The People's Choice: America's Favorite Midsize Family Sedans Go At It Again
All you hear these days is the same mantra: Crossovers are hot; sedans are dead. Every month, sedan sales are down while crossover and SUV sales are up.
And although there has indeed been a marked shift in the transportation preferences of the American nuclear family, reports on the death of the sedan have been greatly exaggerated. Last year, more than 2 million midsize four-doors crossed the threshold of dealer showrooms with happy owners at the wheel. The Camry was Toyota’s best-selling vehicle last year, and the Accord was part of Honda’s trio of vehicles (along with the Civic and CR-V) that each sell around 350,000 units annually.
For the 2018 model year, both sedans received complete ground-up redesigns, which means it’s time to put on our consumer-advice pants. Sure, we’re going to evaluate performance and handling of these new-gen sedans, but we’re also going to drill down to determine which is the smarter purchase for the pragmatic car buyer who puts commuting comfort and smart features high on their priority list.
As associate online editor Collin Woodard and I approach the vehicles, we find each is making a distinctive design statement—as if to show the dowdy family sedan can still be relevant and hip. The Camry presents itself as an evolution, its grille wider and Toyota badge thrust forward in a pouting prow. It’s a bold look but obviously recognizable as a Camry. The Accord’s brash, massive belt-buckle Honda badge leaves no question of its provenance. Neither nose strikes us as conventionally pretty.
As for the side and rear sheetmetal, the Accord extends a fastback roofline to the Camry’s more traditional three-box sedan shape. At the rear, the Accord’s bulging taillamps unfortunately evoke a goiter, and there’s a lot of busy design in the Camry’s C-pillar as it extends into the tail.
Upon entering each car, we notice the Camry’s doors (on all trims) close with a hollow, tinny whumma not unlike a wobbly metal shed. The Accord’s close with the sturdy, reassuring thud of a luxury car. This as a shopper’s first tactile impression of the Camry will not help the Toyota salesforce.
Inside, the Camry design raises questions with the -dimensional look of its simulated wood trim. The optional metal-looking trim is pleasing. Some other materials are far better quality than the previous generation, but that quality is not universal. The black plastic around the cupholders looks and feels cheap, as do the lower door panels. On the other hand, we appreciate the real contrast stitching on both the dashboard and seats.
The Accord has moved past interesting and gone directly to sophisticated. It’s as if they took notes at an Audi design seminar. Honda’s simulated open-pore wood trim and brushed-metal accents seem borrowed from a higher class of car. The temperature controls use knobs backlit white until you turn them, at which point they turn blue or red, depending on the cold or hot direction of the dial. With the exception of trim pieces just below the door handles, the interior materials look and feel more premium than the Camry’s and indeed more premium than we’d expect from a midsize family sedan. It’s an impressive step for Honda.
Settling in, the Camry XLE’s seats are leather, but they’re flat and offer little support beyond the adjustable lumbar. The seat-bottom cushion is also shorter than we’d like in terms of thigh support. The Accord has cloth seats for its midgrade version, and we’d need to upgrade to the more expensive EX-L trim to get leather. Still, the Accord seats are more comfortable and offer more lateral support, particularly when cornering. Both the Accord and Camry lowered the seating position from their previous generations, which makes for a racier feel but might prove a chore for older drivers when getting out of the cars.
As for features, each walks tall with a reasonably large infotainment screen featuring a mix of touch controls and physical buttons. The Accord’s floats atop of the dash; the Camry’s is integrated into the center stack.
Visually, the Camry’s infotainment system feels more integrated into the interior design. But functionally, the Accord’s is far more intuitive. The Camry’s control layout, both physical and digital, is confusing. A prime example: Pairing a phone to the Accord is not only a quicker, more intuitive process, but the display itself also sports a design like a smartphone and has crisper graphics. Only the Accord offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Because Toyota is in an intellectual property snit with the software giants, Toyota instead offers a downloadable suite of apps developed in-house—one of which is the Scout GPS Link App, which runs on your phone and projects on the infotainment screen. Both cars offer Wi-Fi hot spots on higher trims. For audiophiles, the Accord also has a richer-sounding stereo system across all trims.
