In the automotive world, the rivalry between the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord goes back decades. They’re the No. 1 and No. 2 best-selling midsize sedans, and both boast loyal followings and longtime critical acclaim.
But as we’ve written before, the Camry and Accord are different styles of midsize sedans, especially in their current iterations. There’s the low, lithe, agile Accord, an affordable sports sedan with space for five. And there’s the comfortable, quiet, user-friendly Camry, which is less expensive but less expressive.
Choosing between the Accord and Camry can, therefore, be somewhat easy. Do you prefer style and performance? Try out the Accord first. Value and ease of use? Don’t miss the Camry.
However, neither the Accord nor the Camry is the only midsize sedan with a respective flavor. The Accord faces a hearty challenge from the Mazda6 we tested last year. And if you like the Camry, you won’t want to miss the redesigned 2019 Nissan Altima, which is the No. 3 seller in its class just behind the Accord.
We recently tested the Altima and Camry and found a close match between these two midsize sedans. Both come with long lists of standard safety features, have excellent interior volume, are pleasant to drive, get excellent gas mileage and are among their class’s value leaders. Prospective buyers would do well to try out both, but here’s what we found during our drives.
Let’s start with the Altima, whose redesign makes a significant improvement over last year’s model. The old Altima trailed the competition for its driving experience and smartphone integration, feeling both less contemporary and also less pleasant to live with overall.
The new model, priced from $24,645, took tremendous strides. Its new styling could pass for Nissan’s flagship Maxima, albeit with a more-dramatic grille design. The new interior is tech-friendly but easy to use, with a modern touchscreen infotainment system perched on the dashboard, but also a nice complement of simple buttons and knobs. The system is compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, letting you use some of your smartphone’s apps (including GPS navigation) through the car’s screen. That compares favorably to the Camry, which supports Apple but not Android phones.
Nissan has boasted for several years about its “Zero Gravity” seat foam, and the 2019 Altima has some of the best results yet. The seating is cushy, yet supportive, and the cushions are perfectly shaped to hold you in place without making you feel confined. It’s easy to take this comfort for granted until you hop into a different car — and then you’re reminded of the Altima’s advantage.
On the road, the Altima is no sports sedan like the Accord. Its steering is agreeably responsive but lighter than driving enthusiasts tend to prefer. It feels far more natural than the old Altima, which required more steering effort at low speeds like maneuvering in a parking lot.
The Altima has a choice of two four-cylinder engines: a 2.5-liter with 182 horsepower and a 2.0-liter turbo with 236 horsepower. We tested the latter, and the turbo engine balanced effortless performance with excellent fuel economy. It accelerates eagerly but quietly, with a perfectly calibrated accelerator that makes it easy to drive smoothly.
Traditionalists will miss last year’s big 3.5-liter V6, and neither four-cylinder has a sporty, melodious sound. But it’s hard to complain about this new engine’s EPA ratings of 29 mpg in mixed driving, better than even the base engines of some competitors. The 2.5-liter Altima, meanwhile, improves to 32 mpg. And this engine is offered with an optional all-wheel-drive system, rare for an affordable sedan.
As much as we enjoyed the new Altima, it’s also easy to still appreciate the Camry, which starts at $24,875. It was also greatly improved in its most-recent redesign (2018), and while its overall flavor is similar to the Altima’s, there are some notable advantages that might win some buyers.
First of all, the Altima’s interior, while contemporary and extremely comfortable, doesn’t look or feel as upscale as the Camry’s. Toyota’s gracefully curved dashboard and superior fit and finish make it feel like a more-expensive vehicle — even though the comparably equipped Camrys and Altimas cost about the same.
And while the Altima’s light steering effort makes it extra easy to drive, Toyota keeps a touch more enthusiast appeal with its firm, confidence-inspiring steering effort. The Camry also feels perhaps more planted and stable than the Altima, though both are commendable upgrades over their humdrum predecessors.
The other main Camry advantage comes from its choice of powertrains. Unlike the Nissan and most other affordable mainstream sedans, Toyota still offers a V6 in the Camry — a 301-horsepower whopper that stomps over the competition. It’s serenely quiet when you drive gently, rich-sounding and explosively quick if you push it. It’s not quite as thrifty as the Altima, but is still respectable at 26 mpg in mixed driving.
Base four-cylinder Camrys match or exceed the Altima with 32 to 34 mpg in mixed driving, but for extra fuel savings, Toyota also offers a gas-electric hybrid version that can achieve up to 52 mpg.
But if you’re sticking with the cars’ least-expensive, most-popular engines, the differences narrow between the slightly more-comfortable Altima and the slightly fancier Camry. Both are outstanding options if you’re seeking space, comfort and value over maximum sporty performance — and even driving enthusiasts might be pleasantly surprised with how these once-staid vehicles have improved.
Brady Holt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association.