Family Feud! Newcomers stir things up in family-car segment

Peter Bleakney
By Peter Bleakney
Posted on February 15th, 2014
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It’s Family Day weekend, which seems like a good time to highlight the blossoming mid-size family vehicle segment.

It’s a segment no automaker can afford to be complacent about: there’s been a steady stream of new players coming to market, and the days of dull family transport appear to be over.

Quality, feature count, efficiency and hot styling play large. The Ford Fusion, the top seller in this category, is arguably the best looker, too.

Three newcomers, along with an industry standard, make up my top four to check out at the Canadian International Auto Show, but the all-new Chevrolet Impala deserves honourable mention, too.

2015 Chrysler 200: The Toronto show will offer Canada its first glimpse of the all-new Chrysler 200, a Fiat/Chrysler co-write that is designed to do battle with the Accord/Camry/Fusion crowd.

The media hasn’t driven it yet, but the 200 looks promising. It sports a sleek and elegant profile, and the interior shows good attention to detail with a cool Jaguar-esque rotary shift selector. Chrysler’s 8.4-inch Uconnect is one of the better interfaces on the market.

Two engines are available: a 184-hp 2.4-L four and a 295-hp 3.6-L Pentastar V6. Both are mated to a segment-first 9-speed transmission that promises better fuel economy.

All-wheel-drive is also on the menu, and the system automatically disconnects the rear axle when not needed, for further fuel savings.

The 200 starts at $22,495, but with its choice of drivetrains and available high-end features like adaptive cruise with full stop, forward-collision mitigation and lane-departure assist, the mid-size sedan should be of interest to a broad range of buyers.

2014 Mazda6: Canadian auto journalists named Mazda’s new mid-size sedan this year’s Best New Family Car over $30,000, and one of three finalists for Car of the Year.

So what’s so good about it? We like its handsome bodywork, quality interior and full suite of SkyActive technology, which is Mazda’s engineering strategy to find optimum fuel economy without going hybrid — through aerodynamics, weight management and engine technology.

Available only with a 185-hp 2.5-L four cylinder, the Mazda6 is an engaging drive. It has tactile steering, a sharp chassis and a well-judged balance of ride and handling. Plenty of back seat room, too.

Pricing starts at $24,495, but another 10 grand gets you into the top trim model, with an impressive array of features such as Mazda’s radar-based Smart City Brake Support, which that will apply the brakes if the driver fails to heed collision-warning alerts.

2015 Volvo V60 Sportwagon: The words “sexy Volvo wagon” are no longer an oxymoron, now that the Sportswagon is here.

This spatially-enhanced version of the S60 sedan has been available in other markets for a while, but it’s new to these shores and will likely cause a stir amongst the Volvo wagon faithful.

Did I mention it was dead sexy?

Starting at $41,800, the V60 is available now in all-wheel-drive guise with turbo-charged five- and six-cylinder engines. But a front-drive version, with Volvo’s new efficient 240-hp 2.0-L four-cylinder turbo and eight-speed auto, will be available in June for $39,800.

Volvos are all about solidity and safety but, now, fuel economy enters the equation. The V60’s interior is a great place to spend time, featuring exceptional build quality, interesting textures, superb seats and a clean Nordic simplicity.

Go for the hot 325-hp V60 R-Design and your bookcase will make it home from Ikea in a quarter of the time it takes to build it.

Honda Accord: This ninth-generation Accord might not be new, but it is one of the best cars in this segment. Simply put, it does everything right.

Sit in the comfortable seats and you’re ensconced in a high-quality environment. The fabric feels rich yet durable and the interestingly sculpted dash is fashioned from soft-touch plastics. All the controls are well marked and logical. The big LCD screen and back lit instrument panel provide all the necessary info at a glance. Back seat legroom is NBA-grade and the trunk is massive.

Once underway, the Accord manages to feel light on its feet yet also substantial. It steers and handles with confident grace and the ride is never harsh or busy. The 2.4-L four and continuously variable transmission make a fine pair, delivering a brisk and unflustered pace.

Prices start at $23,990. If you’re looking for a greener experience, the Accord Hybrid costs more but delivers excellent fuel economy.

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