If I were to buy a midsize sedan today, I’d get the 2016 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium for a little over $24,5001 and then I’d add an option package for $1,195 that includes EyeSight and rear radar sensors. Why? Because other midsize sedans currently available generally do the same thing and cost the same amount, but the recently redesigned Legacy has tons of features that would cost $7,000 to $10,000 more on other cars. It’s also the safest model, it has excellent fuel economy, and it comes standard with all-wheel drive.
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Of all the midsize sedans you can buy today, we focused on the prevailing set of four-doors that most people are buying and driving right now in America. We didn’t include any luxury sedans because they cost so much more—more to buy, more to fix, more to refuel, and more to insure. (And they’ll get their own guide later.) Same goes for midsize hybrid, electric, and diesel sedans; we’ll compare them against their own kind in future guides. That left us with a field of 11 midsize sedans to consider.
NOTE: You may notice we considered vehicles for this guide from different model years. That’s because automakers release their new vehicles at different times of the year, and we look at every vehicle that’s available to buy at the time of writing. Rest assured: As new vehicles become available, we’ll evaluate them separately and update this page if any of our recommended picks change.
If the Subaru doesn’t do it for you, I can recommend a couple of other midsize sedans.
Before you buy a midsize sedan, you should make sure you actually want one.
In total, 12 midsize sedans are currently on sale in the US, and we looked at all the ones we’d actually consider ourselves. The list includes the best-selling Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Chevy Malibu, Volkswagen Passat, Mazda6, Chrysler 200, and Subaru Legacy.
With room for five full-size adults (or two adults and two child car seats), midsize sedans can accommodate as many passengers as people travel with most of the time. They have big trunks that can swallow a week’s worth of groceries. They also have a smooth ride like a luxury car, and some can approximate real sport sedans when pushed. Because they balance all of these traits, they’re great for people who need a car that does a little bit of everything.
Midsize sedans are priced from the low-$20K range to the mid-$30K range, which makes them attractive for a wide array of budgets. Base-model midsize sedans have fewer features, smaller wheels, and basic stereos, but offer the same passenger and cargo space as more expensive trim levels. Fully loaded midsize sedans are like bonafide luxury cars without the brand cachet. They come with every feature a real luxury car does—navigation systems with large touchscreen displays, leather seating, panoramic sunroofs, advanced safety features, and the like—for thousands less than real luxury cars, but they don’t impart the same status as, say, a BMW or Mercedes-Benz would in your driveway.
People often cross-shop for midsize sedans along with small cars and compact crossover utility vehicles. Small cars are, obviously, smaller in size and have less passenger and cargo space, but they also cost less and are increasingly being offered with the same features. Plus, most midsize sedans don’t come in station-wagon versions anymore, whereas a number of small cars offer five-door hatchback versions that, with their larger rear openings, can better accommodate taller cargo than a midsize sedan with a trunk. Midsize sedans, though, are much more comfortable for backseat passengers, and some are nearly as fuel efficient as small cars despite being larger.
Compact crossovers are priced similarly to midsize sedans and offer a higher seating position with a better view, but they are smaller in size with less passenger space. The shape of their rear cargo area, however, allows them to accommodate taller items. They’re also more capable off-road and during bad weather than midsize sedans thanks to their higher ground clearance and AWD, the latter of which is widely available on most compact crossovers. Their higher center of gravity, though, makes them more top-heavy, which generally means worse handling.
All-wheel drive is available on a few midsize sedans; the Ford Fusion offers the feature on a particular version of its midlevel SE trim and on higher trim levels, while the Chrysler 200 has AWD as an option only on its higher, more expensive trims. On every trim level of the Subaru Legacy, however, AWD is standard equipment. Subaru also sells the Outback, a station-wagon-like version of the Legacy with higher ground clearance and AWD. It has a big backseat like a midsize sedan, plus the higher view and off-road chops of a crossover.
After researching every midsize sedan and what you get with each trim level, I recommend buying neither a base model nor a fully loaded midsize sedan. Rather, buy somewhere in the middle, where prices are still affordable and you get a few niceties that have trickled down from higher trim levels.
By configuring these cars every which way on their manufacturer websites, I found that, in addition to the basics we believe every new car should have for safety and convenience, midlevel trims costing around $26,000 (including their destination charges) offer a surprisingly full set of features that include things like alloy wheels (no wheel covers), Bluetooth phone and audio, a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry, power seats, and a touchscreen infotainment display. Not every midsize sedan offers all of these features as standard equipment, but even when a configuration tool forced me to order some as options, pricing remained within a grand, plus or minus, of $26,000.
Most midsize sedans also offer a choice of engines, and I recommend choosing the less powerful engine. Others agree with me: Car and Driver said recently in its review of the Chrysler 200 that “as it is with most cars in this class, our choice here is the four-cylinder.” The reason is that four-cylinder engines are lighter, cheaper, less complicated, and more fuel efficient than six-cylinder and most turbocharged four-cylinder engines. As The Truth About Cars puts it, “the trade-offs are simple: you can pay more for more power and less efficiency with the V6, or save money and gas with the four-potter.”
The Legacy, for instance, offers a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and a more powerful 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine. The four-cylinder achieves a combined EPA fuel-economy rating of 30 miles per gallon, while the six-cylinder Legacy manages just 23 mpg. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s fuel-cost calculator, the four-cylinder Legacy would save you $2,750 in fuel costs over five years compared with the six-cylinder. Plus, a four-cylinder Legacy costs $3,100 less than a similarly equipped six-cylinder Legacy.
