Midsize Madness - Day Two

Patrick M Hoey

Welcome to Automobile Magazine's 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 of 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 practical realities 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.

These cars include: Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda 6, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, and Volkswagen Passat.

To make our comparisons as direct as we can, we've organized a different kind of scheme, matching the cars in brackets just as you would in an athletic tournament. Lacking a "regular season," we've randomly seeded the participants, pitting competitors against one another by drawing names from a hat. The losers will be knocked out one by one until the winner presents itself.

Today, we present a full accounting of each car, and the match-ups will cut the pack in half, going from eight cars to four. Tomorrow, we cut it in half again, going from four cars to only two. These two will go head-to-head in a comparison on Thursday, and we will declare the winner on Friday.

We start the tournament with four match-ups:

  • Ford Fusion vs. Hyundai Sonata
  • Honda Accord vs. Toyota Camry
  • Kia Optima vs. Volkswagen Passat
  • Mazda 6 vs. Nissan Altima

Ford Fusion vs. Hyundai Sonata

2013 Ford Fusion SE

The 2013 Ford Fusion SE is plainly the best athlete in this contest. The Aston Martin-style grille that this car wears shows you that Ford intends for the new Fusion to be a European sport sedan. In the same way that the Toyota Camry represents the extreme from the traditional side in this segment of midsize sedans, the Ford Fusion represents the extreme from the sporty side.

The 2013 Fusion is a great car if you're looking for a driving enthusiast's interpretation of a midsize sedan's mission, yet some compromises in utility are also required as a result. To give the 2013 Fusion a sporty roofline that still delivers adequate rear-seat headroom, the car's beltline gradually sweeps upward. Headroom is good, but the interior architecture makes rear passengers feel like they're in the back seat of an Audi TT. When it comes to driving, the Fusion has a sporty, alert instinct for a winding road, yet the car also lets you down somewhat in the daily slog because it feels heavy and the freeway ride is a little brittle.

Problem is, while everyone likes good styling, consumers also buy midsize sedans for their interior comfort and easy, low-cost operation. Problem is, while car people pay lip service to sporty driving dynamics, most people are just trying to get to work.

Nevertheless, if you're looking for a midsize sedan with sporty flavor, then the 2013 Ford Fusion SE should be playing for your team. The 178-hp, 1.6-liter, direct-injected, turbocharged four-cylinder engine seems small and underpowered on the specification sheet, yet as road test editor Christopher Nelson reports, "It feels like it has just the right amount of power." The six-speed automatic transmission even feels sporty as it helps deliver 24 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.

The same goes for the chassis. "Perhaps the best chassis here," deputy editor Joe DeMatio says of the Fusion. "Excellent steering feel and accuracy. The car feels really nimble." Senior web editor Phil Floraday concurs and says, "Good suspension, accurate steering." At the same time, Floraday notes, "The car is heavier than the competition - in most cases by about 200 pounds - and it feels enormously heavy from the driver's seat in a bad way. Plus compromised visibility cramps the cabin."

As you'd expect in a sport sedan, the seats are top-notch, yet not just in a sporty way. Managing editor Amy Skogstrom says, "The seats are extremely comfortable. Ford took some lessons from Volvo, and it shows." (Well, she likes things that are Swedish anyway, as you can tell from her name.) "As for MyFord Touch," Skogstrom continues, "at least there's a knob to change the radio station. However, I accidentally brushed my fingers across the climate controls and suddenly the temperature was set at 60 degrees."

Winning this contest requires more than just athleticism. We're aware of our own general preference for sporty driving, but even we acknowledge that a car that is used daily needs a certain kind of easy-going utility, and the Fusion might have a little too much personality going for it. - Todd Lassa

2013 Ford Fusion SE
$24,495/$29,180 (base/as tested)

16-valve DOHC turbocharged I-4
Displacement: 1.6 liters (97 cu in)
Horsepower: 178 hp @ 5700 rpm
Torque: 184 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel

Electrically assisted
Front suspension: Strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes F/R: Vented discs/discs, ABS
Tire size: 235/50R-17 96H
Tires: Michelin Energy Saver A/S

L x W x H:
191.7 x 72.9 x 58.1 in
Wheelbase: 112.2 in
Track F/R: 62.7/62.4 in
Weight: 3421 lb
Headroom F/R: 39.2/37.8 in
Legroom F/R: 44.3/38.3 in
Passenger volume: 102.8 cu ft
Cargo volume: 16.0 cu ft
EPA mileage: 24/37/28 mpg city/highway/combined

2013 Hyundai Sonata SE

For the 2011 model year, the Hyundai Sonata left behind a past of generic midsize competence for a new life with cutting-edge styling, and we celebrated it with a spot on our list of All-Stars. We liked the combination of expressive sheetmetal, a feature-laden interior, and value for the money, plus the 2011 Sonata was among the first cars in the segment to abandon the option of a V-6 engine to focus on fuel-efficient four-cylinders.

But even All-Stars get old. Two years later, the 2013 Hyundai Sonata SE still offers a lot of style and features for the money, two strategic factors that have fueled the steady growth of Hyundai's sales. And yet the Sonata falls short in a tournament like this, where it has to match up against so many models that have been recently improved. How can such a thing happen in two years?

The answer is: there are now more cars that can play the style game, plus more models have embraced fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines and abandoned the V-6. "The Sonata is the clear loser of this match-up," deputy editor Joe DeMatio exclaims with surprise. "Excellent power delivery, but the engine is coarse and the transmission is its willing accomplice." Road test editor Christopher Nelson concurs. "I can see why this would've been an All-Star before its competitors were replaced with new models," he says. "It has a very strong engine, but it's coarse, with more idle noise than a good diesel."

