Midsize Madness - Day Three

Patrick M Hoey

Welcome to the second round of Automobile Magazines Midsize Madness, our comparison test of the kind of car you see on American roads every day, the midsize sedan.

As we noted in our Day One introduction, we've gathered eight of the best front-wheel-drive midsize sedans with fuel-efficient engines, and our mission is to sort them out in a way that will let their whole characters be revealed. We've driven all these cars at the same time on the same roads, and we've made our notes and organized our facts and then argued about the results.

To our way of thinking, these are the best midsize sedans available in America right now. We've tried to ensure that our test cars represent a practical level of features - nicely equipped, as they say - yet don't cost too much. Given the challenges of acquiring so many test cars at the same time, they aren't priced exactly the same, but they all cost within $7800 of each other.

We've gathered here eight of these American-market midsize sedans that speak to the priorities that we have at Automobile Magazine: Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, and Volkswagen Passat. Some have style, some have speed, and some have reliability, yet all have a unique, definable character. By choosing one of them as the best, we hope to not only define the current state of the American midsize sedan but also define the character that those of us who read Automobile want in a practical, everyday kind of car.

During our first round of competition yesterday, some favorites went down and some outsiders prevailed:

  • The Toyota Camry lost to the Honda Accord, as the Camry's unimpressive style made the Accord seem like a luxury car, plus the Toyota's easygoing usability didn't prove as compelling as the Honda's refinement and energy.
  • The Volkswagen Passat unexpectedly trounced the Kia Optima, as the Passat delivered an interesting combination of American practicality and European driving dynamics, while the Optima didn't entirely deliver on the sporty message sent by its styling.
  • Meanwhile, the Nissan Altima seemed like a large luxury car with its styling, passenger space, and freeway comfort, yet we preferred the even more stylish and fun-to-drive Mazda 6.
  • And finally the Hyundai Sonata, a 2011 Automobile Magazine All-Star, was knocked out in the first round by the Ford Fusion, a reminder that the choices in the midsize-sedan segment have dramatically improved in the last few years.

As the tournament continues, the competition involves less driving and a lot more arguing, as the comments below indicate. It's not just about whether these midsize sedans excel in one way or another - because they all do - but instead it's about finding the right kind of combination that meets our expectations about daily transportation. It's also clear to us that our preferences are falling into two categories, comfortable overall usability and everyday driving enjoyment.

As the tournament continues, here are the match-ups for our semifinalists:

  • Honda Accord vs. Volkswagen Passat
  • Ford Fusion vs. Mazda 6

Honda Accord vs. Volkswagen Passat

2013 Honda Accord Sport

  • Executive editor Todd Lassa: "There's a lot of road noise." West Coast editor Michael Jordan (sarcastically, as always): "No, in a Honda?"
  • "Somehow Honda has managed to counter the suck-tide of cheapness that's been dragging down the company for a decade," says Jordan.
  • Road test editor Christopher Nelson says, "For a little under $25K, you get a car that feels more expensive than it is."
  • The hard plastics don't look as cheap as they do in comparable cars, and the leatherette on the doors is extremely soft. "Honda is learning how to grain plastics," says associate editor David Zenlea. "No more elephant skin."
  • The side mirrors are a bit small and the B-pillars are a bit big, but lots of glass helps make up for it. Forward and rearward visibility is phenomenal.
  • Good cargo opening but not a lot of usable cargo space, Nelson discovers. Oh, did we mention the rear seats don't split? You'll turn your family sedan into a two-seater anytime you go to Home Depot.
  • "The steering is light but precise," says managing editor Amy Skogstrom. "There's also a bit of body roll when taking fast corners."
  • "Great powertrain, with smooth, impressive power throughout the rpm range, plus a nice sound when you reach redline," copy editor Rusty Blackwell says. "CVT works with surprising harmony."
  • "The gauge cluster looks wonderful at night," says deputy editor Joe DeMatio, "and the center stack - while admittedly a bit cluttered - is clearly marked with big, easy-to-read buttons."
  • Skogstrom: "The two, contrasting black fabrics on the cloth seats look and feel great." DeMatio: "I could live with a sofa made out of this material."