Here’s the truth: All of the standard engines work just fine. When I say they are less powerful, that is not to say they are weak or lacking in power. They’re all plenty powerful for daily driving duties—hauling groceries, carpooling with coworkers, merging on the highway. Step on the gas, however, and they’ll respond, aggressively if you floor it. The four-cylinder engines in these midsize sedans generally do have to work harder and therefore sound louder than a six-cylinder engine when they’re loaded with extra weight or asked to go at full sprint, but they can all handle it. The other 90 percent of the time they’re quiet and efficient, and they fade from your mind. More powerful six-cylinder engines, meanwhile, generally feel and sound like they’re working less hard, but that’s because they have more power than what’s needed 90 percent of the time. The trade-off for that extra power is a more expensive car and higher fuel costs.
Some midsize sedans also offer hybrid or other alternative-fuel powertrains, but for this guide, I’m focusing solely on gas-powered models; we’re working on other guides devoted entirely to hybrid, electric, and alternative-fuel vehicles.
As for transmissions, most midsize sedans come standard with automatic or continuously variable transmissions, so you don’t have a choice. Every midsize sedan’s automatic has six gears, except the Chrysler 200’s, which has nine. The more gears a transmission has, the better it’s able to keep the engine operating at a speed that’s best for power or efficiency. Continuously variable transmissions, or CVTs, have no gears, instead creating the ideal gear ratio required for the best power or efficiency at any given time. Only the Mazda6 and Honda Accord still offer manual transmissions, but I decided to consider their automatic-equipped versions because hardly anyone drives stick anymore, such transmissions are offered only on the least expensive trim levels, and they make the cars less fuel efficient. Of course, if you’re buying the Mazda for its spirited drive, a stick is worth considering.
I was the editor-in-chief of Autoblog.com for nearly 10 years and grew that website to become the most popular destination for automotive news, reviews, and auto show coverage on the Web. While I led the site, Autoblog.com reviewed 20 new vehicles on average per month, performed comparison tests, and maintained a stable of long-term review vehicles. I exhaustively research every major purchase of my own (just ask my wife), and I’m giving you the same advice I would give family or friends.
If I were buying a midsize sedan today, I’d get the 2016 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium and order it with EyeSight and rear radar sensors for a couple hundred dollars less than $26,000.4 The car was all-new for 2015, and Subaru used this redesign to move the Legacy to the front of this crazily competitive segment. You’d have to spend $7,000 to $10,000 more to equip one of its competitors comparably, which makes it the best value by far. It’s also the safest midsize sedan at any cost, one of the most fuel efficient, and the only one to come standard with AWD. I spent a week driving one to make sure the whole package is as good as it seemed in my research. It is.
Past versions of the Legacy were never among this segment’s most popular cars. Rather, they were more like the quirky alternative to what everyone else was buying. Subaru wants to be what people are buying now, so the Legacy has now matured with a less polarizing shape outside and more capability inside. It’s easy and comfortable to drive with just a hint of fun to keep your errands interesting, and it comes with so many features that it feels much more expensive than it really is. You can certainly spend a lot more on a midsize sedan, but you’re not going to get much more for your money.
The made-in-the-USA29 Legacy 2.5i Premium is a screamin’ deal. The starting price for its middle trim level is the lowest in this group, which is remarkable considering that this is the only midsize sedan that comes standard with AWD. It also comes with a load of standard features, including the common ones I had decided were a baseline (rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, power seats, keyless entry, Bluetooth phone pairing and audio, and alloy wheels) as well as heated front seats, a newly introduced infotainment system with a 6.2-inch touchscreen display, satellite radio, a high-res color LCD information display between the gauges, a 60/40-split fold-down rear seat, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, fog lights, and automatic headlights. And did I mention AWD comes standard?
It feels more like a top-level trim with so many features, though the cloth seats are a reminder that it isn’t one. Of all of these midlevel, midsize sedans, only the Kia Optima EX comes with standard leather, and the Mazda6 Touring and Volkswagen Passat SE both have faux leather. The rest have cloth upholstery like the Legacy, though Subaru does wrap the steering wheel and armrests in a high-quality soft leather that feels very rich to the touch.
I would order the Legacy 2.5i Premium with one option package to make it that much better: EyeSight with rear radar sensors for $1,195. It raises the car’s price to about $25,500 but adds a huge collection of advanced safety features that makes the Legacy both the safest and the best value among midsize sedans.
What EyeSight with rear radar sensors adds for $1,195:
Many midsize sedans offer LCA, though it’s not that common on midlevel trims costing around $26,000. Very few offer frontal collision warning at all, and fewer still combine that with LKA and pre-collision braking, features more commonly found on luxury vehicles costing tens of thousands of dollars more. In fact, only the Mazda6 and Chrysler 200 come close to offering an equally extensive suite of safety features, but when so equipped, they cost about $7,200 and $5,500 more, respectively. Of course, at those prices they’re better equipped in other areas,30 but the point is that most automakers won’t sell you these advanced safety features on less expensive trim levels. Subaru has changed the game by offering all of them together plus all-wheel drive for an affordable price on an affordable model.
As for safety, the 2016 Legacy is peerless. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave it five stars overall, and it’s one of the few vehicles I’ve ever seen earn the highest possible rating in every single one of the agency’s tests. It also earned the highest rating possible in all five crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), including the difficult, new small front overlap crash test (see the video above). It now has the best IIHS crash-test scores among all midsize sedans and a Top Safety Pick+ rating thanks to the availability of EyeSight. The Chrysler 200 comes close to matching the Legacy’s IIHS scores, but its pre-collision braking system only lessened the severity of a 25-mile-per-hour collision in one IIHS test, while the Legacy’s system avoided the collision entirely. Crash tests may merely simulate what can happen in the real world, but based on its performance in the lab, the Legacy would ease my worry most if someone I love were driving it.
