Despite the popularity of sport-utility vehicles, the mid-size, 4-door family sedan is alive and well. And while hardly selling in the numbers they once did, 4-doors, like these cars you see right here, are still the bread and butter of the car business. But which one should you spend your money on? Well, we decided to bring the four most popular mid-size sedans together, to see which one might be right for you. Not an easy call, since all four of our test’s V-6 family 4-doors are solid performers on the road, and on the sales charts.

Take the 2002 Honda Accord, for instance, the best selling car for calendar year 2001. And while always one of Honda’s most conservative models, it has a handsome, unoffensive look that is viewed as safe by a wide range of buyers. And superb mechanicals. While a 2.3-liter-4 is standard, our EX tester features a Honda- smooth 3.0-liter single-overhead-cam V6 with variable valve timing. It makes 200 horsepower, and 195 pound-feet of torque, and is mated to a ripple-free 4-speed automatic transmission.

Accord underpinnings are actually among the most sophisticated of our group. Front double wishbone, rear multi-link suspension. Tiny 14-inch wheels are standard, but most models wear 15-inchers in steel or aluminum. Our car has 205/65 tires. All well balanced and engineered.

Nissan’s all-new 2002 Altima is anything but conservative. This third generation Nissan mid-sizer wears the most in-your-face styling in its segment. It’s clearly aimed at a youthful buyer looking for something more aggressive than the norm. And it delivers. Both with the standard 180-horsepower inline-4, and with this 3.5-liter twin-cam V6 with variable valve timing and a variable induction system. Ratings are 240 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque, making it the most powerful of our quartet.

And unlike most V6 competitors, there’s a choice of transmissions, either our test car’s 4- speed auto, or a well matched 5-speed manual. The new Altima platform runs on a strut front suspension, and multi-link rear. 16-inch wheels are standard with our SE wearing 17-inch alloys and fat 215/55 tires.

Hardly Mom and Dad’s kid carrier, is it? But this is, the long running 2002 Ford Taurus. A controversial restyling in 1996 cost Taurus its number one car status. New sheet metal for 2000 cured the critics, and made Taurus a high content, high value family choice. The flared headlamp front, coupe-like roofline, and bob-tail rear, actually showed the way for others. If you can fault Taurus styling for anything it’s hitting the mark a few years too late.

As to high value, Taurus has the group’s only standard V-6 and automatic transmission. Two 3.0-liter V-6’s are available. The stronger of the two is our SEL test car’s twin-cam 24-valve Duratec V6. It makes 200 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, similar to Accord. Taurus uses a straightforward strut suspension both front and rear. Except for the base LX model, all Taurus wheels are 16-inch alloys, and 215/60-series tires are standard. Nothing ground breaking, but a lot of car from the get-go.

Giving up its number one status to Honda last year is the 2002 Toyota Camry. Completely redesigned, and sharing its platform with the Lexus ES 300, the latest Camry adds a good dose of style and flair to its benchmark, if somewhat boring, family sedan attributes. The look is bigger, bolder, more flowing this year, with an obvious debt to the arrow-like profile of the ES 300.

The Camry packs a refined V-6, in addition to a popular 4-cylinder. The 3.0-liter dual- overhead-cam V6 in our SE makes 192 horsepower and 209 pound-feet of torque. That’s a little more grunt than Taurus and Accord, and the engine is the quietest of our group. The V-6 hooks up to a 4-speed automatic that generally shifts smoothly, but tends to stutter a bit if you’re wishy-washy with your throttle application. Struts reside up front, upper and lower control arms in the rear. Standard rims are 15-inch with our SE wearing 16s and 215/60 tires. Camry, loved for its dependability, and now totally up to date.

While alike in goals, put this foursome on the road, and you find four very different automotive personalities. The Honda Accord is Mr. Reliable. The conservative company man, that’s solid and predictable. The drivetrain is very well mannered in all kinds of traffic. Though we did notice a bit more exhaust noise than we expected under heavy throttle. Fuel economy is 20 City and 28 Highway, overall the group’s best. Ride quality is very good, and handling is totally predictable, with moderate understeer and very little body roll. Accord feels even better than it looks.

