It’s an immensely popular segment in North America—especially in the U.S.—but sales have been slowing down significantly in the past couple of years. Midsize sedans are being traded in for sport-utility vehicles which are considered more practical. But not necessarily so.
After all, a midsize sedan offers plenty of room for four people, or five with a little shoulder contact. It has a huge trunk with fold-down rear seats to slide in longer objects. And it has fuel-efficient engines that—in some cases—consume barely more than the powertrains of compact-sized cars. A midsize sedan has so much to offer and demands little in return, and yet, consumers are deserting them for clumsy, fuel-sapping trucks.
There isn’t much manufacturers can do to stop the sales slide. And to be honest, they’re probably making better profit margins selling their SUVs anyway, so losing a few sedan sales might not be much of a concern.
Still, consumers who prefer driving cars have a wide selection of midsize sedans to choose from—and they’re all good vehicles. As two of the segment benchmarks received a redesign for 2018, it was time to set up a little comparison test.
We rounded up the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry, but also the Hyundai Sonata, which received significant updates for the 2018 model year. We also threw in our long-time midsize sedan favourite, the Mazda6, as a measuring stick. The category also includes the Chevrolet Malibu, the Nissan Altima, the Volkswagen Passat, the Ford Fusion, the Subaru Legacy and the Kia Optima, but none of these received major changes this year.
We hit the road with our quartet of sedans, and after some extensive driving and infotainment system finger poking, a winner was declared.
4th place: 2017 Mazda6
This might be one of life’s greatest automotive mysteries. Then again, there probably is a logical explanation for the Mazda6’s struggle on the sales charts, in both Canada and the United States.
Redesigned for the 2014 model year, the 6 instantly became the most beautiful midsize sedan on the market—in our opinion, at least. It was also the best-handling car in its segment, staying true to Mazda’s fun-to-drive DNA.
Well, midsize sedan buyers are obviously not looking for a sporty car. The Mazda6’s 2.5-litre engine is competitive at 184 horsepower, but lacks the low-end torque of the new, smaller-displacement, turbocharged powertrains served up by more and more manufacturers. And it’s no longer one of the most efficient, although it did end up being the observed fuel economy champ of our test.
Our car was also equipped with a manual transmission—an automatic 6 wasn’t available for us—which enhanced our appreciation of the car’s dynamic character. The optional six-speed automatic transmission does perform admirably though, as we’ve tested it on numerous occasions.
The Mazda6’s interior design is clean and tasteful, even after being on the market for four years, while fit and finish are excellent. Some of us love the Mazda Connect infotainment system’s interface, some despise it. It does take a while to get used to the menu layout, but once we do, it becomes very easy to use without being distracted while driving. The navigation map graphics could be better, though, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration isn’t available. Moreover, the sedan’s cabin seemed noisier than the three other contestants here.
As for trunk space, the Mazda has the smallest one of the bunch. It’s also the one with the tallest liftover height and the smallest opening.
The 6 doesn’t feel all that old, but compared to these newer rivals, it inevitably ends up showing its shortcomings. Not too long after we tested the 2017 edition, a reworked Mazda6 was announced for 2018. It will get an exterior refresh, an optional turbocharged engine and more active driving aids, but we’re not sure it would’ve moved up from last place in this comparison test. The others are that good.
3rd place: 2018 Hyundai Sonata
Here’s a sedan that does everything well, but fails to amaze in one particular aspect. That’s the big difference between the Sonata and the newly engineered models in our test, the Camry and the Accord.
We like the 2018 Sonata’s exterior styling, destined to make the car look a bit edgier than before. However, we’re not convinced the changes actually improve the overall design. Then again, it’s not a big deal in the midsize sedan segment, where conservatism seems to be the key strategy to attract buyers. The Sonata draw the highest marks for its exterior fit and finish.
Inside, Hyundai sweated the details in regards to ergonomics, and as usual, buyers get a lot of features for the asking price. The infotainment system is straightforward, with a reactive touchscreen and a fair amount of physical buttons for quick access to main audio and climate control functions. Outward visibility is pretty good, passenger volume is tops in this group, and the advanced driving systems are effective without being annoying. Unfortunately, as is the case with the Mazda6, the Sonata’s cabin could be quieter—at least compared to the segment newcomers.
