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2014 Honda Accord EX-L V6 vs. 2014 Camry XLE V6 and 2014 Altima SL V6

Is the V6 engine going to go the way of the dodo bird in the family sedan segment? If these cars are anything to go by, it had better not.
Is the V6 engine going to go the way of the dodo bird in the family sedan segment? If these cars are anything to go by, it had better not.
James Hamel

Is there any comparison of family sedans more necessary than one between the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima? These three battle it out constantly for family sedan sales supremacy in the United States and despite increased competition from names like Sonata, Optima, Malibu, Fusion and Passat the truth of the matter stands—none of those models sell as many units.

Accord is a looker in this deep maroon color.
James Hamel

Fortunately for us, we have had the privilege of spending a lot of time behind the wheel of an EX-L sedan equipped with the all-new 3.5 liter 278 horsepower/253 lb. feet of torque V6 and 6-speed automatic that affords this four door sedan a class leading EPA estimated 21 city/34 highway for fuel economy. That kind of efficiency makes you question the point of buying a 4-cylinder engine in any family sedan. But we might have also been biased by this V6 engine’s bountiful thrust and intoxicatingly tuneful growl when we routinely gunned it out to redline.

Yes, we realize that most family sedans are purchased with four-cylinder engines and rumors have been circulating that in its next redesign the Camry’s V6 will get the axe—sadly the most exciting thing about that sedan. In truth, most V6 engines are being replaced by similarly powerful (but never quite as aurally pleasing) direct injected and turbocharged 4-cylinders which seem to do better on EPA fuel economy testing cycles. In the real world, we haven’t always found that to be the case. You see, a turbo 4 will only be efficient so long as you keep the motor off-boost and in its efficiency zone otherwise you may see efficiency levels lower than a V6. So here goes, what may be the last face-off between the 6-cylinder Accord, Camry and Altima.

Exterior Styling

The recent redesigns of the latest Camry, Altima and Accord models demonstrated the desire of all three automakers to retain their positions as sales leaders in the family sedan market so they are all conservatively understated in appearance. None has the whiz-bang pizazz of a Kia Optima which continues to look stunning but being that revolutionary can backfire as the now dated looking Sonata can attest to thanks to its overly creased body panels which make it look like it needs a trip to the dry cleaners.

Now, of all the personal preferences that will affect your next new car buying decision, it is exterior styling that is purely opinion based yet is also the thing that may make or break the deal. As for us, we think the 2014 Honda Accord’s handsomely conservative lines will age the best over the long run with the 2014 Altima featuring an oddly elongated beak while the latest Camry simply looks like it was designed by someone who carries a slide ruler in his pocket at all times. In other words, an engineer made the Camry look like that but there was definitely no one on hand to style the outside of this extremely non-controversial four door sedan. Still, we do admit it is a huge improvement over the last generation Camry which looked like a giant jellybean.

(1st Place: 2014 Honda Accord, 2nd Place: 2014 Nissan Altima, 3rd: 2014 Toyota Camry)

Interior Quality and Design

Do keep in mind the models tested here were the fully loaded XLE-V6 (Camry), SL-V6 (Altima) and EX-L V6 (Accord) trim levels so leather seats, wood trims, navigation systems and top-level audio systems were just par for the course. Lesser Accord, Altima and Camry models make do with less equipment and might have cloth seats but compared to their forebears they are light years ahead when it comes to that hard to describe dealership “feel good factor” when you sit inside them. Yes, it even goes beyond the usual “new car smell” high. Honestly, these cars shouldn’t have to be this nice on the inside but they simply are.

So what separates these three? Well, first off the 2014 Honda Accord simply outclasses the in-car connectivity systems offered by Nissan or even Toyota with its admittedly simple and easy to learn Entune system. The Honda, on the other hand, not only has the most intuitive and user friendly navigation system on the market but our EX-L V6 tester came with the HondaLink system which allows Smartphone users to utilize a number of online apps such as their facebook page, Twitter account and a whole heck of a lot more while on the move. You can even “like” comments made on your Facebook page. No, we aren’t lying.

The HondaLink system even has an app that can read a story to your kids if they are sitting in the back seat complaining that they are bored. The Altima offers no such in-car infotainment system but it should be applauded for offering in-dash navigation for just $590 on many trim levels. The Altima may not offer as many gizmos and gadgets as either the Camry or Accord but it makes up for that by offering a very simple and intuitive dashboard layout as well as pricing that is generally lower when compared like for like with the Honda and Toyota although the price differences are negligible if you wind up financing or leasing the vehicle over a number of years.

But does any of this matter if the interior can’t comfortably haul five adults and their luggage should you be called to pick up family members from the airport at Holiday time? Let’s start with the facts. The Altima has the tightest feeling rear seat as far as legroom goes but it does have a 15.4 cubic foot trunk and a nice 18 gallon fuel tank for long road trips. The Accord betters that as for 2014 it actually got quite a bit smaller outside yet interior dimensions somehow grew as did the trunk which is now 15.8 cubic feet with a 17.2 gallon fuel tank. Lastly, the Carmry fills in the middle ground with an interior that is not as airy feeling as the Accord’s albeit with a only marginally smaller 15.4 cubic foot trunk and a 17 gallon fuel tank.

The Accord simply has what is now the best family sedan interior on the market today so this decision really came down to a battle for second and third. Who came out ahead? Well, the Camry simply did so because it offers buyers different interior colors, materials and designs to appeal to different buyers if they seeking luxurious comfort or a sportier feel as with the SE model. Yes, there is a sporty Camry model.

