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Behind Passat, Camry, & Accord. To be fair, the ratings are quite close -- Passat & Camry virtually tied and then Accord and Altima virtually tied behind those two. A few quibbles, though. First of all, the Altima came in slowest in their lane-change maneuver test. Slower than the floaty 2002 Camry? Yeah, right. Those don't seem to be the numbers that anybody else is getting in slalom tests.

And then, with the Passat 4, they rate it as above average in reliability -- but if you look at their ratings, it's JUST a hair above average (and the Passat V6 is, in fact, a bit BELOW average) compared to the previous model Altima which is also in their 'above average' range (but significantly better than the Passat and just below the Accord--and the Maxima tops both Camry and Accord in reliability).

We might well have gone with the Passat if it hadn't been for the higher price, the reliability, and concerns about the cost of repairs at the VW dealer. Surprised that CU gives Passat a 'pass' on its non-stellar reliability.

And, then, of course, CU doesn't much care about styling.

Big picture -- with the Accord, Camry, Altima, and Passat, pity the domestics ;)
 

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Full Text for the Consumer Reports article

The four family sedans in this auto test are among the best on the market, and three of the them have been updated in the past year. The Volkswagen Passat, which has been our top-rated family sedan since 1999, received a mild freshening last spring, with subtle styling changes and 20 more horsepower. The Toyota Camry, America's best-selling car from 1997 through 2000 and one of our top-rated sedans, received a major redesign for 2002, its first since 1997. Among its many enhancements are all-new styling, more interior space, a stronger four-cylinder engine, and more safety features.

The Nissan Altima, which made its debut in 1993, was also redesigned and has been transformed from an unremarkable, run-of-the-mill sedan into a major competitor. In addition to new styling, it offers a roomier, better-appointed interior, improved ride and handling, a stronger four-cylinder engine, and, for the first time, the availability of a V6. The Honda Accord, meanwhile, continues to be one of the top sellers and one of our top-rated family cars despite its four-year-old design. It's due for a major overhaul for 2003.

To see how they compare, we've put together a two-part report. For this report, we tested four-cylinder versions of all four cars. In our February 2002 autos report, we'll detail how a V6-equipped Camry and Altima compete against six-cylinder competitors from Dodge and Pontiac, and we'll also see how they rank against our previous tests of a six-cylinder Accord and Passat.

Sticker prices for this month's similarly-equipped test cars ranged from $22,154 for the Nissan Altima to $25,380 for the Volkswagen Passat; models with a V6 cost several thousand dollars more. Four-cylinder models typically provide about 1 to 4 mpg better overall fuel economy than the V6 editions, although the trade-off is less power and typically more noise and vibration.




RECOMMENDATIONS

The Passat and Camry, virtually identical in our overall test scores, remain the best choices among midpriced four-cylinder family sedans. They differ more in character than performance, with the Passat providing the driving experience of a well-balanced sports sedan and the Camry emphasizing comfort and quietness.

The Volkswagen Passat is a well-rounded vehicle with very good braking, ride, and handling; a spacious and comfortable interior; and top-quality fit and finish. Excellent seats and impressive crash-test results round out the package. The standard engine is now a 170-hp, 1.8-liter turbocharged Four that's clean enough for the Passat to be rated an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV). Acceleration is lively, but the engine occasionally hesitates on takeoff and sounds a bit noisy--the only gripe we have with this impressive car. Reliability has been above average.

The well-equipped Passat starts at $21,750. With a five-speed automatic transmission, a sunroof, and alloy wheels, our test car cost $25,380 including destination. The CR Wholesale Price--which includes any buyer rebates and what the dealer paid after incentives--is $22,531. (All CR Wholesale Prices were effective as of early November 2001.)

The Toyota Camry is roomy and comfortable. It's easy to get into and out of, has an excellent control layout, and serves up a quiet and composed driving experience. It handles well, though not as crisply as the Passat; the brakes, though capable, aren't as good as they should be. Part of the Camry's redesign is a new 157-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that's one of the smoothest, quietest Fours we've tested. Reliability should be much better than average.

We chose the midlevel Camry LE, which starts at $19,800 with a four-speed automatic transmission. An optional antilock brake system (ABS) and sunroof bumped the price for the LE we tested to $22,539, including destination. The CR Wholesale Price is $19,639.

Though more dated, the Honda Accord remains competitive. Handling is secure, and braking is excellent. Interior fit and finish are also impressive, and reliability is top-notch. Road noise is pronounced and the ride is a bit jittery, however. Another criticism is the Accord's acceleration; it's leisurely by today's standards and proved the slowest of this group, with no reward in fuel economy.

We chose the top-trim Accord EX, powered by a 148-hp, 2.3-liter Four. The EX comes with ABS, a four-speed automatic, sunroof, and alloy wheels. Its sticker price was $22,740, including destination. The CR Wholesale Price is $20,510.

