Commentary: The Difficulty in Making Comparisons

There's too many vehicles to review...
Not your typical day at V&R HQ. Photo by Randy Stern

If you are looking for a comparison of some of the vehicles reviewed here – it would probably not be considered fair.

Since 2010, I had the chance to drive almost every mid-sized family sedan available right now. Despite the few that have not been driven, it is the core of the market had already seen time in V&R's care in the Twin Cities or elsewhere. Looking at the sales figures from April of 2013, it would seem obvious the reasons why the segment leaders are selling the numbers they are.

To make a car in this segment, you have to ensure that everyone is comfortable, the driver is engaged and the driving experience is not offensive to anyone. Not exactly a high bar to aspire to, but understand the tasks these sedans have to accomplish every day to know that a middle ground is set to ensure some level of satisfaction.

What if someone refuses to simply settle for less? What if the "middle ground" does not completely suit a particular driver or group of occupants? What if we want sportier handling, a solid ride that rides the groove of the road, unmatched quality and comfort?

What if I want a mid-sized sedan that suits me as a daily driver for both my short commute and any long haul runs I would put it through?

This is why making a comparison with some of the vehicles recently reviewed in the mid-sized family sedan class cannot be accomplished with fairness. If I try to level the playing field between the 2013 Honda Accord Touring, 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 SL and 2013 Ford Fusion SE EcoBoost I reviewed over the past four weeks, this comparison would not work as intended.

To begin with, neither vehicle is level in terms of the spec sheet for each one. One cannot pit a V6 up against two four-cylinder models. Nor can one pit a middle trim level against a luxury one. Lastly, given how important these three vehicles were in recent months, how can I dial back to any of the previously reviewed vehicles in its class prior to the current model year to provide some context and perspective?

Considering the Accord, Altima and Fusion, none of these questions are considered the basis of comparison. There are some aspects that could be gleaned from each vehicle to point towards some conclusion towards deciding which is best.

After checking through the notes and numbers of these three vehicles, it would be fair to say that each car has something that makes them stand out above the segment. If all things even out, one might conclude that all three cars were on par with each other.

Perhaps, to break one down to its core competencies would be the way to even strike a comparison. The Accord brings solid build quality and intriguing design inside and out. The Fusion has a sexy look and good build quality along with its advanced technology. The Altima offers up a balanced drive and space utilization.

Let me stretch this out a bit. If I were to compare the Accord, Altima and Fusion to the Toyota Camry – the best selling passenger car in the USA and the sales leader in this segment – one conclusion could be made. If it were up to me, the Camry could not be considered. The idea of a mid-sized car that satisfies the driver would easily does not fit what the Camry offers the consumer.

What does it take for this segment to have a stand out product? Should it look to the Camry and see what ways it could advance the concept further? Could it go into the stratosphere of design and technology, like the Fusion? Should it just do everything well with some gussied up look, like the Accord? These questions are indeed pertinent to understand how one wins in a high volume, highly competitive segment.

And, where are the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Dodge Avenger and Chrysler 200 in this conversation? They also bring competencies that exceed the Camry, if not match it. All three wow us with superlatives and intangibles that keep them in the game – all selling over 10,000 units a month. Between the design of both the Sonata and the Optima, along with the V6 performance and overachievement of the Pentastar duo.

What are really missing are vehicles I have yet to drive in this class – the Chevrolet Malibu and the new Mazda6. They were not missed on purpose, but rather timing. I have yet to nail down a Malibu to find out what the pundits have already talked about and the new 6 is really too new to make it in for a review.

Here lies the difficulty in making comparisons. It prevents me from truly saying: "Which one is the best." As soon as I declare that something is the best, another vehicle comes along and smashes that "winner" to bits. That is how it works, really.

This is why I prefer to take each vehicle on an individual basis. Any segment comparison or mention of its competition is used only for context. If you are a consumer reading this site, it is intentional that I made you aware that other models are out there in its class so you could make a solid decision before signing your life away at the dealership.

It is not easy saying which one is best sometimes. It would not be fair at all.

Then again, we are five months away from the launch of the next the Vehicle of The Year Award season. Then, I would be a complete hypocrite…

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