Used to be if you wanted a fun family car, there was a simple decision process: Pick the one with the biggest motor, then go home to polish the ss badges on the flanks of your new Impala. But there's no simple choice when it comes to the humble family car. You've got hybrids, plug-in hybrids, turbocharged four-cylinders, big V-6s, even a diesel or two. Four of them are fresh designs this year: The Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu, Nissan Altima, and Ford Fusion each take a distinct approach to the midsize-sedan mission, but they all have one thing in common. Buried among the layers of option packages is a model infused with an extra dose of panache, a particular combination of ingredients that'll wring actual fun from your ketchup-stained, child-seat-filled commuter pod. And it's not always the one with the biggest motor.
2013 Chevrolet Malibu Turbo
The Malibu offers no fewer than eight submodels, but the one you want is called the 3LT – that's the sleeper. With its cloth interior and low-key 18-inch wheels (in lieu of the LTZ's flashy 19s), neither passengers nor the constabulary will suspect you've ordered the key piece under the hood – a turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder that pumps out 259 horsepower and powers the 3LT to a top speed of 155. With basically no turbo lag and 260 lb-ft of torque, it takes practice not to do burnouts off the line every time. Get one in a modest color like taupe gray and fly under the radar, fast. [$26,600; chevrolet.com]