Elevating the mid-size sedan to a higher plane.
But if you’ve ever experienced an Accord—and with more than 13 million sold in the United States over its 41-plus-year history, chances are you have—you probably understand what we’ve been talking about all this time. Beyond its vaunted reputation for quality, and even beyond being consistently fun to drive, what has impressed us most about the Accord is how well it has always fulfilled its core mission: to be an affordable, spacious, and comfortable conveyance for people and stuff.
But times are changing. With versatile crossovers like Honda’s own CR-V now prevailing as the practical and rational (read: boring) choice, once-modest mid-size sedans can no longer afford to be wallflowers—not even excellent ones like the Accord. Several of the Honda’s competitors, including the Mazda 6 and even the newest Toyota Camry, have already begun making more emotional appeals to the masses by prioritizing style and driving verve. Is Honda’s new, tenth-generation Accord up for the challenge?
The new Accord’s more fashionable looks show that Honda designers understand that a solely left-brain approach doesn’t cut it anymore. The previous Accord sedan’s upright greenhouse has given way to a fastback-like roofline, which combines with a pronounced crease just below the beltline to give the car a sinewy, athletic stance (the two-door coupe model is no more). A 2.1-inch-greater wheelbase, on a vehicle that’s actually 0.3 inch shorter overall, allows for tighter front and rear overhangs and makes the new car look considerably longer than before. It’s certainly the most elegant-looking Accord since the sleek, pop-up-headlight model from the late 1980s, and its body thankfully avoids much of the surface excitement that plagues the latest Civic. The front-end styling has proved polarizing among our ranks, but from any other angle, it’s undeniably a handsome piece.
Such an emphasis on appearances typically would result in some functional sacrifices—but not with Honda’s packaging know-how. Rear headroom is reduced by only 0.2 inch thanks to a scooped-out headliner that allows plenty of noggin space even for tall adults, although they may need to duck their heads more than before while getting in. Meanwhile, the 17-cubic-foot trunk is actually one cube larger than that of last year’s Accord. In typical Honda fashion, the view out front is aided by a low cowl; rearward visibility, however, is somewhat compromised by the sharply raked rear window that narrows the driver’s field of view compared with that afforded by the previous Accord’s more traditional three-box shape.
Despite the fact that mid-size sedans with stick shifts have all but disappeared—other than the Mazda 6, all of the Accord’s competitors have dropped their clutch pedals in recent years—Honda is leaning into enthusiasts’ desires by offering a six-speed manual transmission for both of the new Accord’s engine options. They consist of two direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinders, a base 1.5-liter and a 2.0-liter upgrade engine to replace the outgoing car’s V-6. (A replacement for the Accord hybrid goes on sale early next year and will be automatic only.)
Both of the boosted inline-fours are familiar from elsewhere in Honda’s lineup. The 1.5-liter, which makes 192 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque in this application, is also found in the Civic and the CR-V, while the 2.0-liter shares its basic architecture with the high-strung four found in the 306-hp Civic Type R. In the Accord, its output is a tamer 252 horsepower, but the 2.0T’s torque peak of 273 lb-ft at 1500 rpm surpasses that of the old Accord’s V-6, which made 252 lb-ft at 4900 rpm. While we’re most excited about the manuals, which are available only on Sport models, the majority of Accords surely will be sold with automatic transmissions—specifically, a continuously variable type for the 1.5-liter and a 10-speed torque-converter unit with the larger engine.
The Accord’s 2.0-liter turbo is so smooth, quiet, and refined that you’d never guess it shares anything with the raucous Type R engine. With either transmission, it pulls strongly enough to help you forget about the defunct V-6, with linear power delivery throughout the rev range and almost no turbo lag. The 10-speed automatic is a willing partner for this flexible engine, with quick and unobtrusive shifts that lend the powertrain a polished character. When paired with the sweet-shifting manual in the Accord Sport, the engine’s isolation is less of a positive, as it lacks some of the thrill and character that the V-6 returned in spades.
The Accord is a mature sports sedan, tranquil and composed when you want it to be but ready and willing to play when asked. With a sense of harmony between the primary controls and a fluidity to the responses of the chassis, the Accord engenders confidence. The steering is a bit too light and short on feel—the Civic’s helm is better in both regards—but the Accord’s more relaxed tuning strikes us as appropriate for this larger car. Exquisitely dialed-in damping strikes a near perfect balance between compliance and tautness, giving the Accord wheel control and impact absorption that shames many cars with luxury badges. Our ear also tells us that the new car’s cabin is more hushed than before.
