Midsize Madness - Day Four

Patrick M Hoey

Our search for the best midsize sedan in America began with eight remarkable cars: Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, and Volkswagen Passat.

We've driven them in sun, snow, and icy cold to separate the best from the rest and then argued about the results over the long conference table on Highland Drive. (Only basic first-aid supplies were required afterward.) We've looked over, around, and under the cars, then studied spreadsheets of features and specifications. We've even looked at pricing documents (yikes!).

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 the 2014 Mazda 6.

Honda Accord vs. Mazda 6

2013 Honda Accord Sport

The 2013 Honda Accord has come through this field of midsize sedans to the finals playing the game like a traditional American car, not the small practical sedan from Japan that you might still imagine it to be.

The Building Blocks
Just like the other cars in Midsize Madness, the Accord has left behind the niche of compact sedans it once occupied and adopted a more American way of doing business, emphasizing spaciousness and comfort.

Although its wheelbase has been reduced an inch from the last iteration introduced in 2008, this new Accord is still a big car. The 2013 Accord's wheelbase stretches to 109.3 inches, and this Accord Sport measures 191.4 inches long, 72.8 inches wide, and 57.7 inches high. It weighs 3342 pounds. More important, it measures out to 103.2 cubic feet of passenger space, with 42.5 inches of legroom in the front seat and 38.5 inches in the rear.

The Honda Accord's 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder engine shows you why the vast majority of midsize sedans are sold these days with four-bangers. This all-new four-cylinder engine runs smooth thanks to internal balance shafts to counteract vibration, combines power with good fuel efficiency thanks to variable valve timing/lift and direct fuel injection, and operates with an easy, free-revving liveliness thanks to careful detailing to reduce friction and because, well, that's just the Honda way. The Accord Sport's engine makes 189 hp at 6400 rpm and 182 lb-ft of torque at 3900 rpm.

This newest iteration of the four-cylinder Honda Accord also abandons a conventional automatic transmission for a continuously variable transmission (CVT), an $800 option-over the excellent standard six-speed manual-that helps optimize fuel economy, as reflected in this Accord Sport's EPA rating of 26/35 mpg city/highway and 29 mpg combined.

What We Said
On the list of standard equipment, you'll find the usual complement of airbags, air-conditioning, a driver-information display, and power windows, mirrors, and door locks. What is different is the standard, as the Accord now provides all the good stuff.

Standard equipment includes: keyless entry; a tilting telescopic steering wheel with controls for the audio/phone system; dual-zone automatic air-conditioning; an audio system with an eight-inch infotainment screen, USB audio, Bluetooth phone and audio, and Pandora compatibility; and a rearview camera. Moreover, the Sport model adds things like eighteen-inch wheels, foglights, a power driver's seat, and a spoiler.

If you look back at our report about the 2013 Honda Accord Sport on the first day of the competition and read the comments made on the second day , you'll see that the most important added feature of the remade Accord is the interior's newfound niceness. All the tactile surfaces are meant to be pleasant to touch. You can see this in the instrument panel's seamless piece of soft-touch material and even the quality of the standard cloth seat upholstery.

Nicely Does It
Niceness is also the best description for the way the 2013 Accord behaves in everyday life.

It's easy to get in and out, and the one-piece folding rear seat supplements a trunk of 15.8 cubic feet. This is still a friendly car to drive, yet now the suspension dampening gives the Accord more composure while effectively subduing any harsh inputs from the Sport model's 235/45VR-18 Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires. The light-effort steering suits the car, and although the chassis rolls a bit when you heel over into an on-ramp, it won't frighten anyone. The engine is alert and responsive yet also quiet and undemanding.

No matter whether the 2013 Honda Accord Sport was pounding down the interstate through Ann Arbor or bounding over the rolling hills to Hell, Michigan, this car never broke a sweat. We didn't, either.

2014 Mazda 6 Grand Touring

The 2014 Mazda 6 comes onto the court from the opposite direction of the Accord, as it proudly proclaims its compact-car heritage with the agile way it drives even as it delivers a useful dimension of full-size comfort.

The Building Blocks
The 2014 Mazda 6 is the last of the midsize sedans to adopt large-car dimensions. Its wheelbase now stretches a long, long 111.4 inches. It measures 191.5 inches overall, 72.4 inches wide, and 57.1 inches high. This heavily optioned Grand Touring model weighs 3232 pounds. Passenger volume measures 99.7 cubic feet, with 42.2 inches of legroom in the front and 38.7 inches in the rear.

