2012-'13 Midsize Sedan Comparison Test

2012-'13 Midsize Sedan Comparison Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (3)
  • Comparison (3)
  • Long-Term

2012 Volkswagen Passat Sedan

(2.5L 5-cyl. 5-speed Manual)

  • Comparison Test
  • Top 9 Features
  • Data and Charts

For many, $3,240 is a lot of money.

It's a few mortgage payments, or enough to furnish a whole room in your house. It's also the price difference between the car that won this test — the 2012 Hyundai Sonata — and the next least expensive car — the 2012 Volkswagen Passat. The difference only gets bigger if you look at the other contenders.

Of course, interior room, ride comfort and fuel economy matter, too. But when you're looking at family sedans, money is always an overriding factor.

Meet the New Neighbors
The Honda Accord and Toyota Camry are the block-party captains of the midsize sedan class. Some vintages are better than others, but they're nearly always a marvel of packaging with their fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines, spacious cabins and tight build quality. Honda and Toyota sell a lot of them.

In this midsize sedan comparison test, there's a 2012 Honda Accord EX, representing the last year before the redesign. It costs $25,875. Meanwhile, our 2012 Toyota Camry SE is freshly redesigned and pricey ($28,658), mainly because we didn't keep a lid on the options when we bought it. It has a navigation system and keyless ignition.

The Hyundai Sonata is the only car here that has made a serious run at the Camry-Accord sales crowns. It moved into the neighborhood a couple years back and immediately had the greenest lawn and the best Halloween candy. Priced at only $22,355, this 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS test car features the most powerful four-cylinder engine of the group, plus a power driver seat and USB input.

Previous Volkswagen Passats lived in ritzier subdivisions — near-luxury cars, basically. Now VW, too, is aiming for the heart of the market with a larger, less expensive Passat. Our midrange 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE still looks upscale, but for $25,595 you don't get everything. VW's proprietary USB cable isn't included, nor is a diesel engine — we're sticking with the base gasoline five-cylinder.

The richest neighbor is the revamped 2013 Chevrolet Malibu, which lands at $29,230 — a consequence of GM's phased launch strategy. So far, Chevy has rolled out only the Malibu Eco light-hybrid model, while a cheaper non-hybrid Malibu model powered by a 2.5-liter inline-4 follows this summer. The Malibu Eco starts at $25,995, but ours has the 2SA upgrade group (premium audio, back-up camera, power driver seat) and the Leather package.

The redesigned 2013 Ford Fusion and 2013 Nissan Altima haven't moved in yet. Look for a rematch later this year.

As Homey as a Tract House
You see the influence of suburban tract housing in these sedans. The cabins are enormous and the front seats are comfy regardless of your size. The stitching on the dashboards in the 2013 Chevy Malibu and 2012 Toyota Camry reminds us of granite countertops — not strictly necessary, but classy.

The U.S.-built 2012 Volkswagen Passat leads the way in overall ambience. The grain patterns on its dash and door trim match so perfectly that a native-born German designer must have had the final say on materials. The instrument pack and touchscreen audio display would make the cut in an Audi.

Mind you, we're not thrilled with the half-hearted simulated leather in this Passat 2.5 SE, nor its driver seat's limited adjustability, but there's no arguing with all the space: The Volkswagen has 39.1 inches of rear legroom — a windfall if you have kids in rear-facing car seats.

However, the overly upright angle of the VW's rear seatback cushion significantly limits real-world headroom, especially for 6-footers of James Riswick proportions. The 2012 Honda Accord and Toyota Camry offer a better compromise of headroom, legroom and outright comfort in back. Rear legroom is adequate in the Hyundai Sonata, but a high-mounted bench and the shallow angle of the rear glass create a headroom issue in here as well. Meanwhile, there's enough headroom for Riz in the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu's backseat, but real-world legroom is on par with the stands at Wrigley Field.

Around back, the Eco part of the Malibu necessitates a lithium-ion battery pack, which results in an oddly shaped trunk that only Tetris master Chris Walton could appreciate.

Diner Coffee
No other sedan feels as upscale as the VW. Hyundai has taken a crack at a two-tone color scheme, and some of us like it. Others dismiss it as over-styled — a caricature of a Volkswagen interior. Our 2012 Sonata GLS tester's rough urethane steering wheel betrays its low price, as does the knuckle-exfoliating plastic on its door panels.

But it's hard to fault the Sonata. It has key sanity-enhancing features for commuters (Bluetooth, satellite radio), plus the same clever storage areas found in the Camry and Accord.

