These four vehicles may not grab you by the scruff, but they are the mother’s milk of the U.
S. auto industry. Combined, they amounted to 775,508 sales last year, or around 6 percent of all light vehicles sold in our fair nation. When they succeed, Americans get raises and promotions and, as all four are built in the United States, overtime pay that goes directly to Main Street. When they fail—doom. The odds are favorable that you will shop for one or, being the car nut in the family, share your opinion about one. So stop thinking that it would be more fun to read the poster about periodontal disease on the far wall and pay attention!
We chose the high-volume configuration, which means small engine, automatic transmission, mid-grade trim, and a circa-$26,000 price. The Passat is in because it’s a returning champ, having outdone its competition in two previous comparison tests against, among others, the Toyota Camry and the Hyundai Sonata. Herewith we return to the ring an SE with the 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission.
The other three cars are all new for 2013. The aptly named Fusion fuses styling themes from several former Ford-owned colonies. Aston Martin is recalled in the face, Jaguar in the cab-rearward profile, and Volvo in the ski-jump dash. Well, why not? Ford paid for it all way back when, so it’s not technically stealing. A 1.6-liter EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder pairs with a six-speed automatic. The only Fusion available to us had $4685 in options, all electronic and comfort related (read: MyFord Touch plus leather and navigation, mainly), so it’s the luxury liner of the test.
The new, ninth-generation Honda Accord is 3.5 inches shorter bumper-to-bumper and about an inch tighter between the wheels than its fleshy predecessor. And this one is exactly 100 pounds lighter than the gen-eight EX-L we tested in May. The overhauled “Earth Dreams” DOHC 2.4-liter is Honda’s first example of direct injection in North America, while a Honda-built CVT is your only automatic alternative to a six-speed manual
Nissan’s redesigned Altima in mid-grade SV trim keeps its 2.5-liter long-stroke four-cylinder and CVT combo. The billowing new lines evoke current Infinitis, and, unlike the Accord, the Altima is still growing. It added 0.8 inch in overall length and 1.3 inches to its beam, moving it to the dimensional middle of a tightly regimented segment (note how close all of the dimensions are in the chart). Nissan targeted the Altima to be the lightest of its peers, and it is, at 3136 pounds. It’s also the least-expensive contender in our test.
Including all the competitors in the mid-size segment, there are more than a million sold annually. They may come bearing “Coexist” bumper stickers, but this is a high-stakes blood fight.