Mid-Size Sedan Onslaught – New Camry, Accord, Sonata

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Up until 2016, the mid-size sedan was the top selling product segment in the USA light vehicle market.  That has changed substantially as buyers are flocking to crossover SUVs that offer more utility at little expense over sedans.  That does not mean carmakers are abandoning mid-size sedans.  On the contrary, they have to keep their top selling mid-size sedan entries fresh and competitive.

Source: AutoPacific, Inc.

Three high volume 2018 model year mid-size sedans are launching in Fall 2017.  All three are from Asian brands.  The Korean brand Hyundai Sonata is assembled in Montgomery, Alabama.  The Japanese brand Toyota Camry is assembled in Georgetown, Kentucky.  The Japanese brand Honda Accord is assembled in Marysville, Ohio.  Some would say that these sedans are the most American cars on the road.

All three are excellent cars and all three are trying to vacate typical anodyne mid-size car styling.  The Accord and Camry are all new cars.  The Sonata is a major redesign to its front and rear styling.  All three are much more expressive than before.

2018 Toyota Camry

Toyota Camry  Toyota’s longtime sales champ, the Camry mid-size sedan, is all-new for the 2018 model year. As this iconic model line has consistently topped sales charts but is often derided for being dull and boring, the 2018 Camry wears much more expressive and in XSE trim, at least, genuinely sporty styling. Toyota undoubtedly hopes that the revitalized looks of the latest Camry will help it shed its stodgy image.

Toyota launches its new Toyota New Global Architecture platform with the 2018 Camry mid-size sedan.  The TNGA platform will be used for the other Toyota cars built at Georgetown: Lexus ES aspirational luxury car and the Toyota Avalon large car.  When Avalon moves to the platform in 2018 they are expected to move the RAV4 crossover into the plant.  The next generation Toyota Highlander crossover SUV and Toyota Sienna minivan will likely move to the TNGA platform and continue to be built in Princeton, Indiana.

Part of the new Camry’s more appealing looks come from its lower proportions. In recent years, sedans have typically gotten taller with higher seating positions to emulate what makes SUVs so popular: great visibility, easy ingress and egress, and a chair-like driving position. However, as market preference towards SUVs has now been well established and sedan share is rapidly dropping, Toyota saw an opportunity to make the Camry a real car again. After all, those who want to sit up high will buy one of Toyota’s many able SUVs anyway. If Camry sales are (by Toyota’s own admission) expected to drop at the hand of the almighty SUV, why not make Camry more differentiated from its high-riding SUV lineup?

So, the new Camry’s seating and roof heights are about an inch lower than before, giving it a sleeker and more aggressive profile than any Camry before it. The seating position is also more sporty too. The interior is a massive step up in appeal too, with expensive looking materials, textures, shapes, and colors that dramatically up the Camry’s desirability. Toyota hasn’t ignored technology either. While lacking Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Toyota’s latest Entune 3.0 infotainment system with its standard App Suite and standard navigation is easy to use. Notably, Toyota’s TSS-P suite of safety technologies, which includes forward collision alert with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane keeping assist is standard on every Camry.

Camry’s base engine is a 206-horsepower 2.5L 4-cylinder.  Its V6 option is a 301-horsepower 3.5L V6 mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Though this generation will no longer hold Toyota’s sales crown (which is being taken over by RAV4), it certainly looks to be the most appealing and engaging Camry yet.

2018 Honda Accord Touring

2018 Honda Accord Touring

Honda Accord  The all-new 2018 Honda Accord mid-size sedan takes a page out of the latest Camry’s playbook, but that’s no bad thing. Like the 2018 Camry, the 2018 Accord rides on an all-new platform and features lower seating height and a lower roofline, abandoning prior generations’ goals of trying to imbue the mid-size sedan with SUV-like interior packaging. Like Camry, Accord’s sales crown at Honda is being transferred to an SUV model, namely the CR-V. This latest Accord is set to lose sales compared to prior generations not because of any inherent flaws, but because market preference has been rapidly shifting to SUVs.

