From the January 2018 issue
“We’re not trying to be a General Motors,” Honda’s then foreign sales manager told the New York Times in 1977, the year after the Accord went on sale. “Our modest goal is simply to become the number-one–selling foreign car in the United States.” When C/D first sampled the new 1983 Toyota Camry, the car hardly felt Japanese. “What we have here is the American car according to Japan,” we wrote, “in its purest form ever.”
The Accord and Camry assimilated into American culture so thoroughly that they have long ceased being foreign at all. They’re largely engineered here, built here, and have topped the sales charts here for so long that millennials, post-millennials, and post-post-millennials don’t consider them anything but America’s most ubiquitous cars. Forget all the other minnows in the sedan mainstream. The Accord and the Camry are the big fish; the rest are swimming hard in their wake. And now, for the first time in the Accord’s 42 years and the Camry’s 35, they’re both all new at the same moment. It’s a weird sort of convergence.
Dumping the K platform on which three generations of Camrys have been erected since 2002, the eighth-generation Camry adopts the Toyota New Global Architecture that’s already under the current Prius and the goofy C-HR and destined to spread like a front-wheel-drive epidemic throughout the product line. TNGA is a set of components that can be chopped, channeled, twisted, and fried to support everything from compact sedans to hybrid crossovers. That’s practically everything Toyota sells except ladder-frame trucks and forklifts. The Camry is the first TNGA platform vehicle to enter production in North America.
Now two development cycles removed from the control-arm-front-suspension fetishism of the hard-core Honda faithful, the 10th-generation Accord adopts the global platform that’s already under the current Civic and stalwart CR-V and destined to spread like a front-wheel-drive epidemic throughout the product line. This platform is a set of components that can be chopped, channeled, twisted, and fried to support everything from compact sedans to hybrid crossovers. That’s practically every four-wheel Honda smaller than the Pilot and Odyssey that isn’t a side-by-side ATV or a lawn mower.
The Accord’s interior design is subtle and handsome, instead of flashy. It highlights the quality of its materials and intuitive ergonomics.
So at their core, the Accord and the Camry emerge from similar corporate-product-development pools. And, yeah, they’re both still front-drive sedans with strut-type front suspensions, electrically assisted rack-and-pinion steering, and all sorts of electronic whiz-bangery designed to minimize the consequences of a driver’s stupidity. But after that, the deviations and deviancies start accumulating.
The Camry retains its commitment to conventional powertrain wisdom with a four-cylinder base engine and an optional V-6. While the Camry’s new four carries the same nominal 2.5-liter displacement as before, the stroke is now slightly longer and the bore slightly smaller, enabling a rise in compression ratio from last year’s 10.4:1 to 13.0:1. So horsepower is up from 178 to 203 (or 206 with the XSE model’s quad exhaust tips), and there’s an accompanying bump in torque production. The optional dual-injected 3.5-liter V-6 also runs a higher 11.8:1 compression ratio and rates at 301 horsepower. The Toyota brand is one of the last strongholds in the United States for natural aspiration—none of its current offerings here is turbocharged or supercharged. And no, Lexus doesn’t count.
The Accord goes elsewhere. Honda resisted forced induction right up until the introduction of the 2016 Civic. And, no, Acura doesn’t count, either. Now the wastegates are open, and the Accord has embraced the blown future. Forget the previous generation’s base 185-hp 2.4-liter inline-four and welcome the Civic’s turbocharged 1.5-liter four, making 192 horsepower here. Send last year’s 278-hp 3.5-liter V-6 down the memory hole, too. It’s been replaced by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a turbo heaving into it and making 252 horsepower. That power rating is deceptive, though: The old V-6 made its peak 252 pound-feet of torque way up at 4900 rpm, whereas the turbocharged 2.0-liter four thumps out 273 pound-feet from 1500 to 4000 rpm.
Until internal combustion is outlawed completely, the turbocharged present of fewer cylinders and smaller displacement will continue to pervade the market. Toyota will succumb eventually. Probably soon.
For the design of the new Camry interior, Toyota has apparently drawn inspiration from Hasbro’s seminal work, Chutes and Ladders.
Toyota puts a conventional eight-speed automatic into every new Camry. Honda’s automatic paired with the 2.0-liter has 10 gears, but more important, Honda offers a genuine, honest-to-praiseworthy-goodness six-speed manual gearbox in Sport models with either the 1.5- or 2.0-liter engine. For most buyers, the availability of a manual transmission won’t matter. But this is Car and Driver, and that additional level of mechanical engagement in an everyday mid-size sedan is a transcendent validation of our sacred, ancient faith.
And it’s at that point, where the driver interacts with the car, that we see how clearly superior the Accord is. Organic is a trite term, but there’s crunchy-granola naturalness to how the new Accord works. The steering wheel’s size and squishy rim are perfect, and the controls embedded in it are selected semi-intuitively. The Accord interior is straightforward with knobs where knobs seem to work best, switches that operate with a sniper’s accuracy, and seats that manage the trick of simultaneously accommodating and supporting. The center touchscreen at the top of the dash responds instantly to inputs, has real buttons to trigger important menu jumps, and glows with brilliance. The instrumentation in front of the driver can be configured to provide whatever info you find important at the time. At the lofty Touring level, a head-up display is included. The Accord is dang roomy, too, an evolutionary half step beyond the new Camry.
“Like Honda manuals of the past, the shift action is light, quick, and accurate. The clutch effort is modest; the ratios are well chosen.”
But it’s the combination of the Accord’s new engines and the manual transmission that cements this, the Accord’s 753rd appearance on C/D‘s 10Best list. Like Honda manuals of the past, the shift action is light, quick, and accurate. The clutch effort is modest, the ratios are well chosen, and it all combines to bring an eagerness and fluidity that, no matter the dynamic improvements in the Camry, keep the Accord on top.
One underappreciated advantage of the turbocharged four-cylinder engine is that there’s simply less weight up front than with a V-6. The dimensional differences between the new Camry and the Accord are slight, with the latter’s wheelbase only 0.2 inch longer than the former’s and its overall length a puny 0.5 inch more than the longest Camry. Yet the Accord Touring 2.0T automatic we had at 10Best checked in at 3419 pounds, while the Camry XSE V-6 was 3665 pounds. Opt for the manual transmission in the Accord Sport 2.0T and curb weight drops to 3276 pounds, which, when compared with the Toyota, is more than an NFL lineman’s worth of mass. Of course this is apparent in the driving experience, given that the difference amounts to almost 11 percent of the Camry’s weight. This makes the Camry feel larger, heavier, and slower-witted. The Accord is lithe and lapidary, and hence more fun.
But the Accord isn’t just better than the Camry. This is a mass-market car selling at a keen price—and a better-driving one than many more expensive and pretentious performance cars. It’s the unquestioned victor here and everywhere else mid-size, mid-price vehicles may roam.
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