Best Family Car under $30,000:
Price (base/as tested): $25,490/$26,690
Never judge a book by its cover. The new Accord, which won this category, doesn’t look radically different from the old one, but the driving experience is night and day over it. The 2.4-L four-cylinder makes 189 horsepower and it’s smooth as silk; the gearless CVT works incredibly well; the steering is quick and precise; and it’s agile and sweet to drive.
The controls are laid out well, the seats are nice, and there are numerous features — rearview camera, dual-zone climate control, power driver’s seat, LED turn signals — despite having the lowest price. Its rear seat folds as a single unit, which isn’t as convenient as a 60/40-split, but it still rates as my top pick in this segment.
Chevrolet Malibu Eco
Price (base/as tested): $27,940/$28,945
The Malibu Eco uses a 182 hp, 2.4L four-cylinder with eAssist, an electric motor and battery pack to boost power when needed. The engine shuts off at idle, but unlike a full hybrid, it can’t run on electricity alone.
It’s a well-done makeover, and features nice styling, a well-done interior, and numerous features. It’s very smooth and nice to drive, too. But the battery pack chews up much of the trunk space, and despite eAssist, its combined city/highway fuel consumption (6.8) is the same as the Accord, and worse than the Altima.
Price (base/as tested): $24,499/$29,699
The best-looking of the bunch, the redesigned Fusion drives and handles very well. It uses a 1.6L four-cylinder with EcoBoost, which uses a small turbocharger for more performance out of a smaller engine — 178 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque, the highest torque rating in the class.
It’s quiet and handles well. Its acceleration figures were the slowest in the group, but it had the shortest stopping distance. The interior is handsome and the seats are very comfortable, but the centre stack controls are truly awful. It’s a smooth, hard plastic panel, and you tap tiny icons, with no tactile feedback to gauge your progress. I had to search out tiny numbers on a screen to see if I was actually adjusting the temperature.
Mitsubishi Lancer AWC
Price (base/as tested): $27,998/$27,998
Taking its styling cues and some of its ability from the Evolution, the Lancer AWC (for All Wheel Control) was the master on the handling course, thanks to its quick steering, near-perfect balance, and all-wheel-drive system.
It uses a 2.4-L four-cylinder that makes 168 horsepower, with a very nice CVT — almost all of these next-generation gearless transmissions have eliminated the nasty rubbery feel of the older ones. The AWC system is driver-selectable, and can be put into two-wheel, into automatic four-wheel, or locked into 4WD. The interior looks good and I like the simple, easy-to-use controls. However, its combined 8.2 L/100 km fuel rating was the highest, and the rear spoiler drastically reduces rearward visibility.
Price (base/as tested): $23,698/$28,033
The most fuel-efficient in the segment, at a combined city/highway rating of 6.3 L/100 km, the Altima uses a 2.5-L four-cylinder that makes 182 horsepower and nabbed the quickest acceleration time in performance testing (although the car also posted the longest stopping distance). Like most of its competitors, it’s quiet and smooth, but while it handles corners well, the steering feel isn’t as precise as some of the others.
I love the big, simple controls that are easy to use without taking too much attention away from the road. But while the seats are nice, I question the longevity of the soft suede-style fabric on the armrests, console, and seat bolsters. You also have to first go into the trunk and then into the car to fold the rear seats.
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