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Are you in the market for a mid-size sedan that offers a blend of comfort and performance? Are you also looking for something that is loaded with standard features? If so, then you have probably considered either the 2021 Honda Accord or the 2021 Hyundai Sonata. Choosing between them might seem difficult at the onset, but trust us, one of them is an overall better buy than the other. That is not to say that one of them is a bad car though - far from it. But - spoiler alert - let us explicate a bit on why we think the 2021 Honda Accord is going to suit more buyers than the Sonata.
The 2021 Honda Accord upholds Honda's long history of high standards for safety, comfort, power, and reliability. For several decades now, the Accord has dominated the sedan segment. New for this year is a gorgeous facelift that gives the Accord's front end a sleeker style. The trim levels see some changes too, starting with the addition of the Sport Special Edition (or just the SE for short). It slates above the Sport and below the EX-L. Offerings on it include heated side mirrors, keyless entry, and leather upholstery. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is now available on the higher trims. Sadly, the manual transmission option is gone since it sank so low in demand in recent years.
The Accord is given two engine options (a 1.5-L turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 2.0-L turbo 4-cylinder) that both blend power and fuel economy better than basically any other engines in this class. You can even opt for the Accord Hybrid if you really want to save money at the fuel pump. It also has a cavernous cabin fore and aft, meaning that everyone has room for their heads, shoulders, and legs. On top of all that, the handling capabilities are sporty with either powertrain option, making the Accord a real delight to drive.
The downsides? They are few and far between. But, of course, we need to address them. The biggest setback to owning the Accord is that it does not have as quiet of a ride quality as some of its competitors. You will end up hearing some road and wind noise at higher speeds. Also, the low seating positions can make getting in and out of the vehicle somewhat difficult for adults. Minor gripes, though, we assure you.
What about the 2021 Hyundai Sonata? We certainly consider this to be one of the better mid-size sedans on the market this year, but it does fall just short of matching the Accord's refinement. The Sonata has the new N Line trim, which slates at the top of the line-up. It comes with an upgraded turbo engine that produces more power and also has a sport-tuned suspension. Everything else in the line-up just receives minor revisions.
The Sonata has a lot of standard technology equipped, giving it a decent value for the cost of the vehicle. Even the base trim offers standard smartphone app integration and adaptive cruise control. You also get a lot of cargo space, which is helpful when you need to cart a lot of groceries or bulky items. However, the cabin is not as well-appointed as rivals like the Accord, and its lack of comfort also becomes apparent with the low amount of adjustability that you get on the front seats.
A powertrain can make or break a driving performance. Whether you get the 2021 Honda Accord or the 2021 Hyundai Sonata, you will have options as to how powerful an engine you want. Do you want more power or a better fuel economy?
The 2021 Honda Accord starts you off with a 1.5-L turbo 4-cylinder engine that, paired with a continuously automatic variable transmission (or CVT for short), sends 192 hp to the front wheels. The Sport 2.0T and Touring trim levels come with a 2.0-L turbo 4-cylinder that musters up a solid 252 hp, which is sent to the front wheels via a 10-speed automatic transmission.
The 2021 Hyundai Sonata offers you a base 2.5-L 4-cylinder engine (not turbocharged, by the way) that delivers 191 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through an 8-speed automatic transmission. The only way to get the turbo 2.5-L engine is to opt all the way up to the new N Line trim level. This engine gives off 290 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque and is paired with an 8-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. Its sport-tuned suspension is geared toward offering sharper handling capabilities on the Sonata.
What makes a vehicle a pain or pleasure to drive? Drivability is an all-encompassing term that we use to describe how well a vehicle accelerates, brakes, handles, steers, provides ride quality and comfort, and offers user-friendly, functional technology. Let us look at how the Accord and Sonata do on this front.
The 2021 Honda Accord is more enjoyable to drive than you might expect. Its base engine is not the snappiest with an acceleration time of 8 seconds (going from 0 to 60 miles per hour), but the way it responds quickly to driver inputs feels superb. The CVT will try to lower engine rpms as much as possible in order to conserve fuel, but the transitions it makes are seamless. The vehicle is able to come to a pin-point straight stop in a safe stopping distance, letting you feel comfortable with the brakes. Steering does not provide a ton of road feel, but it does come off as accurate and easy to commandeer. Handling feels sharp and the vehicle planted.
