Rethinking practical

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    Opting for a midsize sedan has gotten a whole lot easier 

    nissan altima 2013If there’s one car segment that has emerged out of the auto industry’s shakeup as a shining example that things are a lot a brighter, it’s the affordable midsize sedan.

    Driven by a desire for more fuel efficient vehicles and the fact that a lot of us never needed those big four door sedans, carmakers have been putting more energy into midsize automobiles – and it shows.

    Yep, gone are the days when the idea of a midsize car immediately made you think − “uhh, rental.” 

    From striking designs to cool technology features, every automaker is pushing to up the ante for their line-up with a new and improved midsize car or model.  

    Thank goodness — considering that most of us who grew up dreaming of owning that two- hundred grand luxury ride have finally come to the realization that we’ll probably never be able to afford it. 

    Sure, I doubt there’s a car in the segment that’ll make you forget about that Bentley you’ve been Googling if you were to hit the Mega Millions. Still, I know of a few that will at least make reality easier to swallow and broaden your scope on the segment.

    In fact, you might already be running up enough on that monthly tab playing the lottery to put yourself behind the wheel of one. 

    I know you’re probably thinking, “Who does this guy think he is telling me how to spend my hard earned cash.”  But I’m betting you’ll admit (even if it’s just to yourself) it’s food for thought the next time you’re standing in a lottery line, once you get a sense of what  you can get for the money now in the midsize segment. 

    THE ‘ULTIMATE’ ALTIMA 

    Take for example, the all new 2013 Nissan Altima. 

    With a starting price of $21,500, the new model is by far the best one yet when it comes to looks and performance.  

    Exterior design cues include a tapered roofline, a wider stance and sweeping accents that give the sedan a much more sportier look than the previous model. 

    New interior design elements include NASA-inspired seats, which have been proven to increase blood flow and lower fatigue when driving.  Available technology features include touch screen navigation, blind spot warning and segment firsts — lane departure warning and moving object detection, which detects items around the vehicle.  

    The 2013 Altima also features a Smartphone integration features that allows for hands-free text messaging in the vehicle.  

    Benchmarked against vehicles like the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4, the new Altima is available in two engine options – a redesigned 2.5L 4-cylinder and refined 3.5-liter V6,  which has a starting price a little over $25,000. 

    MALIBU ECO 

    If you’re thinking “green,” the new Chevrolet Malibu Eco might be your midsize vehicle of choice. 

    Well, green enough – without the feeling often associated with environmentally friendly vehicles that leaving you thinking you have to sacrifice wanting a nice looking car for fuel efficiency. 

    Priced under $30,000 for the model tested which included nearly $2,000 in options, the Malibu Eco features a 2.4L 4 cylinder engine with an electric motor generator with eAssist. The system captures up to 15kW of power that would be normally lost during braking and uses it to recharge the lithium-ion battery. 

    The eAssist system also shuts down fuel delivery in certain deceleration conditions, further improving fuel economy.  

    Estimated fuel economy is 25 city/37 highway for a combined fuel economy of 29 mpg. During my test drive I got roughly 300 miles on a tank of gas with a lot of those miles logged driving in the city. 

    Even more impressive is that with 182 horsepower and 182 lb.-ft. of torque you never feel that you don’t have enough power when behind the wheel. 

    The new design of the Malibu which has a coupe like look picks up a few of the muscular styling cues from the Camaro most noticeable in the rear.  

    Technology features include Chevrolet’s new MyLink infotainment platform that adds a new level of Bluetooth connectivity with enhanced voice recognition, which is a breath of fresh air considering how with so many systems you have to repeat basic voice commands. 

    CLASSIC VW

    When it comes to being unique, nothing quite makes the statement that the Volkswagen Passat makes when it comes to midsize sedans.

    True to the legacy of VW, the Passat packs a lot of the brand’s classic design elements along with a lot of new features in some very affordable packages. 

    The new model, the largest Passat ever, comes in three models 2.5L, the 2.0L TDI Diesel and 3.6 Liter V6.  

    The 2.5L model with manual transmission and 170 horsepower has a starting price right under $20,000.  It comes standard with automatic dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel audio controls and VW’s no-charge three-year/36,000 mile scheduled Carefree Maintenance Program. 

    The up-level SE model starts at $23,725 and includes additional equipment such as 17-inch alloy wheels, 8-way power driver seat, heated front seats, touchscreen premium VIII radio, and a multi-Function leather-wrapped steering wheel.

    The 2.0L TDI Clean Diesel model offers three trim levels and starts under $26,000, delivering 43 mpg highway, with a range of nearly 800 miles. 

    WRAP UP

    Other affordable sedans on the market sure to change your view of the midsize segment include the Hyundai Sonata (still one of my personal favorites), the Toyota Camry (a longtime leader in the segment) and the Kia Optima. The all new Ford Fusion, which make its street debut soon, is also expected to help redefine the midsize market.  

    Of course, deciding which car in the segment best suits you is a matter of preference considering each has its own unique appeal. Though, I’m sure every carmaker mentioned can ramble off more than a few selling points in hopes of convincing you that there particular model is a better pick.

    Either way, it’s a win- win for consumers with so many options in the segment, which makes it easier to own a nice car instead of just staring at one on a computer screen.  

    Marcus Amick is a national automotive analyst and consultant. He can be contacted at Marcus@WheelSide.com.   

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