Totally transformed Camry gets uppity with better-than-ever Accord

We compare the Honda Accord 1.5T Touring and the Toyota Camry XSE

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The Honda Accord 1.5T Touring and the Toyota Camry XSE.

It was always a given that the Honda Accord appeals equally to engaged drivers and to those who simply want a dependable, user-friendly transportation appliance. The Toyota Camry, on the other hand, always prioritized the appliance side at the expense of driver appeal. Then came their 2018 redesigns and the decades-old plotline underwent a total rewrite. The Accord is better than ever … but overnight, the Camry acquired honest-to-goodness driver appeal, too. Enough to challenge the Accord? Did the Camry lose any left-brain virtue in the process? To find out, we drove the highest-trim base-engined versions of each contestant.

2018 Honda Accord 1.5T Touring

  • Price: $35,790 (base); $35,790 (as tested)
  • Engine: 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: CVT/front-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.2 city/ 6.8 highway
  • Alternatives: Buick Regal, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat

Looks
Like Toyota, Honda penned a fastback shape, but its softer contours and extended side glass (daylight opening, in car-designer-speak) lend it a long-and-sleek look. The Touring trim includes even-wider 19-inch rims than the Camry’s, plus LED front fog lights, but no skirts and spoilers.

Accord-dash
Some may find the Accord’s driving position a little low.

Interior
The Accord’s 2018 do-over scooped even more space out of an already roomy car – enough to reclassify it from mid-size to large based on interior volumes. The Camry pips it for rear headroom, but the Accord has more shoulder room, and especially leg room, out back. Some may find the driving position a little low and the dashboard design is unadventurous, but the ergonomics – gauges, switchgear and free-standing touch screen – are almost impeccable. Front storage space is better than in Camry, too.

 There’s more leg room in the Accord’s 2018 do-over.
There’s more leg room in the Accord’s 2018 do-over.

Performance
Last year’s base 2.4-litre “four” is displaced by a turbocharged 1.5 that generates 192 horsepower and the same number of “torques,” the latter spread generously across a broad rev range. Matched to an equally new-age continuously variable transmission, the little engine delivers steady, linear acceleration en route to 97 km/h in 7.3 seconds (according to Car and Driver).

Most of the time the transmission avoids that tedious CVT “slipping clutch” feel; on full-bore acceleration, it mimics the stepped shifts of a conventional. Manual transmission is available on several trims but not on the Touring. What the Touring may lack in overt powertrain driver appeal, it makes up with the brilliant handling: quick steering, decisive turn-in, taut body control, and stubborn resistance to understeer no matter how hard you lean on it. For those who have a different concept of “handling,” the Accord’s steering is a tad heavier than the Camry’s, but it needs less twirling in tight manoeuvres.

Technology
In the connectivity/infotainment ledger, the Touring trim has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Siri and Navi, SiriusXM, HD Radio and WiFi hotspot. On the driver-assist side, the Honda Sensing package includes adaptive cruise with stop and go, forward-collision warning and mitigation, multiangle backup camera, parking sensors front and rear, road departure mitigation and active lane-keeping assist.

 The Honda Sensing package offers a multiangle backup camera.
The Honda Sensing package offers a multiangle backup camera.

Cargo
The Accord trunk’s 16.7-cubic-foot volume is best-in-class, although the cavity is a bit irregular in shape; the floor is narrower between the wheel housings than the Camry’s, but there’s more floor space in Accord aft of said housings.

 The cavity is a bit irregular in shape.
The cavity is a bit irregular in shape.

The verdict
8.9

If cars this good can’t entice buyers out of crossovers and back into mid-size sedans, nothing will. Hats off to Honda, too, for continuing to offer a manual gearbox.

2018 Toyota Camry XSE

  • Price: $35,090 (base); $35,630 (as tested)
  • Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/front-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.5 city/6.1 highway
  • Alternatives: Buick Regal, Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, Volkswagen Passat

Looks
This is a Camry? The new shape bulges with muscular assertiveness, amplified on the XSE by a black mesh grille, “go faster” body kit and brawny 19-inch wheels. Not to mention the black roof, which is a $540 option with some colours.

 The boldly styled dashboard may scare Camry traditionalists.
The boldly styled dashboard may scare Camry traditionalists.

Interior
Last, year the Accord and Camry were equally roomy mid-sizers. But while the 2018 Accord has upsized inside, the Camry has lost a couple of cubic feet. The back seats are still plenty roomy for adults, but not as expansively so as the Accord’s. Up front, the Camry’s driver’s seat is a little more accommodating if you want or need to sit high. The boldly styled dashboard may scare Camry traditionalists, but the mix of conventional and touch controls on the asymmetric, shiny black centre stack functions well (although Toyota seems to assign “Home” and “Menu” the opposite meanings to every other auto maker).

 The Camry’s back seats aren’t as roomy as the Accord’s.
The Camry’s back seats aren’t as roomy as the Accord’s.

Performance
The Camry’s old-school naturally aspirated 2.5-litre “four” normally makes 203 horsepower and 184 lb-ft, bumped up to 206 and 186 respectively on the XSE. With 203 hp, Car and Driver measured 0-97 km/h in 7.9 seconds while our own impromptu drag race had the 206-hp Camry virtually neck and neck with Accord.

Generally, we prefer naturally aspirated engines and (in the absence of an available manual box) conventional automatics and the Camry certainly feels hot to trot. But it’s also a little rough around the edges: noisier than you’d expect even driving gently, while the transmission occasionally shunts its shifts and lingers too long in the lower gears. But the handling is a revelation. Response, grip, steering feel – Toyota finally “gets it.” And all without compromising ride quality.

Technology
The Camry XSE lacks the industry-standard smartphone integration ( CarPlay etc.); instead, you get much the same result by signing up for Toyota’s proprietary Entune App Suite Connect and subscription-based GPS Scout (only the range-topping XLE V6 has embedded Navi). For Luddites, Toyota still includes a CD player. On the driving co-pilot side, Toyota Safety Sense package is similar to the Accord’s Honda Sensing but adds pedestrian detection.

 Toyota still includes a CD player.
Toyota still includes a CD player.

Cargo
The Camry’s 15.1-cubic-foot trunk is a tad below class average and notably smaller than Accord’s. Its flat floor is wider than Accord’s at their narrowest points, but the seats-folded pass-through is shallow.

 The Camry’s trunk is notably smaller than the Accord’s.
The Camry’s trunk is notably smaller than the Accord’s.

The verdict
8.7

It used to be that you could have fun driving an Accord and none in a Camry. Now, you can have fun in a Camry, too – yet still without sacrificing any left-brain attributes. For hard-core gearheads, the Accord may still have a slight edge, but for most of the market the difference is no longer enough to matter.

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