By on December 18, 2019

2018 Honda Accord Touring 1.5T - Image: HondaMany sedans are due to fade away at the end of this year, replaced via a cadre of crossovers (as preferred by Middle America). To that end, we began a trio of sedan-focused QOTDs last week. First up were the compact and subcompact sedans, where your author awarded the Mazda 3 a class win.

This week, we’re talking midsizers. The choices are fewer in number than you might think.

Midsize sedan options on the list below are sourced from U.S. News and their car classifications by size. While the website lists the gasoline and hybrid versions as unique models, we won’t be so liberal here; all model varieties are considered a single entry. Luxury marques are not included on the list, nor are any cars with rear apertures other than trunks. The resulting contenders number 11:

Chevrolet Malibu
Ford Fusion
Honda Accord
Honda Clarity
Hyundai Sonata
Kia Optima
Mazda 6
Nissan Altima
Subaru Legacy
Toyota Camry
Volkswagen Passat

The list above presented a number of issues as I was sorting through to award a best all-rounder. They’ve all got issues: The Fusion’s old (and doomed), the Accord is hideous, Optima’s due for replacement, and the Clarity is ridiculously expensive ($36,000+). Who wins the award then?

2018 Toyota Camry LE - Image: Toyota

It’s the Camry.

“The Camry’s Golden Age was long ago,” you’ll think. And you’d be right, but hear me out. The Camry loses enthusiast credibility (if any’s to be had in this segment) with its lack of a manual transmission, unlike the Accord. But you know what else it lacks? A CVT in anything but the Hybrid trims. If you’re willing to pony up, Camry also has the tried-and-tested 3.5-liter 2GR V6. Its basic design debuted in 2004, and it powers plenty of Toyota, Lexus, and Lotus vehicles. Special bonus: Unlike some of its competitors, it’s built in the U.S., right in Kentucky. And though it’s mostly hideous to behold, the visual flaws can be minimized by selecting dark paint and avoiding the sporty SE trim.

The midsize, non-luxury sedan is a limited field in 2019. What’s your pick for best all-rounder?

[Images: Honda, Toyota]

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73 Comments on “QOTD: Best All-round Midsize Sedans in 2019?...”


  • avatar
    tomLU86

    Camry is dependable, doesn’t look weird, has a non-turbo engine, and a real (non-CVT) transmission.

    So, Camry is the best.

    The Accord is next because it is offered with a manual trans. Unfortunately, like many Hondas, I don’t care for it’s looks.

    The uplevel Malibu (with the turbo 2.0) is probably good (if it drives like the 2013-17 Regal), but overpriced for what it is.

    The Passat looks like a Germanized Ford 500, and we all know how reliable VWs built since 1992 are…

  • avatar
    ajla

    I agree. Camry V6 is my favorite here and it’s probably the biggest rout for me within any vehicle class.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Given the availability of the manual (or the 10-speed auto) I would probably go with the Accord over the Camry. But… really it’s a toss-up given my current dislike of turbo engines (long story).

  • avatar
    jack4x

    The 2GR is a great engine. Camry all day for me.

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    Since all I can do is look at the cars in this segment I have to make my own judgement on appearance. My thoughts are that this is a pretty good looking bunch. Lots of choice.

    The ones that would get me into a showroom, in no particular order, are:

    Honda Accord
    Hyundai Sonata
    Kia Optima
    Mazda 6
    Nissan Altima

    These are all pretty handsome rigs, honestly.

  • avatar
    Guy A

    Mazda 6 – it is well built, good to drive (for the segment), attractive inside and out and refined. All at a reasonable price.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Best midsize sedan – 2017 Mazda6 Sport MT. Can not be better than that!

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    The Camry is not the best looking car in the world.

    But ‘hideous’? I don’t think so.

    Most of the others are worse. The Accord in particular, is doubly bad, because it looks gaudy and tacky, yet I read the 2.0 manual trans is a sweet driver. As with the Civic SI, too bad. I have to look at it.