Others have noticed the Legacy’s superior levels of safety, too. It leads a list of Safest Vehicles of 2015 compiled by The Car Connection, which cites EyeSight as a standout feature and remarks, “Even better, we think, is that you don’t have to go for the most expensive model in the lineup to get that potential life-saver.” The IIHS also released a new report about driver death rates in 2011-model-year vehicles, and the Legacy was one of only nine vehicles to achieve zero driver deaths—none—during the calendar year that was studied. On top of that, seven of the nine vehicles were larger, heavier SUVs that have an easier time protecting their occupants; the Legacy was one of just two sedans in the group. While data for this report came from the last-generation Legacy, we can expect that the new version will get the same results based on its even better crash-test scores and wider availability of the EyeSight system.
This car is also incredibly fuel efficient considering it comes standard with AWD. Traditionally, AWD means lower fuel efficiency because of extra weight and more moving parts. The Legacy, however, bucks this trend, achieving 26 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined with its 2.5-liter, four-cylinder “boxer” engine. Few cars in this class, and none with AWD, are more efficient. The Nissan Altima’s numbers are a bit better at 27 city, 39 highway, and 31 combined; the Mazda6 achieves 26 city, 38 highway, and 30 combined. The Hyundai Sonata also has an Eco version rated at 28 city, 38 highway, and 32 combined.
If fuel efficiency is your primary concern, those three cars are the most efficient. The all-wheel-drive Legacy, however, is still more fuel efficient than the vast majority of its competition, and I think a mile per gallon or two is worth sacrificing for the extra features you get at the same price with the Subaru. I achieved 32.7 mpg combined, according to the car’s trip computer, during my week spent driving a Legacy 2.5i Premium.
I’ve been harping a lot about AWD, so you might be wondering why it’s such a plus. Having all four wheels driven is an obvious safety advantage in low-traction situations like driving in rain or snow. Those benefits are most apparent when you’re driving on wet surfaces, but they’re also beneficial in dry conditions like on loose gravel or sand. Except for the sporty BRZ, which is rear-wheel drive, Subaru makes AWD standard on all of the cars it sells; that’s kind of the company’s thing.
Only two other midsize sedans even offer all-wheel drive, the Chrysler 200 and Ford Fusion, and then only on more expensive trim levels paired with more powerful, thirstier engines. The least expensive Chrysler 200 with all-wheel drive starts at nearly $31,000.5 For the Fusion, its starting price for AWD is still over $29,000.6 If you’re looking for all-wheel drive on a reasonably priced midsize sedan, the Legacy is simply your only option.
My week spent with a Legacy 2.5i Premium proved to me it’s as good as the data suggests. My loaner came with EyeSight, which worked as advertised and is as good as any similar system I’ve tried on luxury vehicles costing tens of thousands of dollars more. Adaptive cruise control is addictive on the highway, and an army of other safety systems vigilantly beeped and blinked whenever I was drifting, backing up, or changing lanes without looking. I couldn’t test EyeSight’s best feature, pre-collision braking, because I don’t go looking for accidents, but you can watch it working in this promotional video from Subaru.
Another EyeSight feature that’s often overlooked, steering-responsive fog lights, pleasantly surprised me. When you turn, it activates the left or right fog light independently to illuminate in that direction. Unlike headlights you may see on luxury cars that swivel in place, the Legacy’s fog lights are pre-aimed, so they have no moving parts that can wear out and break over time. It’s an EyeSight exclusive and another premium safety feature that makes this option package a killer deal.
The Legacy 2.5i Premium’s interior also made a better-than-expected impression on me. The two-tone beige-and-black color scheme was bright and cheery with some eye-catching pops of faux-metal silver trim. The new infotainment system is also top-notch: This navigationless unit has high-res graphics with swipe and scrolling gesture controls that let you peruse menus with a flick of your finger as on a smartphone, and it looks much better in the dash than the units of some other midsize sedans, which stick you with a tiny display in a sea of plastic when you don’t order the nav system.
The Legacy is not the most spacious midsize sedan, but neither is it the tightest. Most of its interior dimensions place it in the middle of the pack. The Legacy’s only exceptional measurement is front headroom, which at 40 inches ties for second most among midsized sedans; it also has more than enough legroom, particularly the rear seat. It does have the least amount of rear headroom at 37 inches, but the average for the entire segment is 37½ inches. I sat in every seat and found rear headroom to be the only measurement that felt tight.
Passengers over 6 feet tall may be scrunching a little back there, but that’s not uncommon in this class. For instance, the Mazda6 and Nissan Altima have just 1/10 of an inch more rear headroom than the Legacy. Getting in and out of the backseat, though, was easy with the Legacy’s large door openings, and the front seats felt spacious in every direction.
The Legacy’s 15.0-cubic-foot trunk is smaller than the group average of 15.66 cubic feet and over a cubic foot behind the segment’s biggest cabooses. Despite its being down in volume, I still liked the Legacy’s trunk for its low lift-over height and its use of gas struts instead of space-robbing goose-neck hinges. The trunk accommodated 17 paper grocery bags in our testing, and the rear seats are split 60/40 and fold forward to increase cargo space, a feature every midsize sedan offers.
It’s also quiet enough. Car and Driver, which still includes decibel levels in its battery of instrumented tests, found the Legacy to be among the quietest midsize sedans that it has tested, quieter than the Chrysler 200 when idling and the Mazda6 when floored. I found engine noise and vibrations in the Legacy to be low and the general decibel level in the cabin to be quite good. With the stereo off, the only noise you hear on the highway is air whizzing past the A pillars.
