If you've just landed on this page, it probably means you're in the market for a new V6 family sedan. Or, it means you're curious about the all-new 2007 Toyota Camry and how it compares to its natural competitors: Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion.
Either way, we know this is not the stuff of your childhood dreams, nor will any of these front-wheel-drive cars ever be portrayed in a sexy poster or action-film chase scene. We do, however, admire your dedication to the research. Furthermore, we congratulate you on your sensible shoes, your understanding of the difference between amortization and depreciation, and your 80-gig TiVo crammed with films from both the Independent Film Channel and American Movie Classics.
With your next new-car purchase, you're looking for that sweet spot among familial responsibility and convenience, a modicum of luxury (if it doesn't mean giving up your morning designer-coffee indulgence), and the desire to get the most for your money. Luckily, we share your values and have done all the hard work for you.
The reigning champ
Unlike last year when we played this comparison out in a purely price-driven scenario and a Hyundai Sonata GLS V6 swept the field and earned our accolades — trouncing both the four-cylinder Accord LX and Camry LE (all priced under $22,000) — we thought we'd give Hyundai a real workout this time, matching power plants and equipment instead of prices.
We volunteered our long-term test car, a top-of-the-line Sonata LX V6 with the only option available to that trim level, a sunroof/audio package, which takes the price up to a still bewilderingly low $24,895. Standard hardware and software includes a 235-horsepower V6 engine, sporty 17-inch alloy wheels with Michelin tires, five-speed automatic transmission, ABS, electronic stability control (ESC) and traction-control system (TCS).
Inside the Hyundai, automatic climate control with environment-sniffing automatic air-recirculation mode, leather seating (heated in front, power-adjustable for the driver), tilt-telescoping steering wheel and electrochromic auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink and compass are among the standard equipment. Would the Sonata still knock out the contenders with its value and killer warranty, or have the stakes changed in this no-holds-barred test?
Same as it ever was
Honda's entry, an EX V6 automatic with leather and navigation for $29,850, technically has no available options. In reality, there are 19 Accord sedan models, 10 of which are denoted as "EX," with a choice of four- or six-cylinder engines, manual or automatic transmissions, cloth or leather seating, and optional navigation systems.
Arguably, we chose the most expensive (excluding for the moment the $33,540 gas-electric Hybrid with navi) version, but the truth is, there is an Accord LX V6 automatic without leather or navigation for $25,650, or a similarly "base" EX V6 automatic for $27,850.
The point is that while the Accord did not fare as well as the Sonata on our pricing score, there are 244-hp V6 Accords available for less money (and with fewer features than the Sonata LX). The question becomes: Does the Accord's conservative style, impeccable quality and competitive V6 performance now outweigh the Sonata's value?
Low and to the outside
The $22,360 Ford Fusion SEL V6 arrived with $3,290 in options to bring it up to the same equipment level as the rest of the field. Some of those options are ABS, traction control, side-impact airbags and head-protection curtains, and an uplevel audio system.
Standard on our SEL are the 221-hp V6, six-speed automatic, 17-inch alloy wheels and Michelin tires, power-adjustable driver seat, and leather-wrapped tilt-telescoping wheel with redundant audio/climate buttons. Some options that aren't even available are stability control, navigation and satellite radio.
The total as-tested price was still admirable at $25,650, the second lowest price in the group. What the Fusion lacks in standard (or even optional) equipment, it tries to make up for with a low-ball base MSRP, sporty driving dynamics and unique style. Did Ford succeed by not playing by the Asians' rules, or did it go the wrong way all together?
Newness has its advantages
Finally, an all-new 2007 Toyota Camry XLE arrived with a $28,100 base MSRP and $2,740 in options: keyless entry and push-button start; a JBL three-in-one system that includes 440-watt audio, sophisticated navigation and Bluetooth hands-free telephone compatibility; heated front seats; and electronic stability control.
Every standard or optional feature on each of the other three cars is standard on the new Camry XLE (with the exception of heated seats, navigation and stability control). But the Camry goes further with seven airbags (including kneebags), tilt-sliding moonroof, reclining rear seats and a climate-control system that zaps airborne contaminants with what Toyota calls "Plasmacluster ionizer technology."
The big news, however, is the 268-hp V6, six-speed automatic, plush interior and, well, hard-to-ignore exterior styling. Read on to see how and why the all-new Camry, despite its test-topping $30,840 price, walked away from the rest with our respect and title of comparison winner.
