If this were the United States, a comparison of the Honda Accord against the Toyota Camry would be a Battle Royale of top-sellers. Things are different here, though.
The Camry absolutely dominates the remnants of a mainstream mid-sized car segment that has halved in overall market share over the past decade. It accounts for about 70 per cent of sales against rivals like the Mazda 6, Skoda Octavia and Hyundai Sonata.
The Accord was once a staple for Honda, but reflecting people’s fanatical desire for SUVs, sales targets for the new model are so modest that they render it a niche player at best. One the brand hopes will appeal to previous Accord owners first, foremost, and perhaps solely.
Pricing and basic specs
One reason for this is price. The Accord is not a cheap car, kicking off at $47,990 before on-road costs and climbing to $50,490 for the VTi-LX Hybrid tested here.
The Thai factory that makes them only produces cars in high specification, unlike the US plant that serves that market with a broad range of models and trims.
The entry Camry Hybrid Ascent grade sells for just $30,590, climbing to $32,590 for the Ascent Sport. But naturally we’re testing the top-of-the-range model here to get things as close as possible. It’s the Camry Hybrid SL, priced at $41,950. That’s an $8540 list-price advantage.
Each has exterior features including 18-inch alloy wheels and a space-saver spare under the boot floor, a sliding sunroof, proximity key fob, LED lights, and rain-sensing wipers.
Inside, both offer leather seats with power adjustment for front occupants (they’re heated in the Accord, ventilated in the Camry, and both in neither), dual-zone climate control, and three USB outlets.
Both cars have 8.0-inch touchscreens with DAB+, satellite navigation with live-traffic alerts, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a wireless smartphone charging pad. Both have part-digital instrument displays, and a projecting head-up display that shines key driving info on the windscreen.
The Accord offers a 360-degree camera, whereas the Toyota’s view is reversing only, though the Toyota counters with a unique-to-this-test electric steering column adjuster mechanism.
Both also get camera- and radar-based driver-assist features including forward autonomous emergency braking and collision alert, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, active cruise control, and rear-cross traffic alert.
The Toyota has blind-spot monitoring lights in each side mirror, whereas Honda persists with a passenger-side-only LaneWatch camera that displays on the centre screen.
Both have a full suite of airbags front and rear, although Toyota offers a driver’s knee ’bag, too. ANCAP has only crash-tested the Toyota, giving it five stars in 2017.
The US-market Accord passed IIHS crash testing, and the Australian car should theoretically be no different. But we’d prefer a local test score to call upon.
Tech and infotainment
It's good to see Toyota offering phone mirroring beyond its own clunky native system, because Apple CarPlay (in my use case) unlocks access to Waze maps and a friendlier Spotify interface on the centre screen.
The integrated sat-nav has SUNA and some pretty good split-screen 3D displays actually, but it's still not as good as Google's app.
Beyond this, the user experience is pretty simple to work out, with a home screen that you can configure to your tastes. I had a map enlarged, and then smaller tiles showing me my track, and telling me what the hybrid system was up to – as in, which power source/s were operational. Oh, and it also has a CD player. Is here where I put the shrug emoji?
While the Camry doesn't have the fully digitised driver instruments that you get in a Volkswagen Passat (Active Info Display), it has a 7.0-inch TFT between the analogue dials that shows you hybrid system data, fuel use, active safety system functions, and other driving data.
This is augmented by the huge coloured HUD on the windscreen that shows navigation data and your current speed.
The Accord's infotainment specs are very similar to the Camry's, meaning it's the only car from the brand sold locally with a wireless charging pad and a (40 per cent smaller) HUD, and though said projecting unit isn't as visually cohesive as Toyota's, it still shows key driving data.
The 8.0-inch display is tacked onto the dash and is the best system offered on any Honda, with a simple UI and tactile shortcut buttons and dials. I found the hardware's look cleaner and more elegant than the Toyota's.
In nerdy fashion, I drove quite regularly with the cool hybrid infographic on the centre screen.
The maps aren't as interesting to behold as the Toyota's, and the home screen is not as configurable, but everything is pretty serviceable and once again you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus quick Bluetooth re-pairing. The Honda also offers an impressive 10-speaker sound system with subwoofer.
|Honda Accord VTi-LX||Toyota Camry SL|
|Seat functions||Heated, powered||Ventilated, powered|
|Proximity key fob||Yes||Yes|
|Air-conditioning||Dual-zone climate||Dual-zone climate|
|Wireless phone charger||Yes||Yes|
|Apple CarPlay/Android Auto||Yes/Yes||Yes/Yes|
|AEB with collision alert||Yes||Yes|
|Blind-spot monitor||Left-side, camera||Both sides, object detection|
|Rear cross-traffic alert||Yes||Yes|
|ANCAP score||N/A||Five stars (2017)|
The Camry's driving position is lower and the fascia more driver-focused than older versions. I like the way this blends into a backlit wood-look strip ahead of the passenger.
