Honda Accord vs Toyota Camry - Sizeable wonders

Spielberg would be happy. The man wouldn’t have imagined he would be vindicated thus, but A.I. seems to have arrived. With cars pushing the cause of Artificial Intelligence, how could it be otherwise? The Camry, with its VVT-i engine, was already, umm..., intelligent. And it would never do for Honda to be left behind,so the new Accord has an i-VTEC engine now. As you would guess, the ‘i’ in both cases denotes intelligence. Variable Valve Timing – intelligent, for the Camry, and intelligent – Variable valve Timing and lift Electronic Control, for the Accord. With intelligence in such abundance, do we have a MENSA candidate here? Is sheer size their only virtue, or do these cars have other talents to their name? Let’s see if we can determine which car has the higher Intelligence Quotient.

Couture: How haute?
Before we actually get down to putting the cars’ brains/brawn to test, let’s take a minute to see how they look in person. Which is important, after all. The most intelligent student may top the class, but it’s the looker who has the class chasing after her/him. The ‘looker’ thing gets a bit difficult here though, for between the Accord and the Camry, there’s little to choose. 

The Camry’s styling is the very embodiment of ‘bland’, and I struggle to find anything to say about it. Remember the Zeppelin air balloon of first World War vintage? That’s what comes to my mind whenever I spot a Camry going past. It’s not that the car is offensive to look at, it’s just that it’s so... featureless. It does look big though, if that counts.

The new Accord is an improvement over the old one. This time, it looks like some design house has actually spent time penning its lines, etching its curves and working out detail embellishments. The European-spec Accord (which we don’t get) definitely looks sharper and more aggressive, but the American-spec car which they’ve brought here is also passable. There is a certain family resemblance to other Honda cars now – look at the front end and tell me if you don’t think there’s hint of the S2000 there. It isn’t muscular of proportion as a Mondeo or assertive of stancze as a Vectra, but neither is it as plain-jane as the Camry. With the Accord, we had people saying it looks smaller than the old one, though it’s actually larger. Both cars are fitted with 15-inch alloys that look smallish for the cars’ heft. 16-inch alloys, as used on the Vectra or the Mondeo, would have looked much better.
Accord: ****
Camry: ***

The Accord wins in the styling department (by a smallish margin, mind...), its exteriors are better defined, and the story continues inside. Undeniably, the Accord’s twin-tone, tan and black interiors look more contemporary than the Camry’s. Both cars get full leather upholstery, a smattering of plastic-wood trim and power adjustments for front seats, but where the Accord really scores over the Camry is, dashboard layout. The Camry’s facia features a Sony Xplod 11-CD changer, which is powerful and sounds good, but is so burdened with excessively flashy lights and animated displays, it looks a bit out of place. The Accord’s in-dash 6-CD changer is much better integrated with the car’s interiors, and appearance is much neater overall. The Accord also has dual-zone airconditioning, with eparate temperature settings for driver’s and passenger sides of the cabin. The Camry doesn’t have a dual-zone setup, but is none the worse for it – cooling was equally effective in both cars.

Quality of plastics used is similar on both cars, and both cabins are pleasant,comfortable places to be in for the long haul. The Camry’s MB E-Class size (well, almost) interiors feel a mite plusher and more spacious inside, but the Accord can also accomodate five adults without too much trouble. With their superb ergonomics, adjustable driving positions, comfy seats, powerful music and aircon systems and intuitive controls, the cars beg to be driven long and hard.
Accord: ****
Camry: ***