    The Malibu looks decent also, but the base version looks cheap inside. This was ‘the way’ 40 years ago: Detroit will offer you a great “deal”, but if you don’t want to be stigmatized as cheap, you need to spend on option. Unfortunately for GM, this ain’t 1969–or even 1979.

    The base 2008 Malibu (that’s over TEN years ago, 3 model generations ago) did NOT look base–it was very comparable, perhaps even..nicer, than the Cam-cords in 2008. Since that one bright spot (2008-2012), the Malibu has gone downhill, and with GM’s strategy of dissing cars in favor of CUVs and trucks, it will probably never be a top-notch sedan again.

    The other cars are either ugly or have CVTs or I just don’t care for them….because. I want to like the Subaru, but since Subaru took the manual trans, it’s down to number four.

    • 0 avatar
      Guy A

      You think the Mazda 6 is ugly? It also has a proper automatic transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      johnds

      “Cam-Cord” is a term for GM lovers or Ford lovers which started out in the 90s when they thought the Lumina/Corsica or Taurus/Tempo/Contour was the absolute best riding machines. Import lovers grouped your favorite Ford/GM as “Turds.”

      • 0 avatar
        tomLU86

        Funny you mention it! In 1994, a friend of mine was car shopping, I was her wingman. She was set on an Accord or Camry. While I wanted to support “American” cars back then, I knew they were inferior to the Camcords–but the new Countour was promising. I persuaded her to look, we test-drove one-a V6 auto, I loved it! I thought it was the best driving car–but i had a V6, the others were 4-cyl.

        Good thing she didn’t get it, as they turned out to be…turds–problematic cars.

        The 94 Accord and Camry were excellent cars. She had a tough time making up her mind, 55/45 Accord/Camry. Then when we started talking price, the Accord was less, that sealed the deal.

    • 0 avatar
      hpycamper

      The front of the Camry looks like something that would be lurking in the Mariana Trench. Hideaous.

  • avatar
    Nedmundo

    I’ve only driven a few of these, the Fusion and Malibu as rentals, and the Mazda 6 and Accord as possible replacements for my 2010 TSX. Based on this, I say Accord, and it’s not even close.

    The Accord offers 6MT, and the transmission is outstanding. It’s especially great with the 2.0T, but that engine also pairs extremely well with the 10AT. Both are fantastic drivetrains. In fact, I tested the 2.0T/6MT version the day after testing the Genesis G70 Sport M/T, and while the FWD Accord can’t match the G70 for handling, the Accord’s engine and transmission are MUCH better. It also handles extremely well, and offers tons of interior room and cargo space. It drives like a larger, more powerful version of my TSX.

    I do think the Mazda 6 Grand Touring offers more content than the Accord Sport for about the same OTD price, with a nicer interior especially, but I don’t think it drives as well. Handling is comparable, but the Accord rides a little better and the drivetrain is superior.

    I like the Fusion, but not as much as the Honda and Mazda. I liked the Malibu more than I expected. It’s perfectly acceptable, but not exactly a driver’s car.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J

      Drive train superior? I don’t know about that. I prefer the 2.5T over the 2.0T. However, the biggest complaint I had with the Accord sport I drove was the automatic. It hunted and hunted and hunted. The shifts weren’t as crisp either. At the time when I got my Mazda 6 GTR, it was only about 2K more than an Accord Sport with the auto transmission, but came with so much more stuff. To get the same level of features, I was going to have to jump the Touring at 6K more.

  • avatar
    Dan

    On paper I like the Camry for all of the usual reasons but the one time that I ever sat in this generation – while the salesman drove us to the other end of their lot 400 yards away to look at a Highlander – I hit my head on the door getting in and couldn’t sit upright in the back.

    I haven’t touched a new Accord but read that they did the same thing with grounding it to the ground a couple more inches.

