7. Ford Fusion – Dressed to Impress.
Base price range: $23,225-$33,425
Crisp creases, subtle curves, and a front end pilfered from Aston Martin, this sedan looks more like a luxury car than a family car priced at the heart of the midsize market. The high style extends to the handsome interior. All-wheel drive is available. And high tech is on tap courtesy of turbocharging and, if you can stretch your budget, two types of hybrid powertrains. Ride and handling reflect this car’s Ford-of-Europe engineering roots. Unfortunately, so does a tight rear seat relative to most other midsize cars. And the available MyFord Touch telematics system will infuriate or captivate, depending on your digital-age acumen. This is an all-four-cylinder engine lineup. A 175-horsepower 2.5-liter is standard. Available is a more fuel-efficient 181-horse turbocharged 1.5-liter or a 270-horspower turbo 2.0-liter. The last is a credible alternative to a V-6 and mandatory if you want all-wheel-drive. Optional are airbag-infused rear seatbelts for added crash protection. Gas/electric-powered hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions are also available, albeit at base prices starting around $28,000. As for that Aston Martin nose: Fusion was designed while Ford owned the exotic sports-car brand.
8. Fiat 500 – C’iao Bella!
Base price range: $17,495-$27,245
Pert and perky, the little 500 wears much like a Gucci designer handbag and seems equally at home parked on Rodeo Drive or in front of your apartment. Point is: this is trendy Italian retro that can leave people wondering if you are rich. Available in coupe and Cabrio convertible body styles, the 500 is a fun-to-drive, easy-to-park alternative to the usual subcompact. It’s downright racy if you spring for an Abarth performance model with its fancy wheels, high-fashion scorpion logo, and snarling exhaust note. The base 1.4-liter “Multi-Air” four-cylinder engine has a very modest 101 horsepower but delivers good fuel economy. Enthusiastic drivers can get a rush with the standard five-speed manual transmission; a six-speed automatic is optional, but feels passive here. The Turbo coupe is friskier with its 135-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter, and a nice balance of price and performance. Abarth coupe and Cabrio models are pretty quick thanks to a high-torque 157-horse turbo-four. Good news for city dwellers: both the Turbo and Abarth models are available with automatic transmission, not just manual, for model-year 2015. Every 500 is an entertaining handler. Abarths are tenacious, though rough roads bring out a battering ride. Chic design is evident inside, too. A new seven-inch video display is added to the dashboard for 2015. The tidy package affords reasonable room for driver and front passenger. The back seat is best considered an elegantly upholstered cargo shelf. Finally, a hint: say “A-bart” and give the impression you’re rich enough to have heard it pronounced that way in Italy.
9. Dodge Dart – Italian Panache, Midwestern Price
Base price range: $17,490-$23,990
This four-door compact sedan is a hot-blooded Italian-American. Built in Illinois, the Dart shares engineering with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta from Fiat, the European parent of Alfa and the Chrysler Group. It’s wrapped in seductive bodywork, has an upscale interior trimmed in rich-looking materials, and can be fitted with assorted top-shelf amenities. Enlarged from the Giulietta to suit American tastes, Dart doesn’t quite have the crisp handling of the Alfa, but it’s comfortable and composed in town and on the highway. Three four-cylinder engines are available. Base models come with a just-adequate 160-horsepower 2.0-liter. Aero versions get a 160-horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter that’s more fuel-efficient and generates added torque for a friskier feel. Most models have a 184-horsepower 2.4-liter that’s probably the best all-around choice for most drivers. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on most Darts. The turbo is available with a sporty dual-clutch automatic transmission of the kind offered in many costlier European rides. Available with the other two engines is a conventional six-speed automatic.
7. Ford Fusion – Dressed to Impress.