Ignore the middle child at your peril when it comes to buying the family car. The large-car segment is in the doldrums and everyone has skipped to SUVs or small cars, but one area overlooked to the detriment of many car buyers is the medium segment.
The word is getting out. Last year, medium-car sales grew 15 per cent to just over 87,000 24,000 more than in the large-car segment. The numbers went close to overtaking the larger-vehicle segment last year, falling short by just over 2000 units.
The middle-sized segment has shown steady growth in the past decade, finishing 2002 with just under 39,000 vehicles. Camry ruled the roost then too, with the Mazda6 and Subaru Liberty the best of the rest. But size matters don't let anyone tell you otherwise and the reps in the medium segment now are well sized for family transport.
Camry has been the dominant force in the medium segment, with plenty of fleet interest in the petrol and hybrid versions, but the most recent incarnations are a long way from the bland brigade that went before. The hybrid version carried a more reasonable price tag than the Prius trailblazer and it's more than big enough for family duties.
Toyota's Camry Hybrid is 110mm longer, 98mm wider, 107mm longer in wheelbase and 109mm taller than the original VB Commodore, although the VB weighed in at 1220kg 400kg lighter than the petrol-electric Camry Hybrid, but batteries, airbags and other equipment quickly add to the number on the weighbridge.
As Toyota was slowly bringing its Camry out of a narcoleptic haze, Honda and Mazda were well on the way to applying defibrillators. The 6 and Accord Euro both offered willing powerplants, decent chassis balance, acceptable ride quality and an enthusiastic edge to the car's demeanour when required. Mazda kicked off the 21st century with a change to the 6 and has not looked back since.
In August 2002 it arrived in Australia, bringing a pulse back to the segment. The Accord Euro lobbed on Australian showrooms the following year, leaner and more nimble than the larger V6 Accord, giving open-minded buyers some real food for thought.
2011 Mazda6 Luxury Sports hatch
Engine: 2.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
"The car that marked the beginning of the Zoom Zoom Mazda renaissance shed the cardigan image with a great handling chassis and looks that didn't start a snoozefest. With the new model now on sale sans hatchback, this is the only way to get a 6 with the liftback boot. Features include dual airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control, rain sensing wipers, parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, satnav and leather trim."
2007 Honda Accord Euro Luxury
Engine: 2.4-litre 4-cylinder petrol
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
"Another Japanese mid-sizer with road manners to amuse the driver. With sharp looks, a reasonable list of safety features and bells and whistles, the Accord Euro found favour and awards in the medium segment. The Euro cosseted a family with its dual-zone climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, dual front, side and curtain airbags and leather trim."
2011 Toyota Camry Hybrid sedan
Engine: 2.4-litre 4-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid
"Better value than the Prius trailblazer, the Camry has space for a family, the fuel economy of a shopping trolley hatchback and driving manners that are surprisingly good. At its best in the city and suburbs, when braking can charge the battery, the green Camry is a surprisingly pleasant machine."