First Place: 2007 Toyota Camry XLE V6
With the anticipation of parents watching their child win a spelling bee with the final letter, we watched the Camry's point total edge out the Accord's by a 0.64 margin. Despite what this might indicate, there really was no dispute regarding which of these four cars should win the comparison.
In truth, however, after the first five minutes behind the wheel of the all-new 2007 Camry, each evaluator came away with the same impression: "This is a Camry?" Every so often, an automaker produces something so extraordinary that it manages to not only eclipse its own predecessor, but also succeeds in making the competition appear obsolete.
One might expect this scenario from, say, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche or Ferrari, but not from Toyota. Small, measured steps are what we've grown to expect from the Asian manufacturer. Toyota, it seems, has found its mojo. The company has tapped into a new, more confident, riskier and more rewarding future as a result.
If this is the kind of progression we should now anticipate when Toyota replaces an old model with a new one, then we'll need to recalibrate our expectations for future redesigns — and so should everybody else.
Yes, it can do that, too
If this were a performance-sedan test, a luxury-sedan test or an economy-car test, the Camry still would've won. In reality, performance, luxury and economy are considerations of family sedan buyers, whether they realize it or not.
The 2007 Camry is a do-it-all automobile, the one that pleases Mom and Dad and impresses the boss without embarrassing the kids. The V6 Camry makes the dash to 60 mph in less time than a recent BMW 330i did, it was nearly as quiet as a Bentley Flying Spur at idle and wide-open throttle, and its 22 city/31 highway EPA fuel economy rating matches that of a four-cylinder Honda Civic Si. Pretty impressive stuff to say the least.
Quick, yes, and pleasant, too
OK, so the Camry is an impressive piece of engineering, but it's also a pleasant place to spend a few hundred miles. The new car's interior is fresh and intriguing. Wrote one editor, "Lovely faux wood, and I love the icy turquoise backlighting for the frosted center stack trim. It matches the navi system graphics and makes me feel like I'm at some trendy bar in L.A."
The one complaint we logged was that its front seats seem to be calibrated to a 99th-percentile biometric in terms of side bolstering. Either that, or Toyota believes Americans are as porky as the news reports suspect. Other than that, the logbooks gushed with admiration for the Camry's supple, quiet ride, uncharacteristically sporty handling and totally unexpected acceleration. More unexpected XLE creature features include (slightly) reclining rear seats, rear-seat HVAC vents and a rear-window sunshade.
Fly in the ointment
So what's not to love? If you're like most of our staff, you might not care for the exterior styling. So much of how the front end is shaped is determined by the prominent Toyota "sombrero" badge front and center. One editor said the grille reminded him of a proboscis monkey and the rear was afflicted with "Bangle Butt." That may be a little harsh, but we are happy to report that Toyota has found a way to route the Camry's exhaust so it no longer looks like the entire system is one pothole away from falling off the car completely — as it appeared on the previous car.
Then there's the matter of the highest as-tested price over $30,000. Forgetting for the moment the yet-to-be released Camry Hybrid, the entire model range pricing has increased by less than a percentage point and is competitive with the Accord's. A base-model four-cylinder Camry CE starts under $20,000 and our top-line XLE V6's base price is about $28,000. In between, there are eight others (five grades) from which to choose.
Here's the staggering news: All models include air conditioning with pollen filter, power windows, door locks and exterior mirrors, cruise control, auto on/off halogen headlamps, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, tire-pressure monitoring, six-speaker audio system with CD and auxiliary jack, seven airbags and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. Compare that list of standard features with the others' options and you'll soon find the value in the Camry's favor.
Some might look at our decision to award the Camry 1st place and say, "Well of course the Camry won: It's the newest." Yes, it is, and Toyota certainly has taken the lead with the new car. Though in the end, the balance the Camry achieved in all our categories was superior to that of the other cars. With its standard content, optional features, performance, reputation and price, the Camry sets the bar ever higher. Yes, you get what you pay for, and in this case that turns out to be a new benchmark in the highly competitive family sedan market. For now, the 2007 Toyota Camry is the new sheriff in town.
Second Place: 2006 Honda Accord EX V6
This seventh-generation Accord was all-new in 2003. Then, it was celebrated for its clean design, superior combination of available features, comfort, quality, reliability and refinement in the family sedan segment. It remains one of the best-selling vehicles in its class for all those reasons.
Despite a list of mechanical enhancements and a mild face-lift for '06, not much has changed since then. In fact, the American-built Honda Accord is so common that it seems to achieve both omnipresence and invisibility simultaneously. Like a good dishwasher, one never questions the merits of Accord ownership. Why, then, did it not grab the gold ring?