The 2012 Honda Accord EX has some of the nicest cloth upholstery we've ever seen. We've complained about leather-upholstered Accords, but with cloth, these are great seats. The controls are laid out to near ergonomic perfection, and every button, dial and stalk has a satisfying heft. Visibility is so good we never wish for any of the electronic parking aids Honda doesn't offer (whereas we'd love a camera to help us park the swoopy Sonata).

But the Accord's audio display is no better than that on our 10-year-old clock radio, and although of solid quality, the dash materials are drab. Cloth-lined EX models are starved of features. Our tester doesn't have Bluetooth or even an outside temperature display.

Large Mocha With Whip
Of course we have all these conveniences on our 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco and 2012 Toyota Camry SE. Notably, these two come with MyLink and Entune, which let you use various smartphone apps while driving. Toyota's Entune has more functionality, because it's part of a navigation package, so you can use your phone connection to bring up traffic data on the nav system's maps. However, Entune requires you to register for a password and download a dedicated app for your phone, and most features aren't available while you're driving anyway. If you just want to use Pandora, Chevy's MyLink is simpler, and the Malibu has better-looking touchscreen graphics to boot.

Although we like the control layouts, neither cabin exemplifies clean design. The Camry's metallic trim looks as sharp as the stuff on our side-by-side fridge, but there are too many other materials competing for our attention — and not all are high in quality.

The Malibu is the only sedan that feels truly medium-size. It seats you in a cockpit instead of abandoning you in an aircraft hangar. But it's marred by clunky gauges, brittle control stalks and ambient light strips that look like really long air vents in the daytime. Our Malibu tester has more misaligned panels than the others, too, though at least everything fits tightly, unlike the loose door handle trim we found in the Passat.

Storage space is also scarce. Evidently, someone realized this late in the game and created a compartment behind the Chevy's touchscreen. Predictably, this compartment gets very warm, so what could you possibly stow here?

"Kittens," says Mike Magrath.

Powerful, Like My Electrolux Washer
Any of these sedans will deliver you to work in safe and unmemorable fashion. With automatic transmissions driving their front wheels, they pass through the quarter-mile within a second of each other.

The 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS features a direct-injected, 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 198 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque and a six-speed automatic. It's good for a 7.9-second 0-60-mph time (or 7.6 with 1 foot of rollout) and a 15.9-second quarter-mile at 88.2.

There's nothing personable about this drivetrain, but passing maneuvers come easily, so what's not to like? Maybe the fuel economy. We averaged just 22.1 mpg over 600 miles against the car's 24 city/35 highway/28 combined EPA rating. During our 19,000-mile long-term test of a 2011 Sonata with the same drivetrain, we averaged 25.6 mpg.

Next quickest are the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu (8.2-second 0-60, 16.2 at 85.1 mph) and 2012 Toyota Camry SE (8.5-second 0-60, 16.2 at 86.9 mph). The Malibu Eco has a direct-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated for 182 hp and 172 lb-ft of torque. In certain conditions, it gets a very small amount of electric assist from its belt-driven, 15-hp electric motor, but it's imperceptible to the driver. Low-end grunt isn't the 2.4-liter's strong suit, and it's paired with a six-speed automatic that takes it easy changing gears in its quest for smoothness (though we still notice an occasional not-so-smooth upshift). Because of this tuning strategy, the Malibu feels slower than the others, in spite of its solid track numbers.

The snappier responses from the Camry's six-speed auto make us happier. And Toyota's port-injected, 2.5-liter four-cylinder, rated at 173 hp and 165 lb-ft in our PZEV tester, is ridiculously smooth in its power delivery. The Malibu Eco has better EPA ratings (25/37/29 versus the Camry's 25/35/28), but our observed numbers are the same — 24.7 for the Malibu, 24.6 for the Camry.

The 2012 Honda Accord EX (8.8-second 0-60, 16.4 seconds at 84.9 mph) and 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE (8.7-second 0-60, 16.6 seconds at 84.1 mph) also perform similarly. Rated at 190 hp and 162 lb-ft, the hotter version of the Accord's 2.4-liter inline-4 isn't big on torque, but it sounds good and likes to rev — no surprise then that the Accord has the highest decibel level at wide-open throttle (73.9). It's the only car with a five-speed automatic, but the lack of a 6th gear isn't a liability for performance or mpg. We averaged 24 mpg even against 23/34/27 ratings.

Meanwhile, the Passat has a 2.5-liter inline-5 rated at 170 hp and 177 lb-ft. It has a characteristic five-cylinder grumble and provides acceptable motivation for the big VW. However, throttle response is lethargic off the line. The six-speed automatic's Sport mode helps some, but the Passat 2.5 SE is tricky to drive smoothly in traffic. Still, the awkward throttle calibration might actually benefit mileage; we eked out 26.1 mpg in spite of the Passat's unremarkable 22/31/25 ratings.