The Nissan Altima is like the rowdy new kid in the office, the one that doesn’t even own a tie. Its punchy V6 and solid shifting transmissions have a more visceral feel than the rather cerebral Accord. No surprise that fuel use, 19 City and 26 Highway, is a little less than the others. The ride is firmer, yet very comfortable. And handling is sharper, with quick turn in, and lots of steering feedback. It’s as much sport sedan as family hauler.

But the Ford Taurus is definitely a family hauler. It has a heavier, more American Iron feel than its Asian-badged competitors. Less refined, to be sure, but solid and sturdy. The sturdy, willing powertrain is rated at 20 City and 27 Highway. Handling is not as sharp as the others, with heavier understeer. But ride quality and noise control are very good. An old favorite that can still get the job done.

As can the Toyota Camry, which is a staunch favorite of those seeking a higher-than- average level of refinement in their family sedan. The engine is silky-smooth, and very strong. And except for that off-throttle stutter, the shifts are very crisp. Mileage ratings are the same as Taurus, 20 City and 27 Highway. Handling and ride show the Lexus link. It’s luxury car plush, and while not as sharp as the Altima or Accord, feels safe and is predictable.

Of course, no car is enjoyable to drive if you’re not comfortable. And all these cars are known for offering first rate accommodations.

The Honda Accord has an interior that’s modern, straightforward, but a little plain. Passenger space is the smallest overall, with a total of 101.7 cubic feet of space. The dash layout is very sensible, with plenty of large, well-marked controls. The rear seat has the least head room of our cars, but trails only Taurus in rear leg room. The trunk is also the smallest, with 14.1 cubic-feet of space.

The Nissan Altima, on the other hand, is the style leader of the group. It also has more interior room, 103.2 cubic feet, than all but the Taurus. The dash is slick and stylish, though the stereo controls can be a little on the busy side and some dash plastics look like they came from Detroit. It has the same rear head room as Accord, but comes in last in leg room. While the trunk volume measures a healthy, but mid-group, 15.6 cubic-feet.

The Ford Taurus interior, like the exterior, has no real faults, it just needs a little updating. It tops the Altima for overall passenger room at 104.7 cubic-feet. Center stack controls are mostly large, well marked, and intuitive. But we’d like to see a little more separation of the stereo and climate controls. The rear seat has more head room than Accord or Altima, and more leg room than any of the others. This is a true five-adult sedan. Trunk space is also tops, with a huge 17.0 cubic-feet.

The Toyota Camry ranks behind the Altima and Taurus in passenger room, matching Accord’s 101.7 cubic-feet. The dash is clean and well organized, though our car’s optional navigation system had touch screen stereo controls that did take getting used to. Rear seat headroom is the best of the bunch, but trails Accord and Taurus in rear leg room. Likewise trunk space at 16.7 cubic-feet is just a tad less than the Taurus.

But the most important numbers used when buying a family sedan are usually the price numbers. And for the Honda Accord, the least expensive V-6, an LX, goes for $23,040. A price that puts it squarely in the middle of our little 4-door V6 group.

The Nissan Altima V-6 starts at $22,889 for an SE equipped with the 5-speed manual transmission. A 4-speed automatic bumps you to $23,689.

The Ford Taurus takes the V6 price honors. The LX with its 12-valve engine starts at only $19,375. Move up to the 24-valve Duratec in our SEL, and the price is still the lowest at $22,300.

Toyota’s V-6 products have always been known for being reliable and a little pricey. The Camry confirms that with a base price for the V6-powered SE of $24,185. The highest of all four cars.

So after driving our 4-door family car quartet to work, school, and everywhere in between, our staff huddled, and picked their favorite, the new Nissan Altima. It’s stylish, powerful, and just plain fun to drive, without sacrificing real family car utility.

The Honda Accord and Toyota Camry both garnered praise for their overall refinement, interior, and reliability. While our Detroit connection, the Ford Taurus, won points for its standard V-6, big interior room, and low price.

So the SUV may be the new family king, but these cars prove that the mid-size 4-door sedan still offers buyers a tremendous amount of style, utility and comfort. Indeed, the family car is alive and well and offers more bang for your buck than ever before! Plus driving pleasure an SUV can’t match.


  • 2002 Honda Accord:
  • 2002 Nissan Altima:
  • 2002 Ford Taurus:
  • 2002 Toyota Camry: