If you're interested in a new midsize sedan, both the Honda Accord and Volkswagen Passat likely occupy top spots on your shopping list. With recent redesigns (the Passat in 2012 and the Accord just last year), both models offer excellent choices among a crowded field of rivals, touting lots of equipment, reasonable pricing and roomy interiors. So, which is better? We've examined the issue in depth to help you choose between the two cars, but first we'll check out what's new with each sedan for 2014.
2014 Honda Accord
Although gas-powered versions of the Honda Accord see little change for 2014, the sedan's big news is the addition of two new hybrid models: a regular hybrid, which returns 47 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, and a plug-in hybrid, which can travel around 15 miles on electric power before the gasoline engine kicks in.
2014 Volkswagen Passat
The Passat also gets a new powertrain for 2014 with the addition of a new 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in place of last year's base-level 2.5-liter 5-cylinder. The sedan also boasts a new Car-Net telematics system, a new Sport model, and more trim levels with a standard backup camera.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Japanese cars are more reliable than rivals from other nations, and that seems to be the case in this comparison, too. While it's difficult to predict reliability for new cars, J.D. Power takes a crack at it based on data from earlier models. They award0 0the Honda Accord0 four circles out of a perfect five, suggesting better-than-average reliability. The Passat, meanwhile, scores only two circles, denoting a worse-than-average score.
Understanding that its reputation for reliability is a little dubious, Volkswagen has given the Passat a secret weapon: free maintenance. Although the Accord and the Passat both have the same warranty lengths, the Passat adds 2 years or 24,000 miles of free maintenance, which is something that the Accord doesn't offer. The Passat's plan covers items such as tire rotations and oil changes and could help to lessen the cost of buying the Volkswagen.
Despite Volkswagen's free maintenance, however, the Accord is the clear front-runner in terms of reliability, especially if you plan on keeping your car for a while.
Both the Passat and the Accord offer a wide array of powertrains. In most Passat models, the base-level engine is a 170-horsepower 1.8-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. Base-level Accords, meanwhile, use a 185-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. Despite offering a larger engine and slightly more power, the Accord boasts better gas mileage: 27 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway with the automatic, compared to the Passat's 24 mpg city/34 mpg hwy.
Drivers interested in more power can choose a V6 engine in either car. In the Passat, the V6 is a muscular 280-hp 3.6-liter unit, while the Accord's V6 is a similarly brawny 278-hp 3.5-liter. Once again, the Accord wins the gas mileage fight, returning 21 mpg city/34 mpg hwy to the Passat's 20 mpg city/28 mpg hwy.
For drivers interested in saving fuel, both cars once again offer a powertrain that can do the trick. In the Passat, it's a 140-hp turbodiesel 4-cylinder that returns 30 mpg city/40 mpg hwy with the available automatic transmission. The 141-hp Accord Hybrid, however, performs even better, scoring an impressive 50 mpg city/45 mpg hwy. The Accord also offers a plug-in hybrid model, which can travel for up to 15 miles on electric power alone.
As with reliability, the Accord handily wins the fuel economy category. The popular Honda's gas mileage is far superior to the Passat's in nearly every case, whether you're considering the 4-cylinder, the V6, or the purpose-built fuel-saving engine, be it a diesel or a hybrid.
When it comes to safety, both the Passat and the Accord have exemplary records. The Accord stands out with slightly better crash-test ratings: While both vehicles earned a perfect five stars in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's crash tests, the Accord scored the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick+ award. The Passat was only awarded a Top Safety Pick designation. The distinction is small, however, and neither car offers a significant advantage in terms of crashworthiness.
One of the two does, however, offer a strong advantage in terms of safety equipment: the Accord. While Volkswagen offers a new telematics system that boasts emergency-responder crash notification and stolen vehicle assistance, it doesn't feature many of the modern high-tech safety gadgets available in the Accord. Such items include a forward-collision warning system, lane-departure warning, a blind spot monitoring system, and Honda's LaneWatch camera, which gives you a better view of your blind spot than any mirror ever could. We also like the fact that the Accord offers a backup camera standard on all trim levels. In the Passat, it's only included on the mid-level SE model and up.
Once again, this category is an easy win for Honda. While crashworthiness is largely the same for both cars, only the Accord offers the additional technology that might help you avoid an accident in the first place.
When it comes to technology, the Accord widens its already substantial lead over the far simpler Passat. Admittedly, we like the Passat's new Car-Net system; it includes stolen vehicle assistance, emergency-responder crash notification, and geofencing, which allows parents to set boundaries for teen drivers. The Passat still can't touch the Accord's wide range of new gadgets, which include forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, a blind spot monitoring system, and the LaneWatch camera system.
The Passat also lags behind the Accord when it comes to some of today's modern convenience features. The Honda offers adaptive cruise control, for example, which isn't available in the Volkswagen. The Passat also skips out on LED headlights and all-important app integration, which is increasingly popular among shoppers interested in a high-tech new car. Finally, the Passat's navigation system doesn't offer voice recognition, which is a surprisingly refined feature in the Accord.
If technology is your game, the Accord is your car -- at least when compared to the Passat.
In every single category above, we've awarded the victory to the Accord. But what about value? Admittedly, examining pricing seems to show a slight chink in the Accord's armor. Its base price, for instance, is more than $1,000 above the Passat's, and the Accord Hybrid is more than $2,000 pricier than a base-level Passat TDI. So is the Honda worth it?
In a word: yes. Sure, the Honda is more expensive than the Passat to start, but base versions of the Accord also offer a lot more equipment than a base-level Passat, including a backup camera, alloy wheels and dual-zone automatic climate control. The base-level Accord also offers more power and better gas mileage.
It's the same story as you work your way through the range: On nearly every level, the Accord has more equipment than its equivalent Passat trim level. While the Accord Hybrid may be far more expensive (with a $2,000-plus price gap between the two cars), it boasts far better gas mileage in addition to more equipment.
With that said, things may start to swing in the Passat's favor as you consider actual transaction prices. Due to its lower level of technology and aging design, the Passat is often available with stronger discounts than the Accord. If you're not interested in the latest gadgets or high-tech features, you might find that a discounted Passat is a better value than a pricier Accord.
To us, this one is simple: The 2014 Honda Accord is a better car than the 2014 Volkswagen Passat. With that said, we wouldn't suggest that the Passat is a bad car. It's still safe, roomy, comfortable and surprisingly well priced for a German car, especially when you consider discounts often available today. The only problem is that it's a good car in a segment that has a few great ones, and the Accord is undoubtedly one of those greats. Owing to its solid reputation for reliability, its long list of equipment, its cutting-edge technology, and its strong safety record, the Accord is our favorite midsize sedan.