It Rides, It Stops, Then I'm Home
Pinpointing differences in how these cars ride, handle and stop is almost futile. But that doesn't mean we don't have our favorites.

Our unanimous pick in the ride quality department is the 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE, which does a beautiful job of snuffing out harshness on concrete-slab freeways. Curiously, it's the loudest car at a 70-mph cruise (68.7 dB), which may say more about VW's tire selection than anything else (215/55R17 Continental ContiProContacts).

The 2012 Toyota Camry SE and 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco ride slightly firmer but are tied for the lowest 70-mph noise level (66.9 dB). The Camry was officially the winner in the slalom at 65 mph, but as soon as its P215/55R17 Michelin Primacy MXV4s heated up, we could no longer duplicate that performance. Were it not for its non-defeat stability control, the Passat (64 mph) might challenge for the top honor.

The Camry feels surprisingly balanced around real turns on public roads, but if handling is even a consideration, our pick is the 2012 Honda Accord EX. It's the stiffest-riding car of the bunch, but it feels downright sporty through corners, its 63.4-mph slalom speed notwithstanding. The Honda's hydraulic-assist, variable-ratio steering (yep, that's a class exclusive) offers excellent precision and feedback — the electric steering systems in the Malibu and Camry aren't bad, but are hardly in the same league. The Accord and Malibu both generated 0.83g on the skid pad (tops for this group), but this is more trivia than any testament of ability.

Braking is the one area in which the 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS distinguishes itself. It ties with the Chevy for the shortest 60-to-0 stop (119 feet) and along with the Camry (121 feet), was the least prone to fade. The Accord used up the most tarmac (124 feet), but after the Passat's initial 123-foot stop, its distances increased significantly, topping out at 132 feet.

The Hyundai Sonata rides decently, but if you're a chassis connoisseur, you'll notice that its suspension doesn't filter out small impacts as well as the other cars, while its electric steering feels especially simulated. These flaws might disappoint a 3 Series driver, but if you're used to driving family sedans, they'll barely register.

Pick Any Sedan. We Won't Lose Sleep
Never before have we driven five family sedans that stack up so closely. There's no bad choice to make here — it's mostly about personal taste, and your personal finances.

The 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco is a vast improvement over previous Malibus. It has a pleasant ride and a large array of cabin electronics with a user-friendly interface. Our main hesitation is the price tag, particularly since the Eco model doesn't bring a huge fuel economy advantage. The upcoming Malibu 2.5 should address this, but the car's small backseat will remain a liability.

The 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE and 2012 Honda Accord EX tie for 3rd. The Passat is certainly the way to go if you value an upscale interior and ride comfort most of all, but its awkward throttle calibration and so-so brakes detract from the driving experience. We also wish VW would bring back the 2.0 TSI four-cylinder to give buyers a more fuel-efficient gasoline engine option.

Meanwhile, driving this Accord EX reminds you how much Honda still does right. This car has lively throttle response, communicative steering and an extraordinarily stable feel as it goes down the road. But the cabin is so bare-bones, it doesn't feel like a great value.

Had we shown restraint in optioning our 2012 Toyota Camry SE, it would cost less than the Accord and still have more amenities. Once again, though, it's the total package that makes the Camry worthwhile. This is a spacious, accommodating sedan with a refined drivetrain, a quiet cabin and surprisingly good handling.

But the Camry is simply out-packaged by the 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS. The Hyundai doesn't set any new benchmarks. But it's a quick car with good enough seats and a smooth enough ride, and you won't mind driving it every day — especially when you imagine what you could do with an extra $3,240.

The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.

We've graduated beyond basic needs in the midsize sedan class. You're going to get air-conditioning, power accessories and keyless entry, no matter what. But these are the features we think manufacturers should offer, at least as an option, on all of these cars.


  2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco 2SA 2012 Honda Accord EX 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS 2012 Toyota Camry SE 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE
60/40-split-folding rear seat N/A N/A S S S
Automatic climate control S N/A N/A N/A S
Back-up camera S N/A N/A O N/A
Bluetooth S N/A S S S
Driver-seat two-way tilt for seat-bottom cushion S S O S N/A
Keyless ignition N/A N/A N/A O N/A
Knee airbags S N/A N/A S N/A
Navigation system O N/A N/A O N/A
USB input (and proprietary cable if needed) S S O S N/A

S: Standard
O: Optional
N/A: Not Available

60/40-split-folding rear seat: These are big cars with big trunks, so you shouldn't have to borrow your neighbor's SUV every time you need a little extra utility. A split-folding seat gives you the option of carrying skis or a mountain bike and still having room for a rear passenger. Oddly, the Accord's rear seat only folds in a single piece, while the Malibu Eco only has a pass-through on the "60" section of its seat due to significant intrusion by its lithium-ion battery pack.