(1st Place: 2014 Honda Accord, 2nd Place: 2014 Toyota Camry, 3rd Place: 2014 Nissan Altima)

Value for Money

Each and every one of our testers came fully equipped with nearly every available option and to clear up matters here are the sticker prices with destination charges for all three family sedans. First off, our 2014 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL V6 sedan surprised us a bit by coming to $32,440 as it is necessary to order a special $1,090 Tech package in order to get the usually affordable navigation system at this elevated trim level. The Tech Package adds a lane departure warning system and a blind spot warning system both of which are based on the notion of annoying the driver to get them to drive more safely on the road. We would rather just be able to buy the navigation separately even with the top of the line SL what with its power moonroof, Bose Audio system, supple leather seats and what was by far the boldest exterior styling in this test.

Now when it comes to the 2014 Toyota Camry the V6 engine is available only in SE or more traditionally luxurious XLE trim. We priced out both an SE-V6 Camry as well as double checked the pricing of an XLE-V6 and when we fully decked out each one with every available option like power moonroof, upgraded seat fabric (SE), leather seats (XLE), an in-dash navigation system, Entune we found that the much cooler looking SE-V6 comes to about $31,000 while an XLE-V6 will cross the $33,000 threshold. We think we would go with the SE-V6 and find a way to survive without conservative beige leather and wood trim that is seemingly de-rigeur in all Camry XLE models. The interior of the SE is quite simply a cooler looking place that might not appeal to Camry traditionalists but should appeal to the young or young at heart.

Our test 2014 Honda Accord EX-L tester came with in-dash navigation, a multi-gigabyte hard drive for in car song-storage, Song By Voice Technology which allows you to use voice commands to play your favorite music in the car, a back-up camera and the all new Honda Lane-watch system which uses the dash mounted center screen to show if there are any obstacles or careless drivers in the two lanes to your right thanks to a wide angle camera mounted on your side mirror. But quite frankly, what we loved most about the 2014 Accord EX-L V6 was its airy feeling outward view along with its potent and sonorous new Earth Dreams Technology 3.5 liter 278 horsepower V6 engine. Add in an imperceptibly smooth and nearly telepathic 6-speed automatic and you have the right mix for a family sedan that can also be an any-time fun sedan for the driver.

(1st Place: 2014 Honda Accord, 2nd Place: Toyota Camry (in SE-V6 form), 3rd Place: 2014 Nissan Altima)

Fuel Economy

Now, in the fuel economy stakes all three of these very quick V6 powered family sedans return excellent EPA fuel economy estimates which we more or less were able to repeat in the real world. We tend to drive with led feet so our averages are usually a bit lower that what the EPA claims. As for the Altima V6, it returns 22 city/31 highway, the Camry V6 averages 20 city/30 highway and the Accord V6 spanks the competition with a 21 city/34 highway estimate thanks to its all new environmentally focused Earth Dreams Technology that should soon spread to every powertrain across their model lineup. Looks like Honda won this round too.

(1st Place: 2014 Honda Accord, 2nd Place: 2014 Nissan Altima, 3rd: 2014 Toyota Camry)

Driving Impressions

If this was your father’s Oldsmobile the last thing that he would have thought about when buying his family sedan was whether or not he would enjoy driving it. But times have changed and while the family sedan class used to be known as a tad bit stoic and reserved when it came to being in any way engaging for the driver, the latest Accord, Altima and even the Camry have abilities that would have shamed a luxury sport sedan ten years ago.

These three family sedans are all rather closely matched it would seem in the ride, handling and steering feel department upon first introduction—say during one of those all too short dealership test drives? Whereas all three sedans always maintain good interior noise suppression, only the Accord’s steering continued to impress us for its firm communicativeness over a long drive while the Nissan rather quickly demonstrated a tendency for scary levels of wallowing and porpoising from the suspension during high speed cornering and when going over bumps.

And that’s the thing with these three family sedans with very powerful 3.5 liter V6 engines rated from 270 horsepower (Altima) down to a not all that different 263 horsepower (Camry). For most drivers all three engines will offer up more than enough passing power for sane driving needs but it is truly the Accord’s engine which has the most character and feels most eager to play with the driver.

The 2014 Altima’s updated CVT (continuously variable transmission) is the best of this type that the company has ever built with little of the usual noise and odd driving feel under heavy acceleration. But we still preferred the six-speed automatics in both the Camry and Accord since they were both smooth, unobtrusive and were highly capable of giving up ultra-quick double downshifts on LA freeways when the Altima’s gearbox was somewhat more recalcitrant.

As even parents like to own cars that are fun to drive, this trait counted heavily towards victory for each of these models in this category. But being realists, we were sure to take into account how well each four door sedan performed during high speed cruising as many will use these cars for commuting. Sure, the Altima, Camry and Accord have room for five people and trunks big enough for 8 auto journalist’s inflated egos but only the winner truly came across as the family sedan jack of all trades which was also somehow the master of each and every one.

(1st Place: 2014 Honda Accord, 2nd Place: 2014 Toyota Camry, 3rd Place: 2014 Nissan Altima)

And the Winner Is…

Let us be quite clear about this, there is not a dog among this bunch of V6 powered family sedans. They all mix comfort, utility, refinement, state of the art safety as well as the latest electronic toys with powertrains that afford these four door symbols of familial responsibility capable of making even the grumpiest Grinch turn that frown upside down. But, as with any contest there must be a winner and to us from the moment we drove it we have known the Accord V6 rules the class.

(Winner: 2014 Honda Accord EX-L V6 Sedan)

For more information about the Accord, Camry and Altima as well as where to find the closest new one on sale in your desired trim and color check out iSeeCars.com.