While the seat cushions could use a little more padding, the headrests and backrests are totally comfy. You can find the right adjustments with the front seats in order to stay comfortable on long drives. The climate control system is easy to adjust and maintains the temperature you set for the cabin. The Touring's adaptive suspension and 19-inch wheels do stiffen the performance a little bit, but appropriately so in order to come off as sporty. Even then, the ride quality remains comfortable. You will just have to deal with a small amount of road noise getting into the cabin while cruising along on the highway. The engine's growls when pushed to full throttle are pleasing.
The cabin itself is beautifully appointed with materials that look luxurious without the luxury price tag. Everything feels solid, and you get plenty of soft touch materials throughout. The infotainment system has controls that are logically laid out for the everyday user, but tech-savvy folks can enjoy using them too. The steering wheel mounted controls are the only ones that will take any getting-used-to. The cabin's open, airy vibe is relaxing, and everyone will have enough space to chill out during a long ride. The only qualm you might have is the low seating positions, which make for some difficult entries and exits for adults.
The available built-in navigation system is crisp and clear in its design, giving you access to many points of interest (POIs) nearby. The voice controls are even easy to use. Near-field Bluetooth is a really cool trick that Honda utilizes, and the smartphone app integration works remarkably well. Our only wish is that a full-on blind-spot monitoring system came on all of the trim levels as part of the Honda Sensing bundle. More on that in the next section though.
Let's switch over to the 2021 Hyundai Sonata. The Sonata is relatively snappy, getting from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.6 seconds. This bests much of the competition. You will have to apply more pressure on the accelerator though. The ride quality comes off as a bit too firm for this segment, and it does not give you the most exciting handling performance. When you constantly apply the brakes, you will feel some minor pulsations beneath your foot. It is nothing striking awful, but it takes the performance down a few notches.
While the Sonata certainly seems nice on the outside, it actually is nothing to marvel at inside. The materials are just average. There is also more noise that gets into the cabin than what you might like. The climate controls are functional, but again, nothing really stands out as being innovative or attractive. It is just practical-ish. At least everything has an intuitive feel, and the vents keep air flow even and quiet.
The available 10.3-inch touchscreen display is one highlight for the Sonata. Its visuals are clear and layouts intuitive. We just wish there was not a push button shifter up front. It comes off as rather hideous and a waste of space. At least the voice controls do a fantastic job of recognizing natural speech patterns.
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Here we arrive at the safety aspect of buying a new vehicle. It sure is something that is important to consider - a real no-brainer. But there are some details that you might want to educate yourself on before jumping into a purchase. Knowing which driver aids come equipped and how well they work is crucial in making your decision.
The 2021 Honda Accord is equipped with Honda Sensing, a bundle of standard driver aids that are aimed at reducing the likelihood of accidents. The list of features includes frontal collision mitigation (which will apply the brakes if the system detects a potential oncoming crash), adaptive cruise control (which sets a safe following distance from the vehicle in front of the Accord), and lane keep assist (which will guide the Accord back into its intended lane when the system detects the Accord swaying out of line). Upgrading to the EX-L trim adds on a blind spot monitoring camera with rear cross-traffic alert, which warns you if a vehicle is in your blind spot while trying to change lanes or reverse. You also get parking sensors for the front and rear of the vehicle. Low-speed anti-collision braking comes on the Touring and will apply the brakes if a potential crash is detected between 1 and 6 mph.
The 2021 Hyundai Sonata comes with a similar bundle. It starts you off with forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and a driver attention warning. A safe exit warning and blind-spot monitoring system come equipped on the SEL. The Tech package adds on enhanced versions of lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control. The Limited tacks on rear automatic braking, a blind spot view monitor, a surround-view monitor, and Hyundai's Smart Parking Assist system (which lets the driver exit the vehicle and remotely guide the vehicle into a parking spot).
Which Has the Best Value?
While the Sonata packs a lot of standard features into its higher trim levels, the lowest trims feel somewhat bare-bones. The Honda Accord's base LX trim feels better equipped, and it is easy to justify the upgrade costs on the Accord. The mid-tier trims will likely please most buyers, but the Touring is certainly a tour-de-force of a line-topper. The functionality of the technology - coupled with the powerful and quick responses from both powertrains - gives the Accord an edge over the Sonata in terms of value.
Which is Better?
While the 2021 Hyundai Sonata is a formidable opponent (and the Sonatas keep getting better every model year), it still has some work to do before it can oust the Honda Accord from the top spot in the mid-size sedan segment. The 2021 Honda Accord is the mid-size sedan to buy, period.