Swinging our eyes left, we find both cars have integrated full-color digital screens into their instrument clusters, but the Honda’s is considerably larger, covering half the cluster and offering far more functions. Both are controlled by steering wheel buttons and are similarly easy to navigate. We find the Accord’s more intuitive, though. The Camry XLE features a full-color head-up display, but the Accord reserves that feature for its highest Touring trim level. Conversely, cheaper Camry trim levels get an instrument cluster with a full-color digital display half the size of the XLE’s.
As for driver aids to help avoid accidents, Toyota Safety Sense and Honda Sensing are standard on all models and offer similar features, including lane departure warning, lane keeping, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and adaptive cruise control. Honda’s system, however, is considerably more sophisticated than Toyota’s, particularly in lane keeping. Toyota’s system will make just enough of a steering correction to keep you from leaving your lane, at least on the first occasion. Honda’s system helps steer the car into corners and centers the car in its lane to some degree on straight roads. We also found Honda’s system to be more consistent in recognizing the lane lines. Both cars also provide blind-spot monitoring, rearview cameras, and optional parking sensors. The Camry, though, offers a 360-degree camera that no Accord does.
Both cars offer a single USB port and 12-volt power point in front of the gearshift knobs, then more plug-ins in the center console cubby. Toyota also provides a standard wireless phone charger, but Honda’s is available on higher trims only. Both offer heated seats, though top-trim Touring Accords also offer ventilated seats, which the Camry does not. The Camry features two fast-charging USB ports but only on higher trim levels. Lower trims get only the one port up front for the entire car. Above, Camry offers a panoramic sunroof to the Accord’s standard sunroof. When it’s time to gas up, the Accord comes equipped with a capless fuel filler, which the Camry lacks.
Have friends or family who need to climb in the rear seats? Both cars are commodious, but the Accord is roomy like a parlor, particularly in kneeroom and headroom. If you tick the box for the aforementioned huge sunroof on the Camry, those in back suffer greatly reduced headroom.
Additionally, every Accord trim level offers rear air vents, which are only available on higher Camry models. Neither car offers USB ports or 12-volt power points in the rear seat, though top-of-the-line Accords come with rear seat heaters.
Now for the kids. Should the time arise to install car seats, we found the two sedans comparable, with the Accord gaining a slight advantage. Rear doors on both cars swing wide and have large openings to wrangle a car seat. With its additional rear legroom, the Accord allows more space for a bulky rear-facing car seat without compromising front-seat legroom. The Accord hides its LATCH anchors behind a cloth or leather flap sewn in at the bottom and tucked in at the top. The Camry conceals its anchors behind plastic covers, which pop off and risk being lost forever. However, the Camry’s anchors are much easier to find and attach a seat to—you have to feel around a bit between the cushions to find the black-painted Honda anchors. Both cars place the anchor for the top tether surprisingly far back behind the headrests. The Honda’s is slightly easier to reach. The Camry has thicker C-pillars and headrests to reach around. You can also easily see the Honda anchor through the rear window while reaching for it. The Camry’s wider pillars get in the way unless you strain.
Had we needed to haul long, narrow cargo instead of passengers, the Accord’s pass-through in the folding rear seatbacks is noticeably larger. For large items, both cars require you to release the rear seats with handles in the trunk and then walk around the sides of the car to manually fold down the seat backs. Both appear to offer similarly sized trunk openings, and neither offers underfloor storage space. The Accord has a slightly deeper and more spacious trunk to the tune of 1 or 2 cubic feet, and the Camry features struts that fully open the trunklid rather than springs that pop the Accord’s up 6 inches.
Driving dynamics typically are far down the priority list for family sedan drivers. But no one wants a boring car, either.
Starting the engines, we find the Camry’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder both louder and coarser than the Accord’s 1.5-liter turbo-four. The Camry suffers a small vibration at idle. The Accord endures a considerably smaller and less noticeable vibration.