Shades of gray
First, it must be said that the V6 Accord's total score was only a fraction of a point behind the all-new 2007 Toyota Camry. Where the Camry excelled in performance, the Accord did so in feature content. Where the Camry was strong in our 24-point evaluation, the Accord was better on price.
Both earned identical scores on our personal and recommended ratings. It was that close. Considering the Accord's four-year generation gap, it deserves high praise for faring as well as it did against its all-new nemesis.
But there's more to an Inside Line comparison test than scorecards. There are ways in which the new Camry is better than the Accord that are difficult to tabulate.
For instance, both have high-quality navigation systems, but the Camry's is simply more sophisticated in its graphic presentation and interface. Both offer a quiet and comfortable ride, but while the Camry feels like it could've been badged a Lexus, the Honda is no Acura.
The Accord's interior is still praised for attractiveness and functionality, but the Camry's new cockpit is just more interesting and striking now. It was in these shades of gray where the Camry was the clear choice.
All tires are not created equal
Most evaluators expected the Accord to be a solid track performer, and it was. Its automatic is a good match for the 3.0-liter V6 (up slightly in horsepower this year to 244 from 240), but the five-speed lacks a manual gate (as in the Camry and Sonata).
Still, the Accord is competitive in every test except braking, where it finished last. It's safe to say the Accord V6 would probably exceed most consumers' expectations, especially where its handling is concerned. With a 64.6-mph average speed through our slalom test, the Honda felt as confident as it was capable. Its steering was praised for its lightness and accuracy.
The chassis felt up to the task, even if its tires didn't — which is where the braking performance comes into play. After just three full-ABS stops from 60 mph, our Accord tester began to show signs of brake fade, with the required distances growing by larger percentages than the other three cars. It was also odd, considering all four were technically wearing outwardly identical tires, that the Accord seemed to grind its way to a halt, transmitting a gravelly sensation to the test driver instead of a smooth and steady rate of deceleration.
Reading our consumer commentary regarding the Accord, we were pleased to find that, like us, those who own Accords found its road noise, if not objectionable, then at least noticeable. More surface texture makes its way into the cabin than in either the Camry or Sonata. Only the Fusion, with its sporty biased ride, was more intense. The Honda-spec Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 tires didn't sound or feel the same as the others with the same model imprint.
We know auto manufacturers often request, specify and prioritize different qualities (rolling resistance, wet performance, tread wear and so on) when they work with their tire suppliers, and this is not a unique case. The Michelin tire Honda chose for the '03 Accord is not the same Michelin tire Toyota uses on its '07 Camry, even if the sidewall says it is.
Time marches on
In the end, the Accord was simply outclassed by the Camry. There are many reasons why the Accord will remain on many buyers' shopping lists: conservative styling, solid performance, undeniable reliability and competitive pricing. However, when it's compared to an all-new Camry that has been redesigned from stem to stern, it comes up short by a small margin. That's a darned impressive feat and speaks to how well designed and engineered the 3-year-old car was when it was introduced, and remains so to this day.
The number of variations within the Accord range is impressive: There are coupes, sedans — even a gas-electric hybrid sedan introduced last year — ranging in price from $18,000 to $32,000. It's no wonder the Honda Accord is a perennial favorite with consumers. There's a lot to like in the Accord, but unfortunately, sophistication and newness just aren't among those things.
Third Place: 2006 Hyundai Sonata V6
It was the underdog favorite coming into this comparison test. Having recently dusted off some pretty stiff competition, a Hyundai Sonata GLS V6 beat both an Accord LX and a Camry LE in a previous Inside Line comparison. In that test, however, the odds were stacked in the Sonata's favor. You see, a 235-hp V6 Hyundai is priced about the same as either an Accord or Camry with miserly 160-hp, four-cylinder engines. Then, the Sonata won on performance, value and content.
The question then became, how would a loaded Sonata LX stack up against a similarly equipped Accord EX V6, or the all-new '07 Camry XLE V6? Would the Sonata still knock out the contenders with its undeniable value and killer warranty, or have the stakes changed in this like-to-like test? We expected some changes in the finishing order, but it was a bit of a surprise to learn the Sonata had fallen to 3rd place after we had tabulated our evaluation forms.
Value with a capital V
For this comparison test, we volunteered Edmunds' own top-of-the-line LX V6 with the only option available, a sunroof/audio package, which brought its as-tested price up to a mere $24,895. Standard equipment includes the aforementioned, sophisticated 235-hp V6 engine, 17-inch alloy wheels with Michelin tires, five-speed automatic transmission with manual gate, ABS, electronic stability control and traction control system.
