The 2014 CarPreview.com Midsize Car Buying Guide is your roadmap through the most popular segment in America’s automobile market. Modestly sized outside with room enough for a family of five inside, these four-door sedans defend a tried-and-true formula of comfortable transportation affordable to a wide range of buyers. Midsize models accounted for 33 percent of the 7.8 million new cars purchased in the U.S. during 2013, with the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and Nissan Altima ranking among the top 10 in all vehicle sales.
The 16 cars in this guide represent U.S., Japanese, South Korean, and German brands. Included are two redesigned entries, the Chrysler 200 and Subaru Legacy, and a pair significantly updated models, the Buick Regal and Chevrolet Malibu. Many of the rest enjoy fresh features and even new, more efficient engines. Front-wheel drive is the rule in this class, though the any-weather advantage of all-wheel drive is standard on the Legacy and available on the Regal and Ford Fusion. Horsepower ranges from 140 to 295, with four- and six-cylinder engines dominating. Many of the fours, however, are turbocharged for extra punch with no loss of fuel economy. Diesel-engine fans can order one in the Volkswagen Passat and, soon, in the Mazda 6. And the Accord, Camry, Fusion, Regal, Hyundai Sonata, and Kia Optima are available as gas-electric hybrids. They’re profiled in the CarPreview 2014 Hybrid Vehicles Buying Guide, with plug-in hybrid versions of the Accord and Fusion covered in the CarPreview.com Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle Buying Guide.
Transmissions run the gamut from the rapidly disappearing stick shift to conventional automatics to the increasingly popular continuously variable transmission, which acts like an automatic but without stepped gear ratios. The all-new Chrsyler 200 rides into the future with a segment-first nine-speed automatic – shifted by a console-mounted rotary dial, no less. The least fuel-efficient cars in our Midsize Guide rate a still-not-objectionable 22 mpg city/highway combined. The most frugal – the Passat diesel – rates a remarkable 35 mpg combined. Base prices generally range from the low $20,000s to the low $30,000s, with the sporty Regal GS starting at just over $40,000. (Base prices in this guide do not include options but do include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee, which averages about $850.)
Here is the CarPreview.com 2014 Midsize Car Buying Guide:
2014 Buick Regal
For 2014, this sedan receives a facelift, a new performance engine, and first-time availability of all-wheel drive. Based on the European-market Insignia from GM’s overseas Opel division, the Buick Regal straddles a midsize-mainstream and midsize-near-luxury line. Entry-level models use GM eAssist powertrain consisting of a a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine aided during acceleration by a small battery-powered electric motor; it’s rated at 182 horsepower. The eAssist system can shut down the engine at a stop and instantly restart it when the driver releases the brake pedal. It works well enough as a fuel-economy booster, but the better choices in this lineup are the Turbo and sporty GS models. They have a 259-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and are available with all-wheel drive in place of the standard front-wheel drive. Front-drive GS models offer a choice of manual or automatic transmission; all other Regals have a six-speed automatic. Regal furnishes a European-flavored driving experience and the GS in particular is fun. And kudos to General Motors for making all-wheel drive available. Less likable are Regal’s somewhat cramped cabin, confusing climate/audio/navigation controls, and interior materials that don’t quite match the car’s upscale aspirations. EPA fuel economy ratings span 22-29 mpg city/highway combined. Base price rage is $30,615-$40,195.
2014 Chevrolet Malibu
Chevrolet redesigned it’s bread-and-butter midsize sedan for model-year 2013 to a chilly reception from the press and buying public. Addressing criticism of a cramped rear seat and a subpar ride/handling balance, engineers give the 2014 Malibu a fairly significant overhaul. Freshened styling brings its look more in line with the larger, more attractive Chevrolet Impala sedan. Rear-passenger comfort and knee room improves slightly thanks to redesigned front seats. And new suspension parts perk up the driving dynamics. Engine choices again consist of a 196-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder or a 259-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four. The 2.5-liter unit incorporates an engine-idle stop/start system that operates similarly to the Buick Regal’s eAssist platform, but without the cost and bulk of a hybrid-like battery pack. Chevy’s stop/start implementation is one of the smoothest, but its rating of 29 mpg city/highway combined is far from class-leading. The quicker turbo engine rates 24 mpg combined. The 2014 Malibu rides and handles better than its 2013 predecessor, and while the increased rear knee room helps, that part of the cabin is still not as spacious as many of its rivals. Base prices range from $22,965-$30,675.
2014 Chrysler 200
With a redesigned 2015 Chrysler 200 ready to appear on dealer lots (see below), the 2014 edition sees only minor changes. This is the only midsize car available as a four-door sedan and a two-door convertible. The convertible comes with a choice of fabric or metal folding roof. Entry-level 200s use a 173-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that feels sluggish and sounds coarse. Pony up some extra cash and go for Chrysler’s smooth, potent 283-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6. The sport-themed S version offers notable style upgrades over the standard 200. This car drives decently enough, but the overall design feels dated. Passenger room is not among this car’s strong points. Fuel-economy ratings of 22-24 mpg city/highway combined are near the back of the pack, especially among its four-cylinder-powered contemporaries. Pricing is reasonable, though, with points of entry ranging from $22,790-$26,690 for the sedan and $28,945-$34,440 for the convertible. Deep discounts should be available, too, as dealers look to clear space for the redesigned 2015 Chrysler 200.