Pulling out of the parking lot, the Camry’s throttle is more responsive—a short first gear lets you jump off the line. However, maintaining the same throttle position does not maintain the same rate of acceleration unless you have the gas pedal floored—the following gears aren’t as aggressive.
Off and running, the Camry’s engine is more powerful than you’d expect and revs eagerly. Its new eight-speed automatic upshifts smoothly and seamlessly. Downshifting, however, is not quite as smooth and the transmission is occasionally uncertain about which gear it wants for a passing maneuver. “Sport” mode makes no perceptible difference in throttle response or shift strategy.
The Accord’s CVT remains the best in the business, though in this application it’s a bit too relaxed. From a stop, you need to give it more throttle than you’d expect in order to get an enthusiastic response. Once you adapt, it accelerates more linearly than the Camry, keeping the smaller, slightly less powerful engine right in the deepest well of its torque. With no gears to change and quick responses, the CVT drives a bit smoother than the automatic—and it lacks the drone that plagues other CVTs.
If, for some reason, you were to line up the two cars for a drag race, you’d discover that they’re dead equal on performance despite their different personalities. The Camry’s larger 2.5-liter engine uses its 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque for a sprint to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds. The Accord achieves the exact same result from its turbocharged 1.5-liter engine’s square 192 hp and 192 lb-ft.
The results are rather different when stopping. The Camry has a long brake pedal, which requires a bit too much travel and effort to get the braking power you want, but the car still stops from 60 mph in 122 feet. The Accord has much more bite in its brakes, but its rock-hard tires don’t have as much grip, so it needs 135 feet to stop from the same speed. (Upgraded Accords, with stickier tires, post better braking numbers than their comparable Camry foes.)
Whether it’s a freeway cloverleaf or an entertaining back road on a trip to the country, there’s a significant difference in the cars’ handling, as well. The Accord’s chassis is noticeably more responsive and sporty, providing flatter cornering and better control of body movements. Meanwhile, the Camry leans more, and that feeling is exacerbated by the flat seats that slide you side to side. The Accord’s steering is heavier but responds more naturally, and the Camry’s is lighter and too sensitive just off-center, making the car feel darty yet numb to your hands.
Our dynamic testing results make the two look more similar than they are, thanks entirely to the Camry’s superior tires. In the real world, it can’t keep up with the Accord. Smart Honda dealers should offer a grippier tire upgrade for enthusiastic drivers to take advantage of the Accord’s better cornering response.
Racing around or just commuting to work, both cars ride about the same. That is to say they’re still a little firm for a cushy family hauler. The Accord’s superior body control makes itself known here, too, with none of the Camry’s head toss on rough pavement. However, on repetitive choppy roads, there’s a bit more jostle with the Accord.
Similarly, the cars are equally loud inside—but in different ways. The Camry suffers moderate engine roar and some wind noise from the door mirrors at freeways speeds. The Accord continues the Honda tradition of tire noise that seeps up through the floorboards.
As for fuel economy, the Camry receives an EPA estimate of 28/39/32 mpg (8.4/6/7.3 L/100km) city/highway/combined. The CVT-equipped Accord is rated 30/38/33 mpg (7.8/6.2/7.1 L/100km) in most 1.5T trims and 29/35/31 (8.1/6.7/7.6 L/100km) in Sport and Touring trims.
Likewise, we’re unable to compare crash test ratings as the Accord hasn’t yet been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Both vehicles’ prior generations received Top Safety Pick+ and Five-Star ratings from those organizations, respectively, and the new models are expected to do the same (the 2018 Camry has been IIHS tested, and was awarded a 2017 Top Safety Pick+ rating).
Easing back into the parking lot, we find ourselves faced with the same shopping conundrum we faced at the outset. If you don’t need leather seats, a loaded Camry LE is cheaper than an Accord EX. If you do want leather, the cowhide-equipped Camry XLE is the same price as the fabric-seated Accord EX. However, put any any options on the Camry, and it’ll quickly catch right up to the comparably equipped Accord EX-L and EX-L with navigation. Also, Toyota does get finicky about which features are available with which interior and exterior colors. You’ll have to prioritize features for yourself, then.
