Two heavyweights of the midsize family sedan class are completely redesigned for the 2013 model year. Both are claimed to be more fuel efficient and equipped with new safety and infotainment technologies. Additionally, the new 2013 Honda Accord Sedan is shorter yet roomier inside than before, with a bigger trunk than the previous model, and is offered in new Sport and Touring trim levels. Nissan says the 2013 Altima is more spacious inside and adds new zero-gravity seat designs, but the car is no longer offered as a sport-tuned 3.5 SR model.
In this installment of This or That, AutoTrader takes a look at the pros and cons of each of these popular new models to help consumers decide which one is right for them. Before we get into the details, let's set the stage.
2013 Honda Accord Sedan Highlights
The 2013 Accord Sedan is offered in LX, Sport, EX, EX-L and Touring trim levels. A new 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine is standard on all except for the Touring model, which is equipped with a V6 engine that is offered as an option on the Accord EX-L.
Among the 2013 Accord's many new standard features are SmartVent front airbags, a reversing camera, an expanded-view driver's side mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth with music streaming capability and SMS text messaging capability. For 2013, the Accord can be equipped with several new technologies, including an adaptive cruise control system, a blind spot information system, a lane departure warning system, a forward collision warning system and cloud-based HondaLink smartphone connectivity.
2013 Nissan Altima Sedan Highlights
Nissan sells the 2013 Altima in two model series: the Altima 2.5 and the Altima 3.5. Within each series, Nissan offers S, SV and SL trim levels. The Altima 2.5 is also sold in basic format without a trim level designation. A new 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine is standard in the Altima 2.5, while the Altima 3.5 has a tried-and-true VQ-series 3.5-liter V6.
All 2013 Altimas are equipped with new NASA-inspired zero-gravity seats, an Easy Fill Tire Alert system and Active Understeer Control to improve cornering control. The Altima SV models offer hands-free text-messaging capability and Pandora Internet radio, while a Technology Package containing a blind spot information system, a lane departure warning system and what Nissan calls Moving Object Detection is optional for the SL models.
With stiff new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations looming and with consumers demanding vehicles that get better gas mileage, car companies are doing everything they can to increase fuel economy, and that includes Honda and Nissan.
Honda's approach is its new Earth Dreams Technology, which the automaker calls a "next generation set of technological advancements which greatly enhance both driving performance and fuel efficiency." As applied to the 2013 Accord, Earth Dreams Technology takes the form of a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine and a 3.5-liter V6 with Variable Cylinder Management (VCM). The VCM system shuts off half of the V6 engine's cylinders under low-load driving conditions in an effort to conserve fuel. Both engines were named to Ward's 10 Best Engines list for 2013.
The Accord's 4-cylinder engine generates 185 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque (189 hp/182 lb-ft for the Accord Sport). A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard for the LX, Sport and EX models, and a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) is optional for these trim levels and standard for the Accord EX-L. The Accord's 3.5-liter V6 makes 278 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque, and is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Switching gears, so to speak, to the 2013 Altima 2.5, Nissan installs a new 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine under the hood -- one rated to deliver 182 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. The Altima 3.5 is equipped with Nissan's familiar VQ-series 3.5-liter V6, which supplies 270 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque to the car's front wheels. Both engines are paired with a next-generation version of the automaker's Xtronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). Paddle shifters are included with the V6 engine.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy ratings peg the Altima 2.5 at 31 mpg, while the Altima 3.5 is expected to return 25 mpg. Compare these figures with the 2013 Accord, which is rated to get 28 mpg in combined driving with the 4-cylinder engine and a manual transmission, 30 mpg with the 4-cylinder engine and a CVT (29 mpg for the Accord Sport) and 25 mpg with the V6.
By the slimmest of margins, victory goes to the 2013 Altima.
The new 2013 Accord and 2013 Altima share identical overall crash-test ratings, achieving a 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The only differences are that the Accord receives slightly higher protection ratings from the NHTSA for side-impact protection for the driver and for rollover resistance, while the Altima's ratings reflect slightly better protection for the driver in a frontal impact.
To determine which of these models offers the best value proposition in terms of safety, we'll need to examine standard and optional safety features and make a judgment call.
Starting with the car's underlying engineering, the new Honda Accord employs the automaker's Advanced Compatibility Engineering II (ACE II), which means the car's structure is designed to deflect crash energy away from the cabin in a collision. Additional standard safety features include SmartVent side-impact airbags that deploy at different inflation rates depending on front-seat occupant position; an expanded-view side mirror for the driver to help see in the car's left blind spot; a reversing camera; and the ability to have incoming text messages read aloud and to respond using factory preset messages.
Upgrading to the Accord EX, EX-L or Touring models adds a LaneWatch blind spot information system for the right side of the car, while EX-L and Touring models have a multiangle reversing camera, a lane departure warning system and a forward collision warning system. The Accord Touring is exclusively offered with an adaptive cruise control system.