2013 Volkswagen Passat SE

  • Jordan says. "When I got in this car, I found myself asking it to take me to the Berlin train station. It's very spacious, yet it's also very austere in a way that reminds me of a European taxi, which ironically makes it more like a traditional American sedan than any other car in its segment."
  • Volkswagen does Bauhaus-style minimalism here - simple, handsome design, both inside and out.
  • The seats have flat-bottom cushions and don't offer much lateral support. DeMatio: "The driver's seat is made for fat Americans." Lassa: "Fat Americans of German descent."
  • We love the upright windshield (minimal reflections), the low dashboard, and the slim A-pillars, which combine to deliver great visibility and a feeling of safety in congested traffic.
  • "This car's styling should age extremely well, like a Brooks Brothers suit," says DeMatio.
  • The radio is rudimentary, so it fits in well with the humble interior.
  • By far the best trunk in this competition.
  • "Plain and simple, this is a German Camry," says senior web editor Phil Floraday.
  • "While not inspiring, the Passat drives like a confident car," says Skogstrom.
  • "For all the cost-cutting that went into this car, it has good dampening and good brake-pedal feel, both of which you'll appreciate every time you drive," says Floraday. DeMatio continues, "It's refreshing to be in a midsize car with Germanic capabilities, even if they have been watered down for American buyers."

The Volkswagen Passat combines a surprisingly space-efficient package with very capable driving dynamics, and it proves more energetic than we expected. Even so, the Honda Accord surpasses it when you factor in convenience and entertainment features, a sense of spacious interior luxury, smooth-riding freeway comfort, and a notably more fuel-efficient powertrain. These cars are playing the same kind of game, but the Accord is simply better.

Winner: 2013 Honda Accord Sport. The Honda Accord moves into the final round.