Automatic climate control: You'll probably have a front passenger riding with you much of the time. And automatic climate control with separate temperature zones just helps keep the peace. The Chevy and VW have it as standard.

Back-up camera: Not every car needs a back-up camera, but an increasing number of family sedans do, because their rear decks have gotten so tall. You can get a camera in both the Malibu and Camry. The Sonata GLS and Passat 2.5 SE desperately need one. (Our long-term 2011 Sonata GLS had one with its optional navigation system, but for 2012, you have to step up to the SE model to get this option.)

Bluetooth: Having Bluetooth integrated into the car is so much easier and tidier than dealing with an aftermarket headset, and if you have a smartphone, it gives you another option for streaming music or newscasts. You can't have it in the 2012 Honda Accord EX, and it's a bummer.

Driver-seat two-way tilt for seat-bottom cushion: It's a little thing, but the ability to adjust the height of the front and rear halves of your seat-bottom cushion independently really improves comfort. Sitting in the 2012 Passat 2.5 SE feels awkward, because raising the seat height dumps you toward the pedals.

Keyless ignition: You don't drive a midsize sedan because it's fun; you drive one because it's functional. And not having to rummage through your pocket or purse for keys is a functional upgrade.

Knee airbags: Yes, yes, today's cars are a lot more crashworthy than their forbears. However, a major frontal impact still carries a risk for leg injuries, and we like that Toyota and Chevrolet have made knee airbags for the driver and front passenger standard.

Navigation system: Most factory navigation systems cost too much, but it sure is tidy and convenient to have it all integrated into the car's dash. The Camry's nav system is cheaper than most and still offers pretty much all the functionality you'll need.

USB input (and proprietary cable if needed): Just about every device you carry these days can make use of a USB port, so this type of outlet should be standard in every car. We like that Chevy, Honda and Toyota just give you a regular USB port, so you're not restricted to plugging in Apple devices. Hyundai requires you to buy an Apple-centric proprietary cable, while VW hopes you'll pony up for a sunroof and nav system in order to gain access to its proprietary MDI cable.

Chassis Information
Engine & Transmission Specifications
Warranty Information
Performance Information

Dimensions Exterior Dimensions & Capacities

  2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco 2SA 2012 Honda Accord EX 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS 2012 Toyota Camry SE 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE
Length, in. 191.3 194.9 189.8 189.2 191.6
Width, in. 76.0 72.7 72.2 71.7 72.2
Height, in. 57.6 58.1 57.9 57.9 58.5
Wheelbase, in. 107.8 110.2 110.0 109.3 110.4
Track, in (front/rear). 62.1/62.0 62.2/62.2 62.9/62.9 62.0/61.6 62.1/61.0
As tested curb weight, lb. 3,590 3,351 3,242 3,239 3,266
Turning Circle, ft. 37.4 37.7 35.8 36.7 36.4

Interior Dimensions

  2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco 2SA 2012 Honda Accord EX 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS 2012 Toyota Camry SE 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE
Front headroom, in. 39.0 39.0 40.0 37.9 38.3
Rear headroom, in. 37.6 37.2 37.8 38.0 37.8
Front shoulder room, in. 57.5 58.2 57.9 58.0 56.9
Rear shoulder room, in. 57.1 56.4 56.7 56.6 57.0
Front legroom, in. 42.1 42.5 45.5 41.6 42.4
Rear legroom, in. 36.9 37.2 34.6 38.9 39.1
Trunk volume, cu-ft. 14.3 14.7 16.4 15.4 15.9