Our test car was equipped with a 245-horsepower, 2.0-litre turbo engine, but most customers will choose the base 185-hp, 2.4-litre four. We’ve driven the latter and it’s perfectly suited to the car’s mission; the turbo engine is just icing on the cake, but it does give the sedan some much-needed character. The Sonata’s handling didn’t impress us much, despite us having the sportiest trim level of the car’s lineup. Actually, besides a slightly different steering system and larger wheels, this version’s distinctiveness is more cosmetic than dynamic.
In the end, the Sonata’s virtues couldn’t overcome its slight lack of refinement and overall blandness, as three out of our four testers ranked it fourth in regards to overall personal preference. Still, its total score is close to its rival sitting in second place, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
2nd place: 2018 Toyota Camry
With the Camry XSE, Toyota is obviously trying to draw the attention of a younger crowd. Its hey-look-at-me styling, further enhanced by its cloak of bright blue paint, black roof and quad exhaust tips, is as overdone as the Mazda6’s design is pure and elegant. And yet, underneath the plethora of lumps, bumps and cosmetic add-ons, the Camry’s usual goodness remains intact. And the exterior design of most trim levels is more conservative anyways.
The highest scores for interior design as well as build quality were handed to the Camry. The Toyota was also voted the quietest car of our quartet. However, a heated steering wheel isn’t offered in the Camry at any price. The Entune 3.0 infotainment system doesn’t have the most user-friendly interface in the business, and it doesn’t integrate Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet. However, it’s quick and its on-screen button zones are big.
Passenger volume in the new Camry is down compared to the outgoing generation, while the new Accord has become slightly more spacious inside. The Toyota’s trunk is marginally roomier than the last-place Mazda’s, but at least its opening is bigger.
As is the case with the Sonata we tested, the Camry we had on hand was equipped with the bigger engine, though most buyers will be happy with the base 203-hp, 2.5-litre four cylinder which, by the way, is the most frugal non-hybrid powertrain in its segment. Almost every other manufacturer has shifted to turbocharged, smaller-displacement engines, but the Camry is sticking with an optional V6 for now.
The 3.5-litre unit pumps out 301 horsepower, which overwhelms the front wheels in certain driving situations. On the other hand, it gives the car a smooth and refined character, and sounds better than any turbo four-cylinder engine will in a midsize sedan. The compromise is higher fuel consumption, and our test car was pre-emptively equipped with winter tires, which gave it an unfair disadvantage here.
The sportiest Camry truly is, yet remains a Camry at its core. Straight-line acceleration is obviously very good, but the V6 engine makes the car feel heavier than its rivals here, and its brake feel was the worst of the group.
Still, the Camry ranked second for its combination of refinement, ride quality, cabin quietness and interior design. Things we think the midsize sedan is typically looking for a car.
1st place: 2018 Honda Accord
The Accord has been entirely redesigned, rides on a new platform and even adopts a new generation of powertrains. In short, only the name and its mission haven’t changed.
The more we look at new Accord, the more we appreciate its new exterior design. It follows the current trend of fastback-like silhouettes and looks both elegant and sporty at the same time. We won’t go as far as saying it’s a masterpiece, but for a Honda, it’s a big change.
A tasteful design can also be found inside the new Accord. The woodgrain trim in our test car is convincing, both front and rear seats were deemed the most comfortable, there is plenty of storage space for everyone, it’s got the biggest trunk and there’s little to criticise here about the control layout. The Display Audio System with eight-inch touchscreen is easy to use—a big improvement over the previous-generation Accord’s interface—and integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, too.
We did notice some fit and finish issues inside and out of our test car, and the exterior panel gaps were wider than the current industry norm. Nothing major, mind you, but something we’re not used to seeing in and on an Accord.