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honda--take sominex tonight and sleep, safe and restful sleep--BOOOOOOORRRRRRIIIIIIIIINNNNNNGGGGGGG! Volks--nice looking, Mazda--very good looking with flair, Ford--nicest lines out there and very nice interpretation of Aston, Camry--not as boring as before but still suffers from "me too" styling...
Van K
So you pair the two best driving sedans against each other. Is this to minimize the bias of your inevitable push for middle of the road sedans?
Nick Ardito
Mazda baby ford sucks Hondas for old people and Toyotas are for girls. Mazda's #1 zoom zoom
Benito Pena
Mahmoud Akbarpour
A Ford one for sure
Hans Sliter
Passat VR6 SE in mine now!
Niranjan RajuKurian
face 2 face
Ben Zim
Marius Razafimahatratra
Dammy Onafowokan
Mazda. The fords profile is bloated. A pretty grille alone does not a great car make.
Simon Yee
"Bargain cars though?" Smh.Historically, VWs are known to be the least reliable too. So good luck having a better resale value with that.
Vinny Aces
None!! Of them!! ... An A4 or a C300 mb... Cause those cars posted, fully load is not far from base model premiums.
Mohammad Akbarpour
Ford brings what is expected from blue oval. So the Fusion is my take
Stefan Sliter
Raymond Doherty
I think this is a great article, I have not been surprised yet although the winner will be tough to pick. I would take the Mazda but I know that Accord is a vast improvement and it's very very good. Also the Mazda touring at 25K is really close to the GT, you wouldn't miss most of the stuff and they look almost identical.
Christopher A. Henderson-Johns
(}) Mazda 6 Zoom Zoom!!!
Thomas Voelker
Neither has enough side design .
Lee Klein
Passat is the winner...it's a no-brainer.
Bill Flintrop
The Mazda looks better, it's styling is more original. The grill on the Fusion looks like it was stolen from an Aston-Martin.
Jake Chapman
If you're dealing with the TDI then thats definitely the case. ^
Geoff Ekenstam
On American Roads
shouldn't this be game 6? accord-passat was #5... since mazda-nissan was #4!
Tim Lucas
These are definitely the pretty ones. I was hoping they would be the top 2. Fusion is my favorite.
Joe Sledge
I haven't driven the Mazda yet, but the new engine choices intrigue me. That may be the first diesel I've wanted. The Fusion's styling is both attractive and unerstated, making it appealing to a wider range of owners. But that 6 sure looks good. (})
Chuck KidneyPain Lowery
Ford but I like the Mazda too
John Hand
Alex S Lui
Mazda 6 has a original design, ford just ripped a Aston grill and call it a design....they own Aston or not, Aston style on a ford just doesn't look right to me
Mattso Samsonite
Put some slicks on em and run around Laguna Seca! Makes for a good read!
Brpraveen Kumar
its de ford
Alienx Trm
(}) 6 FTW!
Rick Merschantz
Simon Yee
Passat's resale value worth twice the Fusion/Mazda6? Come on now Craig...
Automobile Magazine
I'm not quite following, Craig--are you saying we should have used a different Passat, or that the system was flawed in general? I'd love for us to use the Passat TDI, personally, but it would have cost so much more than, say, the Optima/Sonata that the average consumer wouldn't bite. An extra $5k on a $25k car is 20 percent, after all. -BT
Miles Krasic
Passant easily wins in regards to its sporty dynamics. The Accord exceeds in everything else.
Craig Stishenko
Fact is, price point should have been forgotten. Trim level and options being the same across all cars - and then note how much more expensive one is than the other. VWs have always been pricier, for same options and trim.. But consider at resale time, it will be worth twice the Fuzion or 6. This could have been a great article, but its easy to find a clear winner.. That with the biggest bang for the buck. Should have been called, Midsize Most for Least.
Geoff Ekenstam
Passat all the way
Craig Stishenko
I normally like the articles you guys write.. But this time Automobile Magazine, I'm not impressed. Your car selection has not been apples to oranges, but granny smiths to fujis. Your putting exciting, youthful versions of your chosen cars up against a very boring variant of Volkswagen Canadas Passat. Now admittedly, a strong VW fan, I like some of the other cars chosen... Our hometeams player wasn't the best suited for this game.
Dong Truong
Arnie Prichep
Lee Klein
Passat. Easy decision.
I must admit I have been reading these dispatches with a certain amount of "detachment". As I stated in another post my youngest is about to leave college and into the world. For about the last 25 years a cars like these have been the staple of my automotive experience, 95 Subaru wagon, 2000 Olds, Saturn L200, Chevy Malibu, etc. What bothers me is that with the execption of Honda Accord none of these manufacturers make a coupe from these sedans. To be honest I have never experienced a market so devoid of choice, you can't even get a real station wagon. I just hope somewhere down the line that these folks take some of the profit from these very nice but somewhat plebeian cars and build something a bit more exciting that doesn't follow this well worn script. 
Erik Summa
Subaru Legacy 3.6R Limited with EyeSight
Tommy Carlisle
Chris Story
Dammy Onafowokan
The pass at. Maintenance scares me though
Ford should have keep Mazda. When their products were based on Mazda platforms they were better cars. Now their Fusion is bested by the lighter,  better designed Mazda.
@Johnny.5spSelling a wagon would be a mistake unless a wagon that does sell in another country can be imported into a country that doesn't sell wagons well.  AKA a special order.  I prefer wagons myself.
@Johnny.5sp Nissan and Toyota both had 2 doors, but no one bought them. Same with attempts to sell wagons. What sells are Crossovers ( the modern Station wagon). 
@nknorka It's my opinion that the Fusion is only heavier because of all the "hi tech" features. And I've heard that the 6 isn't as quiet as the Fusion because they reduced the amount of sound insolation.And the Fusion rides on a good chassis, the AM staff commented on that profusely. The Mondeo has been plugging along on this platform for a while now.

@btc909 @Johnny.5sp Well let us hope that there is a change in public fashion, Volvo is going send over a wagon, if it sells well maybe some will follow.

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