Sedans

2020 Hyundai Sonata vs. 2019 Honda Accord, Mazda6, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry

Hyundai's new midsizer has a handsome mug, but how does it stack up to a tough crowd of competition?

Steven Pham/Roadshow

The 2020 Hyundai Sonata made its official US debut at the New York Auto Show on Wednesday, and it's a real looker. We've driven it already, and it's a great midsizer in a vacuum, but how does it compare to its rather stiff competition when it comes to numbers?

Historically, the leaders in the affordable midsize sedan segment have come from Honda and Toyota, and both the Accord and Camry are as good as they've ever been. The same can be said of the newly turbocharged Mazda6, which is also really the only car in the segment that can compare to the Sonata on looks alone. The Altima, long just an also-ran, is now packing serious technology under its hood and brings real driving dynamics to the table.

Engines and transmissions

This category is arguably the Sonata's weakest, particularly in the face of its competition. Speaking of faces, if you want the Sonata with a turbocharged engine, you have to settle for a weird, sad, droopy face sans chrome trim.

The naturally aspirated engine option for the Sonata is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces a relatively healthy 191 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. If you opt for the turbo model, you lose around .9 liters of displacement and 11 hp, but you get 14 additional torques in trade. The Sonata is only available with an eight-speed automatic transmission that failed to elicit any complaints from our man Steve Ewing when he drove it.

By comparison, the newly turbocharged Mazda6 makes 250 horsepower on 93 octane fuel and 300 lb-ft of torque. If you opt for the lesser 2.5-liter SkyactivG engine, you get 187 hp and 186 lb-ft. The base model Sport trim is available with a perfectly lovely six-speed manual transmission, but go beyond that and Mazda's six-speed auto becomes your only trans option.

The Honda Accord's base 1.5-liter turbocharged engine produces 192 hp and 192 lb-ft, but it's the newly-available 2.0-liter turbo engine that hits the sweet spot. That engine makes a seriously healthy 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft and is related to the crazy good mill in the Civic Type R. As with the Mazda, buyers can opt for an excellent six-speed manual transmission, but those who prefer not to row their own can get a competent 10-speed auto.

The Camry is our first contender available with more than four cylinders. The top-trim V6 model is also our most potent entry yet, making a tidy 301 horsepower with its all-aluminum 3.5-liter V6 and a solid-if-not-earthshaking 267 lb-ft. The base model's four-cylinder engine holds its own with 201 hp and 183 lb-ft, while the XSE version gets a couple of extra ponies. Toyota's only transmission for the Camry is an eight-speed automatic with paddle shift.

Nissan's new Altima is available with the brand's ingenious VC Turbo engine that mechanically changes the engine's compression ratio depending on load. This allows the engine to be torquey and efficient off-boost and still pull hard when the turbo kicks in. The 2.0-liter VC Turbo makes 248 hp and 273 lb-ft. The Altima is unfortunately saddled with the biggest transmission bummer out of all our competitors. Its Xtronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) works fine under normal daily driving circumstances but gets real lame real fast when driving in a spirited manner.

Engines and transmissions

Car Engine type Displacement (liters) Power (hp) Torque (lb-ft) Transmission
2020 Hyundai Sonata I-4 2.5 191 181 8-speed auto

I-4 1.6 Turbo 180 195 8-speed auto
2019 Honda Accord I-4 1.5 Turbo 192 192 6MT or 10-speed auto

I-4 2 Turbo 252 273 6MT or 10-speed auto
2018 Mazda6 I-4 2.5 Turbo 250 300 6-speed auto

I-4 2.5 187 186 6MT or 6-speed auto
2019 Nissan Altima I-4 2.0 Turbo 248 273 CVT

I-4 2.5 188 180 CVT
2019 Toyota Camry I-4 2.5 248 273 8-speed auto

V6 3.5 301 267 8-speed auto

Safety and technology

One of the best thing about modern Hyundais is that they come standard with a seriously robust suite of advanced driver-assistance features and a very competent and usable infotainment system. The 2020 Sonata keeps this trend going with its 10.2-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster on SEL, SEL Plus and Limited trim levels. Base models get normal gauges and an 8-inch touchscreen, and you get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility regardless of what trim you buy.

In the safety department, all 2020 Sonatas come standard with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, high-beam assist, lane-keeping assist, lane-follow assist and driver attention warning. You can pay extra for Hyundai's Highway Driving Assistant, which pairs up adaptive cruise and lane keep assist to offer quasi-autonomous driving ala Nissan's ProPilot Assist.

The system in the Honda is less fancy and new than the Hyundai's, with a weird half-analog, half-digital gauge cluster but the 2019 Accord's infotainment screen is nice because it cleanly integrates a touchscreen with physical buttons and knobs. It's clear, bright and easy to use.

Mazda seems to be a perennial last-place finisher when it comes to infotainment comparisons, but things are getting a little better. Current cars have Apple CarPlay at least, but the system is still kind of slow, and the screens aren't huge. The picture when it comes to safety technology is a little rosier.

The Mazda6 has available automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control. The downside is that you can't get them until you opt up to the Touring trim.

Nissan's Altima is pretty new overall, so it has a respectable complement of safety tech in the form of Nissan's Safety Shield 360. This suite of driver assistance has automatic emergency braking, rear automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert and high-beam assist. It also comes standard with Nissan's ProPilot assist system.

The Altima's infotainment situation is less comprehensive, with a standard eight-inch touchscreen that supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a nine-speaker Bose stereo and not much else. It does get bonus points for including a USB Type C port among its various charging options.

Toyota's infotainment situation, kind of like Mazda's, is one that regularly gets called out as being lackluster. The Entune system, in basically all of its variants, sucks. The system now supports Apple CarPlay but still no love for Android Auto. It also remains a little clunky and kind of sluggish and is a low point on an otherwise great car.

Interior dimensions

The new Sonata is roomier inside than it looks on the outside. It boasts the best headroom for front passengers in our comparison, and the second-largest trunk after the Honda Accord. Rear headroom trails behind the Toyota Camry by just two-tenths of an inch. It also has the most front passenger legroom by far, but that comes at the expense of the rear passenger legroom.

The Mazda 6 is arguably one of the nicest-feeling interiors, alongside the Sonata. That's obviously a lot tougher to quantify, but it does bear mentioning. The Nissan's interior is much more premium feeling than it has been in previous model years and the Honda isn't exactly luxurious, but it feels typical-Honda hard-wearing.

Interior dimensions (in inches except as noted)

Car Headroom front (sunroof) Headroom rear (sunroof) Legroom front Legroom rear Cargo capacity (cubic feet)
2020 Hyundai Sonata 40.0 (38.4) 37.8 (37.4) 46.1 34.8 16
2019 Honda Accord 39.5 (37.5) 37.3 (37.2) 42.3 40.4 16.7
2019 Mazda 6 38.4 (37.4) 37.1 (37.1) 42.2 38.7 14.7
2019 Nissan Altima 39.2 (38) 36.9 (36.7) 43.8 35.2 15.4
2019 Toyota Camry 38.3 (37.5) 38 (38) 42.1 38 15.1

So based purely on the numbers, the Sonata is looking like it's more than just a pretty face. It compares favorably to pretty much everything in its class and punches well above its weight in terms of fit and finish. The Honda Accord continues to be the performance and practicality powerhouse that it always has been, and anything that enters the class has to do so in its shadow.