Despite declining interest in the wake of a new wave of crossovers, midsize family sedans still make up a huge portion of new and used car sales.
There are more than a dozen different midsize family sedans available new, and many more on used car lots. To filter out some of them, I found three models with unique selling points that really separate them from the rest of the mainstream selections.
The 2014 Mazda6 ushered in a level of sportiness and driving fun not typically associated with four-door family sedans. To separate their entry from the herd, Mazda has made a big deal about efficiency, lightness and a focus on driving. Which is why the 6 is one of just a handful of midsize sedans still available with a manual transmission. And a little hunting can get you a Mazda6 with a six-speed stick starting from less than $19,000.
If you resist purchasing a family sedan out of fear that your best driving days are behind you, a Mazda6 that you shift for yourself could change your mind. It is, after all, the Miata of midsize sedans. Mazda knows how to make cars with great manual transmissions and ones for those who actually enjoy driver involvement.
Better still, the new model has proven reliable and fuel efficient. While it doesn’t lead the class in any particular category other than efficiency, it makes all the right moves for those who need to carry around four or five people in comfort and safety.
One reason buyers are jumping to SUVs is for available all-wheel drive. While it doesn’t help off-road performance on a vehicle clearly designed for navigating shopping mall parking lots and freeway traffic, it’s a boon when winter hits you with snow and ice. The Subaru Legacy is one of only a few midsize sedans to have all-wheel drive, and it’s the only one to make it standard. A 2010 or newer Legacy, the previous generation model, can be had starting from $14,000.
The Legacy has long resisted trends towards low-slung rooflines and aggressive styling, preferring a practical shape to better accommodate people and packages. While the Legacy is far from exciting to look at, it pays off in terms of interior space and visibility to the outside. If you do want some excitement, however, seek out the 2010-2012 Legacy GT with a 2.5-liter turbo four. The Legacy manages to shine with reasonable fuel economy, standard all-wheel drive and the excellent value it represents.
The Volkswagen Passat TDI is hardly a secret among the family sedan class anymore. Turbodiesels regularly make up more than a quarter of Volkswagen’s U.S. sales every month, and it’s not hard to see why Americans have taken to these diesels. The Passat TDI is clearly built for long stretches of driving, cruising at highway speeds and eating up hundreds of miles before you need to stop and refuel. From $18,000, you could enjoy long trips in a large German sedan with VW Passat TDI.
Part of what makes the TDI so suited to the Passat is that the car lends itself to highway runs across flat parts of this country. The vast interior and trunk should keep a family mostly comfortable, with supportive seats and a soft suspension. The EPA rates the TDI at up to 43 mpg highway, right up there with competing hybrid sedans. Yet the Passat TDI isn’t saddled with hundreds of pounds of batteries, nor is any of its space compromised by making room for additional powertrain components. It’s a simple way to be more efficient.
The Passat TDI is offered with a manual transmission as well, and seeking it out could relieve some of the low-speed drivability hiccups that are somewhat common with the DSG automatic transmission. And you could argue the Passat lacks the panache of more stylish rivals, that Mazda6 included. But that’s not the Passat TDI’s mission. It’s a pragmatic fuel sipper for those who value simple solutions.
All three of these cars are excellent values for what they bring to the family sedan class, however. Before you check out a crossover, it’s worth shopping the traditional sedan and looking for a great deal on something different.