Midsize cars popular with consumers

A flattering 52 percent of car market sales were in the midsize segment during 2011.

Last decade, midsize cars were slowly becoming bland and ordinary; driven as just another dependable four–door sedan with room for five–passengers, adequate cargo space for traveling, and standard features like automatic transmission, cruise control, air conditioning, power windows and CD audio systems with FM radio selections.

Some of the top–selling nameplates were during that time were Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry.

However, something happened from a particular part of the world where exciting new ideas were simply not expected.

In 2010, South Korea automakers Hyundai and Kia took the midsize segment to a new level with their bold new body style, an abundance of standard premium features, impressive fuel economy and a new warrantee standard of 100,000 miles/10 years on their drivetrain as well as a 60,000/six–year bumper–to–bumper warranty.

The Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima quickly became a hot sales ticket in the midsize car market.

Consumers were sending a message – they wanted both dependable and exciting new cars. It was time for a change.

But a problem lurked in the wings as the standard model introduction could take 18 to 24 months from drawing room to showroom. Could any existing manufacturer make changes fast enough to satisfy the marketplace?

Popular players

The 2012 Volkswagen Passat is built at Volkswagen’s new state–of–the–art facility in Chattanooga, Tenn. This model provides ample front and rear seat room for passenger comfort as well as expanded trunk space to 15.9 cubic feet. Its exterior styling is clean and stylish with a simple front grille. Of special note in today’s green environment is the optional 2.0 liter, I–4 Turbo Diesel engine with fuel economy rated at 43 miles per gallon on the highway.

Camry comes redesigned and sure to please Chicago showgoers with its clean body lines and front grille work that is unmistakably Toyota. It also boasts an eye–appealing upgraded interior with a well–insulated cabin to isolate road noise. Ride and handling are excellent for a four–door vehicle. Best of all, there is a big gain in fuel economy for the Hybrid model of 25 percent with the improved 41 mpg. Two other motor options are also available: a 2.5 liter, four–cylinder with fuel economy of 25 city/35 highway; and a gasoline 3.5 liter V6 engine rated at 268 horsepower providing 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.

Detroit dedicated

Not to be outdone by foreign competitors, America’s own General Motor’s Chevrolet Division introduces its all–new 2013 Malibu to the public at this year’s Chicago Auto Show, due in showrooms this quarter.

“The exterior design of the all–new Malibu carries DNA from its sister vehicles, the Camaro and Corvette, to bring a sporty sensibility to the family sedan segment,” says Bryan Nesbitt, executive director for GM exterior design and Chevrolet Brand Champion.

A wider stance, broad shoulders and an integrated rear spoiler bring a new athleticism to Malibu and give it a more aggressive appearance. Other exterior design cues include Chevrolet’s dual–port grille, projector HID headlamps, larger Chevrolet bow–tie badges and new Camaro–inspired, LED dual–element tail lamps. The look is complemented by a range of 17–, 18–, and 19–inch wheels.

The increased width of the new Malibu means a more spacious cabin. Compared to the previous model, it has nearly four cubic feet of additional interior volume for more shoulder and hip room.

The Malibu Eco model is the first Chevrolet with fuel–saving eAssist technology providing an estimated fuel economy of 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. The eAssist technology has an Ecotec 2.4 liter direct injection, four–cylinder engine coupled with next–generation six–speed automatic transmission rated at 182 horsepower.

“Malibu’s Eco’s eAssist system integrates regenerative braking with the latest lithium–ion battery technology to give our customers significant fuel–efficiency gains,” said Steve Poulos, global chief engineer of eAssist. “Providing electric boost to the powertrain system during heavy acceleration and driving hilly roads helps the transmission operate more efficiently. The engine’s start–stop and fuel shut–off during deceleration features add to the fuel savings.”

Ford Fusion has been updated with a take–off of the Evos Concept vehicle.

“The midsized family sedan category is the most important car category in this country,” said Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas. “Get it right and it boosts the whole showroom of a company.”

With must–have technologies including a lane–keeping system, adaptive cruise control, active part assist and MyFord Touch, the all–new Ford Fusion shows how Ford is delivering features customers truly want and value. Fusion brings the broadest selection of fuel–efficient power–trains in the midsize car segment.

Fusion offers hybrid and plug–in hybrid alternatives, a pair of EcoBoost four–cylinder engines, a normally aspirated four–cylinder engine, an automatic start–stop system to shut off the engine at stationary idle, front– and all–wheel drive applications, and a choice of automatic or manually shifted six–speed transmissions.

Additional passenger space was designed–in by moving the instrument panel toward the windshield that contributes to the cabin’s airy, open environment. Thinner, lighter frames support the comfortable next–generation seats trimmed with fabric using recycled sustainable yarns.

Fusion’s fuel economy ranges from 26 mpg/city to 37 mpg/highway with the 1.6 liter, Eco–Boost four–cylinder motor. The Fusion Hybrid with all–new, lithium–ion batteries is anticipated to produce 47/city and 44/highway mpg. Ford’s Fusion Energi plug–in hybrid is expected to arrive this fall.

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