By contrast, the 2013 Nissan Altima lacks a standard reversing camera, SmartVent airbags and the ability to receive and respond to text messages. However, the Altima is equipped with an Easy Fill Tire Alert system that makes it easier to maintain proper tire pressures as well as Active Understeer Control technology that helps to keep the Altima under control when taking corners on wet or snow-covered roads. Additionally, all Altima models except the base 2.5 are equipped with individual tire pressure monitoring and headlights that automatically illuminate when the wipers are turned on.
Altima buyers choosing the SV or SL trim level get a hands-free text messaging assist system and a reversing camera. A blind spot information system, a lane departure warning system and a Moving Object Detection System that identifies and warns of approaching cross traffic when the car is reversing are optional and offered only on the top SL trim level.
As much as we believe that maintaining proper tire pressure is a critical foundation for vehicle safety -- and we heartily applaud Nissan for its Easy Fill Tire Alert system -- we're going to give the nod to the Honda Accord for two reasons. First, people spend far too much time fiddling with their phones while driving, and the Accord's standard SMS text messaging capability supersedes tire pressure maintenance. Second, Honda does a better job of democratizing safety features, offering a standard reversing camera and making its blind spot information and lane departure warning systems available at a lower price point than Nissan does.
Honda and Nissan offer identical new vehicle limited warranty and powertrain warranty coverage, and neither provides free roadside assistance or free scheduled maintenance. The new vehicle limited warranty lasts for three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first, and the powertrain warranty lasts for five years or 60,000 miles.
Based on reliability history, Consumer Reports says Accord and Altima models with a 4-cylinder engine are expected to provide "better than average" reliability. With a V6 engine, the Altima 3.5 is predicted to supply better than average reliability, while the Accord V6 is rated average.
In vehicle dependability surveys conducted by J.D. Power and Associates, the research firm finds the Honda Accord to be more dependable than the Nissan Altima. In 2012, however, J.D. Power expected both models to deliver similar levels of reliability over time.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a tie.
In terms of price, the Accord and Altima are evenly matched. The Accord has a lower starting price because it comes with a manual transmission, while the Altima 2.5 is a de-contented base model designed to offer an appealing window sticker. The Altima ranges from $22,550 for the base 2.5 to $34,215 for an Altima 3.5 SL with all the factory options. Over at the Honda dealer, Accords are priced from $22,470 for the LX model with the manual gearbox to $34,220 for the Accord Touring. Accord options are installed by the dealer.
Where the value proposition for one model over the other is most evident relates to predicted resale value. According to Kelley Blue Book (KBB), the Accord will retain 58.4 percent of its original value at 36 months, and 46.1 percent at 60 months, making the Honda best in its segment. Additionally, Automotive Lease Guide gives the Accord a 2013 Residual Value Award for its ability to hold its value over time.
Contrasting the Accord's performance against the Altima, KBB predicts the Nissan will retain 55.7 percent of its value at 36 months and 39.9 percent of its value at 60 months. It ranks the Altima third in its segment.
Clearly, the Accord provides superior value.
Standard technology for the 2013 Accord includes Bluetooth with streaming audio capability, Pandora Internet radio, a USB port, SMS text messaging and a reversing camera. Additionally, every Accord includes Active Noise Cancellation, a hill-start assist system, SmartVent side-impact airbags for the front seat occupants and a Maintenance Minder system to remind the car's owner when it's time to have the Accord serviced.
Comparatively speaking, the 2013 Altima matches the Accord's Bluetooth with streaming audio capability, and that's all. But Nissan provides standard Active Understeer Control and an Easy Fill Tire Alert system, which are not available for the Accord.
To access much of the technology Nissan offers for the Altima, buyers must choose the Altima 2.5 SV model at a minimum. With SV trim, the Altima is equipped with a hands-free text messaging system, a reversing camera, Pandora Internet radio, a USB port, remote engine starting and a HomeLink universal garage door opener. Add navigation and the Altima SV includes Google POI and Send-to-Car technology. Finally, Nissan reserves a heated steering wheel, a blind spot information system, a lane departure warning system and a Moving Object Detection system for the Altima's SL trim level.
Moving up to the Accord EX model supplies a blind spot information system for the car's right side. (An expanded-view driver's side mirror is designed to show what's in the Accord's left blind spot.) The Accord EX-L gains a forward collision warning system, a lane departure warning system and cloud-based HondaLink technology that replicates your smartphone icons on the car's in-dash display screen. The top-of-the-line Touring model adds LED headlights and an adaptive cruise control system. Oddly, Honda offers a HomeLink universal remote only on the EX-L V6 and Touring models.
Though Nissan does make several safety and infotainment technologies available on the SV and SL trim levels, we prefer Honda's approach here, in which the automaker provides key popular features as standard equipment on all models.
Take a close look at the redesigned Honda Accord and Nissan Altima sedans and it's clear that the two models are extremely competitive with one another. Safety ratings and reliability scores put them in a dead heat, and they receive nearly identical fuel economy ratings, with the Altima nudging just a little ahead. In the top trim levels, the Altima feels like it's a little more luxurious. However, the Honda Accord surges past the Nissan Altima in terms of overall value, providing key features as standard equipment and supplying useful safety technology at more accessible price points. Based on the parameters discussed above, the Accord gets our vote as the better midsize family sedan.