A third kid is on the way, and the Triumph TR6 in the garage spends more time with the hood up than down-not that you have time to drive it anyway. A Mini Cooper won't hold the whole family, and let's face it, that new Audi A6 just isn't in the budget. Yes, it's time to settle down and come to terms with reality. It's time for a nice, conservative family sedan. But the Toyota Camry is taking conservative a bit too far, and that Chrysler Sebring with the great dealer incentives . . . we'd suggest you weld a back seat in the trunk of the Triumph and keep working on the carburetor. So, you ask, how can you spend $25,000, maintain a bit of youthfulness, and be a responsible parent?
The mid-size sedan segment has traditionally kept wallets full throughout the industry. But with the SUV market still booming, American automakers have lost their grasp on a segment once vital for their survival. With once-important sedans such as the Chevy Impala and the Ford Taurus running on life support, the more youthful Japanese models have full reign over the market. Most notable among the many Asian options are the Honda Accord (a longtime standard of engineering and refinement), the Mazda 6 i (our favorite for the past two years), and the newly redesigned Subaru Legacy (the latest and most significant change within the class). We opted for the base four-cylinder models, which, at just over $20,000, keep plenty of distance between themselves and $30K sedans including the BMW 3-series, the Cadillac CTS, and the Infiniti G35, whose refinement and athleticism are a class above.
When the seventh-generation Accord was released for 2003, we were impressed by Honda's ability to make the car more Euro-like and more conservative at the same time. It is this ability that keeps Accord sales at the top of a large, very competitive class of automobiles. With styling that won't put you to sleep (sorry, Toyota) and amazing refinement, the Honda's success is not surprising. It isn't dull enough to make enthusiasts cry just thinking about the more desirable but less practical S2000 parked on the other side of the dealer's lot, but it offers a ride that will never make even the softest bones ache.
Inside the cabin, the story is the same. Design and materials are stylish but conservative, enjoyable but useful. Steering feel is light as a feather, as is rowing through the gears (and doing so conservatively will help you achieve 26/34 mpg EPA fuel economy). The Accord also offers the roomiest cabin of the group, trumping the opponents in everything but front leg room, where the Subaru achieves slightly lengthier measurements.
The Accord is not, however, flawless. A few rough, off-camber turns will quickly make you realize that the Honda's almost Buick-like suspension is not meant for anything remotely close to a racetrack, and keeping the car neutral may have taken a few years off our lives. Most Accord owners obviously have no intention of visiting a track, but an emergency situation could bring about a similar uneasiness of the chassis. Frequent wheel spin in corners and from a stop also made us wish Honda would offer traction control in four-cylinder models.
In the end, the Accord is an exceptionally refined sedan that we would not hesitate to recommend to our friends, our neighbors, and even our mothers. But for our twenty grand and change, the mid-size Honda has too many compromises to make us feel content. The Mazda and the Subaru are simply more aesthetically pleasing and provide a driving thrill uncharacteristic of this class.