As for engine power, the Legacy’s updated 2.5-liter “boxer” four-cylinder, which generates 175 horsepower and 174 pound-feet of torque, does not feel overwhelmed, but neither does it make the car a hot rod. Subaru offers a more powerful 256-horsepower, 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine for that job, though Motor Trend’s Jonny Lieberman says that “driving both cars on the same roads back to back left me scratching my head as to why anyone would bother with the heavier, thirstier, and costlier six-cylinder.”
The Legacy’s CVT does a particularly good job and features some neat tricks. Driven normally it operates like any other CVT, finding the right engine speed and holding that speed as the car accelerates. Floor it, though, and the CVT imitates real gear changes with the same subtle shift-and-lurch effect of a traditional automatic. This behavior may seem unnecessary, but the trick eliminates an annoying droning sound that occurs under hard acceleration with many other CVTs. Autoblog’s Jeremy Korzeniewski agrees, saying, “the transmission feels natural and doesn’t make its presence felt with any odd sensation.” It also comes with paddle shifters, which completes the faux transmission illusion. My one gripe: Pulling away smoothly from a stop takes some practice.
Midsize sedans aren’t generally sporty, instead offering a good balance between a comfortable ride and competent handling. The Legacy is good in this regard, if not a little above average in the handling department thanks to its “boxer” engine’s lower center of gravity, which makes the car feel a bit more planted in corners. Still, the Mazda6 is this segment’s handling champ bar none, with the Ford Fusion in second. As Motor Trend’s Jonny Lieberman says, “If Americans actually cared about driving, the Mazda6 would be the best-selling car in the U.S.” Many do—they just don’t seem to buy very many midsize sedans.
Americans also care about what Consumer Reports has to say about new cars, and the review we’ve been waiting for has finally been published. In short, CR loves the new Subaru Legacy, particularly our top pick 2.5i Premium trim level. It gave the Legacy an overall score of 89, highest among all midsize sedans, as well as an official Recommended rating. This quote from CR’s lengthy review sums up the testers’ feelings best: “This is a car with very few compromises, effectively blending an excellent ride, responsive handling, a roomy and quiet interior, great visibility, simple controls, and easy cabin access front and rear. This all adds up to a package that tops our ratings of midsized family sedans.”
Despite being so new, the Subaru Legacy has already received a few other big nods. MotorWeek recently named it Best Family Sedan in its Drivers’ Choice Awards, saying, “Subaru clearly studied Legacy rivals, matching or exceeding what they do best.” Car-shopping site The Car Connection named it Best Car To Buy 2015, remarking, “The value for the money here is indisputable” and “You may not have thought to put it on your list next to nameplates like Altima, Accord, or Fusion—but now, you should.” Analysts at ALG ranked the new Legacy tops among all midsize sedans for residual value. According to them, “The Legacy’s mix of all-weather capability and Subaru reliability, along with a new dose of refinement, make it an excellent choice for families.” Lastly, the Legacy scored second place in a massive comparison test of 10 midsize sedans recently conducted by Cars.com, MotorWeek, and USA Today. One judge remarked, “It’s now one of the best cars in the segment as far as I’m concerned,” and the real-life family they included in the judging process chose the Legacy as their favorite.
Kelley Blue Book has awarded the new Legacy a 2016 Best Resale Value Award. The group estimates it will retain 54.3 percent of its value after three years and 39.3 percent after five years—the best among midsize sedans and a fair bit better than the second-place Toyota Camry, which KBB says will hold on to 49.8 percent of its value after three years. The folks at KBB cite the Legacy’s standard AWD, its high fuel efficiency, and the latest version of EyeSight for the car’s high resale value.
I also looked at the five-year cost-to-own estimates from KBB.com, which include the depreciation that determines a car’s resale value, and the 2015 Legacy 2.5i Premium had the second-lowest figure of the group. According to KBB’s cost estimate tool, the Legacy should cost $33,994 after five years, about a single tank of gas behind the Mazda6 at $33,975. Both cars should cost far less over the long term than their competitors, which all came in between $35,000 and $38,000.
Those long-term costs include repairs, which fall on you to pay for after a car’s warranty expires. The Legacy has a very standard warranty: Subaru covers the whole car for three years or 36,000 miles, and it covers the engine and transmission (aka the powertrain) for five years or 60,000 miles. The company also gives you three years or 36,000 miles of free roadside assistance and five years of corrosion coverage to protect against rampant rust.
This is the industry standard; most midsize sedans come with pretty much the same warranty. A handful of automakers do better, like Hyundai and Kia, which cover their whole cars for five years or 60,000 miles and their powertrains for 10 years or 100,000 miles. If we were thinking of recommending a Hyundai or Kia, their warranties would surely carry extra weight in their favor, but we’re not going to ding other automakers for offering the industry standard. The only time we might is if the standard warranty is combined with evidence of habitually poor reliability. We haven’t found that to be the case for the Legacy; it was brand-new for 2015, though, so we’ll continue to look for more data on its reliability.
I do have some quibbles. For as many features that come standard on the Legacy 2.5i Premium, push-button start and proximity keys aren’t available at all on this trim level, even as an option. That’s unusual among midsize sedans, most of which offer these two features either as optional or standard equipment on midlevel trims. On the Legacy they require opting up to the Limited trim that goes for over $27,5007 and adding a big $2,295 option package, which raises the cost to nearly $30,0008 without EyeSight or over $30,5009 with EyeSight. Is it worth the extra expense? Not if you want only push-button start and proximity keys, but it also gives you a sunroof, a nav system, premium Harman Kardon stereo with 12 speakers and a 576-watt equivalent amplifier, larger wheels, leather seating, heated rear seats, and a few more minor luxuries. I’d still pick the Legacy even at this price, though. A loaded Chrysler 200C would be tempting for reasons spelled out below, but even though it costs only a little more than the Legacy when similarly equipped, that’s without all-wheel drive.