Standard interior highlights include six airbags, automatic climate control with auto "recirc," leather seating (heated in front, power-adjustable for the driver), tilt-telescoping steering wheel and electrochromic auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink and compass.
One savvy Edmunds.com reader has found a way to add DVD/satellite navigation (see Consumer Commentary) to his Sonata, and we're also told by Hyundai that XM Satellite Radio is on its way, standard on all models by calendar-year 2007. All this equipment for such a reasonable price still drives the value of the Sonata way, way up. Problem is, there's more to a comparison than value: namely, driving.
A funny thing happened on the way to the forum, and that was that the 2006 Sonata, while being a completely competent, even exceptional vehicle in its own right, is about one model-generation behind the competition. Like fixing the currency of one country to that of another, Hyundai has fixed its sights on the appropriate Japanese models, completely ignoring (and yet surpassing) those from the States. The Sonata has benchmarked the right vehicles, just the wrong generations of those vehicles. The current, seventh-generation Accord was all-new in model-year 2003, about the time this Sonata was gestating and being benchmarked against it — and the fifth-gen '02-'06 Camry.
We know from experience and insider information that Hyundai did, indeed, try to split the difference between those two in terms of the then soft-riding Camry and the more athletic Accord — and it has succeeded. In the case of the completely redesigned 2007 Camry, however, Toyota has taken a huge step ahead of everything else in this market segment with its chassis, powertrain, content, features and styling.
At the test track, with the exception of the Sonata's best-of-test brakes, it was a three-way tie for 2nd place behind the Camry. On the highway, the Sonata shines brightest. It's got a quiet (even quieter than the Camry at 70-mph cruise) and luxurious ride that soaks up miles of road regardless of the surface. Its interior is well appointed with better-than-average materials and while the environment may be attractive, it just isn't distinctive. The leather is average, as is the fake wood.
There were instances on our drive, however, that illustrated the Sonata's adolescence among mature, established competition. The first was in bumper-to-bumper traffic when the transmission was in the manual mode to avoid unnecessary automatic upshifts. After reaching about 3,000 rpm in 1st gear, the driver selected 2nd, which engaged only momentarily before the car shifted itself back into 1st, zinging the tachometer toward 5,000 rpm. This was not an isolated incident, and we've observed it in other Sonatas we've driven.
We also witnessed a fairly pronounced steering-rack shudder that makes its way to the driver's hands when encountering abrupt surface changes or expansion joints. And during track testing, the driver reported "beating" the power-steering pump on one slalom run, where the power assist disappeared for a split second. This last situation is not one that most people will ever encounter in the real world, but it reminded us that there are still some lingering gremlins in the Sonata that the veterans in this category would never allow.
The inside story
Likewise, some of the Sonata's interior shortcomings caught our attention. Some might consider it nitpicking, but the number of them gave us pause and made them significant. Each entry in the evaluation form started with the apology, "This might not be worth mentioning, but
The redundant steering wheel buttons for the audio are great, but lack the ability to cycle through presets or CD tracks — you still need to make a trip to the dash to do that. The cupholders are fine for large drinks, but anything smaller than a 16- or 20-ounce bottle wobbles around. The driver seat feels too high and somewhat unnaturally positioned. The heated seats are just barely so, and the radio head unit and HVAC vents' positions could be swapped for better use of the radio and better ventilation, and so on.
So while the Sonata technically has all the features, they just haven't reached the state of perfection the Honda and Toyota have — at least in this arena. Keeping in mind that Hyundai hasn't been sleeping either, we look to the more recently released Azera for an indication of how well it can trim and style an interior. The Sonata just isn't there yet.
Fourth Place: 2006 Ford Fusion SEL V6
You have to admire Ford for taking risks with the 2006 Fusion. It will never be mistaken for a Honda Accord, Toyota Camry or Hyundai Sonata.
The Fusion's bold Buck-Rogers-meets-the-American-family styling is a welcome breath of fresh air in the me-too world of back-swept pointy-tipped headlamps and "four-door coupe" rooflines. Slabs of bent sheet metal, a mono-plane grille that looks like it came off the back of a chrome-trimmed forklift, and squares with rounded corners ("squircles") give the Fusion its retro-futurist style. It's what a 1940s car design contest might've produced as "the car of the future."
The Fusion lacks the contest winner's modern interior, however. In our Fusion SEL, in Charcoal Black with Piano Black accents, the cabin was a black hole for curiosity. Was Ford attempting to mimic BMW's dour, rubberized black dash and buttons? If so, why?