    The Mazda still looks sharp almost 7 years later but manages to be cramped up front too.

    The VW is old enough to predate the 4 door coupe ergonomics, and if you stripped the badges off I’d probably fall for it.

    The Subaru looks pretty upright too but I don’t want AWD, a CVT, to do CV boots every four years, or anything to do with their politics.

    H/K/Chevy/Nissan are for rental companies and suckers.

    This segment died for a reason.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      You folks and those Subaru CV boot stories. Please tell me about yours, in detail, and what year. I’ll swap ya some stories about three Toyota Celica’s and leaky head gaskets.

  • avatar
    Jon

    Having owned fullsize trucks my whole life, I now drive a 4cyl 2010 camry due to family needs. I cry a little bit every time i drive it. A new V6 Camry might make me cry less. Anything else would make me sob.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Everybody knows that the best mid-size sedan is now a crossover. The Rav4/CRV/Escape is now the mid-size, mid-priced bread and butter of the automotive world

    • 0 avatar
      tomLU86

      That’s open to debate.

      I would venture to say that any of the above sedans listed can go around corners faster. They also burn less fuel (the laws of physics being what they are, the taller shape and larger frontal area mean more fuel consumption and slower acceleration, even with the same Cd, even with the same mass). In reality, they weigh more AND have a bigger frontal area, and a lower CD and a higher center of gravity.

      If/when I have to transport elderly/infirm, or if/when I have ingress/egress issues, I’ll consider one.

      If you want cargo versatility (a station wagon with fold down seats), or have ingress/egress issues, or absolutely want to sit a few inches higher (you still can’t see around a Tahoe or full-size truck), then the best mid-size sedan is a crossover.

      If you want to go somewhere comfortably, quietly (sedan is quieter, less wind noise and trunk means less noise) and efficiently, with room for four, the best mid-size sedan IS a mid-size sedan.

      If fuel prices here ever reach what they pay in Europe ($6 to $7 or more), then that extra 3-6 mpg might be more important.

      If my 2011 Malibu averaged 28.2 mpg over 100k miles and got 33-36 on open road, I bet a new Camry will get 35-40 mpg on a long trip, and mid-high 20s, maybe 30, in the suburbs, and carry four comfortably. You won’t see 40mpg in a crossover.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        For all practical purposes for a road trip I can get as much in our ’14 Avenger as our ’13 Rogue. The Avenger has more people space as well, even on paper, and gets much better (31 ave on a road trip compared to 26 ave) mileage and has over 100hp more available for merging and mountains. Both are FWD.

        The CUV might be best in terms of what people buy, but people buy Starbucks as well and it is all because of marketing.

        As a side note, the Rogue does have more cargo height available, but my wife brought a dresser home in the Avenger. The Rogue wins if you fold the seats down compared to the Avenger with the seats down.

        • 0 avatar
          cognoscenti

          I really dislike spending more for Starbucks coffee than somewhere else, but that “This is guaranteed to taste good, and consistently the same every time, at every franchise across the globe” thing that they do is more than just a marketing exercise.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    The Camry, Legacy and Passat all look fine to me. Gun to head I’d go Passat first and Camry second. But I prefer the driving position of a crossover – much more comfortable for me.

  • avatar
    The Ghost of Buckshot Jones

    Bemoan the lack of sedans, don’t include the C class, CLA, 3 series, 2 GC, A4, G70, IS, Q50, Maxima, Charger, Stinger, etc.

    Great article guys.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    How reliable will the 2018-and-newer Camry’s direct-injected 4-cyl engine and 8-sp automatic be, compared with the 2017-and-older Camry’s traditional MPFI 4-cyl and 6-sp automatic?

    If I were voting with my own dollars, I’d probably go with a 2019 Fusion with the tried-and-true Mazda MZR-based 2.5 Duratec and 6-sp automatic. Not fast or particularly refined, but reliable as hell. No CVT. No turbo. No direct injection. No stop/start at red lights.