We were impressed with the turbocharged, 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine that serves as the base powerplant. Its 192 horsepower, but especially its generous low-end torque, provide swift performance. And yet, it’s one of the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid engines in the midsize sedan segment. Complementing this engine is a continuously variable automatic transmission that we actually like. A 252-hp, turbo 2.0-litre engine is also available for those who want extra power, and it can even be matched to a manual transmission for the handful of large sedan buyers who prefer rowing their own gears.
Unlike the Camry, the Accord’s blend of ride quality and handling poise made the car feel smaller and lighter than it actually is. It can be as rewarding to drive as the Mazda, but can feel as smooth and relaxed as the Toyota. Honda simply nailed it here.
End of the day, Honda created what we think will be the benchmark midsize sedan for years to come. It probably won’t reverse the current SUV trend, but consumers should know that they’ll be missing out on an excellent car that offers the best roundup of comfort, fuel economy, refinement and technology.
There isn’t much more that needs to be said for now, as we won’t see many significant changes in the midsize sedan category in the coming year or two. A new generation of the Nissan Altima should be revealed in 2018, the Volkswagen Passat received a new base engine, but no other changes, while the Kia Optima, Ford Fusion, Subaru Legacy and Chevrolet Malibu will likely soldier on for a couple of years with minor updates.
As for Hybrids, we still have choice between the Malibu, the Camry, the Sonata, the Optima and the Fusion. A redesigned Accord Hybrid should arrive this year as well. Only the Fusion, the Sonata and the Optima offer plug-in hybrid powertrains.
So unless Nissan hits a home run with the new Altima, the Honda Accord should remain the top dog among non-hybrid midsize sedans for a while.
|COMFORT / ERGONOMICS|
|Front pass. seat||/20||17.0||16.7||15.3||15.3|
|Model||Accord Touring||Sonata Sport 2.0T||Mazda6 GT||Camry XSE V6|
|Curb weight (kg)||1497||1640||1468||1620|
|Interior volume (litres)||2910||3004||2824||2812|
|Trunk volume (litres)||473||462||419||427|
|Engine||Turbocharged L4||Turbocharged L4||L4||V6|
|Maximum power (hp @ rpm)||192 @ 5500||245 @ 6000||184 @ 5700||301 @ 6600|
|Maximum torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)||192 @ 1600 - 5000||260 @ 1350 - 4000||185 @ 3250||267 @ 4700|
|Transmission||CVT automatic||8-speed automatic||6-speed manual||8-speed automatic|
|Drivetrain||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Front suspension||Ind., struts||Ind., struts||Ind., struts||Ind., struts|
|Rear suspension||Ind., multilink||Ind., multilink||Ind., multilink||Ind., double wishbone|
|Steering||Rack-and-pinion, electric assist||Rack-and-pinion, electric assist||Rack-and-pinion, electric ass.||Rack-and-pinion, electric ass.|
|Turning diameter (m)||11.6||10.9||11.2||10.8|
|Fuel tank (litres)||56.0||70.0||62.0||60.6|
|Acceleration 0-100 km/h (sec)||8.2||6.7||9.1||6.2|
|Accel. 1/4 mile (sec @ km/h)||15.9 @ 143||14.8 @ 153||16.3 @ 142||14.4 @ 159|
|Acceleration 80 to 120 km/h (sec)||5.9||5.0||6.5||5.0|
|Braking 100-0 km/h (m)||40||40||43||43 (winter tires)|
|City/Hwy/Comb NRCan fuel cons. (L/100 km)||8.2 / 6.8 / 7.6||10.4 / 7.4 / 9.1||9.8 / 6.9 / 8.4||10.5 / 7.1 / 9.0|
|Observed fuel economy (L/100 km)||9.8||9.0||8.4||13.7|
|Base / maximum MSRP||$26,490 / $39,090||$24,799 / $43,999||$24,695 / $37,095||$26,590 / $41,190|
|Freight and delivery charges||$1,683||$1,805||$1,795||$1,715|
|Warranty (comprehensive / powertrain)||3/60 (C), 5/100 (P)||5/100 (C), 5/100 (P)||3/Unl. (C), 5/Unl. (P)||3/60 (C), 5/100 (P)|