2011 Car Comparison: Honda Accord vs Toyota Camry vs Nissan Altima

Last Updated: Dec 13, 2011

The Competitors
In this midsize-car comparison we compare the 2011 Honda Accord, 2011 Toyota Camry, and 2011 Nissan Altima. Perennial top-sellers, all three are designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of buyers. But enough differences set them apart from each other to sway a buying decision. This 2011 Honda Accord vs. 2011 Toyota Camry vs. 2011 Nissan Altima comparison picks a winner based on price, features, and performance.

The 2011 Accord and Altima are available as two-door coupes or four-door sedans. The Camry is a sedan only and like the Altima, offers gas and hybrid powertrains. Base prices for the 2011 Camry and 2011 Altima are $20,580 and $20,670, respectively, while the least expensive 2011 Accord model is $21,930. These prices are about average in the midsize class, a category in which the 2011 Kia Optima is the lowest priced car at $19,690 and the Nissan Maxima the most expensive with a $31,590 starting price. (Base prices in this comparison review include the manufacturer’s delivery fee; note that Toyotas sold in some Southeastern and Gulf states are delivered by independent distributors and may carry different destination fees).

The Honda Accord was last redesigned for model-year 2008. The 2011 version gains an SE-model sedan that includes features previously offered only on the EX version, such as leather upholstery and heated front seats. All 2011 Accords get minor styling updates; coupes and EX sedans gain a standard USB iPod interface, and automatic-transmission EX-L coupes add steering wheel paddle shifters. Accord will next be redesigned for model-year 2013. The 2011 Toyota Camry was last redesigned for model-year 2007 and sees no major changes for 2011. It received midcycle updates for 2010 and is due a model-year 2012 redesign. The 2011 Altima’s basic design dates to model-year 2007. The 2011 carries over without major updates after slight revisions for 2010. Like the Accord, Altima is due a model-year 2013 redesign.

The Similarities

  • The 2011 Honda Accord, 2011 Toyota Camry, and 2011 Nissan Altima have front-wheel drive, meaning engine and transmission are packaged over the drive wheels. This configuration tends to provide better wet- and snowy-road traction than rear-wheel drive and affords more cabin and cargo room by minimizing powertrain intrusion into the passenger compartment. All similarly priced cars in the midsize class are front-drive based, but all-wheel-drive, for superior traction in snow, is standard on the 2011 Subaru Legacy and available on the 2011 Ford Fusion.
  • All three cars in this comparison use four-cylinder engines of around 2.5-liters and offer V-6s of 3.5-liters. Manual and automatic transmissions are available on select versions of all three, but none mates a V-6 to a stick shift in a sedan. Power ratings are similar. Depending on trim level, Accord’s four-cylinder has 177 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque or 190 and 162, respectively. Accord EX and EX-L models are also available with a V-6 rated at 271 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. (Horsepower is a measurement of an engine’s maximum power while torque is an indication of how quickly it can get a vehicle up to speed.) The Camry’s four-cylinder has 169 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque. Its V-6 has 268 and 248, respectively. Altima’s four-cylinder rates 175 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque and its V-6 has 270 horsepower and 258 pound-feet.
  • EPA fuel-economy ratings are roughly equivalent for the conventional gas-engine models and about average for midsize cars; hybrid versions are discussed in The Differences section, below. All four-cylinder 2011 Honda Accord sedans rate 23/33 mpg city/highway with manual transmission and 23/34 with automatic. V-6 Accord sedans rate 20/30 mpg with automatic. The least fuel-efficient Accord is the V-6 coupe with manual transmission, at 17/26 mpg. The four-cylinder Camry rates 22/33 mpg with manual transmission, 22/32 with automatic; V-6s rate 20/29 and come only with the automatic. The four-cylinder Altima sedan rates 23/32 mpg, the V-6 20/27; both use a continuously variable automatic transmission (see The Differences section, below). The V-6 Altima coupe with manual transmission rates 18/27 mpg. 
  • Interior measurements vary slightly -- Accord boasts the most interior volume, while the Camry has a touch more rear-seat legroom and headroom. But all three of these sedans comfortably seat two adults in front and two in the rear. A third can squeeze in back. The Accord and Altima coupes, on the other hand, compromise rear seat space in the name of sporty styling; only kids will be truly comfortable back there. They also ride rougher than the sedans and sell in fractions of the numbers of their four-door counterparts, basically to singles and empty nesters. All body styles of each of these cars have split-folding rear seatbacks that expand trunk space into the cabin to maximize cargo versatility.
  • Even the least expensive model in each lineup comes nicely equipped with a long list of convenience features, including air conditioning; power windows, locks, and mirrors; tilt/telescoping steering column and height-adjustable driver’s seat; cruise control; center console; and a generous spread of cup holders and storage compartments. All are also available with such upgrades as heated front seats, leather upholstery, power moonroof, Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone interface, voice-activated navigation, and a rear backup monitor. All have torso-protecting front side airbags and head-protecting curtain side airbags for all outboard seating positions. Each model includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes for more control in emergency stops and antiskid stability control to help prevent spinning out in extreme or emergency handling situations.

