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 Honda Accord EX-L V6
I'm tempted to direct you to a four-cylinder Accord Sport with a six-speed manual transmission, because Honda transmissions are some of the slickest shifting devices ever devised by man. And yet I'm seduced by the siren call of the big horsepower just up the food chain. Sometimes, biggest actually is best, and this is one of those cases. Behind the wheel of an innocuous silver Accord, I found myself pulling U-turns on a divided highway just for an excuse to blast up through the gears and listen to that sweet 3.5-liter V-6 running to its 6,200-rpm power peak. Honda's original super car, the Acura NSX, used a 270-hp V-6, and this one sounds like it's clearly related (though, at 278 horses, it's actually more powerful). Increasingly, mainstream family cars are banishing big V-6s from the options list, with the Malibu, Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, and Kia Optima all moving to four-cylinder-only lineups. But the Accord shows that a V-6 can be not only practical (34 mpg highway) but also the ideal way to enliven your grocery-getter with a secret helping of soul. [$30,350; honda.com]