Honda has had 38 years to get the mid-size sedan formula right, and seems to have got it down pat with the Accord.
But in one of the most crowded and cutthroat segments, no one can afford to rest on their laurels.
While the Toyota Camry has long been the Accord’s nemesis, the Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima are also jostling for top spot, along with a more recent onslaught from the Koreans — Hyundai’s Sonata and Kia’s Optima.
Now in its ninth generation, Honda’s perennial best-seller has been massaged into a more sculpted image, but is still instantly recognizable. The new Accord has traded its frumpiness for a fresher look. A wider stance and sharply creased front fascia give it a more aggressive and sporty air, and LED driving lights add a touch of sophistication.
Although I have to admit the sexier coupe would have been my first choice, climbing into the top-spec Touring sedan really wasn’t much of a let-down, with its crisp black sheet metal and twin chrome tail pipes.
At this trim level, the cabin features premium soft-touch materials, leather upholstery and a full roster of technology.
The wheelbase has shrunk by 90 mm over its predecessor, but interior space has increased. Overall cargo volume increases by 36 litres, while rear passengers gain 33 mm of legroom. The trunk, at 447 litres, is on par with competitors.
The interior is attractive and sophisticated, although what initially appeared to be “piano black” trim had a sparkling sort of metal flake look.
There’s a large 8-inch colour display at the top of the centre stack, underneath which a secondary screen provides touch sensitive control over all the resident functions, from infotainment and navigation to climate control.
It’s a fiddly process, as all functions are also accessed via a rotary knob on the centre console and require several screens’ worth of shuffling to perform even simple functions such as smartphone pairing.
Cloud-based HondaLink connects the driver to a variety of services, but using their own cellphone data plan. Facebook, Twitter, thousands of music stations and even audio books can be accessed using steering-wheel or voice-activated controls.
There’s a full roster of safety features, including forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning, which I found irritatingly sensitive, and eventually switched off.
Impressive, though, is the new lane watch system. When the right turn signal is activated, a camera mounted on the passenger-side mirror reveals blind spots — and projects them onto the car’s display screen. It’s perfect for spotting cyclists and late-merging vehicles.
In addition to the various technology aids, the lower belt line and narrower, high-tensile steel A-pillars add to the car’s improved visibility.
During a week spent roaming the countryside, with a couple of highway trips thrown in, the Accord was surprisingly more engaging than I’d anticipated.
Electrically assisted steering is on the light side, but sharp and accurate, if a little lacking in feedback. Sure, paddle shifters would have made it even more fun to drive, but their absence isn’t really an oversight in this segment.
Swapping the old double wishbone front suspension setup for MacPherson struts reduced noise and vibration, and, combined with a stiff unibody platform, provides the Accord with one of the liveliest characters in its segment. It is certainly firmer and more responsive than the Camry.
Our harsh winter left many of the back roads buckled and marked with potholes, but the Accord handled them with fairly admirable composure, with very little noise or bumps finding their way into the cabin.
Although most buyers will probably find the 2.4-L 4-cylinder with 185 horsepower more than adequate, the optional 278-hp, 3.5-L V6 in my Touring is a surprisingly smooth performer, and powerful enough for an embarrassing front-wheel spin on take-off.
Matched to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission, this powertrain was more frugal than I’d anticipated, delivering 8.1 L/100 km overall.
This is largely due to the engine’s Variable Cylinder Management — the ability to shut down three of its six cylinders whenever possible, and with more frequency under “Econ” mode. In the all-important realm of fuel-consumption numbers, this moves the Accord ahead of all its competitor’s top-trim models.
The downside is that the engine runs slightly rougher during the transition. Like other manufacturers, Honda uses active noise cancellation to mitigate any harshness, but it doesn’t approach the vault-like silence with which General Motors has used the same technology in its Impala, Buick and even the new turbo-charged Malibu.
There are certainly sportier vehicles in this segment — Mazda6 comes to mind — and both the Mazda and the Kia are arguably prettier.
But there are few vehicles that have resonated with buyers the way the Accord has in terms of all around usability, frugality and reliability.
The vehicle tested by freelance writer Lesley Wimbush was provided by the manufacturer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
2014 Honda V6 Touring
Engine: 3.5-L V6
Power/Torque: 278 hp/252 lb.-ft.
Fuel Consumption L/100 km: 9.6 city, 5.7 hwy.
Competition: Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Mazda6, Kia Optima, Chevrolet Malibu
What’s Best: Surprisingly good performer, yet delivers good fuel numbers.
What’s Worst: Confusing connectivity system.
What’s interesting: First Accord to use strut suspension since the second generation in 1981-85.
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