Despite the prominence of crossovers and SUVs, sedans are still the mainstay of the auto world. Five-passenger four-door models with a trunk answer the need for family travel, trouble-free commuting, neighborhood chores, and beyond. Sedans come in every size from subcompact to full-size, and every class from budget-priced to ultra-luxury.
Like most cars, sedans have been improving steadily. Hyundai and Kia, in particular, deserve kudos for the most substantial improvements in the past few years. Both the Sonata and Optima came close to inclusion on this list. So did the tempting Dodge Charger. Toyota’s Camry -- the Accord’s top rival for ages -- has narrowed the gap between the two, approaching exceptional in nearly every way, including handling. For sedans, especially, today signals a new and better world.
Even its midsize sedan reflects Mazda’s promise of sportier behavior than most. In this highly competitive category. Mazda stands at least a tad apart from the everyday family-sedan pack.
Solidly built, the Mazda6 does just about everything well, competing sternly in its category, though less popular than the Accord/Camry leaders. Body curves and abundant creases give it a somewhat distinctive look. Markedly quiet-running, the “6” rides comfortably with very good control -- two essential traits for a favored four-door. Only seriously harsh pavement mars the urban experience.
Visibility is top-notch, and the driver’s seat is particularly comfortable. Headroom is lacking only in the center-rear position, but that’s become a fault in most contemporary automobiles.
Largely because of its greater bulk, the midsize sedan admittedly lacks some of the sporty feel of the compact Mazda3. Because of its more athletic nature, the Mazda3 might have been occupying this spot, but our most recent example (a hatchback) rode more roughly than before, temporarily making way for the midsize.
Seemingly small advances make a difference when evaluating new or redesigned vehicles. What helped the Accord score high was a bit of safety technology that accompanied the 2013 redesign. Namely, a camera that quickly displays the view to the rear in the passenger-side mirror, when you signal for a right turn or lane change.
Appraisal of Honda’s midsize family sedan can be reduced to a few words. Smooth is the main one, followed by refined. Then, spacious. Exuberant V6 acceleration, too -- well beyond what’s needed by typical drivers. Most automakers do fine with four-cylinders now, including Honda; so, the V6 is nonessential.
Apart from very slight idle vibration, the Accord is extra-quiet. Not only is front-seat space bountiful, the seat bottoms are nice and long. Back seats are roomy, too; even the center is better than most. Ride comfort excels, so railroad crossings are nothing to fret about. In fact, nothing of consequence is lacking in an Accord sedan -- or, to be fair, in many of its steadily-improving rivals.
Ever since the ES first appeared, not long after Toyota established its Lexus luxury division, it’s served as a prominent example of refinement without flash. Though visually ordinary, an ES always seemed to have something distinctive about its appearance, starting with two-tone body treatments.
Subtlety in the premium-sedan class became a virtue -- a lesson lost on some manufacturers. ES owners could expect everything to be above average, but not dramatically so. Performance? More than satisfactory, but not stirring. Confident handling, but not promising sport-sedan moves. Particularly comfortable seats, with ample room.
Silken smooth is a phrase that springs to mind about today’s ES 350 and its ES 300h hybrid cousin. For what many call a “near-luxury” sedan, it’s pretty luxurious in feel, in operation, and in interior detailing. Driving somewhat like a smaller car, an ES is easy to maneuver. Not much to get excited about? Maybe so, but coupled with a reputation for reliability, this is a sedan that’s ready for long-term ownership and ongoing, if non-ecstatic, pleasures.
Every time I come face-to-face with a Fusion, Aston Martin leaps to mind. Mainly, that’s because the Fusion grille bears a strong resemblance to the front end of the British exotic sports car. Probably no coincidence there.
More than a pretty face is needed to attain favorite-sedan status, and Fusion scores all around. It’s hard to fault anywhere, with one exception: electronics. Specifically, Ford’s SYNC infotainment system, which has earned considerable scorn for being non-intuitive and difficult, though Ford says it’s been simplified lately.
Easy to drive and maneuver, a Fusion rides smoothly and pleasantly on nearly any surface. With the 2-liter EcoBoost turbo engine, in particular, there’s absolutely no shortage of oomph, graciously delivered, complemented by a well-behaved automatic transmission. Exceptionally quiet and refined, Fusion serves as a stellar example of Ford’s quality improvements.
Three four-cylinder engines are available in Fusions, two of them EcoBoost. Ford doesn’t limit the Fusion to conventional powertrains, either. Both a hybrid and an Energi (plug-in hybrid) are available. Surprisingly, diversity has become almost typical lately.
Finding flaws in Acura’s compact, introduced for 2013, is like participating in a really hard treasure hunt, where the prize remains elusive. That’s because the ILX is about as refined as a moderate-cost premium model could be.
In fact, the ILX serves as something of a stand-in for the entire current passenger-car line from Honda’s luxury division. Similar comments could be directed at the TLX and RLX, just as they were for such previous products as the TL and TSX.
In the compact-sedan category, whether mainstream or premium, comfort counts more than stirring performance. Acceleration won’t set anyone’s heart a-fluttering, but it’s enthusiastic enough, helped by quick, sure automatic-transmission responses. Most shifts are barely noticed, which isn’t quite the case with every challenger. Steering has sufficient heft for solid control.
Up front, seats are well-cushioned for comfort, with ample headroom. In back, not so much -- a demerit in cars of just about every size and class nowadays.