Chassis Specifications Chassis

  2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco 2SA 2012 Honda Accord EX 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS 2012 Toyota Camry SE 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE
Suspension, front Independent, MacPherson strut, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar Independent, double wishbones, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar Independent, MacPherson strut, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar Independent, MacPherson strut, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar Independent, MacPherson strut, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar
Suspension, rear Independent, multilink, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar Independent, multilink, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar Independent, multilink, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar Independent, multilink, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar Independent, multilink, coil springs, twin-tube dampers, stabilizer bar
Steering type Electric-assist, speed-proportional rack-and-pinion power steering Hydraulic-assist, variable-ratio rack-and-pinion power steering Electric-assist, speed-proportional rack-and-pinion power steering Electric-assist, speed-proportional rack-and-pinion power steering Hydraulic-assist rack-and-pinion power steering
Steering ratio (x:1) 15.2 13.1 14.5 14.8 16.4
Turning circle (ft.) 37.4 37.7 35.8 36.7 36.4
Tire make and model Goodyear Assurance Fuel Max Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 Kumho Solus KH25 Michelin Primacy MXV4 Continental ContiProContact
Tire type All-season All-season All-season All-season All-season
Tire size P225/55R17 95H P225/50R17 93V P205/65R16 94H P215/55R17 93V P215/55R17 94H
Wheel size (in.) 17-by-8.5-inches 17-by-7.5-inches 16-by-6.5-inches 17-by-7.0-inches 17-by-7.5-inches
Wheel material Cast aluminum alloy Cast aluminum alloy Cast aluminum alloy Cast aluminum alloy Cast aluminum alloy
Brakes, front 11.7-inch ventilated disc with 2-piston sliding caliper 11.8-inch ventilated disc with single-piston sliding caliper 11.8-inch ventilated disc with single-piston sliding caliper 11.6-inch ventilated disc with single-piston sliding caliper 12.3-inch ventilated disc with single-piston sliding caliper
Brakes, rear 11.5-inch solid disc with single-piston sliding caliper 11.1-inch solid disc with single-piston sliding caliper 11.2-inch solid disc with single-piston sliding caliper 11.0-inch solid disc with single-piston sliding caliper 10.7-inch solid disc with single-piston sliding caliper

Engine & Transmission Specifications Engine & Transmission

  2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco 2SA 2012 Honda Accord EX 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS 2012 Toyota Camry SE 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE
Displacement, liters: 2.4 2.4 2.4 2.5 2.5
Engine Type Direct-injected DOHC inline-4 with electric motor Port-injected DOHC inline-4 Port-injected DOHC inline-4 Port-injected DOHC inline-4 Port-injected DOHC inline-5
Horsepower (SAE) @ rpm 182 @ 6,200 190 @ 7,000 198 @ 6,300 173 @ 6,000 (PZEV) 170 @ 5,700
Peak Torque, lb-ft @ rpm 172 @ 4,900 162 @ 4,400 184 @ 4,250 165 @ 4,100 (PZEV) 177 @ 4,250
Transmission Type Six-speed automatic Five-speed automatic Six-speed automatic Six-speed automatic Six-speed automatic
EPA Fuel Economy City, mpg 25 23 24 25 22
EPA Fuel Economy Hwy, mpg 37 34 35 35 31
EPA Fuel Economy Combined, mpg 29 27 28 28 25
Edmunds Observed Fuel Economy Combined, mpg 24.7 over 801 miles (best: 29.0, worst: 22.0) 24.0 over 841 miles (best: 28.7, worst: 21.6) 22.1 over 605 miles (best: 24.1, worst: 19.2) 24.6 over 731 miles (best: 35.7, worst: 20.8) 26.1 over 616 miles (best: 29.1, worst: 23.3)
Hybrid Type Parallel, belt-driven alternator-starter (BAS)        
Electric Motor Rating, kW 11.2        
Battery Type Lithium-ion        
Battery Voltage 115        
Battery Capacity, Usable, kW-hr 0.5        
Maximum Blended Horsepower 182        

Warranty Warranty Information

  2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco 2SA 2012 Honda Accord EX 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS 2012 Toyota Camry SE 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE
Basic Warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles 3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain 5 years/100,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles 10 years/100,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
Roadside Assistance 5 years/100,000 miles Available for purchase via Honda Care contract 5 years/Unlimited mileage 2 years/Unlimited mileage 3 years/36,000 miles
Corrosion Protection 6 years/100,000 miles 5 years/Unlimited mileage 7 years/Unlimited miles 5 years/Unlimited mileage 12 years/Unlimited mileage

Performance Performance Information

  2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco 2SA 2012 Honda Accord EX 2012 Hyundai Sonata GLS 2012 Toyota Camry SE 2012 Volkswagen Passat 2.5 SE
0-60 mph acceleration, sec. 8.2 8.8 7.9 8.5 8.7
Quarter-mile acceleration, sec. 16.2 16.4 15.9 16.2 16.6
Quarter-mile speed, mph 85.1 84.9 88.2 86.9 84.1
60-0-mph braking, feet 119 124 119 121 123
Lateral Acceleration, g 0.83 0.83 0.79 0.81 0.79
600-ft slalom, mph 62.8 63.4 63.9 65.0 64.0
Leave a Comment