Also, the center stack (audio, HVAC) controls and buttons look oddly familiar; as if lifted from just about any Ford product from the last several years. Furthermore, the relative height of the rear window makes the Fusion slightly more susceptible to blind spots when backing or changing lanes.
Speaking of BMW
All who drove the Fusion remarked that it felt the most "European" of the four. With its taut chassis, confident steering and predictable handling, the Fusion exhibited a sophisticated-sporty nature that even the best handler of the group, the Honda Accord, lacked. In this regard, the Fusion excels in our group, but like a BMW, the trade-off is that this attribute takes it further away from what some might call a luxurious ride. Not many carmakers are ever successful in achieving both sporty and luxurious, but Ford has found a reasonable compromise in the Fusion. We doubt anybody would say the Fusion rides too harshly.
A good start
The $22,360 Ford Fusion SEL V6 arrived with $3,290 in options to bring it up to the same equipment level as the rest of the field. Standard on our SEL are the 221-horsepower V6 (the lowest output of this foursome), a six-speed automatic, 17-inch alloy wheels and Michelin tires, power-adjustable driver seat and leather-wrapped tilt-telescoping steering wheel with redundant audio/climate buttons.
While that's a good start, when we started scoring standard/optional features, we discovered a few holes in the Fusion's content. Several of our test Fusion SEL's options were standard on the Accord EX, Sonata LX and Camry XLE, including ABS, traction control, airbag curtains and side-impact (thorax) airbags. Some of the cars feature content that isn't even available on the Fusion, like stability control, navigation and satellite radio.
Still, the Fusion's total as-tested price was an admirable $25,650, the second lowest in the group. That doesn't, however, necessarily translate to a good value if only half the low-cost/high-content equation is exploited.
Three of these four cars' acceleration performances so closely matched one another that it would be essentially a tie if that were the only criterion, but the Fusion's thrashy V6 engine recorded the highest decibel reading at wide-open throttle. The Fusion's 64.2-mph slalom speed, however, was only beaten (by less than a half-mph) by the Accord's. In either case, a near 65-mph speed is a pretty remarkable feat for a sedan that uses its front wheels for both steering and propulsion. As a result, the Fusion scored well in the "most fun to drive" category of our evaluation.
It would've done even better had the six-speed automatic offered more forward-gear positions than "Drive" and "Low." To its credit, the transmission was correct most of the time with its gear selections, holding a gear in the corners and up hills. We still would've liked to see some sort of manual controls that would genuinely suit the rest of the sporty-natured car.
The 2006 Ford Fusion seems to be trying to be all things to all people, but doesn't really succeed in any one area. The daring exterior styling was deemed too weird or appliancelike by some, the no-nonsense interior just plain boring, and the performance was admirable, but not earth-shattering. Sure, there's that low price, but there's also a lack of content. Its warranty is good, and it's always nice to know there's roadside assistance for the three-year/36,000-mile period, but the Hyundai Sonata's got the Fusion beat there. So, where does that leave us? Fourth Place.
2006 Ford Fusion2006 Honda Accord EX2006 Hyundai Sonata LX2007 Toyota Camry XLE
2006 Ford Fusion
System Score: 6.5
Components: The stereo in our Fusion test car was the upgraded Audiophile system. It includes eight speakers and an in-dash, six-disc CD changer that can handle MP3 CDs. The Audiophile system costs an extra $420 and has features like speed-sensitive automatic volume control and three sound profiles. Those profiles optimize the sound presence for the driver, rear-seat passengers or all occupants.
Performance: The head unit is rather bland-looking for an upgraded audio system, but it works well with the sporty theme of the Fusion's interior. The controls are fairly easy to use. The only problem is the confusing "seek" buttons that seem to indicate that they're used for switching CDs in the in-dash changer. Actually, other buttons further away and pointing up and down are used to change CDs. Bass, treble and other such functions are accessed via a simple-to-use "menu" button. The steering-wheel-mounted audio controls work well with the dash-mounted knobs, and the system is capable of playing MP3-format CDs.
The sound quality is just OK. The extra money spent on the top-of-the-line stereo doesn't translate into stellar sound quality. It's odd that both the Camry and the Fusion included in our test have eight-speaker stereos, but one sounds great and the other just OK. The lesson here is: Don't be fooled by high-speaker count or amped-up wattage figures. It's quality, not quantity, that matters.
