Driver's Seat: Accord and Camry square off
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: Phil Dunphy versus Ray Barone.
Prices: Accord, $34,220 (no options, lots of standard features); Camry, $27,568 as tested (base price, $23,400).
Marketers' pitches: Accord: "One of Car & Driver's 10 Best for a record 27 times." Camry: "Legendary, now more than ever."
Conventional wisdom: As practical as you can get without actually being minivans.
Reality: Somewhere between the accolades and the clueless TV dads.
Comparison test: While wiser car writers enjoy Lamborghinis, Porsches and similar entries in the car porn segment, Mr. Driver's Seat takes the road less traveled in cars that fit the way he lives: making the most of the mundane. Sure, I get into the fun stuff once in a while, but I'm just as eager to try out two of the most popular sedans out there.
We'll spend this week getting acquainted with both vehicles and wait until next week to take them on the road.
Outside: The redesigned-for-2013 Accord handily wins the beauty contest this year. Honda has beefed up its designs over the past few years and the bubble roof definitely holds more appeal than the wedgy Camry.
First look: Though they go together in many people's minds like Simon and Garfunkel or Mumford and Sons, the two models I tried were fairly diverse, as noted by the prices above.
The Honda abounded with fake walnut coverings for the bulk of the interior surfaces. The Toyota had attractive-enough leather and plastic, with a touch of stitching. (Both vehicles run the gamut in available trims; the cheapest Camry starts at $22,235 while the Accord can allegedly be had for $21,660. That barebones Accord would have a six-speed manual, but all Camrys are automatics.) But I'm not easily swayed by gadgetry, so don't think the Camry didn't get a fair shake.
Seated: The high-level Accord came with leather seats, of course, and they were heated. And while I usually turn the heater on for just 30 seconds before my dupa starts feeling like a blini on the griddle, the Accord had a much more subtle heating element. This may be a positive or a negative, depending on whether your inner furnace runs hot like mine or on the chilly side, like Mrs. Passenger Seat's.
The Camry's "SofTex-trimmed sport seats" (marketingese for "not leather") lacked heat but still offered comfort.
Both vehicles came with power driver's seat (the Camry's for $440 at this trim level) allowing for height adjustment. When I lowered the seats to the floor, hoods and trunks suddenly grew very tall and obstructive. Buyers accustomed to taller vehicles may not enjoy life without this option.
One additional drawback to the Camry was driving position. Despite a tilt and telescopic steering wheel and fully adjustable seat, I could not make the steering wheel, seat and dashboard view all align. My mantra became: "Comfortable arms. Comfortable legs and back. Speedometer view. Pick two."
Friends and stuff: The rear seats and trunks in both vehicles are among the most spacious you'll find.
Both vehicles have a place for key fob and cell phone in front of the gear shift. But the Accord has a smooth surface, and I launched my stuff across the car on more than one pullout.
The right temperature: The Camry offered fairly standard heat controls -- a dial for fan and another for temperature -- that are simple and easy to use.
The Accord, unfortunately, opts for buttons for the temperature and the fan. This setup complicates on-the-fly adjustments.
On the radio: In the Accord, a touch screen made it easy enough to switch from Sirius XM to CD or from First Wave to Little Steven's Underground Garage once I got used to it. But a dial at the bottom selects map, music and other menu functions. Nothing about the setup felt intuitive. I didn't even notice the dial and four buttons until after a day or two.
If the Accord has too many dials and buttons, the Camry almost has too few.
In the display audio package (a $1,050 option), six buttons surround the touch screen; they allow you to pick stereo, map or other functions. So if you're following the map, first hit the "Audio" button, then "Source" on the touch screen, then AM-FM, CD, or satellite. By this point you've forgotten what you wanted. And the six-inch LCD screen is fairly small and makes the map hard to read.
The Camry does have left and right dials for volume and tuning -- usually a great idea in my book -- but the right dial requires a real stretch to reach.
Next week: Taking the practical sedans on the road.
First Published February 27, 2013 12:00 am