The Short Answer: 2013 Honda Accord
You couldn't fit a business card in the gap between these competitors.
Honda Accord Key Advantages:
Plenty of tech to play and play with, awesome resale value, beautifully turned out
Toyota Camry Key Advantages:
The poster child for reliability and safety (10 airbags!), 2013 interior is a step up
Nissan Altima Key Advantages:
A price leader, fuel-economy champ and tamer of twisty roads
Day to day, week to week, month to month. Year in, year out. You gotta get to work. You need room for family and friends, and the odd weekend of actually getting away somewhere. You want to avoid gas pumps and service bays. And you don't need a rocket, but you gotta have a car. In short, you are an American car buyer, and you're shopping for a high-quality, 4-cylinder, front-wheel drive midsize sedan. Lucky for you, shopping satisfaction is just about guaranteed -- year in, year out.
We've rounded up the three top Japanese midsize 4-cylinder 4-doors -- the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry -- and sorted them out to give you a head start on your search.
Kelley Blue Book Value Comparison
Apples-to-Apples Price: Comparable
Projected 5-Year Cost to Own: Comparable
Projected Resale Value: Accord first, Camry a close second, and Altima a wistful third
2013 Honda Accord Advantages
Terrific family sedans from Korea (Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima) and Europe (Volkswagen Passat) and the U.S. (Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu) have been marginalizing what used to be an Accord vs. Camry conversation. Now the all-new Mazda6 and popular new Nissan Altima are having their say as well.
So what's Honda to do? Respond to all of the midsize chatter with the best Accord ever.
The all-new for 2013 Accord starts with a clean, if unrisky exterior design (none in our trio looks exceptionally good or bad -- the knockouts in this class are the new Fusion and Mazda6). That pale skin, however, covers a terrifically roomy interior -- front and rear -- and a generous, wide-mouthed trunk. And all of the interior materials are worthy of applause as well.
In motion, the new Accord also shines. The 185-horsepower engine offers both good energy and good fuel economy, and its continuously variable automatic transmission is one of the best we've come across, mimicking the shifts of a smooth-action multi-speed automatic without the noisiness that accompanied the Altima's CVT. There was always something a bit more elegant and quiet about all the ways in which the Accord behaved on the road.
Falling in love with the Honda Accord's standard technology helpings is easy too. Not only is a rearview backup camera standard at every level, but so is the i-MID interface with its 8-inch high-resolution color screen and ability to channel your smartphone's streaming audio and text messages.
2012 Toyota Camry Advantages
The Toyota Camry is the oldest dog in this fight, and it's showing some maturity. It is still, however, the perfect Toyota Camry. That means it is as unfussy and undemanding as an automobile can be. The ride is soft, the acceleration is even, the cornering is predictable, and the reliability is unassailable. Like IBM stock, the Camry is a classically smart buy and it deserves to be one of the bestsellers.
While our evaluation vehicle was a 2012 Camry, the biggest news for 2013 is an upgrade in the interior materials and execution. Without question, the smartest place for a carmaker to spend money is on the interior -- that's where we spend our time. The revised Camry interior works, especially in details like the contrast stitching in the seats. Like most carmakers, Toyota is stepping up its cockpit's information and entertainment environment as well, with a 6.1-inch touch-screen display, plus streaming Bluetooth audio (six speakers) and hands-free phone controls as standard features. The infotainment upgrade to Toyota's Entune system is discussed in this KBB video.
Also consistent with its popularity, the Camry interior is an easy place to settle in with plenty of room to roam in the front and rear seats. And if safety takes precedence for you and your family, the Camry's 10 airbags -- including rear side-impact airbags for the outboard passengers -- put the Toyota in first place.
2013 Nissan Altima Advantages
With the new Altima, Nissan has pared back the features roster in order to gain some ground on pricing. You can add all sorts of audio, navigation, technology and convenience options and packages to the car, but before you do, take a moment to appreciate the Altima's $22,550 starting price and 27 mpg city/38 mpg highway fuel smarts.
That performance doesn't come at the expense of performance either. The Altima's 182-horsepower 4-cylinder encourages sprinting, and its chassis delivers respectable dynamics as well. We'd love to get the Nissan Altima in a match with the Mazda6 and the Volkswagen Passat to see which is the most fun.
The Nissan's interior highlight is its crisp, artful instrument cluster and center console layout that are works of art. Not just easy on the eyes, the shapes and sweep of the layout make gratifying sense with clear gauges, big buttons and knobs, and a satisfying look of design craftsmanship.
"So Which One Should I Buy?"
There's only one great answer to this question: Which one do you want? Seriously, let your priorities carry your wallet forward. If the daily drudge is what matters most, you should test drive the Accord and the Camry. These two 4-doors -- one new, one aging gracefully -- both brilliantly know how to take the pains out of an endless commute. If you want to add an extra layer of handling into the mixture, the new Nissan Altima will joyfully attack corners whereas the Honda and Toyota prefer to negotiate with them. In a photo finish, however, the Accord wins this stakes race. The list of things that the reborn-for-2013 Honda does well is just longer, better balanced and exquisitely executed.
Nine More Midsize Sedans
There's never been a better time to be in the market for the most popular kind of car in the United States. The bench for midsize sedans is the strongest it's ever been in the history of history. Here's a look at your 12 midsize sedan options for 2013-14.
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