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Aaron Gold

Vote: What's most important in a mid-size sedan?

By January 30, 2013

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2014 Mazda6I'm just back from the 2014 Mazda6 preview drive. Mazda has asked us to refrain from posting our driving impressions until next week -- a bummer, as I'm really looking forward to telling you about this car. Still, I gotta respect Mazda for keeping the playing field even. (Early reviews tend to get more page views.)

That said, it's nice to have a few days to reflect on the car while I write up my impressions. Those of us who love cars have certain expectations from Mazda -- I'll bet you most auto writers would rather own a Mazda3 than a 2012 Honda Civic, but which car racks up more sales? The point is that what we like isn't necessarily what the public likes. So this is a good time to ask: When buying a mid-size sedan, which aspects are most important to you?

Photo Mazda

January 30, 2013 at 2:30 pm
(1) A Jones says:

What is the difference in driving dynamics / fun to drive and acceleration / performance?

January 30, 2013 at 4:49 pm
(2) George in Ohio says:

Boy, Aaron, you raise a really good question that is not easy to answer. This is stating the obvious, but it varies so much according to different individuals’ particular needs, and how much value one places on a particular feature/option. For example, living in Ohio, I consider AWD to be a very desirable (though not absolutely essential) factor. If I lived in Florida,… not so much. A given buyer might consider the lack of a certain option a deal breaker, while another may not care one whit about that feature. And I wasn’t quite sure where to factor a “features” consideration in to your categories.

The Mazda6 has traditionally been viewed as a driver’s car, and that has been one of its best selling points. However, the midsize category is largely about practicality (witness Camry’s perennial top spot in sales). If I had to make a prediction, I would think that price/value and quality would be pretty high on most people’s list in the midsize category, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them ultimately be the top two vote getters. After them, it gets a lot tougherto me to rank among driving dynamics/fun to drive, fuel economy, space and styling.

Now, if you are talking about deciding among hot hatches, for example,that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.

January 30, 2013 at 9:23 pm
(3) Hawaiian Don says:

Fun to Drive. In my opinion, it blows to have to drive a mid-sized car, so it better be fun to drive!

January 31, 2013 at 9:53 am
(4) Eric says:

Some of these criteria are almost irrelevant today considering that most cars in this class are pretty competitive in most of these areas. Fuel economy varies by only a few MPG in most cases given the same classes of engines, and most of these cars come with similar features, albeit the individual company’s version of them. Size and space are also pretty close with only a few inches difference between them in most cases, and the gap has narrowed tremendously in quality in the past few years.

I voted for quality, driving dynamics, and styling. To answer A Jones question, driving dynamics is a combination of how the car steers, handles, and feels on the road in general. I drive a 1988 BMW 325. It only has about 150hp and isn’t a huge speed demon (acceleration/performance), but, I love the way it rides and handles, and it’s supremely comfortable for me. I can drive the thing forever. It doesn’t have much in the line of high-tech features, which is OK with me. I don’t see a car as an entertainment center on wheels; it’s for driving. The only thing I’d like is an Ipod/phone connector on the radio.

January 31, 2013 at 10:06 am
(5) Eric says:

To finish my comment from before, I think the big differentiator today in this class is styling. So many of these cars until recently were about as interesting to look at as drying paint. As I stated earlier, they’ve all attained parity in some fashion with regard to overall size, space, price, economy, luxury, features, acceleration, and even quality. Kia and Chrysler are much better cars today than they were even 5 years ago.

What will set these cars apart from each other is the overall driving experience, and style. Ford, Kia, Hyundai, Chrysler, and now Mazda have demonstrated that they “get it” with regard to styling, at least insofar as that none of them looks like the other. Toyota, Honda, GM, and now VW? Not so much. VW has even joined the ranks blandtastic styling.

January 31, 2013 at 3:08 pm
(6) George in Ohio says:

Got to give props to Eric – he’s right. The midsize market is very competitive with a lot of parity, and some of the “measurable” factors therefore may not carry as much weight as I thought on first blush. Take fuel economy, for example. The current most fuel efficient midsize (I believe) is the Altima, which has a 31 combined city/highway EPA estimate. If you compare it with the Legacy, which has a lower 27 combined figure (largely due to AWD), and figuring 15,000 miles a year at $3.50/gallon (sort of the average for Ohio over the past year), the Legacy will require $250 extra for fuel per year. Is that worth it to me to get AWD? As I said in an earlier post, quite possibly in Ohio. Not so much in a warmer climate. But I don’t think $250/year is a deal breaker for someone who is seriously interested in AWD. And with the Altima and the Legacy, you’re pretty much talking about the 2 fuel economy extremes in the midsize market.

Eric’s right – some of the subjective characteristics (styling, fun to drive) may finally carry the day when it comes right down to making a midsize decision. I still think price/value and quality are pretty high considerations. But it’s increasingly getting more difficult to make a bad decision when buying a midsize these days.

February 1, 2013 at 9:51 am
(7) Brian says:

You probably wouldn’t get the same results here as if you polled the general public.
The general public would rank “value” as the top stop, however what they *really* mean is “perceived value”. It’s the Walmartization of cars. People are drawn in by whatever is cheapest, or what they think is the best (which explains the success of the Civic, despite it’s previous two generations). The rest is up to the sales guy to upsell them.

February 2, 2013 at 3:29 pm
(8) Brian in AZ says:

Quality and styling are most important once I’ve selected the size of the vehicle. MPGs are very similar unless a hybrid or electric vehicle is being considered but would be my third tie-breaking criterion.

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