    • 0 avatar
      johnds

      The last model years of a production run are usually the best ones in my opinion. However with 2020s out and 21’s less than a year away, I am sure a lot of updates have been made.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      @ Matt – Note that the Camry is dual injected, not DI-only. My 2¢ based on internet chatter and relatives’ owning a dual-injected Lexus is that Lexus/Toyota got the system essentially right from the start. My guess is that the implementation in the Camry will prove to be very reliable.

      And wow, I didn’t realize the Fusion’s 2.5 is port injected, which I agree is a positive. (I’m softening my stance slightly on DI-only cars. My retired-mechanic uncle has one in his fleet and says, “So far, so good.” I’d still choose dual injection or port injection over it, though, given a choice.)

  • avatar
    tonycd

    Test drove an base-engine Accord on a whim this weekend. It’s not insulated like a luxury car, but it does all the basics well. Surprisingly quick except for a slight lag off the line, sounds decent, nice ride-handling tradeoff. It’s also worth noting, given the mission of cars in this class, that the Accord has a LOT more rear-seat room and doesn’t intrude on the driver’s right leg like the Camry’s console does. With its new rear suspension, this generation of Camry isn’t quite as spacious back there as you remember.

    As for “hideous,” seems like that label is applied in this writeup to half the cars here. “Hideous” is a Prius. I’d say these cars are merely “a little overwrought.” And if Japanese styling cliches are a deal-breaker, you should’ve given a longer look to the elegantly styled Mazda 6.

    • 0 avatar
      johnds

      My dealer gave me an 18 LX for a few hours and I was surprised how solid it was compared to the 2016/17 Accords. My dad almost bought a used 2015 Accord V6 but the feel wasn’t as solid/luxurious as his 2003 V6 Accord. Definitely a good, solid ride in the 2018 and if you don’t need too much power the 1.5T is plenty.

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    I love my Camry XLE, it actually drives *perfectly* for the intended use (daily grind, hauling kids, getting decent MPG, looking inconspicuous), but my pick if I had to replace it tomorrow would easily be a Fusion Sport, with its AWD and twin turbo V6. The same engine moves our F150 with ease and authority, so in a midsize sedan – whoah Nelly!

    • 0 avatar
      AA610

      I think you made a good choice. The current gen Camry (XLE trim as well) will likely be my next car.

      Love the ride and interior of the Accord, but with Honda having become less reliable over time, it’s a no go for me.

  • avatar
    micko4472

    tolu86 is right about the Camry.

    I notice the Chev. Impala is not on the list. Maybe it’s too big. At any rate, the Impala is a great car, except for it’s GDI engine, which means
    it’s a non-starter for me. There is also a comparable Buick, now discontinued I think.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Plenty of 2018/2019 Regal Sportbacks remaining on dealer lots.

    Accord 2.0t Sport manual trans, every reviewer had a good time with one.

    Honestly I think the new Sonata N-line and Optima GT are going to be a blast, other than I hesitate when 300 lb ft is directed the front wheels only.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    While not technically mid-size, you can find Toyota Avalons in the same price range as Camry. That swoopy center stack is about as sexy as Toyota’s gonna go. Much better than the oddness of the Camry interior.

    CarMax is selling new Avalons, something I didn’t know they did.

    The best value mid sizers are still the ’18 Passat GT and likely the upcoming Sonata N line.

  • avatar
    JMII

    I’ve had many of these as rentals and Camry drives like toast. It is so plain and boring. I guess that is what most people want. It does everything well without standing out in any noticeable way. It’s like perfectly average. If I was forced to pick one it would be Mazda or the Hyundai.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    I’m stepping out a little here, but I now prefer CVTs over any autotranny with over six speeds. The modern CVTs are smooth and are always in the optimum gear ratio. The old “rubber banding” is a thing of the distant past.
    I cross shopped a 4 cyl Camry, Mazda 6 against the CVT Accord in 2014 and ended up with the Accord.
    In the 5 1/2 years since I had the Accord, the CVT has been flawless. My only concern is the long term durability of the CVT. But, I have the same concerns about the 7 and more speed auto transmissions given their high parts count. f

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Some of these midsizers sure don’t look very midsize. The Accord is HUGE (or sure looks huge).

