Time flies. Not since 2010 have we had a midsize sedan roundup this large, and by now most of those cars have been succeeded by a new generation or have a replacement waiting in the wings.

Midsize sedans continue to rock the U.S. sales board, with the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, and Honda Accord taking the fourth through sixth spots in the first quarter of 2014, right behind Detroit's pickup trucks. Add the Ford Fusion, another two spots down, and that's four midsize sedans in the top-10 best-selling vehicles of the year through March.

But let's get down to business: Who's up to bat and who's warming the bench? In this comparison, we have the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu and 2014 Kia Optima, both recently refreshed, along with the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200.

Click to enlarge picture2014 Chevrolet Malibu (© Chevrolet)

2014 Chevrolet Malibu

We also let in three big players that were launched within the past couple years: last year's three-car midsize comparo winner, the Mazda6, the second-place finisher Honda Accord, and the Nissan Altima. That's a total of six midsize sedans.

Each manufacturer was instructed to give us what they consider the best version of their midsizer available for a base price of $26,000 or less, destination fees included. From there, options could be added however they saw fit. Why didn't your favorite make the grade? Well, the Volkswagen Passat with the new 1.8T engine was invited, but a last-minute recall having to do with the transmission cooler O-ring wasn't resolved by game time. The Ford Fusion was also invited, but Ford politely refused to give us a car. OK, but how could we possibly overlook the best-selling Toyota Camry, for Pete's sake? Simply put, the Camry finished third in last year's three-car comparison, and there is a large-scale refresh on the horizon for the 2015 model year. We'll wait until the new car becomes available. Same goes for the all-new Hyundai Sonata and Subaru Legacy both due to launch toward the end of the year.

Stay tuned to see the winner of this comparison lock horns with all of these upcoming models. For now, grab a cup of coffee and make yourself comfortable.

Ride and Handling

Click to enlarge picture2014 Honda Accord (© American Honda Motor Co., Inc.)

2014 Honda Accord

Ride and Handling
The numbers don't lie; some of our midsize sedans are simply more capable handlers than others. But numbers are only half the story. Comfort is also a huge factor here, and the best midsize sedans blend a smooth ride with confidence that the car will react predictably in an evasive situation — or maybe just when zipping down a local back road.

The Honda Accord, being of Sport trim and 18-inch wheels, gave the firmest, noisiest ride of the group. While none of us would call the Accord harsh, tire noise and ride quality weren't as accommodating as in its competitors. It's likely that opting for the standard Accord, rather than the Sport model Honda chose to send us, would yield a plusher ride. However, that stiff ride paid off at our figure-eight course, where a run of 27.0 seconds was the quickest in the pack.

Click to enlarge picture2015 Chrysler 200 (© Chrysler Group LLC)

2015 Chrysler 200C

At the other extreme, the Kia Optima impressed with low road noise, but its too-soft suspension compromised control with lots of body roll, a wallowing dynamic over bumps, and a somewhat floaty experience at highway speed. Per associate online editor Benson Kong, "The steering feels slow and the entire car feels lazy, with no sense of urgency to change direction." The Kia's figure-eight time was predictably dead last in our group, requiring 28.3 seconds.

The Chrysler 200 put smiles on our faces with good body control and a comfortable ride, but was let down by a good amount of road noise, something associate editor Scott Evans felt might come down to its Goodyears. Meanwhile, the Nissan Altima was relatively quiet and composed, but was hampered by awkward steering feel. Per Evans, "The steering weight and response are terrible. There are several degrees of play on-center before anything happens, then it's like steering through thick, sticky mud." A second-from-bottom figure-eight time didn't help things for the pudgy-feeling Nissan. The Chevrolet Malibu put up a very strong showing with that magic combination of good ride, low noise, and decent body composure, but in the end, the Mazda6 with its best-in-pack steering, second-quickest figure-eight time, and firm but still compliant ride took top honors here. The Mazda was also the only car in the pack that had a certain fun-to-drive quality built into its handling. While that's not a necessary attribute, it sure does distinguish the Mazda.