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Car Comparison: 2020 Honda Accord vs. 2020 Hyundai Sonata

Driving.ca logo Driving.ca 2020-10-23 Nick Tragianis , Brian Harper
a car parked in a parking lot: 2020 Honda Accord vs. 2020 Hyundai Sonata © Provided by Driving.ca 2020 Honda Accord vs. 2020 Hyundai Sonata
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Nick Tragianis: Hey, have you heard? Family sedans are out, and crossovers are in! At least, that’s how most consumers across the country seem to feel, according to our resident auto sales whiz and number-cruncher extraordinaire Tim Cain, propagating the “death” of midsize sedans may be closer than we think .

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Automakers seem to be going both ways on this. Ford infamously pulled the plug last year on anything in its lineup that wasn’t a crossover/SUV, pickup truck, or a Mustang, while the Chevy Malibu isn’t long for this world. On the flip side, other automakers are doubling down — Toyota recently imbued the Camry with AWD , Kia just took the wraps off the K5 ( just don’t call it an Optima ), and Hyundai’s freshly redesigned Sonata hit dealers earlier this year chock full of style and some seriously impressive tech.

Which brings us to the subject of this test. I mean, come on — for $38,599 as-tested, the top-dog Sonata Ultimate can do tricks normally reserved for luxury sedans double the price . Throw in a frugal and smooth powertrain, a sizeable trunk and back seat, and a fairly polished cabin, and the Sonata has the goods to take a bite out of the stalwarts in the segments. Accord whom?

BH: It’s one thing to take the hill, a whole other level of effort to keep it. Honda’s highly regarded Accord has, for more than 40 years, proven quite adept at defending the high ground, currently second only to the equally respected Camry in mid-sized sedan sales. Which doesn’t mean it’s not fair game, the 10 th -generation version is three years old, and the Sonata is the brighter, shinier, newer thing. Still, the Accord is a formidable rival, and doesn’t need to bring in its top trim Touring 2.0 to counter the Sonata Ultimate; the mid-level Touring ($37,405 as-tested) is capable enough to defend the nameplate’s honour.

But, let’s set some parameters here. These are family four-doors, not sport sedans . How well do they blend comfort, roominess, fuel economy, content, safety and anything else that’s appropriate? This isn’t going to be easy; the two are very closely matched.

NT: That they are, especially in terms of intent, overall size, price, and even what they’re packing under the hood. The Sonata’s newer, so let’s start with that one first — it gets a thoroughly fresh redesign inside and out for 2020, pairing fairly wild styling (for the segment) with a pretty cushy (and techy) interior. Say what you will about the catfish-like maw, but it grows on you and the LED daytime running light treatment fading into the chrome trim is slick as heck. Around the back, the look bears a slight resemblance to the Honda Civic — particularly around the taillights — but the LED strip connecting the two looks fetching at night. Bonus points if you can find the trunk release button without anyone’s help.

Under the hood, you’ll find one of two four-cylinder engines: a normally aspirated 2.5-litre inline-four in the base model, while the rest of the lineup gets a 1.6L turbo-four rated at 180 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Curiously, the “base” 2.5 puts out more power than the “upgrade” engine, but that doesn’t matter — the 290-horsepower Sonata N Line is coming next year for all you power-hungry hooligans.

But I digress. The 1.6L found in the Sonata Ultimate is hooked up to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s a pretty peppy combo; I actually had to double-check to confirm if the eight-speed was a dual-clutch and not a conventional unit; shifts are surprisingly snappy when you want them to be, and nearly invisible when you don’t. I wouldn’t call it overly powerful, but it will spin the front wheels taking off from a stoplight, and it never left me wanting for more kick on the highway. I will say this, though — there’s a fair bit of wind noise on the highway. The Accord’s more refined in this regard.

BH: Look, I’m old school. I miss the easy power generated by the 3.5L V6 in the previous-generation Accord, but there’s no use grousing about it. The Touring 2.0’s turbo 2.0L four puts out a strong 252 horsepower, not that far off the 278 of the V6. The “lesser” Touring’s 1.5L turbo-four might seem wimpy with only 192 hp and 192 pound-feet of torque — and hooked up to a CVT rather than the 10-speed automatic in the 2.0 — but it gets the job done in a smooth and unruffled manner. As base engine/transmission combos go, it suits the nature of the Honda as a family sedan.

This is as good a time to air my biggest beef regarding the new Sonata, admittedly better looking than the Accord — Hyundai didn’t move the goalposts nearly enough. Put aside the news of the upcoming Sonata N Line; it’s not out yet and, depending on how well it’s engineered, it might be more of a sports sedan than a family one. As the Sonata stands presently, it doesn’t make sense to me to offer two four-cylinder engines of nearly equal power.

NT: Be that as it may, the two are fairly well-matched in terms of fuel economy. On paper, the Accord is rated at 8.2 L/100 kilometres in the city and 6.8 on the highway. The Sonata is a bit thirstier in the city at 8.8 L/100 kilometres, but more frugal on the highway at 6.4. Still, in the real-world, the trip computers on both of these midsizers settled at just under 8.0 L/100 kilometres — oh, and they can both run on regular. Still, I know you have another bone to pick with the Sonata.

BH: The fact Hyundai didn’t go with all-wheel drive, either standard or as an option, strikes me as short-sighted. If you want to slow down the movement to crossovers, offer buyers a viable alternative. Plus, its corporate sibling, the new Kia K5, comes standard with AWD when mated to the same 1.6L turbo-four.

The way I see it, the Sonata is certainly as good as the Accord, but it’s not really better , is it? I will grant it has some cool new technology, notably Hyundai’s Blind View Monitor, though the available remote smart parking assist is more of a parlour trick. In actual terms of interior comfort, both cars will easily carry a family of four six-footers, the Sonata offering more headroom and legroom up front, the Accord countering with superior rear-seat headroom and legroom. What do you think, kid?

NT: I think I’m with you on that, old dude. It’s not like the Sonata’s cabin misses the mark; the two-tone motif is fetching, the infotainment as intuitive as ever, the ergonomics and visibility excellent, the all-digital gauge cluster crisp and sharp, and the available safety gizmos extremely helpful. For the record, Hyundai’s so-called blind-spot view monitor is far better executed than Honda’s now mostly defunct LaneWatch system, and Hyundai’s sharp 360-degree camera system is incredibly helpful for squeezing into (and out of) tight parking spots.

But I also think the Accord’s cabin feels more solid and better built. Sure, the all-black is a bit plain, but materials are top-notch, there’s far less wind noise on the highway and, perhaps this last one is trivial, but the way the switchgear operates feels like something out of an Audi. Oh, and the Accord has a slightly larger trunk. Really, I think it comes down to personal preference: the latest Sonata’s highway manners are a bit of a letdown and the cabin is tighter than the Accord’s behind the front seats, but it also packs some incredibly cool tech you wouldn’t find on cars costing twice as much. If you’re all about the latest in whiz-bang gadgetry wrapped in a fairly distinctive package — you can get it in yellow! — the Sonata is tough to beat. But there’s a reason why the Accord is the benchmark in the segment, and why it takes the cake this time around.

BH: Yes, it’s the Accord crossing the finish line first, by a nose. The Sonata is a first-class effort, but Honda’s family sedan is too solid in the key areas — safety, comfort, fuel economy, infotainment, etc. — for it to actually be toppled by Hyundai. At least not yet. Could Kia’s new K5 take up the challenge? I believe it could . Stay tuned.

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