One of the main problems with the Fusion system is that its bass response is very poor. In fact, the stereo sounds best when both bass and treble are turned all the way up. But then the bass sounds muddy and rumbly rather than sharp. Plus, the highs are too bright. One of the keys to any good system is separation, and this stereo does not have that. It certainly isn't an awful-sounding stereo, but it could be so much better, especially when you consider the phenomenal Camry stereo and the above-average stereo found in the inexpensive Hyundai Sonata.
Best Feature: Easy-to-use head unit.
Worst Feature: Below-average sound quality.
Conclusion: For an upgraded system, this one provides only so-so sound quality. Better stop at Best Buy on the way home. — Brian Moody
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2006 Honda Accord EX
System Score: 7.0
Components: The standard stereo on the Accord EX offers an in-dash, six-disc CD changer in addition to the radio. It's a no-frills system, but it does have six speakers and 120 watts of output. No other stereo is available even if a customer is willing to pay extra. A DVD navigation system is also available and our test car came with that feature. When so equipped, the stereo controls are accessed via the navigation system touchscreen.
Performance: While the Accord's stereo delivers fairly good sound, there's nothing really remarkable about it. However, recent Honda products have shown great improvement in the quality of their stock stereos.
The six speakers reproduce most sounds well but the bass isn't as sharp as it could be. The Sonata's stereo sounds better than the Accord's and the standard JBL system found in the Camry is much, much better.
What the Accord does offer is a simple system that sounds adequate. Highs and midrange sound good, and the sound quality overall is clear, without the hollow, muffled feel of some low-end systems. However, when the bass is turned up, the stereo can sound boomy. Although separation could be better, it's a stereo that perfectly fits the Accord and its value-for-the-money proposition. The average Honda Accord buyer will probably be happy with this stereo.
When combined with the navigation system, adjusting the bass and treble is easy as there is more than one way to access the menu and make adjustments. It's all very intuitive and easy to figure out. We were disappointed by the lack of a midrange adjustment.
Best Feature: Easy-to-use menus.
Worst Feature: Lacks bass punch.
Conclusion: The stereo on the Accord EX sounds fine and works well, but given the car's $29,000 price, we were expecting more. We'd like to see an extra-cost stereo option for those who care. This system has basic features and acceptable sound quality. It's not for audiophiles, but most customers will find little to complain about. — Brian Moody
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2006 Hyundai Sonata LX
System Score: 7.5
Components: The Hyundai Sonata LX comes standard with a fairly nice stereo considering the car's $20,895 base price. The unit is a single-disc CD player with MP3 capability and six speakers. Our test car was also equipped with the "sunroof and audio package" that adds a six-disc CD changer and a subwoofer. But even the stock stereo has preset equalizer settings — another nice feature for a standard stereo on an inexpensive car. The knobs are easy to use and feel much better than previous Hyundai products. We also like the big, easy-to-read display mounted high in the dash. Even the words and symbols are large enough to read at a glance.
The Sonata has steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, but only for volume and changing between audio sources. There aren't steering-wheel buttons for changing the CD track or radio station.
Performance: The overall sound quality is good, and anyone trading up from a Civic or an Elantra will certainly think Hyundai gave them a premium stereo for a budget price.
While there are six speakers, two pairs are up front and the rear speakers are mounted in the doors. The result is a very "front biased" sound. Also, the fact that there are no speakers in the rear package tray means the audio system just doesn't deliver a very "big" sound. Although the sound quality is good, it has too much presence when listening at higher volumes.
Also, the speakers don't handle a lot of bass very well. Too much bass and the sound turns rumbly or muddy but never degenerates into outright distortion, which is surprising considering the optional subwoofer. Music with many layers can also overwhelm the system, leading to poor sound separation.
The EQ setting works well even though the settings (Jazz, Rock, Classical, etc.) don't always correspond to the appropriate type of music. Many rock tracks sounded best on the "Jazz" setting.
Many of these complaints are minor at worst, but considering the Camry's new JBL system, the Sonata's stereo comes across as just slightly better than average. It sounds noticeably better than the stereos found in both the Honda Accord and Ford Fusion, plus the Sonata's low price leaves little room for complaint.
Best Feature: Big, easy-to-read display.
Worst Feature: Lacks real bass punch.
Conclusion: Like the car, the Sonata's audio system is a real bargain. It delivers good sound quality and easy-to-use features. It's also surrounded by the Sonata GLS, which makes it even easier to live with. — Brian Moody
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2007 Toyota Camry XLE
System Score: 9.0
Components: XLE and Hybrid Camrys come standard with a JBL premium sound system. It includes an in-dash six-disc CD changer, but when the navigation system is ordered (as on our test car) it becomes a four-CD changer and stereo functions are integrated into the color touchscreen. The stereo has eight speakers and an eight-channel, 440-watt digital amplifier.
