Here are some standouts in the mid-size value-priced family sedan category.

Kia Optima
Kia Optima continues to impress.  Our test model sported the turbocharged 274-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with 6-speed automatic transmission.  Cruise control, satellite radio and Bluetooth were among a nice package of standard features included for under $30k.  18-inch alloy wheels, panoramic sunroof, Harman Kardon surround sound, some other creature comforts, plus Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Parking Assist added another $2,700.  Kia’s standard 60/40 split-folding rear seat that can be dropped flat adds a handy feature to a vehicle already touted for its large trunk space.

Mazda 6
Car & Driver says about the Mazda 6:  ”Its sinuous styling, confidence-inspiring handling, and rich interior make it one of the best-looking and most enjoyable family sedans around.” Powered by a 184-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder and driving the front wheels with choice of a six-speed automatic or manual transmission, the 6 is efficient for casual driving and more engaging with its Sports setting activated.  Our top of the line Grand Touring model was loaded with a MSRP of $33,750.

Toyota Prius
Toyota’s totally redesigned Prius continues to be the most fuel-efficient hybrid car you can buy (rated at 52 mpg and up to 56 mpg for the new Prius Eco).  Its 1.8 liter 4-cylinder engine and pair of electric motor/generators feed up to 121 hp to the front wheels, making it the quickest Prius yet, and the gas engine in the new model is quieter and smoother when it comes to life.  But the hybrid technology leader now pleases more than just the most practical of buyers seeking a low entry price and operation costs. Its hatchback design is another factor that will attract some; others could even be drawn to its overall style—yep, the once-odd-looking standout is still distinctive, but in a much more stylish way.  Our entry level Two Eco model was a tidy package at $25.5K.