Then there’s the question of styling. I actually think the Legacy’s new exterior design looks darn good. I suspect most people would agree it looks much better than the awkwardly styled model that came before it. That said, other cars in the segment are downright gorgeous. Cars like the Mazda6, Chrysler 200, and Ford Fusion—vehicles with expressive, unique, even daring shapes —have designs that tug on our heart strings more than a mainstream midsize sedan is expected to. From experience, I know this effect can swing preferences one way or another despite what the data says, so it’s only fair to acknowledge that more attractively designed midsize sedans exist out there.
Lastly, finding the clock on the Legacy’s dashboard took me forever. It wasn’t on the info display between the gauges or on the center console’s larger infotainment screen where I expected it to be. Rather, my eye found a tiny digital clock embedded in the climate-control display. That’s an odd place to put a clock, so far down the center console and crowded by completely unrelated information, which makes it all the more difficult to glance at while driving because it’s so tiny.
The 2016 Mazda6 is an all-around exceptional midsize sedan that’s been a critical darling since its redesign for 2014. Its latest achievement is beating five other cars in Motor Trend’s Big Test of 2014/15 Midsize Sedans. Things are even better now that the 2016 model has arrived with a host of improvements. What carries over is the drop-dead gorgeous exterior, the very fuel-efficient powertrain, and the high fun-to-drive factor that makes the Mazda6 tops in many experts’ eyes.
Why wasn’t it tops in my eyes? I agree that the Mazda6 is every bit as good as others claim. In fact, I had to ask Jeremy Korzeniewski, managing editor of Autoblog, if I was crazy for not recommending the Mazda6 over the Legacy. He’s driven both, and he agreed that the Legacy’s case is compelling enough for me to keep the straitjacket in the drawer. Most critics just haven’t had a chance to drive the new Subaru Legacy yet or to compare what it offers against competition like the Mazda6.
For instance, the Mazda6 Touring is the midlevel trim and starts at a little under $26,00010 when ordered with an automatic transmission. The Legacy 2.5i Premium starts at over $1,200 less, comes with all-wheel drive, and has identical EPA city and combined fuel-economy ratings of 26 and 30 miles per gallon. The Legacy also has a few more standard features, including satellite radio, heated side mirrors, fog lights, automatic on/off headlights, and heated seats. To be fair, the Mazda6 comes standard with some stuff the Legacy doesn’t, such as proximity keys and push-button start, leatherette seating, and a blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert system. But then you add EyeSight to the Legacy for $1,195, which gets you advanced safety features like frontal collision warning with pre-collision braking, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control, and the Legacy still costs less than the Mazda6 Touring.
Mazda offers a $1,675 Technology Package for the Touring trim that includes LED headlights that turn their aim with the steering wheel, a low-speed pre-collision braking system that Mazda calls Smart City Brake Support, automatic on/off headlights, heated seats, and heated side mirrors, but choosing this package inexplicably requires also ordering a $1,325 Moonroof Package that adds a sunroof, premium stereo, and satellite radio. The Mazda6 Touring’s price rises all the way to nearly $29,00011 with these options, putting it over $3,000 above the Legacy 2.5i Premium with EyeSight.
For 2016, the Mazda6 gets some nice improvements, including a new interior dashboard design incorporating a standard 7-inch color touchscreen that you can also control with a dial and buttons between the seats. This setup is a lot like what you’ll find in luxury cars from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. It takes a little getting used to, and while Mazda’s system has great graphics and silky-smooth animations, its menu structure is more complicated to use than what’s in those German cars. Along with implementing the new interior, Mazda has tweaked the car’s front end, worked on improving noise levels (though wind noise is still an issue), and tried to make the seats fit better, which indeed they do. Even though these improvements make the Mazda6 that much better, we still think the Legacy surpasses it by the slimmest of margins.
That said, the Mazda6 Touring is still a fantastic deal among midsize sedans, and its strengths are different than those of the Legacy 2.5i Premium. As Jonny Lieberman reminded us, “styling really does matter,” so the Mazda6 may be a better choice if looks matter more to you. Likewise, handling and overall driving performance may carry more weight in your decision, in which case the Mazda6 has the advantage. But the Legacy neither looks ugly nor drives poorly, so while the Mazda6 may lead those categories, its advantage isn’t so great that it can overcome the Legacy’s dominating traits of value and safety.
The top 200C trim level starts around $28,50012 for a four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive model but also offers all-wheel drive and the segment’s most powerful V6 engine at a starting price near $33,000.13 Four option packages add such features as high-intensity discharge headlamps with LED running lights and fog lamps, heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, real honest-to-goodness wood trim, a reconfigurable 7-inch driver-information display among its gauges, a giant 8.4-inch touchscreen display that operates the industry’s best infotainment and navigation system, and a suite of advanced safety systems that outdoes even Subaru’s. Chrysler also gives you a better-than-average warranty that covers the car’s powertrain up to 100,000 miles (in contrast to the usual 60,000) with free roadside assistance for five years instead of the standard three.
Ordering Chrysler’s $1,295 SafetyTec package gets you adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with pre-collision braking, BSD, RCTA, and LDW, but also includes lane keep assist, which will actually steer the car back into its lane when you start drifting, and a parking assist system that steers the car into both parallel and perpendicular parking spots. You have even more options, like a $1,495 Dual-Pane Panoramic Sunroof, $595 Lunar White Tri-Coat Pearl paint, and $695 19-inch wheels, but if you practice a modicum of restraint, the price will stay below $37,000.