Everything is soft to the touch, though the faux stitching is a touch naff, and the shiny black plastic used extensively shows up fingerprints and dust.
The interior sports a leather steering wheel with an electric column adjustment seemingly nabbed right from the Lexus parts bin, and the front seats are suitable for larger individuals, with plenty of adjustments and support, and ventilation for the summer months.
The sunroof is a welcome addition for most and scarcely affects the refinement, though taller drivers will notice that head room is only just acceptable. Such is the 'price' you pay for a sportier look and stance.
The new Accord hunkers occupants low in the cabin, treading a fine line between sporty without completely turning its back on practicality and ease of access. It contrasts with the relative visual noise of the Camry’s asymmetrical dash.
Cabin highlights include armchair-like seats, and a low driving position with slim A-pillars helping you see out. Both front seats are power-adjustable, but the passenger seat lacks height adjustment and the steering column lacks power adjustment.
The build quality is typically high, though not all of the cabin plastics feel particularly tactile or premium.
There’s convincing wood-look trim and some gloss detailing, but also an abundance of dull finishes, and hard plastic used for all bar the door tops and armrests.
The back seats in both cars share commonalities: acres of leg room for even super-tall adults, good seat support, access to cooling and plugs, storage areas in the doors and a flip-down centre part, but also slightly limited head room thanks to the lower roof lines. Then again, I'm 194cm so...
I'll give a nod to the Accord here, since its seat trim feels a smidgen nicer, and as my colleague Kez said, it almost approaches the long-gone Holden Caprice in terms of distance between front and rear seats.
|Honda Accord VTi-LX||Toyota Camry SL|
The Accord also offers 46L more boot space, at a substantial 570L versus 524L. That makes their boots SUV-like in all areas bar aperture size.
Both cars have a space-saving spare wheel below the loading floor, and have folding back seats enabling you to stow longer items.
Both of the cars tested here use hybrid drivetrains. That means a petrol engine does most of the legwork, with help from an electric motor and a small battery pack to cut fuel use and improve smoothness in urban driving. For such big vehicles, this pair are remarkably fuel-efficient.
The Camry's set-up comprises a 2.5-litre engine running the Atkinson cycle (high expansion ratio, low power density, excellent fuel efficiency) mated with an electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery, all driving the front wheels through a CVT.
The combined system power output is 160kW, though simply adding the two power sources equal 219kW. The systems don't operate at full pelt concurrently. While Toyota requires 95RON premium fuel, it claims remarkable fuel economy of 4.5L/100km and CO2 emissions of 103g/km.
It does the usual hybrid things: off the mark up to 40km/h (low throttle doses) and in reverse it drives in electric silence, before the petrol engine kicks in unobtrusively once you're rolling. When you lift off, the electric motor once again takes over. Both engine power and recuperated braking/slowing energy are used to keep the 'self-charging' battery charged up.
There are so many advantages to the hybrid over the normal petrol. For one, it's silent in traffic jams. For another, it's exceptionally smooth and quiet when taking off, much more so than its predecessor models were. When the two power sources work together it's quite fast as well, managing a 0–100km/h time of 8.2 seconds.
But the fuel economy is where it properly shines, as you would expect. On a combined-cycle loop averaging 50km/h I used 5.5L/100km. Given its 50L tank, you could reasonably expect a range nearing 1000km in the real world.
Even with fuel prices so low, the fact the hybrid only costs $1000 more than the non-hybrid Camry SL four-cylinder (8.3L/100km, 46 per cent higher) makes it a no-brainer. Using factory data, every 100km in the hybrid saves you 3.8 litres of fuel, every 10,000km saves you 380L, so 100,000km has saved you 3800L. Even factoring in expensive 95RON that's money saved.
The Honda's hybrid system doesn't stack up as well financially, since the 1.5-litre turbo-petrol Accord option is $2500 cheaper than the petrol-electric one tested here, and only 34 per cent less efficient.
But that's not because the Honda's hybrid system is worse than Toyota's, to the contrary it's even more frugal on fuel. It's just that the non-hybrid option in the Accord is also more efficient than the Toyota's equivalent. Indeed, while Toyota is synonymous with hybrid tech at scale, I prefer the Honda system in nearly every area except price.
It pairs a 2.0-litre engine running the Atkinson cycle, but this time with two separated electric motors (one of propulsion, one for generation), a lithium-ion battery, and a CVT like the Toyota's. This drivetrain makes 158kW, and slashes consumption to a claimed 4.3L/100km, or 3.2L/100km on an urban loop (against the Camry's claim in that department of 5.2L/100km).