Four play
You’re waiting for me to stop talking about cabin ergonomics and design, and get on with what these cars are like to drive. Of course. We’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s take a look at the two inline-fours first. The Camry is fitted with a 2362 CC, DOHC, VVT-i unit that makes 141 horsepower and 20.9 kgm of torque. Though that seems fairly prosaic on paper, the pace at which this engine picks up revs is quite something. In fact, with its 3.86 second 0-60 kph time, the Camry remains the quickest D-segment car we’ve ever tested. The Accord is no slouch either. Its 2345 CC, DOHC, i-VTEC mill makes 1 bhp more than the Camry, though torque, at 20.0 kgm, is slightly lower. Due to an unfortunate mismatch in testing schedules (or maybe an unforeseen misalignment of stars, or overworked Honda personnel...), we got an Accord with a 5-speed automatic rather than the 5-speed manual we would have liked. Yet, its 5.02 second 0-60 kph  time would be somewhat indicative of what the manual might have done. At 10.34 seconds, the automatic Accord was also 1.79 seconds slower than the manual Camry, in the 0-100 kph sprint. Actually, the stopwatch only confirmed what I felt when I first drove the new (manual) Accord – no way the thing would get off the line as quickly as a Camry. Honda make brilliant engines, but in this case, Toyota seem to have outdone them somewhat. The Camry’s seamlessly smooth VVT-i is more eager to rev harder, higher and quicker, though the Honda unit does make a nicer ripping sound when accelerating hard. And though it would not be of much consequence for most, the speedo on our (manual) Camry was still climbing at 220 kph, while the (automatic) Accord seemed to start running out of puff at 205. I suppose a manual Accord would have been significantly quicker and faster than the automatic, but the 5-speed auto gave us no cause for complaint. This electronically-controlled ‘box is fitted with Honda’s grade logic control, shifts cleanly, and there is no inordinate hunting for ratios. It even lets you manually select any of the first three gears, though in third, it will upshift automatically once it hits the rev-limiter.
Accord: ****
Camry: *****

If the Camry has a slight advantage in the engine department, the Honda has a small edge when it comes to high-speed handling. The new Accord features an independent double wishbone setup at front, and independent 5-link double wishbones at back. Ride is not as compliant as the Camry’s (independent, McPherson struts at front, independent, dual-link at back), but the Accord does feel marginally more composed at very high speeds. You think twice before attempting to throw the Camry around, but the Accord is more willing to play along. The Accord’s smaller steering wheel feels sportier than the Camry’s, and overall, the former feels like a smaller, tauter and slightly more composed package. Chassis dynamics are definitely not in the league of a Mondeo or a C-Class MB, but the new Accord’s chassis/suspension combo is better than the old car’s, which had a marked tendency to get out of line very quickly (and rather unpredictably) when pushed hard. 

Both cars are fitted with tubeless radials, though I somewhat preferred the Camry’s 205/65 Dunlop SP Sport 300s to the Accord’s similarly-sized Bridgestone Turans, as the former were slightly more confidence-inspiring at speed. Both cars have anti-lock disc brakes all around, and these are quite adequate when it’s time to haul the cars down from the 200+ kph speeds they are capable of. If I were to choose, I’d take the Camry’s brakes, which somehow feel more reassuring. When braked hard on wet surfaces at very high speeds, the Honda tended to feel slightly more fidgety and skittish, though of course, the ABS never failed to work.
Accord: ****
Camry: ****

The i-Choice?
To recap quickly, both cars are more or less equally competent overall. They also offer just about as much driver involvement as the other, which is not much, really. The Camry scores marginally higher on ride comfort, the Accord offers slightly better noise insulation and its high-speed handling is a smidge better. Fuel efficiency is similar, at about 7.5 kpl or thereabouts. Speed is a non-issue – both will happily do 200+ if you are up to it. If that’s not nearly enough, we’ll have V6-engined Camrys and Accords by the end of this year, so you can go even faster if you can ever find the roads for that sort of thing. 

With capabilities so similar, how do you choose? The clincher could be the big difference in their prices. Ex-showroom Mumbai, the Camry will cost you between 17.85 to 18.50 lakh, depending on trim level etc. The Accord is pegged at 15.35 lakh for the manual, and 16.07 for the automatic. Of the two, the Accord is more contemporary, and after the MB C-Class and the Sonata V6, the only other car in its segment which you can buy with an automatic transmission. It may not look as big as the Camry, but given its price/performance combination, the new Accord’s IQ is sizeable, and for now, it’s the car to buy.
Accord: ****
Camry: ***