Car Talk

Honda Accord vs. Nissan Altima: In the sedan showdown, which one wins out?


News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley
News_Jan13_HondaAccord_NissanAltima
Photo by Kevin McCauley

People often ask us, "What's a good car to buy?" And even though they're asking the question, more often that not, they already have one of these two cars in mind: The Honda Accord and the Nissan Altima.

They're both solid choices, and that speaks to the huge volumes they sell each year and massive followings each of them retain. They're comfortable options in the most sensible, popular segment of passenger cars.

So it's a pretty big deal when both of them are completely overhauled in the same year.

Such is the case in 2013. While some competitors, such as the Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata, have adopted an aggressive strategy of only offering inline four cylinders with and without turbochargers, the Accord and Altima both can be had with a conventional V6 as the range-topper.

Will Honda's safer bet pay off? And more importantly, which of these two cars is better?

 
The Nissan's exterior design is a curvy mix of flares and bulges, with long, wraparound head lamps and taillights that seem to be reaching out for the adjacent body panels. If you like this design, good — because Nissan is rapidly applying the same language to every sedan and SUV in the lineup. 
Nissan's Altima is less than an eighth of an inch longer than the Accord, but it looks and feels significantly larger — there's more visual bulk here.
 
It seems like the engineers finished developing the car, and then the added another foot to each end just so there would be more space to add styling. 

While the Accord's exterior isn't exactly revolutionary, it's a clean update, and the best looking Accord since the 90s. The crispness reminds us of some of the European and Japanese-market Accords from a few years ago that were never sold here.

It's grown, but it doesn't really show.

The Altima is propelled by the venerable VQ35DE, a 270-hp 3.5 liter V6 that is starting to show its age. Power deliver is linear, but slightly harsh at times.

A weak point of the Accord is the tires it comes with, which make noise at high speed and offer very little grip at any speed.

Oddly, though the Altima has a CVT and the Accord has a traditional six-speed automatic (on the V6 model, the inline-four gets a manual or CVT), the Altima feels more 'normal.' The Honda driveline is erratic at times, and can hold gears too long unexpectedly. Perhaps it thinks it's a CVT.

The Accord also has a 3.5 liter V6, producing 278-hp. It's a noticeably smoother motor.

​The rear of the Accord is a bit generic compared to the muscular Altima. 

Altima is rated at 22/30 mpg for the V6 model.

But the V6 accord is EPA rated at 21/34 mpg.

The Altima has a ludicrously terrible turning radius — hope that you never have to make a U-turn.

Inside the Altima is much better appointed than its predecessor, with better materials and a swoopy layout that mimics the exterior. The steering wheel seems to have a thin diameter in this age of increasingly thick steering wheels.

Honda's recent interiors have had a modern starkness to them. The Accord is interesting in that they've used ordinary materials in extraordinary ways — such as using hard plastic as a design element to contrast with the soft-plastic.

Still, the Altima interior is a slightly nicer place to be.

The killer feature of the Accord is LaneWatch, a camera aimed at the passenger side of the car that shows the car's blind spot on the screen in the center.

It works brilliantly because it's so intuitive — flick the right turn signal, and the screen illuminates with a wide-angle view of the space beyond your normal field of vision.

Both cars have nicely tuned suspension that feels well adjusted over most roads and on the highway.

The Altima's large trunk can hold 15.4 cubic feet of cargo . . .

. . . while the Accord has a fractionally-larger 15.8 cubic foot capacity.

The Altima and Accord are two familiar faces in a changing sedan world. Both are excellent all-rounders, but the Honda model wins this one — a combination of smoothness, functionality, and greater efficiency put the more business-like Accord ahead.