The Differences

  • In this comparison, only the Camry and Altima offer fuel-saving gas/electric hybrid models. Both are sedans that combine a four-cylinder gasoline engine with a battery-powered electric motor. The Camry Hybrid has a net 187 horsepower and rates 31/35 mpg city/highway. The Altima Hybrid nets 198 horses and rates 33/33. The Camry Hybrid is sold in all 50 states, the Altima Hybrid only in California and in the handful of Northeastern states that adhere to its stricter auto-emissions rules. Buyers of these hybrids need to be motivated by a sense of environmental responsibility because the gas-electric models carry a price premium that isn’t likely to be recovered at the gas pump for a long time. Using the $27,435 Camry Hybrid as an example, the EPA says it would save $433 a year in fuel costs over a similarly equipped $23,350 four-cylinder Camry LE. That’s at 15,000 miles driven annually and gas at $3.52 a gallon. Based on the $4,085 base-price differential, the EPA pegs the break-even at more than nine years.
  • What seems a simple choice—manual or automatic transmission—becomes complicated when comparing our three contenders. Let’s run through the choices: The Accord comes with a five-speed manual transmission, but only on select four-cylinder models; a six-speed manual is standard with the top EX-L V-6 coupe. Optional on most four-cylinder Accords and standard on the LX-P and SE sedans and all V-6 sedans is a five-speed automatic; it includes steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters on the EX-L coupe. The 2011 Accord’s five-speed transmissions put it behind the curve in a class where top competitors feature performance- and fuel-economy-enhancing six-speed transmissions. That’s precisely what the 2011 Toyota Camry offers, though only its four-cylinder models are available with the manual. The 2011 Nissan Altima’s manual also is a six-speed and while it’s limited to the coupes, it is available with both the four- and six-cylinder engines in the two-doors. Optional on Altima coupes and standard on sedans is a continuously variable transmission, or CVT. (The Camry Hybrid and Altima Hybrid also use a CVT.) CVTs play the role of an automatic transmission but eschew conventional gears for a belt and pulleys to deliver seamless acceleration. The idea is to tap the engine at its most efficient power points, but some drivers are unsettled by a CVT’s lack of shifts and annoyed by the full-bore engine noise it allows during moderate-to-aggressive acceleration.
  • All three sedans are engineered to deliver a smooth ride that appeals more to commuters than enthusiasts, though the Altima has the most playful cornering characteristics of the three. This is particularly notable against the Camry, which is certainly competent enough but suffers numb steering, a mushy ride, and vague handling by comparison. Top all-around road manners in this comparison go to the Accord. It’s the best balanced of these three cars, with accurate steering and a well-tuned suspension that feels “just right” under most circumstances. By any measure, Accord sedans and coupes are satisfyingly well-behaved cars.
  • The 2011 Accord, Camry, and Altima offer a fine selection of popular new-car features but they surrender some perks to newer rivals in this segment. None of this trio is available with front seats that are both heated and cooled, for example. None offers heated rear seats, either. Perhaps most important for added safety, none is available with a blind-spot-detection system. On the upside, Altima’s optional navigation system includes both a 9.3-gigabyte “Music Box” hard drive for audio-file storage as well as subscription-based real-time traffic and weather information. The Camry XLE model’s dual-zone climate-control system includes so-called Plasmacluster ionizer technology that’s claimed to help reduce airborne mold spores, microbes, fungi, odors, germs, and bacteria inside the cabin for the sake of the allergy-prone.