The Accord sports the first hybrid drive motors to use permanent magnets containing no heavy rare-earth metals. While the petrol engine can directly drive the front wheels, it can also be decoupled (automatically) from the front wheels, which are then driven by one motor, and instead charge the second motor that powers the battery alongside recuperation.
If you aren't watching the digital dash animation telling you what's happening, you'll quickly lose track – evidence of the system's refinement that's at least as good as Toyota's. When the motors hand over responsibility for turning the wheels to the petrol engine, it kicks in without vibration and, unless your right foot is pinned, without much noise. Plus, it punches (7.9sec 0–100km/h).
Pushing the small 'EV' button near the shifter lets you drive for a few kilometres at low speeds fully electrically, until that battery needs a quick charge from the engine. Said battery can also run the car at highway speeds for short periods when you're going downhill or when you lift off throttle, at which point the engine again decouples via the motor-clutch unit.
So it's as smooth as the Toyota's system, but the car is a little punchier and can run in EV mode a little more often. In my test it only used 0.1L/100km less fuel – 5.4L/100km, though. That fact it'll drink 91RON unlike the 95RON Camry helps expand the benefits a bit more, however.
On a side note, both cars offer drive modes: the Eco or green modes dull throttle urge, while the Sport modes fire up the petrol engine more often, and make a difference to the acceleration response.
Both of these cars are also super quiet in town, more refined under heavy throttle than older hybrid models, respectably punchy, good on fuel, and superior to their four-cylinder non-hybrid stablemates. The Honda's has an edge, but given the price it would want to!
|Honda Accord VTi-LX||Toyota Camry SL|
|Drivetrain||2.0-litre petrol, two electric motors, Li-ion battery||2.5-litre petrol, electric motor, Ni-MH battery|
|Transmission||e-CVT, FWD||e-CVT, FWD|
|Fuel economy claim||4.3L/100km||4.5L/100km|
|Fuel economy tested||5.4L/100km||5.5L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||48L||50L|
On the road
The Camry sits on Toyota's modular TNGA (GA-K) architecture, adding stiffness and lowering the centre of gravity over old iterations.
It is no secret company head (and scion) Akio Toyoda has demanded the engineers make this Camry drive in a more engaging fashion, as the fitment of pricey double-wishbone suspension at the rear might suggest. You sit low in the cabin, and while the electric-assisted steering is vague, the body control through corners remains excellent and the ride comfort is rarely short of high.
This Camry doesn't merely tolerate twisty roads, it actually handles them with some verve. That's a new thing to this badge.
While it lacks the Corolla's brilliant Lane Trace control that keeps the car lane-centred, it otherwise offers a gamut of effective safety features including response radar-guided active cruise control, and rear cross-traffic alert to stop you backing into perpendicular traffic. It also offers a blind-spot monitoring system on both sides of the vehicle, unlike Honda.
The new Accord likewise sits on a totally different platform to its predecessor model, with greater torsional rigidity. It's also longer between the wheels and wider in the body than before, but shorter and lower overall. Thanks to heavy use of high-tensile steel and aluminium, it's also up to 70kg lighter than the old one and 44kg slimmer than the Toyota.
It has quicker steering with fewer lock-to-lock turns, re-calibrated all-round independent suspension, improved front-to-rear weight distribution, and a lower centre of gravity than its boat-like predecessor model. There’s an underlying handling ability that makes it accurate up front, and grippy and stable overall.
Greater driver refinement is further enabled by acoustic glass, lots of sound-deadening carpet in the floor and wheel wells, in-wheel acoustic resonators lifted from the Acura premium sub-brand, and sound-countering ambient speakers inside. As Kez noted, tyre noise is a weak link in the chain, with the rest of the package so serene that the roar on coarse-chip surfaces stands out.
While the Camry offers a smooth ride over most road imperfections, the Accord showed an ability to isolate occupants over one particularly sharp bridge join at speed not matched by the Toyota.
I'd say that while this pair are very closely matched here yet again, Honda has made the slightly quieter and plusher car, while matching the surprising Toyota for steering and handling nous.
This comparison test, more than most, ultimately comes down to price.
The Honda Accord is a narrowly better car than the Camry: better on fuel, comfier ride quality without sacrificing handling, a touch more boot space. Plus, it's an arresting-looking car that leverages its scarcity into what I'd consider a 'premium' appearance.
People who've previously owned Accords or even Honda Legends (RIP) should have no compunction trading up.
But the Camry is about as good while a huge chunk of change more affordable . Not just to buy, but to maintain. And make no mistake, it's still a quality product with dynamic abilities, safety features, and dare-we-say-it-again aspirational design that no former Camrys could touch.
It deserves to dominate the market. It's just a shame the Honda is fighting it with one hand behind its back.