In comparison of two popular cars, Camry squeaks by Accord

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2013 Honda Accord Touring V6 vs. 2013 Toyota Camry SE: Phil Dunphy and Ray Barone take to the streets.

Prices: Accord, $34,220 (no options, lots of standard features); Camry, $27,568 (base price, $23,400).

Catching up: In last Wednesday's episode of Driver's Seat, we were taking a walk around the two vehicles, then sitting inside and running our hands over all the surfaces and playing with the buttons. Now, let's go for a spin.

Disclaimer: I actually received a 2012 Toyota Camry SE from the fleet. But I noted this with Toyota's marketing department, and the folks there said the model years are so identical that they were comfortable calling it a 2013 review.

Under the Accord hood: Once upon a time, putting a V-6 in something like an Accord or Camry was almost required. But automakers squeeze so much horsepower out of the tiniest of engines these days that even the speedy four-cylinder Acura ILX of two weeks ago seemed like an eight.

The Accord 3.5-liter V-6 produces 278 horsepower, so it is a monster of an engine for this sedate sedan. Acceleration was brisk, but the V-6 did not transfer power to the wheels smoothly. I did more burnouts in the Accord Touring V-6 than I've done in some performance cars.

Under the Camry hood: The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine produces a paltry 178 horsepower, which is even a little low for this genre. Surprisingly, though, I didn't find its performance that much worse than the Accord's.

Getting in gear: The shifter in either one is where any gearhead dad's dreams will go to die, though.

ShiftTronic automatic transmissions can make even the most boring sedans a little more fun. But in these two choices, you can't pretend you're Kyle Busch racing the NASCAR circuit while you're headed to the Giant Eagle for milk.

The Camry has a plus and minus option like it wants to have fun, but the shiftability is engineered out of the experience. Switch the gearshift to the shiftable side and it automatically chooses fourth gear. And the shifts offer about as much feedback as the college students who endure my lectures on the proper use of commas.

The Accord? It has D and below that it has S. That slowed it down a bit for me, but it had no shift capability beyond that, although higher grade models have paddle shifters. Welcome to PRNDL, circa 1963.

On the road: The latest basic Civics and Corollas shocked me with light and unresponsive steering. Driving on country roads -- my favorite pastime in many cars -- became a chore.

But the Accord and Camry kick it up a notch. They're not sporty by any means, but they offer enough road information to make the experience not unpleasant.

Dash downer: The Accord dashboard seemed pretty and bright, but the Camry's was kind of gray and boring. A light gray LCD display tells you whether the engine might be running too hot or to cold. A hard-to-read dial shows your average mileage. The speedometer is clear enough, but these details detract from the experience.

The Camry's steering wheel buttons for radio controls are also hard to comprehend. The icons are kind of weirdly drawn and don't contrast enough from the wheel.

On the bright side, though, I am fond of the Toyota cruise control stalk on the lower right side of the steering column. Easy to set and operate.

Brake alert: The Accord comes with forward collision warning, not a new feature in cars. But I learned it's quite different from run-of-the-mill collision warning systems when it malfunctioned on a tree-lined curve.

Rather than an eye-catching icon in the display, practically the entire dashboard was lighted up by the word "BRAKE!" in orange letters, accompanied by an orange light over the dash.

It's the collision warning system designed by the folks behind the 1960s "Batman" TV series. "POW!" "SOCK!" "BRAKE!"

Fuel economy: The difference in performance between the two engines was lost on me. And the gas mileage was equally ... equal. Both averaged 27 mpg in the usual Driver's Seat mix of highway and city, although the Camry was not out on the highway quite as much.

Where they're built: The Accord comes together in Marysville, Ohio. The Camry hails from Georgetown, Ky.

How they're built: Both cars always end up atop reliability lists, which is why they're so popular with people like Mrs. Passenger Seat's Very Practical Brother and his Wife.

In the end: Though neither car really trips my trigger, I found the Camry to be a better overall vehicle, despite its many flaws. If a redesign is done right, Toyota might have a real winner in the sedate sedan skirmish.

autonews

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at mrdriversseat@gmail.com.


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