Our winner is the 2013 Honda Accord. Really, it comes as a surprise to us, too.
As always, it's a matter of a combination of factors, not just any one thing. That is, it's a matter of character. Plenty of people will tell you that choosing a car is just a matter of picking a few key features, then working through a network of options that looks very much like the chart of our tournament here. Cars are all the same, they say. The buying process is the hard part, they claim.
Actually, the opposite is true. If you stick your head out the window and look into the street, you'll instead see that cars are wildly different. Even when you take a segment of vehicles like these midsize sedans, you find remarkable differences among cars, as we learned by driving the Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, and Volkswagen Passat.
And it is the 2013 Honda Accord Sport that prevails.
As much as anything, our choice has been determined by the way that the Honda Accord drives. You wouldn't necessarily describe the Accord as a driver's car, yet it is remarkably easy and natural to drive in a way that anyone will notice.
It begins with the rigorously ergonomic approach that Honda takes to formatting the driving position of its cars. You notice the great visibility from the driver's seat, the thoughtful layout of the light-effort controls, and then the predictable responses of the steering, throttle, and brakes. The Accord is maneuverable in the big parking structure downtown, comfortable on the long freeway ride to work, and energetic enough to make every drive effortless. This is a car that helps almost everybody drive very well, and the result is not just a feeling of safety but also an experience of driving enjoyment.
When you evaluate an Accord on its own, it's easy to take these things for granted, and the car doesn't seem so impressive. Yet once you have a chance to compare the Honda side by side with its competition, you realize just how different this approach to driving really is. And this is why the Accord really suits everybody, tall or short, expert or novice, male or female.
The American Car
From its introduction clear back in 1976, the Accord has combined European styling, American comfort, and Japanese reliability. It might be said that the best thing about the 2013 Accord is the way it embraces this formula with renewed enthusiasm.
The Accord looks good yet does so without being insipid. It drives comfortably yet maintains the high level of stability and poise that is required at the speeds we drive today. And the overall level of quality is high, even though the labor - not to mention 65 percent of the parts and pieces - come from North America, not Japan.
We enjoyed being in this car, and while its interior dimensions aren't much different from those of its competition, it feels especially open and spacious. The soft-touch detailing has added a worthwhile dimension of luxury, and even the cloth seat upholstery seems particularly nice. And just as important, we found it easy to climb in and out, while the ride was quieter than we remember from past Accords as well as more supple and composed on the road.
In the past, the Accord has always seemed like a strong value proposition, yet now this car aspires to something more than big-time practicality. This has become a very nice car, an automobile that projects a premium image and seems like something to which we should aspire. And, ironically enough, there are not so many cars that deliver these things at this price point.
The Changing Midsize Sedan
It is astounding just how good midsize sedans have become. In this group of eight cars, you can find astonishing style, astonishing fuel economy, and astonishing speed.
We can thank the sport-utility vehicle for these improvements. The SUV has largely taken over the role of family vehicle from the midsize sedan, which has enabled four-door cars to be more expressive, more fun to drive, and more enjoyable overall.
The 2014 Mazda 6 is a great example of these trends, as it delivers a package that measures up to the Honda Accord in almost every way and even exceeds it in terms of fuel efficiency. The Mazda 6 came a close second to the Accord in our deliberations, not the least because it's the kind of car that speaks to our personal priorities at Automobile Magazine.
Yet the 2013 Honda Accord prevails with us because we think it's the right car for almost everyone, not just us. This is an unlikely gesture of public-spiritedness on our part, but it's rare that you encounter a car like the Accord that you can unequivocally recommend to everybody. And we mean everybody.
Really, it's been quite a tournament. You can read about the mission we set for ourselves, the driving report for each car, and the smart-ass comments that we made afterward. Here we present the final match between the 2013 Honda Accord and 2014 Mazda 6.
We've learned that this tournament-style format has helped us pick the cars we like best, so we never felt trapped into making unenthusiastic choices based on broad-based mediocrity rather than excellence. We've learned that character is a mix of attributes - style, speed, practicality, and quality. And when real people choose real cars, they take the whole range of attributes into consideration, not just one isolated feature.
You might think midsize sedans are all the same, but we can now reiterate that they are astonishingly different. Each combines attributes in a different way and projects a different character as a result. You could drive these cars blindfolded (which we do not recommend, of course) and still be able to determine the ways that they differ from one another.
The 2013 Honda Accord succeeds with us because we believe it has a character that defines the American-market midsize sedan today, a commanding mix of affordability, practicality, fun, and comfort. If you want to understand the way in which the automobile is being improved to meet the challenges of the times in which we live, you need look no further than the Honda Accord.