  • Honda doesn’t offer options per se but creates separate models based on a fixed suite of features. That tends to saddle the 2011 Accord with the highest base prices in this group, but similarly equipped, prices among these three competitors tend to even out. Four-cylinder 2011 Accord sedans are priced from $21,930-$28,105. V-6 Accord sedans are priced from $27,830- $30,180. The top figure in both categories is for the EX-L models with standard leather upholstery, automatic transmission, and power moonroof. Accord Coupes are priced higher than the sedans, at $23,530-$27,855 for four-cylinder versions and $30,180 for the V-6. Automatic transmission adds $800 to models on which it isn’t standard. A voice-activated navigation system with a rear backup camera is available on EX-L models for $2,000 more on the coupe and $2,200 more on the sedan. While Honda once stood out negatively in this regard, offering fewer options and limiting them to specific models is becoming more common in the auto industry.
  • The 2011 Toyota Camry’s base price range is $20,570-$23,350 for four-cylinder models and $25,740-$30,320 for V-6 version. The top figure in each category is for XLE models that come with automatic transmission, power moonroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, and other amenities; the XLE V-6 also has leather upholstery. The 2011 Camry Hybrid is priced from $27,435. Noteworthy 2011 Camry options include the automatic transmission at around $1,000 on four-cylinder models, a power moonroof at $890,  and a premium JBL audio system with CD changer at $1,010. A voice-activated navigation system with Bluetooth and iPod adapters and a backup camera is available on SE models for $2,820 and on XLE versions for $1,080.
  • Altima sedans have the lowest base prices in this group, particularly at the upper end of the range. Base-price range is $20,670-$22,830 for four-cylinder sedans; V-6 sedans start at $25,510. The Altima Hybrid sedan is priced from $29,360. Base prices for Altima coupes range from $23,700-$24,200 for four-cylinder models, and from $28,530-$30,860 for V-6s. Among 2011 Altima options, the CVT is a bargain at $500, with the Technology Package that includes the navigation system and Music Box hard drive priced at $1,780. The V-6 sedan can be equipped with a Sport Package for $2,370 that includes the moonroof, fog lights, and high intensity headlamps, while a leather-upholstery Premium Package fully loads up the V-6 sedan or coupe for $2,380 and $1,420, respectively.

The Winner

The 2011 Honda Accord. With prices, engine power, fuel economy, and available features being roughly equivalent, there aren’t many ways to go wrong choosing between the 2011 Honda Accord, 2011 Toyota Camry, or 2011 Nissan Altima. For many buyers it’ll depend on taste in styling or which car is available with the deepest discount. Our choice is the 2011 Accord for its handsome, roomy, and comfortable interior, solid overall performance, and broad model line. The clincher is its unmatched balance of ride comfort and cornering ability. Accord compensates for its five-speed automatic with four-cylinder models that deliver sufficient power with good fuel economy. The peppier four in EX and EX-L versions is a workable substitute for a V-6, though Accord’s six is undeniably smooth and strong. Our runner-up is the Camry for roominess, comfort, and refinement on par with more expensive premium-class cars. The Altima might be the most entertaining of the three to drive, but it feels the least polished overall.