Bluetooth hands-free phone technology is also included with the JBL stereo. The JBL system can play MP3 and WMA CDs and has an auxiliary audio jack for connecting portable MP3 players. Steering-wheel-mounted audio controls are also standard.
Performance: Once we got the spec sheet on this stereo, we were shocked to find that it has only eight speakers. Frankly, it sounds like 16.
The sound is so clear and bright it makes almost any type of music a joy to listen to. The sound quality is also well rounded, with near perfect balance between highs, lows and midrange reproduction. Even at higher volumes, the sound never gets harsh and there is no perceptible distortion. Plus, the sound has a warm quality that lends it a true premium feel. The bass is full and rich and if you want it to thump a little, simply turn the bass up. This is easily the best Toyota/JBL stereo we've heard and is one of the best factory systems available in any non-luxury-branded car. It's easily on par with stereos found in more expensive vehicles from Acura, Audi and Cadillac.
On the other hand, we don't really care for the clunky manner in which CDs are loaded when the JBL stereo is paired with the navigation system. Since the nav screen has to flip open to access the CD slot, it's difficult to load multiple CDs because the screen that shows the CD position is out of view. Additionally, the green lights that flash when the changer is ready to accept a disc are hard to see in the daytime. Also, the "load/eject" screen is separate from the "audio" screen, which is confusing at times.
However, there are a few thoughtful features that make using the stereo easy and more enjoyable. For example, when the nav screen transitions from one function to the other, it uses a nice dissolve rather than a harsh jump. Also, the screen colors are bright and fresh-looking and there's even an "eject all" button that eliminates the need to sit in the driver seat for an extra three minutes pressing the eject button six times in a row. That is simply an excellent idea. The touchscreen also incorporates commands from the hard buttons very nicely — the integration with the navigation screen is more than just an afterthought and works very well.
Best Feature: Excellent sound quality.
Worst Feature: Confusing CD load procedure.
Conclusion: This is the best Toyota/JBL stereo yet. The sound quality approaches Lexus standards, which seems even more amazing given that this is the standard stereo on the Hybrid and XLE versions of the Camry. — Brian Moody
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2006 Ford Fusion SEL V6
"The SEL V6 is definitely the way to go. The inside is nicely designed and all the controls are very simple. Handles great and the ride is smooth and quiet. I looked at a lot of different cars in the same class and price range, and nothing impressed me like the Fusion did. The radio display could be a little nicer."
— Nick, February 18, 2006
"Just bought an '06 Fusion V6 SEL and it was the right choice. It handles like the more expensive imports in this class. I'd appreciate a little more power, and a 5-speed [manual] transmission would be a good option."
— mesabob, February 15, 2006
"Good job, Ford! Have had the Fusion for about a month now and have loved every mile. Great ride, very quiet. The seats are awesome, very comfortable, almost too much so. I got the V6 and so far have averaged 28 mpg. Not bad. Only flaw is that reversing in the car is a bit of a challenge; the backseat sits high and makes for a challenge to back up. Overall, Ford has done an excellent job, totally giving Honda and Toyota a run for their money."
— Rwoodrum, February 4, 2006
"I bought my Fusion three weeks ago and love it. I feel like I am in a BMW. Favorite Features: Interior leather and stitching, heated seats are so worth it! Suggested Improvements: several blind spots, lower the back window."
— moonpie, February 2, 2006
"I traded in [my] '03 Toyota Camry SE V6 [for] the Fusion [which] has more power and luxury items. It appears to be very well built. [I'm] pleasantly surprised with this vehicle. Adios, Toyota! Favorite Features: auto climate controls, leather seats, RIDE. Suggested Improvements: overhead cargo area."
— Scott, January 31, 2006
2006 Honda Accord EX V6
"This is my first Honda and definitely not the last. I love the power of the V6 engine but the fuel economy suffers a bit (getting average 24 mpg in city, 27 mpg on a recent long highway trip). I love the spacious interior of this sedan. The legroom, adjustable seat, and telescopic steering wheel are a big plus for me since I am 6' 2". The radio display that comes with navigation system is great but I was surprised to find that the FM station (station ID, song title, etc.) information was not displayed. Overall, [I'm] very satisfied with the car."
