The standard wheels on the Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Camry are 16 inches in diameter, while the Chevrolet Malibu offers 17-inch wheels as standard equipment. As expected, all six manufacturers offer optional wheel/tire packages with upgrades.

2011 Hyundai SonataPowerplant and fuel economy
These family-oriented sedans are also similar under the hood when it comes to the standard fuel-efficient 4-cylinder models (optional on all but the Sonata are larger, and less fuel-efficient, 6-cylinder engines).

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata offers the most power with its 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 198 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. The 2010 Honda Accord follows closely behind with its 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 177 horsepower and 161 lb.-ft. of torque. This is followed by the Nissan Altima with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder rated at 175 horsepower and 180 lb.-ft. of torque. The Ford Fusion is fitted with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 175 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft. of torque.

The Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Malibu offer nearly identical horsepower, but the Camry's slightly greater engine displacement gives it an edge in torque. The Camry is fitted with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder rated at 169 horsepower and 167 lb.-ft. of torque while the Malibu's 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine is rated at 169 horsepower and 160 lb.-ft. of torque.

Interestingly enough, the Chevrolet, Hyundai, Toyota and Ford are all fitted with 6-speed automatic transmissions-but the Honda utilizes a 5-speed automatic gearbox. The Nissan Altima features a fuel-efficient continuously variable transmission.

In EPA fuel-economy testing, the Hyundai Sonata is rated at 22 mpg city and 35 mpg highway-the most efficient on the highway. The Chevrolet Malibu is rated 22 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. The most efficient in the city cycle is the Nissan Altima, EPA rated at 23 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. The Toyota Camry follows with 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, while the Honda Accord earns 21 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. The Ford Fusion earns 22 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.

2010 Nissan Altima SedanSafety and crash testing
Safety is an important consideration on any new vehicle, and all six automakers address the issue well. As expected, each of these sedans is fitted with dual front air bags and side curtain air bags. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, and a tire-pressure-monitoring system are also standard. In consideration of younger passengers, all feature child safety door locks and 3-point center seat belts in the rear seats.

In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion received "Good" ratings (the highest offered by the Institute) in both front- and side-impact tests, and "Acceptable" in roof-strength tests. The Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata and Toyota Camry were rated "Good" in all three tests.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rated the Honda Accord 5 stars (the highest possible) in Front Driver and Passenger, Side Driver, and Rollover rating. However, it earned 3-star ratings in Side Rear Passenger. The Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima each earned 5 stars in Front Driver and Passenger, and Side Driver, but earned 4-star ratings in Side Rear and Rollover testing. The Chevrolet Malibu and Toyota Camry earned 5-star ratings in Front Driver and Passenger, Side Driver, and Side Rear Passenger rating. However, they both earned 4-star ratings in the Rollover test. As of this writing, the 2011 Hyundai Sonata has yet to be tested.

2010 Toyota Camry SedanQuality and dependability
Further differentiating these six family sedans is styling, driving dynamics, options, and initial quality and long-term dependability. In that regard, the Nissan Altima ranked highest within the Midsize Car segment in the J.D. Power and Associates 2009 Initial Quality Study (IQS),SM the benchmark study for new-vehicle quality measured at 90 days of ownership. The Chevrolet Malibu finished among the top three models in this segment in the 2009 IQS. In the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS),SM measuring the number of owner-reported problems in 3-year-old vehicles, the Honda Accord ranked among the top three models in the Midsize Car segment.

Looking closely at this group of six midsize family sedans, it's obvious that the automakers have found a formula that works-and none deviate far from it. All of these sedans are close in physical size, passenger room and cargo capacity. Each of these automobiles also features 4-cylinder engines that are nearly identical in displacement, horsepower and fuel economy. Safety is also important to buyers in this segment-and all five that have been tested deliver "Good" frontal scores from the IIHS, and "5-star" front crash-test ratings from the NHTSA.

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