The D-segment sedan class of vehicles is undergoing a transformation of sorts. The people that used to buy such cars, the colloquially termed ‘uncles,’ have since migrated to SUVs.
The ‘uncles’ who would have otherwise have bought a Honda Accord or a Toyota Camry, are now buying a Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5 because today's SUVs offer comparable comfort, space, and fuel economy to a sedan, while an SUV's taller seating position is a lot easier for older drivers to get in and out of.
So, D-segment sedans are remodeling themselves into sports sedans of sorts. It makes sense because the only people who would still want to buy a low riding sedan are people who love driving and appreciate good handling.
The downside? These sedans have also gotten a lot more sophisticated and their prices have also gone up in tandem.
There are only four D-segment sedans left on our market: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, and Volkswagen Passat, Mazda 6. The 240 PS Ford Mondeo EcoBoost and 245 PS Kia Optima GT are no more. So are the bland Hyundai Sonata and Nissan Teana.
Of the four, only three – Accord, Camry, Passat - are in competition with each other. The Mazda 6 is imported from Japan and due to additional taxes, is priced a lot higher, between RM 173,659 to RM 211,148 - enough to buy a certified pre-owned BMW 320i Series or a Mercedes-Benz C200.
Yes the price is steep but you do see where your money is spent. The Mazda 6’s cabin materials, especially 2.5L variant, makes a BMW 320i or a Mercedes-Benz C200’s interior feel cheap in comparison.
The 6 also drives a lot better and is more comfortable too. Yes it is better than the 320i and C200 but few will accept the Mazda to be what it is, because a car’s badge counts for a lot in ‘face sensitive’ Asian societies.
If you are looking at the Mazda 6 and are able to see beyond the badge and appreciate its value. Buy it!
However, if you can’t stomach the Mazda 6’s asking price, here are three alternatives:
Toyota Camry 2.5V
On paper the Toyota Camry appears to be the poorest choice but real-world driving experience tells a different story. Despite the lower output on paper, the Toyota Camry’s driving experience is miles ahead of the more powerful, pre-facelift 220 PS Volkswagen Passt 2.0 TSI, nevermind the newer 190 PS facelifted Passat.
The Toyota Camry is just so much more agile, with motions that are just so fluid, so intuitive, that driving the car feels like controlling an extension of your hands and feet.
The Camry's driving dynamics is very close to a Mazda 6, and that’s a very high praise. Where the Camry is actually better than the narrowly focused Mazda 6 (you enjoy it only on twisty roads, less on highways) is the way in which it strikes a supremely fine balance between firm body control and ride comfort.
Talks of the aging 2AR series engine being weak is exaggerated. Yes the 0-100 km/h sprint is a slow-ish 10.5 seconds (our own test), and the headline power and torque figures are lower than the Dynamic Force engine that we don’t get (but it’s available in the Lexus ES 250), but it should be pointed that the lower CO2 emissions Dynamic Force engine’s torque curve is not as intense as the older 2AR engine, and therefore feels less punchy.
This is quite evident in the Lexus ES 250, even after taking into account the difference in weight.
In the real-world, it is the older 2AR engine that feels punchier, despite the lower output figures.
Honda Accord 1.5 TC-P
We have yet to test drive the newer Honda Accord but feedback from Thai motoring publications, which have more or less similar expectations to us Malaysians, have been very positive.
The Accord’s character is a total opposite of the Camry, but in a good way.
It’s steering is not as sharp as the nippy Camry, that’s for sure. However, the Accord has a very regal, comfort-oriented feel – attributes that were lost in the Camry’s pursuit of driver-oriented agile handling.
If the Camry is an executive sedan that drives like a sporty hatchback, then the Accord is an executive sedan that drives like a big, almost limousine-like sedan.
The Accord’s interior also offers better ergonomics than the fussier looking Camry's cabin. Against the Camry's cabin materials, it's quite on par.
Sitting inside the Accord’s cabin, its controls is the most user friendly. The neatly laid out cabin feels like a calmer, more relaxing place to be in than in the Camry. Legroom is class-leading though.
The Accord’s interior is also far more spacious than any of its rivals. Its 570-litre boot space is also the biggest in its class, with a wide and low aperture for easy loading.
However, the seats feels a grade below the Camry's in terms of thigh and back support.
The infotainment supports Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, giving it an advantage over the Toyota Camry, which is a shame because the Camry’s JBL speakers has better audio quality (actually it’s the best).
The Honda Sensing and LaneWatch combo is also better than everyone else. Forget about annoying blind spot monitors and their incessant false alarms.
LaneWatch’s camera feed lets the driver decide when it’s safe to merge into traffic, but more importantly, provides very clear video feed when it’s raining and the side mirrors are blurred by rain drops.
Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TSI Elegance
The Volkswagen Passat has the lowest price but you are also not getting much for your money. On the surface, the new Volkswagen Passat might seem like a poor replacement to the previous model. Yes, it’s now cheaper by RM 7,400, but it also loses 30 PS and 30 Nm, DCC adaptive suspension and XDS electronic differential lock.
However, you do get a new 7-speed wet-type dual-clutch automatic transmission, which adds one more forward ratio than the previous model.
Where it lacks in power against the newer Honda Accord, it counters with higher torque, much higher, at 60 Nm more, plus a snappy dual-clutch transmission that’s far more engaging than the Accord’s dull CVT.
However in terms of features, cabin spaciousness, comfort, and practicality, the Passat doesn’t offer much else to sway buyers away from the other two proven Japanese stalwarts.
The only compelling reason to choose the Passat over the Accord or Camry is simply because you prefer something German.
In conclusion, the Toyota Camry is for the keen driver, despite it having the lowest power output. Some will get it, many won’t. If you understand why a 200 PS Toyota 86 drives way better than a 220 PS Golf GTI, then you will get it.
Downsides include the lack of Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, an adaptive cruise control that doesn't have stop-go traffic function (unlike the Honda Accord), and a keyless entry that only works on the driver's door.
The Honda Accord is the best all-rounder. Good value for money. Spacious. Comfortable and does everything that is expected of a D-segment sedan, and then some more.
Downsides include seats that are poorer and not as comfortable as the Camry, cabin lighting (still using bulbs) that doesn't feel as premium as the Camry. We are pretty sure that more will be uncovered once we get to spend more time with the car. Follow our Facebook page for more updates.
The Volkswagen Passat is for those who appreciate Teutonic driving character – chunky and firm, weighty controls.
Downsides are obvious - it lacks driving assistance functions offered by the Japanese rivals, and it's also the oldest of the trio.