For many years, bland, characterless lines, an uninspiring drivetrain and lacklustre handling were seemingly the prerequisites for a family saloon. With millions of customers around the world snapping these up without a whimper of protest, major carmakers didn’t see the need to do anything different.
But it looks like they’ve finally started paying attention to the collective carping by automotive hacks, as 2013 saw a handful of new family saloons that were decidedly different from the stereotypes.
First the Toyota Avalon, which has long been considered the car of choice for grey-haired customers, surprised us with its 2013 iteration. Boasting a striking new design, coupé-like silhouette, 273bhp from its uprated 3.5-litre V6 and more importantly a sharper suspension and much more responsive steering, the latest generation of Toyota’s flagship saloon is a refreshing change from the previous models — and we like it. However, Toyota priced itself out of contention, with the top-end Avalon nudging into Lexus territory.
Then there is the Chevrolet Impala, which matches the Avalon in every aspect, from its muscular lines and brightwork to its sharp handling and smooth power delivery from its 305bhp 3.6-litre V6. And for a car offering features like 10 standard airbags, collision alert, lane departure warning, side blind zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, a rear vision camera with dynamic guidelines and ultrasonic rear park assist, it is priced right too, being around Dh25,000 cheaper than the Avalon.
But the car that proves a real game-changer in the segment with its exceptional good looks, sprightly drivetrain and great handling is the all-new Mazda 6, which we hope will inspire other manufacturers to add a bit more excitement to their offerings in this class. Bringing a kind of magnetism and sophistication hitherto unseen in cars in this segment, the Mazda 6 charms everyone with its feline good looks. The best bit is that the saloon’s slinky design seamlessly translates into a great driving experience too. Thanks to its relatively light 1,400kg weight and stiffer front strut and rear multi-link suspension, the Mazda 6 comes alive around corners in a way not many cars in the segment do.
The 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with a high 13:1 compression ratio feels sprightlier than the performance figures of 185bhp and 250Nm suggest.
But where Mazda really undermines its similarly priced rivals is the kind of features packed into this model which, until now, were available only in cars a segment above. These include airbags all round, anti-lock brakes with EBD, and dynamic stability control as standard features on all trim levels and lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, forward obstruction warning etc as optional. And with a fully loaded top-end 2.5-litre variant retailing for around Dh110,000, it’s easy to see why the Mazda 6 is our Saloon of the Year.