Once upon a time, there was the Accord. It had sixty-eight horsepower from 1.6 liters of four-cylinder power. And the consumer saw that it was good, and the Additional Dealer Profit stickers spread far and wide across the land. The Eye Of Toyota, concealed within the fortress of Toyota City, saw the Accord and commanded the Camry to be built. It was bigger and more powerful, but it was also powered by four cylinders.
The General Motors X-Body and A-Body, to say nothing of the Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz, could be had with a V-6, but it mattered not, for not a single Accord buyer in history ever decided upon a Cutlass Ciera as an alternative. But then, one day, Toyota raised the stakes.
The Camry V6 didn’t make much sense initially, with an underpowered 2.5-liter mini-motor that added more weight than the power seemed to justify. But when the 1992 Camry arrived, the promise of the big-block was well and truly justified. All of a sudden, the five-speed V-6 Camry was one of the best cars that money could buy. Honda was forced to introduce a rather hapless long-nosed variant of the Accord in response.
And thus the pattern of the marketplace was fixed. In the world of mid-sized sedans, you must offer a four and a six. The six is there to anchor the top of your lineup, to provide a near-luxury experience for buyers who are downgrading from the Europeans, to benefit from the pre-existing synergies with the Lexus or Acura variant of your mid-sizer which has to have a six. The four is there for customers to actually purchase in measurable volume. Over the past two decades, the 80/20 rule has held generally true, with the four gaining a little more ground, perhaps to 90/10, as fuel prices increase and real-world purchasing power drops.
All was well until the Koreans decided to throw salt in the game with the turbo-four Optima and Sonata. General Motors promptly followed them over the cliff with the Malibu Turbo. Ford decided to provide two turbo engines for the Fusion, one of them the same displacement, more or less, as that original 1977 Accord but making two and a half times the power.
This is the most choice we’ve had in the midsizer market since… well, since ever, really. It’s a shame nobody’s offering a wacky-weed eight-cylinder anymore (pour one out for the Taurus SHO, the Impala SS, and the Passat W8) but right now you can get anything from a force-fed 1.6L to a silky-smooth 3.5L V-6. What would you pick? What’s the best mix of fuel economy and power? Will the turbo four kill the V-6, and if so, why don’t the Japanese know this?