This sense of polish extends to the 1.5-liter Accord. Although somewhat grainier than the buttery 2.0-liter, the smaller engine is more than up to the task of moving the Accord with enthusiasm. (Honda claims the 1.5T model to be some 115 to 165 pounds lighter than the previous four-cylinder model.) As in the Civic with this powertrain, the turbocharged engine’s broad torque curve meshes well with the CVT, which does a great job seeking out the ideal ratio for quick responses to your right foot without too much annoying droning. Our brief experience with the 1.5T Sport with a manual transmission suggests that this combination forces the driver to work a bit harder for the desired amount of acceleration, although that’s part of the fun of driving a stick shift.
Compared with the 19-inch wheels on the 2.0-liter cars we drove, the 17-inchers on the 1.5-liter EX-L model added another measure of plushness to the ride quality, while the slightly lighter engine up front serves to sharpen turn-in somewhat. The adaptive dampers and their available Sport mode—included in top-level Touring models—seem unnecessary, as the base suspension tune is wholly excellent on its own.
Paradoxically, the new Accord’s cabin is both a return to the simplicity that was once a Honda hallmark and a leap forward in sophistication. A pleasingly minimalist instrument panel greets the driver with clearly marked speedometer and tachometer gauges. In fact, the two instruments are so crisp and similar that it takes a minute to figure out that the tach, on the left, is actually a high-resolution digital display that can show trip-computer, phone, navigation, and audio information in addition to its tachometer mimicry. Strangely, we couldn’t figure out how to call up any sort of digital speedometer, except on Touring models equipped with a head-up display.
Material selection and build quality are top-notch, with nicely grained plastics, soft leather, and even convincing faux-wood trim (just don’t touch, as there’s no texture to match the open-pore appearance). The three climate-control dials that adjust temperature and fan speed remind us of Audi knobs, both in their design and in the way they satisfyingly click through their motions. The front seats are well padded and enveloping, while rear-seat legroom is positively palatial, having benefited from the wheelbase stretch. Stowage space is generous, too, with a deep center console, nicely sized cupholders, and a large bin at the base of the center stack with a USB port and a 12-volt outlet.
We can finally applaud Honda for admitting its mistakes with its infotainment interface. After switching many models over to a frustrating, nearly button-free touchscreen a few years ago, the company has gradually corrected itself, culminating in the new Accord’s easy-to-use and attractive touchscreen. It combines the volume knob first seen on the new CR-V with the redesigned software first implemented on the new Odyssey, while taking the extra step of adding a tuning knob and eight hard buttons flanking the standard 7.0-inch or optional 8.0-inch screen. Although it takes some time to learn the ins and outs of the configurable menu structure, the basic functionality is good, and simple tasks like changing the radio station can be achieved without much distraction from the road. Plus, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard on all but the base Accord LX, if you’d prefer to avoid interacting with Honda’s system as much as possible.
If you do end up drawing your eyes away from the road for too long, there are numerous active-safety features to help save your bacon. The Honda Sensing package—composed of key systems such as adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, and lane-keeping assist—is now standard on every Accord. Yes, that even includes manual-transmission cars, which must forego only the low-speed-follow functionality of the adaptive cruise control compared with their automatic-equipped brethren.
Other standard features on the base LX include dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button start, a backup camera, and LED headlights and taillights. Moving up the familiar trim-level hierarchy allows buyers to add things such as a power driver’s seat (standard on the Sport); a sunroof, heated front seats, and blind-spot monitoring (standard on EX); leather upholstery (standard on EX-L); and ventilated front seats, rain-sensing wipers, heated rear seats, and the aforementioned adaptive dampers (included on Touring).
The only notable feature missing on the new Accord is automatic stop/start capability, although that omission doesn’t seem to hurt its EPA fuel-economy estimates much, with the 1.5T delivering up to 38 mpg highway, 30 mpg city, and 33 mpg combined (2.0T numbers aren’t available yet). That said, the Honda trails the 2018 Toyota Camry, as the EPA estimates its four-cylinder at up to 41 mpg highway.
Even with its longtime archrival at the top of its game, though, Honda appears to have hit yet another home run. Like nearly all the Accords that came before it, the newest example remains a beautifully engineered, high-quality, and affordable automobile (prices start at $24,445 and run all the way up to $36,675). Only now it’s even more alluring to look at, to drive, and to sit inside. We can’t say what the future will bring for mid-size sedans, but for now the Honda Accord continues to lead the charge.
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