Let’s compare that with the Legacy. A loaded, AWD, six-cylinder Legacy 3.6R Limited costs nearly $34,000,14 but the lowest bottom line isn’t what stepping up is all about. The Chrysler 200 costs a few grand more but looks every penny of its higher price with more luxurious styling and larger wheels, and it offers a few items you just can’t get on the Legacy, such as cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, the parking assist system, and UConnect, which AutoGuide and Canada’s Driving.ca both recently named as the industry’s best infotainment system.
2016 Toyota Camry XLE
The 2016 Toyota Camry has received a thorough makeover, despite the prior version’s being on sale for only three years. After having a chance to drive it ourselves, we can say that this new car moves closer to the midsize sedans we consider best in class. It ultimately fails to join them because of things Toyota didn’t improve, such as the four-cylinder model’s middle-of-the-pack fuel economy and the lack of a true midlevel trim that offers popular features for a reasonable price.
The Camry definitely received a major upgrade in the looks department. The outside looks more modern and appealing, and while the interior’s design didn’t change that much, Toyota did use more soft-touch materials throughout so that it at least feels higher quality.
What’s really noticeable is how much more quiet it is; Toyota focused on bringing down the decibel level inside and succeeded. The car also feels more solid when you slam a door or hit a bump in the road, thanks to the automaker’s adding more welds to the car’s structure. It even offers more responsive and confident handling than before while preserving its already good ride. You can feel all these upgrades from behind the wheel, which makes this new Camry seem like an altogether different, and better, car.
Unfortunately, the makeover is somewhat skin deep, as the Camry’s engines carry over untouched. While the four-cylinder option is plenty fine, a number of competitors’ engines are both more powerful and fuel efficient.
Also, Toyota is continuing with its odd collection of trim levels. What’s missing is a midlevel trim between the LE and XLE that offers popular features at a reasonable price. While the least expensive LE is decently equipped, it’s missing features like dual automatic climate control, alloy wheels, an information display, and access to more advanced optional safety equipment like the Legacy offers. It’s also the most expensive base model among all midsize sedans with a starting price around $24,000.15 Jumping up to the XLE gets you all of those features and a few more, but it comes with a starting price of $27,000.16 That’s three grand more than the LE and the biggest asking price among all the midlevel-trim midsize sedans we’ve considered for this guide.
As much as the Camry has improved, it still doesn’t lead the competition in any significant way (except in rear headroom, we suppose). We’re not sure why Toyota thinks that makes it worth top dollar, but that’s what Toyota charges, which is why the new Camry can’t be considered in the company of great midsize sedans.
2016 Honda Accord Sport with Honda Sensing
Although the Honda Accord gets good marks from critics, we’re disappointed with its 2016-model-year refresh. Honda updated the exterior styling and added lots of new technology; among other things, its EyeSight-like Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety equipment is now available on every trim level for just $1,000. The redo, however, also brought an increase to the Accord’s already high price. That forced us to forget the EX trim level we had considered for 2015 and instead consider the less costly Sport version, which, when compared with our top pick, is still more expensive, slightly less fuel efficient, and loaded with fewer features.
We like the Honda Sensing collection of advanced safety features, which includes lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist systems, as well as a collision-mitigating braking system with forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise control. Only $1,000 extra and available on every trim level of the Accord, it’s both less expensive and more accessible than Subaru’s $1,195 EyeSight system.
Unfortunately, the Accord was already one of the priciest vehicles in this group, and an across-the-board price increase for 2016 along with paying an extra $1,000 for Honda Sensing makes that worse. If we were to stick with an Accord EX and add Honda Sensing, its price would rise nearly $1,500 compared with the 2015 model, and at a little over $28,000,17 that’s $1,000 more expensive than the next most costly midsize model we’re considering. That’s so much more than the rest of the cars we’re evaluating that we decided to look at the next trim level down.
The 2016 Accord Sport slots in under the EX and, with Honda Sensing added, costs about $27,000,18 which is a couple hundred dollars more than last year’s EX without Honda Sensing. At that price, it’s still one of the most expensive cars in this group, and by dropping down a trim level, the Accord loses a number of nice features, which makes it less appealing. Gone are the smart keyless-entry system and push-button start, the heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, and the sunroof; in addition, its stereo is worse than what you get in the EX because it has only four speakers instead of six. Due to the Sport’s extra-large 19-inch wheels, fuel economy also drops a single mile per gallon to 30 mpg combined, which is middling for this group and ties it with the Subaru Legacy everywhere but on the highway, where its 35-mpg rating is one mile per gallon lower than the Legacy’s.
The newly refreshed 2016 Accord Sport with Honda Sensing simply isn’t as good as the Subaru Legacy 2.5i Premium with EyeSight because the latter gives you more features, better fuel economy, and the security of all-wheel drive, all for about $1,000 less.
2016 Nissan Altima SV
The Nissan Altima, which received a lot of visual updates for 2016, is a good all-around choice, but it doesn’t match the Legacy in value because it offers fewer standout features and costs more. Nissan gives you a lot of features standard on all but its most basic trim level, including Bluetooth phone/audio, keyless entry, proximity keys, push-button start, and an advanced driver display. The midlevel SV trim we considered starts close to $26,00019 and adds dual automatic climate control, a power driver’s seat, SiriusXM radio, remote start, and a couple of nice safety features: blind-spot warning and rear cross-path traffic alert.
The Altima’s biggest selling point is its fuel economy, which is nearly the best in this group at 27 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, and 31 mpg combined (the specialized Hyundai Sonata Eco manages 32 mpg combined). Nissan, however, doesn’t offer all of the safety features that Subaru does, let alone offer them on the Altima’s midlevel trim. While you do get BSW and RCTA on the reasonably priced SV trim we considered, more advanced safety features like forward collision warning, automatic braking, and adaptive cruise control aren’t available unless you choose a loaded version of the next most expensive trim level, which costs around $6,000 more. Ultimately, the Legacy edges out the Altima because its combined fuel-economy rating is only 1 mpg lower despite the vehicle’s inclusion of standard AWD, and Subaru offers a better suite of advanced safety technology for way less money.