— RMAZ1, February 14, 2006
"Love my Hondas. This is my 6th Accord, and they keep getting better, but less imaginative. [Honda seems] behind the curve in that regard. I wish Honda could do more about the road noise, too. The car could use some soundproofing. Also, I'd like better and more exterior colors plus a better mix of the exterior and interior color combos. I do not like the painted bumpers as they scratch too easily
valet at work scratched it up the 1st day. Favorite Features: Heated Seats, Moonroof, the pep of the V6 engine. Suggested Improvements: Too much noise, noise, noise."
— JKM127, October 11, 2005
"I've always heard Honda, Toyota, etc. were supposed to be so much better than Chevy, Ford, Dodge, etc. I don't really find that to be true. Don't get me wrong, the V6 Accord is a nice car. However, I don't find it to be SO much better than the Chevys or Pontiacs I have had. A price tag of $29,620 yet no standard spoiler, foglights or floor mats? Next time I'll save a few thousand and buy another Chevy."
— fastcarguy, January 28, 2006
"This is my 4th Accord and the best yet. I wanted something a little more upscale than my '04 Accord, so I looked at the Acura TL, Audi A4 and Cadillac CTS. I couldn't believe the new Accord could outdo the TL or A4, but it did. It took a while for the front-end design to grow on me, but the '06 changes are very pleasing. No more looking beyond the Accord for something more upscale. I'm glad I looked, but much happier I stayed with the Accord. Quiet, comfortable, good-looking and a complete joy to drive. The best vehicle I've owned in my 30-plus years of driving."
— Gary in Illinois, January 5, 2006
2006 Hyundai Sonata LX V6
"I commute 60 miles round-trip to my job and my 2006 Hyundai Sonata makes this trip very pleasurable. Plus, the ability to go from 0-60 in about 7 seconds is great. [The Sonata] provides a very quiet, smooth, ride. The body style is also very attractive. The standard [stability control] works extremely well, providing additional safety when needed. Favorite Features: ESC (Electronic Stability Control), steering wheel radio controls, plush interior, stereo system, large trunk, spacious back seat area. Suggested Improvements: Comfort would be improved if the seat was just a few inches longer."
— Michael P., February 12, 2006
"I have owned the car for just 2 weeks and have driven it 460 miles. The car is roomy, handles well, and my gas mileage during this break-in period has been excellent. I have only two recommendations: Offer a passenger power seat and folding sideview mirrors. I have had an Acura TL for the last several years and I am impressed by the performance of the Sonata. I am still puzzled by the 'low' price. I don't know how they do it; all in all it's a winner. I'm impressed with the ride, handling and quiet driving experience, the roomy cabin, features, extensive warranty, and 5-year roadside service. Good job, Hyundai."
— D. Scharoff, February 12, 2006
"This car is fun to drive, it's been amazing for my family, and performs really well in all weather conditions (including Canadian winters). [It] drives, looks and feels like a vehicle that costs $10K more! Top-notch quality, great feel to the car and superb looks. The leather seats are not the most comfortable, but once adjusted (and it takes time) they're fine."
— P.D. Lynch, February 11, 2006
"Hyundai Sonata, fun? You bet! I would have never thought that I could get 80 percent of an [Audi] A6 for less than half the price. This car has people staring, trying to figure out who makes it. I thoroughly enjoy the comfort, quietness and overall performance of this vehicle and would recommend it to anyone looking for a sporty midsized car with a modest, but stunning look."
— sonatame, February 7, 2006
"We've had this car for four months now and love it. Performance, handling and ride comfort are outstanding. The MP3 player will also play WMAs. The only complaint is fuel mileage. Don't expect good mileage from this car (we have averaged just over 20 mpg). You should test-drive [the Sonata] before you buy anything else. Favorite Features: Stereo sounds great, heated seats and V6. Suggested Improvements: better gas mileage and more headroom."
— bucfan11, February 5, 2006
"Out-the-door price just over $23K, and I get ESC, TC, EBDS, HomeLink, heated leather seats, oversized moonroof (it's big), subwoofer and amp. Car is very well built and the fit and finish is better than Camry, on par w/ Accord. By the way, nav is a $2,500 dealer-installed option. Just remove CD changer and replace with an 8-9-inch screen (visit Korean Hyundai site to see it). Hyundai uses Eclipse deck (very high quality). I don't care for the annoying fasten-your-seatbelt chime, no steering wheel controls to cycle preset radio stations or CD tracks/directories on CD or MP3, and no dark gray interior offered (again, visit Korean Hyundai site to see it, nice). FYI: Sirius deck-JVC, XM deck-Kenwood, or vice-versa."
— kgibbs29, February 3, 2006