    I’m surprised there isn’t as much love for the Mazda6 here – that would be my pick. I’d go Accord next (Manuel option) and then Camry – but only if optioned up. The LE base trim is a miserable place to be (not as miserable as a Malibu LS, but still miserable).

    I then would go with the Fusion, which I’ve never gone, “oh no, a Fusion,” when the keys have been handed to me at the rental counter.

    I’d rank the Altima higher, a lot higher, if it wasn’t for that miserable CVT that Nissan continues to cling to.

    Every rental Optima and Sonata I’ve had has left me going, “I don’t get it. Why do people praise these???” Maybe it is the difference between poverty spec and optioned up.

    The base trim Toyotas I’ve had as rentals (RAV4, Corolla, Camry) have been wretched one and all. The optioned up versions are all vastly better. The Malibu use to be like that – now it’s just wretched period.

  • avatar
    clearance42

    Though they’re a bit thin on the ground, I lean toward the Honda Clarity. State and local tax credits add up to $9200 where I live, bringing the price much more inline with the rest of the pack. And for that price, you get an excellent interior (to my eyes leaps and bounds ahead of the accord), great cargo space, and a gas-free commute within 45 miles roundtrip. The exterior styling is a bit funky, and I doubt driving dynamics are above middle of the pack, but for a comfortable, near-luxury feeling commuter car (that can also comfortably fit carseats) – it’s a win.

    All that said, once the tax credit runs out, the value proposition mostly disappears.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’ll go with a Fusion, actually.

    1) It’s the best looking midsize you can buy, has been since the day it was introduced, and will still look good in a few years.
    2) It’s a solid driver.
    3) They’re RIDICULOUSLY good deals right now – here’s one with the uprated engine, AWD, leather, sunroof and nav…twenty-eight, asking.

    https://www.autonationfordlittleton.com/new/Ford/2019-Ford-Fusion-bb8a5e820a0d0c1440a983c2c3385fe6.htm?searchDepth=7:7

    And I’ve seen the more basic SE models around for eighteen. CRAZY good deal.

    Second choice would be a base Camry – it’s not great looking to begin with, and once you get into the upper trim levels, Toyota adds the stupid fake air scoops and such that makes the car even more ungainly.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    1. Toyota Camry–Older proven technology without turbo charging and CVTs. Will run for years and cost less to maintain.
    2. Honda Accord-Offers manual and has a reliable history. Downside turbos and CVTs not good for long term owners
    3. Chevy Malibu–Not great but ok reliability with purchase price well below MSRP. Downside some turbos and CVTs not good for long term owners
    4. Ford Fusion–Similar to Malibu but no CVTs. Downside some turbos offered which if you like the turbo power is good but long term turbos will likely not last as long as non turbos.

    No Nissans because of CVT glass transmission. Jatco transmissions are crapo.

  • avatar
    vvk

    I recently had the chance to drive an Accord Hybrid. I was very much surprised. This is a VERY good car. It is still FWD but with the limited power of the Hybrid version it was not really a big problem. The chassis of that car is pure gold! I have driven multiple generations of the Accord and have always been greatly disappointed since the 1990-93 model. This newest version feels like an E46 3-series with front wheel drive. On top of the tremendously good chassis, I really like the interior and the seats. Great car!

  • avatar
    tbone33

    Best is subjective. How about eliminating the relatively bad ones, and then saying Best For…?