2016 Ford Fusion SE with MyFord Touch Technology Package
The 2016 Ford Fusion is one of the most attractively styled midsize sedans available, and like the Chrysler 200, it rivals bona fide luxury cars when fully loaded. It’s also more expensive than the average midsize sedan: The midlevel SE trim starts close to $24,50020 and requires an extra $1,100 MyFord Touch Technology Package to get dual-zone automatic climate control.
I do, however, like that Ford at least lets you order more optional equipment on its midlevel SE trim than most other cars. The Fusion Titanium is the top trim level and starts at nearly $31,000,21 but you can add many of its features individually or via option packages on the SE, including AWD.
The Fusion’s styling and breadth of available features still can’t overcome its pricing problems. While you can order a Fusion that’s nearly identically equipped to the Legacy in terms of features like AWD and a full suite of advanced active safety technology, Ford will charge you about $33,500 for it.
2016 Kia Optima EX
Like its mechanically similar corporate cousin, the Hyundai Sonata, the 2016 Kia Optima has been completely redesigned. It’s larger than before, particularly in width, and it boasts new styling inside and out while offering more and better standard features than the last version. Kia has improved it in nearly every way, and we like the 2016 Kia Optima EX trim level most for around $25,500.22 This version of the Optima comes with the most complete set of convenience features you’d want to have in a midsize sedan, items such as a passive entry system and push-button start, two high-powered USB 2.1 charge ports, heated leather seats, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, and even a heated steering wheel.
Despite being well equipped and reasonably priced, the new Optima still isn’t quite good enough for us to recommend. For about the same price as our top pick, it doesn’t offer all-wheel drive at all, it has worse fuel economy (28 mpg combined versus 30 mpg for the Legacy), and all of its advanced safety features are locked away in expensive option packages and higher trim levels. Plus, as with the similarly redesigned Sonata, we think its new styling isn’t an improvement over that of the car it replaces, which was a sharp-looking sedan.
The Optima has another trim level that we don’t think is best for most people but might still be worth a look. The less expensive Optima LX 1.6T, priced at about $25,000,23 is a good choice if fuel economy is your top priority. It uses a unique engine and transmission not available on other Optimas to achieve 28 mpg in the city, 39 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg combined, which is the best fuel economy we found among the midsize sedans we looked at. Its lower price, though, means that it doesn’t come with some of the features we expect in these cars, such as dual-zone automatic climate control, and it also lacks most of the Optima EX’s impressive convenience features, like heated leather seats and a heated steering wheel. You can get dual-zone automatic climate control by ordering a $2,600 Technology Package that also comes with a navigation system, but at that point the car’s price balloons to make it the most expensive in this group—and it still doesn’t have all-wheel drive or the Legacy’s impressive advanced safety features.
2016 Chevrolet Malibu 1LT
The Chevrolet Malibu has received a complete redesign for 2016. Its design is significantly more attractive than before, both inside and out, and it also benefits from an extremely fuel-efficient new engine and cutting-edge tech such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Not everything comes up roses for the Malibu, though, at least not with the $26,00024 1LT trim level that I chose to consider. The Malibu 1LT matches up best with the other cars we considered and comes standard with most of the features people want, but a few key features cost extra, and the car feels kind of cheap, like a rental car.
First off, though, Chevy’s designers deserve props for upgrading the Malibu’s looks; it’s got a little bit of edge, but not so much that it sticks out. The same goes for the inside, where a brand-new dashboard looks appropriately modern but functions in familiar and expected ways. Chevy deserves a demerit, though, for nixing a second physical control knob that tunes stations (stabbing at a screen is both annoying and more dangerous). The Malibu’s new engine, a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder, is also a gem, returning fuel economy of 27 mpg in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg combined, matching the most-efficient Nissan Altima in every way except on the highway, where it’s just 2 mpg behind.
Things start to fall apart, however, when it comes time to build and configure your Malibu. Chevy offers five Malibu trim levels: the base L, LS, 1LT, 2LT, and Premier. The base L is too spartan to consider, and the 2LT and Premier are too expensive and loaded, which leaves the LS and 1LT for average buyers to look at. The LS is worth considering for its very reasonable $24,00025 price (which would make it the least expensive car in this group), but it’s missing a few features that most of the other cars come standard with, such as dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver’s seat, and satellite radio. Plus, the LS has no options available for it, so it comes as is. The 1LT gives you access to lots of option packages with premium features, but it costs about $2,000 more and, aside from the ability to order more options, provides only better side mirrors, 1-inch-larger wheels, and satellite radio. That’s it.
So your choices are either the less expensive LS, which lacks a few features and offers no way to add them, or the 1LT, which gives you access to more stuff but charges a $2,000 premium for three minor features before you even tick a box on the options sheet. Plus, having driven a 1LT with no options for over a week, I can tell you that it doesn’t feel any more posh or premium than the LS; both give off a rental-car vibe that won’t go away unless you spend thousands more on options for the 1LT or move up to the 2LT or Premier model.
2016 Volkswagen Passat SE
The best feature of the 2016 Volkswagen Passat is its size, as it boasts the most rear legroom in this group, a larger-than-average 15.9-cubic-foot trunk, and dimensions well above average in every direction. Volkswagen has given the Passat a refresh for 2016 that includes restyling the front and rear ends, redoing the interior, greatly improving fuel economy (now 25 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined), and reorganizing its trim levels and feature sets. Despite the inexpensive base-model Passat S’s coming surprisingly well equipped for around $23,500,26 we focused on the more expensive Passat SE because it comes standard with advanced safety features like forward collision warning, automatic braking, and adaptive cruise control. At around $27,000,27 that makes the Passat SE the second-least-expensive option, behind the Legacy, for obtaining those features on a car in this group.
