It wasn’t long ago that Australians gravitated to sedans and wagons for their family duties. Those days have long gone for many, an SUV replacing tradition in the driveway.
But there’s still an impressive array of medium and large sedans and wagons on the market.
And in a 21st-century twist, there’s even the occasional hatchback, adding more load space flexibility.
As much as there are many new nameplates, others have been killed off.
It’s a segment dominated by Asian brands, with a few flashes of European flair to break things up.
But within the mix of offerings still available there hides some genuinely great value, providing a sportier antidote to those high-riding wagons.
GOLD – Toyota Camry Ascent Hybrid
Family sedans may have largely gone the way of the dodo, but the Toyota Camry is not only hanging in there but fighting hard – and with good reason.
The sizeable four-door (the Camry wagon was killed off more than a decade ago) has shed most of its conservative driving manners to become a car that is comfortable cruising and competent in corners.
That it also has acres of space – adults in the rear are thoroughly welcome – and a big boot reasserts its suitability to family duties.
At almost five metres long it is a heck of a lot of metal for a surprisingly compact price.
The hybrid system also does what it says on the box. Fuel use is around half that of the regular model in city driving, mostly because the small battery pack can store braking energy to power the electric motor when accelerating.
That motor provides a solid initial shove, making up for otherwise modest performance from the 2.5-litre four-cylinder.
A long list of standard features incorporates the key active safety systems, dual-zone ventilation and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
To get to the top of the podium the Hybrid first had to beat the regular non-hybrid Camry, something it did largely thanks to significant fuel savings.
But the focus on fuel economy means used-car buyers are increasingly likely to sniff out a petrol-electric model over the pure petrol.
So the Camry Hybrid’s forecast Redbook resale is a few percentage points higher than the regular Camry, further cementing its lead.
SILVER – Skoda Octavia 110TSI
European engineering has traditionally meant bigger price tags, but at $27,390 the Octavia is one of the most affordable mid-sizers on the market. Utilising much of the running gear under the Volkswagen Golf (Skoda is owned by Volkswagen), it’s proven tech.
Yet there is more space than the popular VW hatchback: it’s slightly wider and about 40cm longer. Plus, the availability of a wagon is rare and only adds about $2100 to the price.
A compact 1.4-litre engine is helped along by a turbo, something that gives it ample mid-range engine response.
It’s not the most powerful car in its class, but that flexibility across the rev range and the clever twin-clutch automatic transmission make it thoroughly useful around town and on the open road.
Sure, the Octavia needs premium unleaded, but it doesn’t use much of it, offsetting the price premium.
While early Skodas didn’t have great resale values, the improved brand recognition and appeal of the Octavia see it outpunch the Volkswagen Passat and Mazda6 when it comes to forecasting five-year residuals.
That’s it’s also great to drive is a bonus.
BRONZE – Toyota Camry Ascent
It’s not as frugal as its hybrid sibling nor forecast to be worth as much after five years, but the regular Toyota Camry is still terrific buying.
And with a price of entry that sneaks below $30K, it makes for excellent value for what is a sizeable sedan.
Indeed, the big appeal with the most affordable Camry in the line-up is an asking price $2800 below than of the Hybrid.
Throw in affordable servicing and respectable fuel use and it makes the Camry a top family car pick. That it doesn’t look or drive like a cheap car is testament to the engineering within.