There aren’t many magazines with insight into the auto industry quite like Car and Driver. Since 1983, its 10Best list has been one of the most prestigious benchmarks of automotive journalism, and sets a standard by which all new cars are judged. Through a series of tough short and long-term road tests, the magazine has a decades-long reputation for separating the contenders from the also-rans, finding the top performers in every segment.
So it’s only natural that the magazine would turn its attention to midsize sedans and find the best all-around car in one of the most competitive segments in America. Nearly one in every six new cars sold annually in the U.S. is a midsize sedan, and so far, 2015 has seen the debut of new several new models, making it an especially eventful year.
But instead of creating a 10Best-styled list for these sedans, Car and Driver ranked all the midsize offerings from worst to best. There is an interesting catch, however: none of these cars are truly bad. Some are certainly better than others, but none of these models have a glaring Achilles heel that knocks them out of the running. All are reasonably safe, are priced from the low $20,000 range, and offer more than enough to keep the average new car buyer happy.
From worst to best, here are 2015’s midsize sedans, as ranked by Car and Driver.
11. 2016 Chevrolet Malibu
The all-new Malibu isn’t really the worst family sedan on the list – at least we don’t think it is. Unveiled at this year’s New York Auto Show, the Malibu is so new it hasn’t been put through is paces by the automotive press yet. Still, it seems to be an improvement over the outgoing model in every way. Built on an all-new platform, the new car gets a turbocharged Ecotec inline-four as the base engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that combine for an 37 highway miles per gallon. With impressive fuel economy and striking good looks, the Malibu probably won’t stay at the bottom of this list for long.
10. Subaru Legacy
Subaru has been something of a comeback kid lately, having its best-ever U.S. sales year in 2014, and passing Volkswagen in sales. This is largely based on its success with the Legacy sedan. With class-leading interior volume and standard all-wheel drive, the Legacy stands out from the pack, and in 3.6R Limited trim, its 256 horsepower boxer-six has enough power to make the daily commute seem interesting. Still, the Legacy’s safe styling, sluggish handling, and a fickle CVT transmission keeps it at the bottom of the pack.
9. Chrysler 200
After keeping the terrible Sebring on life support by rechristening it the 200 back in 2010, few people had high hopes for Chrysler’s next-generation car. So far, people have been pleasantly surprised by the next-generation 200, which was all-new for 2015. Based on the Dodge Dart, the 200’s bold styling, well-appointed interior, and nine-speed automatic transmission have made it a popular and distinctive choice in the midsize sedan market. But like the Dart, the 200 suffers from sluggish performance, even with the range-topping 3.6 liter V6. Sharper steering and a little more pep would do wonders for Chrysler’s already competitive midsize car.
8. Toyota Camry
For 2015, Toyota gave America’s best-selling car a little more attitude to counteract its reputation as the ultimate blandmobile. The new Camry is certainly more exciting than the last-generation model, with its aggressive styling and sharper handling, but powertrain options are carried over from the old car, and “fun to drive” still isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when we think of the Camry. Overall, Toyota has largely improved its bread-and-butter car, but there are plenty of reliable, safe, and exciting alternatives to the mighty Camry.
7. Kia Optima
Kia has become competitive by fielding a full entire lineup of attractive, affordable, and distinctive cars, and the Optima is one of its best. With a great interior, and distinctive styling that’s usually reserved for much pricier cars, the Optima stands out from the midsize pack. A harsh ride keeps the current Optima at the bottom of this list, but an all-new 2016 model will hit dealerships later this year, and with Kia’s recent hot streak, it should be quite the improvement over the already competent Optima.
6. Nissan Altima
The Altima has grown in recent years to fill the slot once occupied by the Maxima. It hasn’t disappointed– the Altima has received a number of upgrades to compete with the big dogs. A 2.6 liter inline-four is standard, but a range-topping 3.5 liter V6 gives the car an 88 horsepower boost over the base model. The Altima is a capable and attractive midsize car, but like the Subaru, the Altima biggest weakness is a sluggish CVT transmission. With slightly better powertrain options, the competent Altima could be made that much better.
5. Hyundai Sonata
Like Kia, its sister company Hyundai has gone from afterthought to major player in the past few years, and the Sonata has been a big part of the reason why. The new for 2015 model trades the aggressive styling of the older model for more distinguished lines similar to the upmarket Hyundai Genesis. Possibly the best compromise in the segment, the Sonata is good (but not great) at nearly everything it does and has very few weaknesses.
4. Volkswagen Passat
Believe it or not, the Passat is one of the most American cars on this list. Designed for, and built in America, Volkswagen has found success with its affordable sedan that offers German luxury at an affordable price. The versatile Passat offers plenty of real-world performance from its entire engine range, a comfortable and well-designed interior, an optional manual transmission, and great fit and finish all around. In the end, the Passat’s biggest weakness is its age. Now in its fourth model-year, the Passat is beginning to feel dated next to the influx of all the new blood in the midsize segment.
3. Ford Fusion
The Fusion is nearly as old as the Passat, but its combination of looks, performance, and quality have held up remarkably well. Benefiting from Ford’s lineup of EcoBoost inline-four engines, two available hybrid models, and styling that punches far above its weight, the Fusion is simply the best American midsize car available today.
2. Honda Accord
For years, the Accord was the runner-up to the Camry in nearly every department. The Toyota may have a comfortable edge over Honda in sales, but the Accord is the better of the two. Effortlessly blending style, comfort, affordability, and performance, the Accord is one of the most well-rounded cars available today – in any segment. To further stand out from the pack, the Accord is also the last mid-sized sedan offered as a coupe. With the optional six-speed manual mated to Honda’s 3.6 liter VTEC V6, the Accord EX-L Coupe is one of the best (and most unassuming) driver’s cars in the $30,000 range.
The Mazda6 isn’t just the best midsize sedan available in America; it’s one of the best sedans in the world, period. Not only does the 6 offer the same amenities of its midsize competitors, it’s also one of the prettiest cars on the road today. Few cars can manage to be both practical and an absolute joy to drive as the 6. Its smooth 184 horsepower 2.0 liter inline-four can be mated to either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, and its styling inside and out make it feel like a car that costs twice as much as its $21,495 base price.
Unfortunately, the 6 will never sell in the same numbers as the Camry or Accord, which is a shame, because you could count the number of other world-class cars that can be had for under $25,000 on one hand. Still, this crop of midsize sedans shows just how high-stakes the competition is in the midsize segment, and as a result, none of these cars will really let you down.