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 Nissan Altima 2.5 SV
Sure, the V-6 makes more horsepower – 270 horses to the 2.5-liter four-cylinder's 182 – but you pay for that extra muscle in ways big and small. For one, you give up six miles per gallon, and that's significant – the EPA figures the V-6 will cost you an extra $400 a year in fuel alone. Meanwhile, the four-cylinder car is a couple hundred pounds lighter, and that weight comes off the front end, nudging the overall balance 2 percent in the right direction. And since both motors use a CVT transmission, which tends to keep revs low, you probably won't notice the difference in power anyway. I love horsepower, but in this case, light weight and efficiency trump raw muscle. [$24,460; nissan.com]