When you break down the Sonata's game, you're surprised to find too many negatives. The Sonata's 200-hp four-cylinder is powerful, yet copy editor Rusty Blackwell found its throttle tip-in to be touchy. We also disliked the Sonata's mushy brakes and numb steering, while this car's sport suspension delivered too much road harshness for too little handling improvement. "On a smooth road, the Sonata feels fine, but get it on a road with some bumps and it immediately starts to feel twitchy and unsettled," managing editor Amy Skogstrom says.

The 2013 Hyundai Sonata delivers a lot of game for the money, and this continues to make it a leading value in its segment. Even so, it's just a little bit off from the best in every category, which proves crucial in a head-to-head tournament like this. For example, the bodywork is expressive, yet the roofline noticeably compromises rear-seat headroom. The Sonata SE's interior looks reassuringly traditional at very low cost, yet the same money gets you leather seating surfaces in the Kia Optima EX, for instance, seems like a small price to pay to get so much.

When the Hyundai Sonata SE is cruising calmly along the turnpike at 70 mph and the audio system is playing, this traditional midsize sedan seems like a sure winner. After all, it is a sound all-around player. But when you get the Sonata out of its comfort zone, it makes you wonder if there are more compelling choices in this segment. This is what happens when every team in the league raises its game. - Todd Lassa

2013 Hyundai Sonata SE
$24,120/$24,720 (base/as tested)

16-valve DOHC I-4
Displacement: 2.4 liters (144 cu in)
Horsepower: 200 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 186 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel

Electrically assisted
Front suspension: Strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes F/R: Vented discs/discs, ABS
Tire size: 225/45R-18 95V
Tires: Hankook Optimo

L x W x H:
189.8 x 72.2 x 57.9 in
Wheelbase: 110.0 in
Track F/R: 62.5/62.5 in
Weight: 3260 lb
Headroom F/R: 40.0/37.8 in
Legroom F/R: 45.5/34.6 in
Passenger volume: 103.8 cu ft
Cargo volume: 16.4 cu ft
EPA mileage: 24/35/28 mpg city/highway/combined

Winner: 2013 Ford Fusion SE. The Fusion moves into the final four.

1 of 4
Tony Costa
Mazda 6!
The Optima is way better than the Passat, you people are really crazy.My choices are Optima and Fusion.
Carlos Cueto
Accord is the best in its class
Michael Lagadia
Simone Branchi
mazda ;)
Van K
It's as if they are penalizing the Fusion and 6 for having the effrontery to have the tiniest smidgeon of soul or performance attitude. This sounds more like CR's typical salute to blandness than an enthusiast's view.
Tundra Dweller
The reviewers comments are hysterical!  Altima -  "The mouse-fur upholstery looks like something you'd find in a 1970s custom van," says copy editor Rusty Blackwell. Camry -  Deputy editor Joe DeMatio declares that the exterior look of the Camry is as "exciting as a grocery cart."

Peter Perreira
Nick Ardito
Japan all the way Mazda makes the best!
Manuel Diaz
Manuel Diaz
Marc Hamady
Fusion all the way
Marc Hamady
VW is better
VW Passat over Kia Optima?!?!?!?! common guys, VW looks like a rental and the interiors are awful, I like your magazine, but it seems like you compared the Kia Optima with Hyundai Sonata, and the VW with nothing.
Gregory Easton
Ford - great design.
With the way that middling review of the Fusion went, I did not think it would be the one to advance!
And it's good that they recognize the irony in their own review. Just about every review of the Fusion that I've read says "finally, a sporty mid sized sedan that you'd actually want to drive on the weekends!". Now they say that it's a fault... Ok...
I wonder if I leaf forward to the Mazda6, will they have the same criticism? I doubt it. I bet they laud the sporty ride and would be surprised if it doesn't win the whole damn comparo.
Willian Dagua
los 2 paeswe
Willian Dagua
chevere parse
Jeff Schimetz
Ford all the way.
Dammy Onafowokan
Kevin Celeste
Alienx Trm
(}) Mazda6
Adel Amid
Adel Amid
Marcelo Brenes Hernandez
Weisler Dutes
(zoom zoom)
Erick Ople
Can't wait to see how the new 1.8 liter TSi engine would ante up the game for the Passat!
Erick Ople
John Hand
Whay is the 6 on snow tires?
Brennan Shanks
the interior of that Mazda is at home in a 1992 Oldsmobile.
Why winter tires on the Mazda?
Bruce Ballard
Geoff Ekenstam
Martin Meyer
Geoff Ekenstam
Andrew Cavett
The Altima is built in the U.S. Keep the American economy going
Tim Lucas
These are VERY similarly styled!
Tim Lucas
The Fusion is the most beautiful car in the bunch
Rodney Miranne
The 6 in a walk.
Brian Michael
Nissan with a V6 option for the win.
Brian Michael
Daanesh Chanduwadia
The 6 was on Blizzaks?!
Alsson Mata
Mazda obviously!
Jim Bur
Mazda all the way
Billy Crowe
Mazda 6, I purchased one 4 weeks ago and my dad purchased on about 2 weeks ago. Great car, love the way it drives! Mazda 6 all the way!
Faulkner Mazda
Ryan Merkl
Gimme the sonata here and the Mazda 6 overall
Alienx Trm
Mazda6 in final four as expected
Geoff Ekenstam
Pretty amazing that the Camry and Accord just "happened" to be pulled out of the hat and compared to each other!  

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