Despite those positives, we still don’t like the Passat as much as we do our top pick. It has front-wheel drive and still costs over $1,000 more than the all-wheel-drive Legacy, and while its new advanced safety features are great, they didn’t perform that well in crash tests. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s tests, both companies’ systems brought their cars to a stop from 12 mph before colliding with the test barrier, but when the speed was raised to 25 mph, Volkswagen’s system failed to slow down the Passat at all while Subaru’s brought the Legacy to a halt and avoided the impact entirely.
2016 Hyundai Sonata Sport with Premium Package
The Hyundai Sonata was all-new for 2015 and received only a few minor updates and a price bump for 2016. The version we considered, the Sport trim with optional Premium Package, costs $445 more than it did last year, but it’s 1 mpg more fuel-efficient across the board (25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, 29 mpg combined), equipped with Android Auto, and a bit lighter thanks to more aluminum in its suspension. In addition to the Sport trim, there’s also an Eco version that uses a different engine and transmission than other Sonatas to achieve some of the highest fuel efficiency numbers for this group: 28 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, and 32 mpg combined.
While the Eco version starts at about the same price as the Sport model, we still like the latter more because it comes with a couple of extra options standard and has access to option packages that the Eco doesn’t. The $1,900 Premium Package we picked, for instance, adds things like dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, push-button start, and a blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning system that you can’t get on the Eco. All in, the Sonata Sport with Premium Package that we considered costs a little more than $26,000,28 which makes it among the more expensive midsize sedans we looked at.
While the new Sonata is a formidable contender in this group, it falls behind our top pick for not offering its advanced safety features on this midlevel trim while still being more expensive than the Legacy with those features included. And despite its bump for 2016, it’s still less fuel-efficient than the Legacy even though it has two fewer wheels to power.
While the new Sonata is a formidable contender in the segment, it falls behind the equally new Legacy for not offering as much advanced active safety technology. (Why offer adaptive cruise control and frontal collision warning but not pre-collision braking?) And like most of the midsize-sedan segment, what active safety tech it does offer is not available on any of the Sonata’s midlevel trims.
I spent hands-on time with every single vehicle considered. Automakers loaned some of the vehicles, including the top pick, to me for a week at a time, and when loans weren’t available or I needed more time with a car, I visited local dealerships. I also researched vehicles using information provided by the manufacturers and as many credible third-party sources as I could find. I performed this process as if it were my own hard-earned money or that of a loved one at stake, and then I evaluated the vehicles based on qualities that I thought were the most desired by the largest number of midsize-sedan buyers.
For many hours I researched the specifications, pricing, and features of every midsize sedan on sale in the US to gauge their relative value. This included researching each trim level of every midsize sedan, charting out the pricing, standard equipment, and optional features for each one.
After studying the data, I decided to consider midlevel trims costing around $25,000 to $26,000 that come standard with or offer common features like a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, power seats, keyless entry, Bluetooth phone pairing and audio, and alloy wheels (rather than steel wheels with wheel covers, aka hubcaps). This particular set of features gave me a baseline against which I could judge the value of each midsize sedan, seeing which ones charged more for those features and which offered even more features for the same price.
I spent hours reading every comparison test and individual review of the current group of midsize sedans currently on sale in the US. The most recent comparison tests are Motor Trend’s Big Test of 2014/15 Midsize Sedans and the $27,000 Midsize Sedan Challenge conducted jointly by Cars.com, MotorWeek, and USA Today. Other good midsize-sedan comparison tests have been published by Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics, Automobile Magazine, and AutoGuide. Car and Driver also published a helpful comparison test between just the Honda Accord and Mazda6. If you’re into watching more than reading, I also found a great comparison-test video from MotorWeek.
I consulted a number of automotive critics, including Autoblog managing editor Jeremy Korzeniewski and Motor Trend senior features editor Jonny Lieberman.
To help measure safety, I compiled all of the crash-test ratings for each midsize sedan from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. The former publishes safety ratings for vehicles based on a five-star scale, while the latter bestows a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ rating on cars that perform well in its series of crash tests.
For long-term ownership costs, I turned to KBB.com and its five-year cost-to-own estimates for vehicles. This figure estimates the cost of fuel, insurance, financing, state fees, maintenance, repairs, and a vehicle’s depreciation across half a decade of ownership.
A face-lifted 2017 Ford Fusion debuted in early January and will go on sale in the spring or summer of 2016. While the big news was the addition of a Fusion Sport model with a powerful 325-horsepower engine and all-wheel drive, the rest of the Fusion lineup will remain largely the same. Ford’s new information and entertainment system, SYNC 3, will be available, though, and the car will even offer a pothole-mitigation system that can save your wheels from being damaged by pesky asphalt craters.
The Chrysler 200 is not long for this world, with Chrysler having announced that it will stop making the midsize sedan sometime in the near future. We don’t know exactly when this will happen (it could be a couple of years) or whether Chrysler will replace this model, so for now we stand by our recommendation of the 200S as the best option if you’re looking for a loaded midsize sedan.
The Subaru Legacy is the best midsize sedan you can buy, and the 2.5i Premium model with optional EyeSight and rear radar sensors is its best configuration. Few other midsize sedans offer as many premium features as the Legacy, and none for a price as low. Subaru gave it the qualities of a true class leader with this redesign: attractive lines, a comfortable ride with confident handling, excellent fuel economy, comprehensive safety systems, and a state-of-the-art infotainment system. For now, no other mainstream midsize sedan can match it for the price.
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Originally published: January 4, 2016