On occasion, life surprises us with items we have entirely forgotten. Perhaps it’s that $10 bill you found after putting on a winter’s jacket for the first time this season. That box of jalapeno poppers sleeping in the bottom of the freezer was a good find, but the leftovers in the back of the fridge? Not so much.
Most new vehicle shoppers have forgotten about the traditional four-door family sedan, too. A segment that commanded about 7 per cent of the Canadian market a decade ago, intermediate and midsize sedans now represent not much more than 2 per cent of new vehicle sales, a third of its former share.
With numbers like that, it would seem those jalapeno poppers have more friends than four-door sedans.
But just because something is routinely ignored doesn’t mean it isn’t good – a phenomenon of which your author is living proof. Several automakers have recently plowed significant development dollars into new or refreshed versions of their four-door sedans. Our panel of over 20 automotive experts have looked at every single car in this segment voted on what they think are the finest five, advancing them to the final round of voting for the best family sedan, a selection which we feel confident recommending to our readers.
We will be revealing the winner in February 2021. Here are the finalists.
The current-generation Accord has only been with us for three model years but Honda has put pen to paper for 2021, making a few subtle-but-significant changes while making sure to keep the best bits of this family sedan. Buyers can select from one of two four-cylinder turbocharged engines: a 1.5L mill with 192 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque, or a 2.0L unit with a healthy 252 ponies and 273 lb-ft of twist. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is latched to the smaller engine while the larger powerplant earns a tasty 10-speed automatic. Note that the 2020 model year was the final trip around the sun for a manual transmission in the Accord, and all-wheel drive is not available, though some of its competitors offer AWD. Those seeking the best fuel economy should check out the hybrid model as well.
Inside the Accord, one will find a comfortable cabin with a host of active safety features on all trims including lane-keeping and forward collision warning systems. Honda’s excellent LaneWatch, a camera that shows a live feed of the passenger-side blind spot, is standard on snazzier models. Look for Apple CarPlay/Android Auto on all new Accord sedans, plus a yaffle of USB ports to keep everyone plugged in and happy, though satellite radio is sadly absent on LX and Sport trims. Dual-zone climate control is also standard across the board, even on the $28,705 LX model.
Also on the market for a trio of model years, the Camry finally has the styling chops to broaden its appeal beyond those who wear a lot of taupe and think watching Larry King Live is high adventure. There’s no shortage of drivetrain choice, with a 2.5L four-cylinder engine making roughly 200 hp available in front- or all-wheel-drive configurations. A 300-hp V6 is a front-drive-only affair. Additionally, a hybrid model deploying a 2.5L engine is good for an impressive 5.0 L/100 km in mixed city/highway driving, compared to roughly 7.5 L/100 km with the four-cylinder front-drive non-hybrid powertrain and 9.0 L/100 km with the V6 engine. Selecting all-wheel drive adds a 15 per cent efficiency penalty and about $1,700.
A recent road test at autoTRADER.ca praised the Camry’s interior for offering “hard buttons to access the system’s menus and audio and navigation controls.” In a world where turning on heated seats can sometimes require diving into an infotainment menu, this is refreshing. We also cited comfortable and supportive seats as the key to making Camry a good choice for long highways slogs. Opting for the Upgrade Package on lower trims (such as the $28,090 LE and $28,550 SE) brings a nine-inch infotainment screen with all manner of smartphone and satellite radio compatibility. Heated front seats are standard on every new Camry model though dual-zone climate control is part of the aforementioned Upgrade Package on budget models.
Despite sinking enormous amounts of research and development into rapidly expanding its crossover and SUV lineup, Hyundai remains committed to the family sedan as well. Freshly restyled for 2020, the Sonata’s gawping new grille and LED lights that extend into the car’s chrome hood trim mean owners are unlikely to lose this car in a crowded parking lot. Engine choices are limited to a naturally aspirated 2.5L four-cylinder making 191 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque or a turbocharged 1.6L with just 180 hp and 195 lb-ft of twist. It’ll not escape your notice both those figures are far below its main rivals. The hybrid model, which comes with a solar roof that can help recharge the battery, throws down 192 ponies and a much more appropriate 271 lb-ft of torque while returning a combined efficiency of roughly 5.0 L/100 km.
Inside, however, the Sonata wins many more friends. In our first drive review, it was noted the car’s design choices highlight a sense of width, giving it a “distinct horizontal flow.” If luxury is defined as the presence of light and space, the Sonata is much snazzier than its price tag may suggest. Features abound, including the top trim’s impressive 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system that plays well with the 12.3-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster and head-up display. Similar in concept – but better in execution – to Honda’s LaneWatch, the Blind View Monitor uses the gauge area to display what is astride the car when its driver signals a lane change.
Once one of the only options for shoppers seeking an all-wheel-drive sedan, the Legacy finds itself with much more competition now that a few of its key competitors power all four of their wheels. Redesigned for the 2020 model year, the sedan can be fitted with either a naturally aspirated 2.5L or a turbocharged 2.4L engine. Both have four cylinders, producing 182 hp and 260 hp, respectively. Continuously variable transmissions are the order of the day at Subaru.
A large tablet-style infotainment touchscreen dominates the interior of most trims, save for the entry-level Convenience model, which makes do with dual seven-inch screens. Still, USB ports abound front and rear on all trims and every Legacy is capable of tuning in satellite radio. Subaru has made lots of noise about its EyeSight suite of safety tools, a group that includes adaptive cruise control and lane-centring assist in addition to pre-collision braking and lane-keeping. These features are handled by a forward-facing sensor located near the rearview mirror, meaning it will be less affected by foul weather than cars who have these types of sensors mounted to their front bumper.
As the snappy dresser of this group, the current Mazda6 has been around for the longest in this particular quintet. The recipient of a mid-cycle refresh back in 2018, the 6 still looks good, not unlike the way some Hollywood movie stars never seem to age. This says much for Mazda’s styling choices nearly five years ago. Look for either a 2.5L four-cylinder engine or a turbocharged version of the same under the 6’s hood. The latter makes an impressive 320 lb-ft of torque when fed a steady diet of premium fuel but does run just fine on 87 octane. No CVTs here; Mazda chooses to stick with six-speed automatic transmissions for its midsize sedan.
Interior trappings are clean and crisp, even on the $27,550 GS model, with top-tier trims available with striking Pure White or Garnet Red leather upholstery. The cabin lends itself to a driver-focused environment, with clear gauges the size of dinner plates peeping out from behind the steering wheel. Its infotainment system hasn’t aged as well as its exterior styling, however, with outdated graphics popping up on the eight-inch touchscreen which, it must be noted, can’t be operated by touch while the vehicle is in motion. Duties are instead handled by a rotary dial on the centre console or via buttons mounted on the steering wheel. Advanced blind spot monitoring, heated seats, and dual-zone climate control are standard on all trims.