For those who prefer sedans over SUVs, the Accord is a real winner. Its lower seating and roofline don’t result in less interior space; both cabin and trunk space have increased over the last generation’s already generous cabin and cargo hold dimensions, partially due to a longer wheelbase that also improves the car’s exterior proportions. Speaking of proportions, it’s hard not to think Audi A7 when looking at the new Accord in profile; its fastback roofline and pert tail – combined with the longer wheelbase – help give the sedan a luxurious presence.

Also contributing to that luxurious presence is the styling, which possesses a delicateness not seen in recent Honda products. The detailing is crisp and not overdone as is the case in many Hondas. The visual appeal of the new Accord is in its proportions and detailing; the heavy handedness of other recent Honda designs is absent here.  Unlike Toyota, Honda uses more bright-work to highlight the grille.  There is a bright arch sweeping from the A-Pillar down into the rear quarter (similar to the Kia Optima).  The bodyside lower is accented by a bright swoosh line flowing rear from just behind the front wheel opening, through the lower doors and peaking at the rear fascia.  There is a dainty bright highlight on the lower rear fascia above the the bright exhaust tips.

The new Accord does differ from Camry in a key way: its powertrain strategy. Unlike Camry, which sticks with traditional naturally aspirated four- and six-cylinder engines, the Accord moves to an all four-cylinder lineup with a 192-horsepower 1.5L direct injected turbo as the volume engine and a 252-horsepower 2.0L direct injected turbo replacing last generation’s V6. A new non-turbo 2.0L hybrid four is also available. Not that it matters to anyone but the buff books, but a six-speed manual is available on both turbo engines. In practice, nearly all 2018 Accords will have automatic transmissions; the 1.5 is paired to a CVT while the 2.0 is paired to a brand-new ten-speed unit. The hybrid will be paired to a two-motor e-CVT transmission.

Like Camry, a full complement of safety technologies are standard, with Honda Sensing (automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and traffic sign recognition) installed on every 2018 Accord. Infotainment is upgraded too, and a head-up display is available for the first time.

2018 Hyundai Sonata – LaJolla, CA

2018 Hyundai Sonata

Hyundai Sonata  The Hyundai Sonata mid-size car gets a major freshening for the 2018 model year.  The present Sonata has been criticized for getting too conservative when changing from the very avant garde 2010 model.  Senior management probably were surprised at the success of the 2010, but could not muster the will to keep the pedal to the metal.  The 2018 Sonata goes a long way in correcting that strategic error.

The front and rear styling is all new.  Like Toyota and Honda, Hyundai is adopting a much more expressive grille and front face.  They describe the grill surround as being a “cascade”.  There are two different grill textures – horizontal and diamond shaped mesh.  The front fascia is highlighted by a horizontal bright strip flowing from side to side.  Hyundai describes this as a “catamaran blade”.  Hyundai continues with the bright spear flowing from the front fenders back to surround the windows.  In profile, the Sonata is similar to the Camry and Accord.  Even though this is a freshening, the car looks as up to date as the all new Camry and Accord.

The interior has been freshened with material upgrades throughout.  The center stack has been redesigned and ergonomics are excellent.  Hyundai has found a way to make its blind spot warning system affordable and has made it standard on all 2018 Sonatas.

There are changes under the skin as well.  Chassis tuning has been improved making this the best handling Sonata ever.  Steering feel has been improved and the ride feels more taut than before, but not in a bad way.  The rear suspension has also been upgraded.

Sonata’s base engine is a 185-horsepower 2.4L 4-cylinder.   The Eco model gets a 178-horsepower 1.6L Turbo 4-cylinder.  The top engine is a 245-horsepower 2.0L Turbo 4-cylinder.  The 2.0L Turbo vehicles get an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Competitive Battleground  There are ten major competitors in the mid-size sedan market in the USA.  Three are all new or freshened for 2018.  Two will get major changes in 2019.  Three will be all new or get a major change in 2020.  Even though the segment is beset by woes stemming from crossover SUV popularity, the mid-size sedan segment will remain fresh and competitive.  The new Accord looks like a real winner and promises to continue sparring with Camry for sales dominance in the mid-size sedan segment, even as the segment itself is in decline. The Sonata will hold its own.  For those who really like cars (and not SUVs),  the new Accord, Camry and Sonata provide a lot to get excited over.

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