A decade ago, both the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima were offered in base four-cylinder versions. But with the V-6s of that time offering a big leap in performance and smoothness, with fuel economy only slightly lower for the V-6 (yes, gas prices were lower then), the question then was: Why not get the V-6.
Now the question is more along the lines of: Why do you need the V-6?
The reason? Smoother four-cylinder engines now prove their mettle, with surprisingly good acceleration and fuel economy thanks to a host of fuel-saving technologies, plus transmissions that really make the most of them—earning fuel economy ratings that are simply great, at up to 38 mpg highway for the Altima and up to 36 highway for the Accord.
Yet on either of these models—even as rivals like the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Chevrolet Malibu, and Ford Fusion have dropped the V-6 option entirely, in favor of turbo fours—you can still opt up to a V-6.
Are these models worth the premium for the V-6, and if you want to go the strong, smooth route with one, which is better? We recently revisited both the 2013 Honda Accord V6 Touring and 2013 Nissan Altima 3.5 SL with this question in mind. Between these two, it was a close call, so follow along and we’ll tell you the what and why.
Powertrain. First and foremost, powertrain. The Nissan Altima has a 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, while the Honda Accord has a 278-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. Both engines are very strong, smooth, and refined, and it’s now a tossup, even when you consider the engine and transmission. Nissan’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) gives the Altima V-6 a laid-back personality, and it gathers speed deceptively fast and easy; the CVT also works far better with this V-6 than in Nissan’s smaller cars, raising revs quickly whenever needed for bursts of power, and offering steering-wheel paddle shifters that let you ‘pretend’ it’s a conventional automatic. Meanwhile, the six-speed automatic in the Accord is smoother than Honda’s previous-generation automatics, as well as more responsive to downshift. While they’re nearly identical in performance, we might give the Accord the edge in sound alone; the Accord snaps through the gears with a sophisticated snarl, while the Altima tends to drone when you push it.
Fuel economy. In real-world fuel economy, we saw much better with the Altima than the Accord, but we put more miles on the Altima. The Altima earns a 31-mpg highway rating, while the Accord’s six-speed automatic allows a 34-mpg highway rating for the V-6—thanks also to Variable Cylinder Management (VCM).
Handling. In handling, we found some surprises. While in previous model years we might have chosen the Accord over the Altima, the new Accord makes some significant advances in steering feel and suspension tune—yes, even though it drops the double wishbones—and it manages to have great body control with a relatively firm ride that can soak up potholes and the most jarring bumps. The Altima, on the other hand, could be a little harsh in its last-generation version; but now it’s on the soft side, and we weren’t big fans of the steering feel, which is too light and doesn’t manage much feel of the road. Both cars are confident, but we’ll give this one to the Accord.
Interface. As you go up the model line for either of these popular sedans, you add features like navigation and upgraded audio, and they take up a little more dash real estate. And in experiencing both of these models, we couldn’t help but notice how refreshingly clean and simple the controls of the Altima are compared to those of the Accord. We give the Altima a big edge in user-friendliness for the interior; the interface isn’t any more complicated than it needs to be, and somehow they cleaned out nearly as many buttons as Honda without adding confusion.
Cabin appointments. And at the top of the line, what you get in the top-of-the-line Accord V6 Touring feels to us to be more warm, plush, and inviting than what you get in the Altima 3.5 SL. We felt better supported in the Accord’s seats, while those in the Altima were a bit slippery and short on lateral support at the thighs. Trims in the Accord wrapped cohesively around to the doors, and there was a damped feel to many of the lesser controls that was missing from the Altima. Simply put, we could see the Accord selling with an Acura badge, but the Altima would never be convincing enough for an Infiniti badge (and we’re not holding one lux brand in more esteem than the other here).
Safety. These cars are both Top Safety Pick+ performers, which means they’re pretty much at the top of their class for safety. And while the top-of-the-line cars we tested each had some active-safety features, it was a feature on the Accord—the LaneWatch blind-spot display—that we found especially useful, for driving around town. And we like the Accord’s somewhat better view outward.
Among V-6 sedans, Accord has the edge
So should you go for a top-of-the-line 2013 Accord V-6 or Altima V-6? Between the two, the Accord is narrowly our pick between the two. We like the way the Accord responds and handles, although the Altima may have an edge in ride quality. Inside, the Altima’s cabin just doesn’t feel as high-grade as the Accord’s; and while we like the Altima’s way of presenting a comparable feature set without the dash clutter, the Accord’s LaneWatch feature is everyday-useful.
If you drive them both, we’re eager to hear what you think; let us know in your comments below. And to compare all the points, such as styling, pricing, and other details we didn't cover here, be sure to read both of our full reviews: on the 2013 Honda Accord and 2013 Nissan Altima.
(c) 2013, High Gear Media.