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 Ford Fusion SE 1.6 EcoBoost Manual
All the new Fusions are knockouts, inasmuch as the basic shape evokes a downsized Aston Martin Rapide. The 1.6 EcoBoost is my favorite because it dares to pair a turbo motor and a clutch pedal, in an era where driving stick is fast becoming a lost art.
Ford assumes the Fusion will attract drivers who care enough to shift their own gears. Allied to the punchy 178-horsepower EcoBoost, the manual lets you choose your own adventure, short-shifting to surf along on the turbo's torque or redlining for max acceleration. Rowing your own gears in a big sedan is so downright European that you might start flashing your headlights at left-lane stragglers on your way to a topless beach for a three-hour lunch. And since we're getting specific, get the 204A package – 18-inch wheels and a subtle rear spoiler that won't make you look like a refugee from 'Faster and Furious.' [$23,700; ford.com]
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