    I’m partial to my Mazda6 touring. It has been a few years since I test drove the cars in this segment, but the Accord was the best all-arounder if you didn’t mind the styling. The Camry was the best road trip car if you didnt mind the boat-like driving experience. The 6 was the best looking and handling if you didnt mind the road noise.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    “Best” will always be determined by each potential buyer.

    When I was shopping for one of these in 2015, I had very clear criteria: Price around $30k, manual transmission, fuel consumption in the 30s, decent stereo. At the time, these criteria allowed me to avoid the base models–I was shopping in the mid-range trims.

    Honda Accord Sport and Mazda6 Touring were both available with manual transmissions, and I drove them back to back on the same day.

    Two elements not on my initial list of criteria made themselves known after the drive: My butt and the Honda seat were not a good match– I was not comfortable. Additionally…for some silly reason, the Honda backseat folded down as a single unit, not split. This small oversight meant I could not use the Accord to take my son and his buddy to hockey practice—the Mazda6 allowed me to put the long hockey sticks through one side of the backseat and into the cabin while leaving room in back for one passenger–the Accord could not accomplish that.

    As such, the Mazda6 became “Best” for me for two mostly ignored issues. The Mazda now has 105,000 trouble free miles beneath its wheels, and I am a satisfied Mazda customer.

    I can’t establish “Best” unless I have clear criteria, and most importantly, a specific butt and application to weigh against.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    this article must be in response to the new Car and Driver article which says

    “See which of 2019’s four-doors are great (Accord! Cough, cough!), and which aren’t so great.”

    Mazda got #2 and Camry #3

    “Toyota made a better Camry, but Honda made a better car.”

  • avatar

    American auto enthusiasts prefer Toyota Camry. It says something about America doesn’t it?

    As for me I would prefer Ford Fusion but not third time – I like how it drives and feels. Realistically I would go for Mazda6 -there is nothing else really left that is not SUV one way or another.

  • avatar
    slap

    Accord.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Drove ’em. Bought the Mazda6 turbo.

    Camry? you must be joking. On our frost-heaved roads the ride never settles down, the new Dynamic Force 4 is coarse and noisy at higher revs. The V6 is priced way too high (C$10K more than the Mazda6 turbo I bought) and still suffers the lazy bumpy ride. The car is an unsporting lump from beginning to end. Must be a bunch of paper spec warriors here choosing it.

    Accord looks dreadful, has no intermediate gear hold in the 2.0t, and in the Sport trim has varying quality furnishings front to rear. It was my “favorite” for loud tire noise though. What a racket. And CR has downgraded Honda’s quality for some time now. Mazda moved up to second after Lexus.

    I have to say, it’s the best assembled car I ever owned. Not a rattle on dirt roads, none since the cold weather hit and relaxing at elevated speeds on the highway. You’re always going quicker than you expected, even on the battered two-lane country road along which I live. It just needs AWD in the worst possible way! But it was so much more fun to drive than the super-placid Mazda3 AWD, I decided to join the masses again and hope for the best in winter driving with a decent set of snows.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “Must be a bunch of paper spec warriors here choosing it.”

      Your Mazda has the power delivery of a diesel. Especially if you run it on 87.
      https://www.mazdas247.com/members/shadonoz/TC.png

      If that’s what you want in a car then awesome, but some people like an engine with top end and power delivery that rises through the rev range. The Camry V6 is pretty much the only midsize car that offers that in 2019. There’s no frost-damaged roads around here so I can’t speak to that, but in the sun belt the ride is fine.

  • avatar
    Tolljob

    The Camry is the only car on the list I have driven. I had one as a rental for a week in November. It was a nice car, plenty of room. Handling was OK, power was adequate, transmission was unobtrusive, interior was pleasant. Those are not ringing endorsements, but I think that is what the Camry is aiming for. I had always thought if I ever bought a sedan it would be an Accord, but after driving the Camry I am not so sure. Of course i have never driven the Accord.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    Fewer in number than I might think? Eh, ok. It’s not like every other article on here doesn’t mention the death of the car, right?

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