Holistically, though, there’s no comparison. The Accord is more comfortable, spacious, and luxurious than the Camry. It’s quieter, rides and handles better, and drives more elegantly. It offers superior technology with a more user-friendly interface. Simply put, Toyota built a better Camry, but Honda built a better car.
|2018 Honda Accord (1.5T EX)||2018 Toyota Camry XLE (2.5)|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD||Front-engine, FWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||91.4 cu in/1,498 cc||151.8 cu in/2,487 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||192 hp @ 5,500 rpm||203 hp @ 6,600 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||192 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm||184 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||16.5 lb/hp||17.2 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont variable auto||8-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||11.5-in vented disc; 11.1-in disc, ABS||12.0-in vented disc; 11.1-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||7.5 x 17-in cast aluminum||8.0 x 18-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES||225/50R17 94V (M+S) Michelin Energy Saver A/S||235/45R18 94V (M+S) Bridgestone Turanza EL440|
|WHEELBASE||111.4 in||111.2 in|
|TRACK, F/R||63.0/63.4 in||62.2/62.6 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||192.1 x 73.2 x 57.1 in||192.7 x 72.4 x 56.9 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||38.1 ft||38.0 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,177 lb||3,492 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||60/40%||59/41%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||39.5/37.3 in||37.5/38.0 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.3/40.4 in||42.1/38.0 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||58.3/56.5 in||57.7/55.7 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||16.7 cu ft||15.1 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.8 sec||2.7 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||4.0||3.9|
|QUARTER MILE||15.9 sec @ 89.3 mph||15.9 sec @ 90.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||135 ft||122 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.7 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)||27.3 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,800 rpm||1,500 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$28,345||$33,865|
|AIRBAGS||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||8: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/36,000 miles||2 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||14.8 gal||16.0 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||30/38/33 mpg||28/39/32 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||112/89 kW-hrs/100 miles||120/86 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.59 lb/mile||0.60 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular||Unleaded regular|
Super Savers: A Look At How The Hybrid Family Sedans Might Soon Stack Up
Had all gone to plan, you’d be reading a third Accord versus Camry comparison, this one featuring fuel-frugal hybrids. Alas, the 2018 Accord Hybrid won’t go on sale until early next year, and a prototype wasn’t ready in time for our full-lineup clash.
The Camry Hybrid, though, was ready for battle. Long story short: It rides, drives, and handles like the rest of the Camry lineup. That is to say it’s firm for a family sedan but exhibits a lot of body roll in the corners and more gut jiggling and head toss than we’d prefer.
None of that is the point of a hybrid, though, and it does the hybrid part pretty well. It’ll always start you off under electric power, but being even a little aggressive with your right foot will light up the gasoline engine. It’s a bit noisy, but it integrates with the electric motor seamlessly. You can lock it in EV mode—which works up to 25 mph (40 km/h) or so—and there are plenty of displays on the instrument cluster and infotainment screens to monitor your power usage and efficiency. Otherwise, you’d hardly know it was a hybrid by looking at it. The exterior badges and the cheap plastic access panel under the rear seat (already scuffed up on our low-mileage tester) are the only giveaways.
The Accord Hybrid will sport an evolution of the previous generation’s powertrain, the biggest difference being the relocation of the battery under the rear seat, freeing up valuable trunk space. Based on our other comparisons and the test results of the last generation, we can predict the Accord Hybrid will likely be quicker and handle better than the Camry Hybrid.
The real question, of course, is fuel economy. The new Camry Hybrid returns an EPA-estimated 51/53/52 mpg (4.6/4.4/4.6 L/100km) city/highway/combined; the last-generation Accord Hybrid returned 49/47/48 (4.8/5/4.9 L/100km). Honda claims the new hybrid will get about the same fuel economy as before, which means from a purely fuel-efficiency standpoint, the nod goes to Toyota.