Mazda has cleverly optimized its technology to create the Mazda 6's new 2.5-liter in-line four-cylinder engine. Like other in-line fours these days, it has balance shafts to control vibration, plus variable valve timing and direct injection to deliver both usable power and good fuel efficiency. At the same time, Mazda has also worked hard to change its manufacturing methods to permit a very high compression ratio of 13.0:1 to deliver maximum power, good fuel economy, and cleaner combustion. The Mazda 6's engine makes 184 hp at 5700 rpm and 185 lb-ft of torque at 3250 rpm.

There's a conventional six-speed automatic transmission for the Mazda 6 (a six-speed manual is standard on lower trim levels), but here again the company has optimized its performance, and Mazda claims the result is more efficient than either a dual-clutch automatic or a CVT. This Mazda 6 is EPA rated at 26/38 mpg city/highway and 30 mpg combined.

What We Said
Because the only Mazda 6 available at this early date proved to be a fancy Grand Touring model, it is a bit difficult to sort through the standard equipment to compare the car directly with the Accord Sport.

While the Grand Touring has an elaborate complement of standard equipment, the base Sport model, when equipped with an automatic transmission, incorporates many important items on the list including: keyless entry; a tilting telescopic steering wheel; an audio system with a 5.8-inch touchscreen interface, USB audio, Bluetooth phone and audio, and Pandora compatibility; and a rearview camera for parking. Instead of the Grand Touring's navigation system, moonroof, and eleven-speaker stereo, it was the 6's high-bolstered sport seats with leather upholstery that got our attention, since this is a driver's car.

If you look back at our report about the 2014 Mazda 6 Grand Touring on the first day of the competition and read the comments made on the second day, you'll see that it's an occasion to walk up to the Mazda 6 and a treat to drive it. This is the kind of driver engagement that we look for in any vehicle, something that transforms the ownership experience.

Drive, Please
The Mazda 6 has an enhanced dimension of practicality that puts this car in the midsize game at last, yet the things that still set it apart remain styling and driving performance.

This car is perfectly practical to use, as the 60/40-split folding rear seat enhances the utility of the 14.8-cubic-foot trunk. The rear seat doesn't feel as large as its dimensions suggest, and the black interior proves a bit oppressive, as does a bit of noticeable road noise.

On the highway, you're struck by the Mazda 6's impressive straight-line stability and the strong response from the steering. The chassis is controlled very well, although there's still some harshness from this car's nineteen-inch tires. The chassis loves the rolling hills around Hell, although it bounds over the bumps a bit more than we'd like. The engine feels somewhat weak at midrange rpm, so you have to rely on the transmission's notably quick gearchanges triggered by the shift paddles on the steering wheel to keep your speed up.

When you settle behind the wheel of the 2014 Mazda 6 Grand Touring, you're there to drive, not ride.

Yes, there's still one more day to go before the winner is named. We have to catch our breath and check with the referees before we look up at the scoreboard. We should probably get our explanations in order and prepare to sprint for the parking lot, since the sore losers will no doubt start throwing folding chairs into the bleachers when they get the news.

See you tomorrow with the last day of Automobile Magazine's Midsize Madness.

