Mid-priced used to mean middle-of-the-road. But not anymore.
Roller-coaster gas prices and a sluggish economy have pushed more car buyers into what was already the most competitive car market: midsized, mid-priced sedans.
In response, some automakers—such as Hyundai—are upping the size of their budget-savvy compacts and blurring the line of what is and isn’t a midsizer. Others, such as VW, are taking their midsize lineups and stripping them down to less-expensive, barebones models.
Yet despite cuts in horsepower and features, many of these typically bland sedans are getting makeovers that would make Lady Gaga blush. The result: dozens of midsize choices with mod, cutting-edge designs. To help you choose, here are three of the best.
Mpg: 29 city/40 highway
0-to-60 mph: 9.4 seconds
Cargo space: 14.8 cu. ft.
It’s been 25 years since Hyundai started selling cars on these shores. And after some initial missteps—the Yugo-like Excel springs to mind—Hyundai is the hot automaker on the block these days. Spending billions on quality control helps. So does stellar styling. But while the full-size Sonata wowed design mavens last year, the Elantra—with the same swoopy sheet metal—ratchets things up even more. The shorter wheelbase means crisper lines and no annoying body roll. And unlike the Sonata’s oversized interior, the Elantra’s cabin is just roomy enough in front and a bit cozier in the rear. There’s also gobs of trunk room and a nice list of standard gear, including heated mirrors, keyless entry and traction/stability control. A few must-have options: heated front/rear seats, steering-wheel audio controls and touch-screen nav system with rear-time traffic/weather updates. And for coupe lovers, a two-door model arrives this fall.
Mpg: 20 city/29 highway
0-to-60 mph: 8 seconds
Cargo space: 13.5 cu. ft.
For Infiniti, less is definitely more. The automaker is adding an all-new G25 model, built on the same platform as the popular G37 sport sedan. While this new addition gets a smaller V6, it also gets decent gas mileage and costs less. That’s a big plus, since a fully loaded G37 can top $45,000. And despite spitting out only 218-hp, the G25 proves it’s fine for everyday driving and can emulate the G37’s taut ride and suspension. Choice of two trim levels: a stripped-down base model or the Journey, with the same primo features as a standard G37 (heated seats/mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, backup camera and iPod/ISB interface).
Mpg: 21 city/32 highway
0-to-60 mph: 9.4 seconds
Cargo space: 15.9 cu. ft.
VW wants to top Toyota and GM to become the world’s No. 1 automaker by 2018. That’s a far cry from 1992, when VW sales in America basically tanked. But VW is employing the same strategy as Infiniti, offering vehicles with reduced content, power and pricing. With the larger, completely redesigned Passat, this means offering a dozen versions—from an underperforming base model to the clean turbo diesel to a zippy V6 Premium. All boast good mileage, as well as more cabin and cargo room than before. Exterior styling is, well, rather boring—at least compared with the hipper Hyundai and Infiniti noted above. And gone is the Audi-like look and feel inside. Still, VW has succeeded in competing strongly—in both price and performance—against GM’s Chevy Malibu and Toyota’s Camry. And that puts VW one step closer to dominating the automotive runway.