The redesigned Nissan Altima has now become one of the top family sedans, with secure handling, a roomy interior, lots of standard equipment, and a competitive price. Its new four-cylinder engine is both powerful and economical. Other strengths include ride and acceleration, where the Altima topped the Honda Accord in our tests. By contrast, fit and finish are unimpressive, and suspension noise is pronounced. Reliability should be better than average.

We tested the Altima 2.5 S, which is powered by a 175-hp, 2.5-liter Four. Pricing for the 2.5 S begins at $18,849. With option packages including ABS, side air bags, a power driver seat, and alloy wheels, the tally came to $22,154 for our test car, including destination. The CR Wholesale Price is $19,897.
 

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I have to say that I long ago stopped trusting CR to be objective in rating cars. At first I thought their algorithm for rating cars simply put way too much emphasis on reliability, safety, and room with little concern about performance, style, and handling (unless it helped on the safety side).

A few years ago, however, I became convinced that they simply "play favorites" and use the highly subjective opinions of their testers to rig the results they way they want. Four examples, among others, in this CR report: 1) they love the Passat (and their neck is on the line because they previously rated it "best in class") so they give it a break on reliability and rate it the same as the Altima (which is ridiculous), and 2) they rate all the sedans as equal (average) in rear seat room. What a joke! Not only are the measurements for rear legroom (the only real measure that counts when only 2 passengers are in the rear) very different between the Altima and the others, but any reasonable, unbiased tester could actually SEE the difference in the rear seating--certainly all of my CamCord owning friends can! To rate all the sedans as about the same is a glaring example of rigging the data. 3) The 2.5 will easily blow away the Passat, Accord and new Camry, so why isn't that performance feature played up more? 4) as already mentioned, the handling is so much better on the Altima than the new Camry (I test drove both) that it's not even funny. There's no way a competent and unbiased driver could get worse times in any handling test than the Camry (or the Accord for that matter).

I use CR for toasters and microwaves, not for important stuff like cars!
 

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One other quick thing about the rear legroom: one of the reviews (not CR, of course) points out that you can put a 6'4" driver and a 6'4" passenger behind him comfortably. I couldn't quite replicate this feat, but I did put a 6'3" driver in front of a 6'4" passenger (both neighbors) and their was good leg room for the rear passenger even after the driver had found the best driving position for himself. We were all pretty impressed, especially since one of these guys owns the Accord and we couldn't put the 6'3" guy comfortably behind me--and I'm 5'7" (as you probably guessed, I play point guard on the neighborhood hoops team).
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
As for CU generally--I do find their reliability ratings useful, and I don't know of any real alternative. Who else is collecting and reporting reliability data for cars over many years as they get older? And now that CU is expressing these ratings as % of vehicles having particular kinds of problems (rather than just average, better, best), that's an improvement. What they don't do (and I don't quite understand why) is report how much $$ owners are spending on repairs.

Should the 2.5S 'blow away' the Camry, Accord, & Passat 4-cylinders? Yes to the 1st two, but the Passat has about the same HP as the 2.5S and CU did, in fact, report identical 0-60 and 1/4 mile times for the Altima and Passat.

Couple of their other Altima gripes surprised me. Suspension noise? Unimpressive fit & finish? Haven't seen (or heard) either of those with my 2.5S.
 

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CR is just one tool I use. If look for their recommendation. Their ranking can be rearranged to what features you like in each car. Sounds like the top 4 are all good cars and closely ranked. To me, the superior ride and handling, power of the Altima, combined with great reliability is a winner. I think the new Camry is ugly. The Accord is too dated in styling. The Passat is nice, but too unreliable. The Altima won in my contest.

Fit and finish is great in my car. I don't have a noisy suspension either. I don't understand that part of the review. :confused:
 

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but u gotto admit.. the suspension isn't so great in this car...
yea it's a family sedan so it's a comfortable ride.. but the suspension and the springs have to go to make it more sprty..
 

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Feels pretty good to me. Very stable, doesn't bounce around. It's softer than the SE. If people want true sport, the SE is the way to go or opt for aftermarket springs and/or struts.

hee1 said:
but u gotto admit.. the suspension isn't so great in this car...
yea it's a family sedan so it's a comfortable ride.. but the suspension and the springs have to go to make it more sprty..
 

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Suspension is fine with me, and there's no noise, either. I think Nissan got it right, because most people will be fine with the "family sedan" suspension and those that aren't can mod their vehicle. Family folk wouldn't want to mod their vehicle!

BTW, MarkW is right about the Passat--it would be a close call in a race between it and the Altima rather than a blow-out.
 

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Barkless Dog
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I only look to CU for two things - crash testing and reliability ratings.
 
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