Bob Plantenberg
car and driver just reported  a multi-car test and the Mazda 6 came in first and they got a 0-60 of a flat 7.  must be the proper use of the kick down switch on the accelerator and the paddle shifters.
Bob Plantenberg
having 4k miles on my mazda 6 GT I was surprised you didn't pick a driver's car.  Look up boring in the dictionary and there's the accord staring back at you. Drive it like a 2 seater because the rear seats don't fold down? A noisy CVT? and it looks like millions of other accords. Madness for sure.  The 2014 6 has the best design and you did name it one of the 10 best designs to make it to the street.  my real world mileage beats the EPA, and you never mentioned the kickdown switch in the accelerator in conjunction with the paddle shifters that work on demand, you can be in D and the paddle shifters work both up and down from the wheel and this 4 is faster than the 3L V6 that was in my 2005 mazda 6.  bad officiating if you ask me.
Tony Costa
Mazda 6!
Christopher Antonio
Hands down Mazda 6... Sorry Honda Fanboy's. The 6, although a seasoned veteran, is like rookie of the year for 2014. Honda has been taking mulligans since 08 after that body change.
stan marcus
Accord deservedly wins another.  Mazda6 is  good car, but nobody buys them, they seem consigned to rental fleets.  The Japan-sourced Mazda can't touch the Sport at anything near its price.  The 6 speed Accord is also much faster according to C&D.Mazda fans very upset about upset.
Tsa Kurchina
Although the 6 should win, the photos seem to be a giveaway.....
Josh Jenkins
Win should go to the 6. Just because it is such an improvement over the last generation. Honda pretty much took a mulligan on the accord just like the civic.
TC Donovan
mazda 6
Lee Klein
The Honda always comes across as a car on Prozac, no matter what you do with your right foot. It's just so BORING. Fail. The win should go to Mazda.
Rick Vieira
Geoff Ekenstam
To CelticBrewer and Mike Appleton:  I have owned 4 Honda Accords and they were very, very good cars with few if any problems.  After two Subaru Outbacks I am now ready to get a "regular" midsize car.  I haven't had a car with a sunroof since my '95 SHO, and I am missing it.  Also, I haven't bought an automatic transmission car since 1978, and I am now too old (I have begun to think) to get another, unfortunately.  I have driven a lot of Subarus with CVTs and regular 6 speed automatics.  None of them have been that good.  But the Accord's CVT is really good.  The large screen is great for an old man, the lanewatch is a great feature-- along with the rearview camera.  Add up dual auto airconditioning, sunroof, 10 way power seat, tons of useful gizmos, quiet ride, great acceleration and handling,. and I think this Accord is close to being perfect.  One big flaw is the one-piece folding rear seat.  What was Honda thinking?  But I can put up with it. 
Con Verdis
Alienx Trm
(}) Mazda6 is way better than the Accord. The 6 is clearly for enthusiasts who want a family car at the same time
Nick Ardito
Mazda baby!! They are the best on the road.
David Meyer
Two different cars. The Mazda tries to layer some excitement over all that is excellent about the Honda, the Honda passes on the excitement and settles for excellence. Try the Mazda before you default to the Honda.
Vijay Salve
Alex S Lui
Go try out the 6 Tom, u will be impressed if u care about driving dynamic
I have driven both, and yes, they are really good cars.  But the Accord EX CVT comes with a plethora of standard equipment including a sunroof, an 8" screen vs. the Mazda's silly 5.8",  and the "LaneWatch". And all for $26,200.  It costs about $30,000 to get a sunroof in the Mazda GT only.  If you want a manual transmission, the Accord EX will do the job including all of the equipment of the CVT model.  If you want a base model manual, the iSport doesn't even have Bluetooth, but the iSport automatic has that and many other gizmos.  I hate that.  A specific model should have the same equipment whether it is a stick or an automatic.
Tom Arimitsu
The Accord! With its paddle shifter pulls to the rev line smoothly.
Cameron Cradic
Zoom zoom, make room for the 6!
Jerry Slacum
Nothing but Zoom Zoom!
Pete Williams
while I admit the accord has made impressive strides, it still doesn't have the styling and panache of the Mazda6. I think it comes down to this: you want sportier, more fun drive, buy the Mazda. If your values lie elsewhere... get the Accord.
Christopher A. Henderson-Johns
(}) Zoom Zoom!
Ben Zim
They're both excellent cars - the two best in class - but for an all-around mid-sizer I'll be surprised it the Accord doesn't get the nod. 
Aaron Silverman
@Bob Plantenberg Most tests seem to indicate that the new 6 is a full second slower to 60 mph than the old V6 (8 sec vs. 7 sec). Did you time the car, or are you just going by feel? The new car looks great, but the lack of power makes me very hesitant to move on from my '03 6s. (In my daily commute, I need to turn onto a main road with heavy traffic going 50+ mph.)
Anthony Iatì
@stan marcus  Mazda has never had notoriety for fuel economy; hence the fact that many people weren't buying them.  However, this Mazda is in the running with the contenders in that department now.  In addition, they are one of the most reliable automakers (Lexus 1, Subaru 2 and Mazda 3) which will help them as well.  Honda has always been a good performer and very reliable.  On the contrary, they have never turned heads with their mundane styling as they are cars that any grandma would drive.  Wait until the Mazda 2.2 turbo diesel hits the market this fall which is said to to get between 45-50 MPGs, around the same horsepower, and 280 ft. lbs. of torque.  The Accord will be wiping the 6's behind for sure.
Mike Appleton
@ed124c I agree the 6 Sport should have the same equipment whether auto or manual. Comparing specs they are similar the Accord Sport is $25K and the 6 Touring is also right around $25K with similar specs (Mazda has leatherette in addition). If you care about the sunroof that much then yes the Accord is the better bet, but personally I don`t want a sunroof and would rather either save the $1K or have it spent on other things.
@ed124c It's not just car makers, but most manufacturers, that have to attract people with silly options to make up for their shortcomings. When it comes down to it, the Mazda will last longer and drive better. Your sunroof and 8" screen isn't going to do much good when your Honda is broken down on the side of the road.
Mike Appleton
@Quête It is interesting that in multicar reviews it seems to come down to the Accord and 6 each time. They are both great cars and you cannot go wrong with either of them. Drive both and see what you like the most.

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