2012 Honda Accord SEView Vehicle Profile
2013 Accord: Honda’s great leap forward
Fine finish, better handling make for strong contender in mid-size sedan segment.
SANTA BARBARA, Calif.—When the first Honda Accord hit the streets in 1976, few people knew how significant it would become.
Technically, the two-door hatchback was essentially a stretched Honda Civic, which had created something of its own sensation four years earlier.
But Accord was the first car to teach North Americans that the Japanese could build something other than tiny econoboxes.
It was better-equipped than most and its reliability became legend.
In 1982, the second-gen Accord also became the first Japanese-branded car to be built in North America, with the opening of the Marysville, Ohio plant.
Over its first eight generations, Accord has grown in size, performance, sophistication and model range, expanding at various points to include sedan, wagon and coupe body styles.
Grown in sales too, for many years leading the mid-size sedan field.
Now comes Gen Nine, available in sedan (which we’ll focus on here) and coupe. The former goes on sale Sept. 24, the latter on Nov. 1.
Final pricing hasn’t been announced, but the base LX sedan is expected to start around $24,000. Pricing for the Coupe will be revealed closer to its launch date.
Shoji Matsui, “Large Project Leader” on the new Accord and a 30-year veteran of the company — he designed the fuel filler door for the 1986 Accord — did not exactly criticize the eighth-gen car; he was beaten to that by many media critics who felt that while there wasn’t anything all that wrong with it, it just seemed a bit bland.
So his theme for the development of the new model was: “The bar has been raised.”
He wanted a car that excelled in all areas.
He started with what he calls “Honda DNA”: it won’t break; you can’t go wrong buying one.
He then wanted to build on specific existing Accord values: styling that still looks good ten years down the road; class-leading interior space; excellent fuel economy; high fun-to-drive quotient; good visibility; value for money.
To that foundation his goal was to add more advanced technology, more quality, more luxury.
This pretty much meant starting from scratch — the 2013 Accord is about as new as it gets.
The Japanese love flamboyant expressions to describe the essence of their cars. In Accord’s case it’s “exhilarating efficient package” in a “dynamic intelligent sedan.”
Well, all righty then.
The body is smaller (by 70 mm overall, 25 in wheelbase) and lighter (by around 11 kg, depending on specification), in the interests of better performance, handling and fuel economy.
Total passenger volume is down by 50 litres, although key dimensions such as rear seat legroom and trunk space are improved.
While many cars employ a rising “beltline” — the sill of the side windows — to convey a sense of forward motion, Matsui favours a flatter line, to improve outward visibility.
It still looks a bit rakish, although it doesn’t catch the eye like Kia’s Optima does. Accord has a typical Honda grille but with more than a hint of BMW 5 Series in the reverse rear roof pillar kink and tail lights.
It’s a bigger step up inside — perhaps the most impressive improvement in the entire car. Classy design and upgraded materials, especially in the so-called “touch zones” where you typically (aw, you guessed) touch the car — door pulls, steering wheel, shift knob.
Every carmaker knows this; not all of them spend the time and money to get it right. The old Accord didn’t; the new one does.
The instrument cluster has a three-dimensional layered look, with the speedometer literally front and centre, flanked by tachometer on the left and fuel and temperature gauges on the right.
A standard eight-inch touchscreen enables a host of standard or available features, including audio, cellphone, and something called HondaLink, the company’s attempt to attract younger buyers who want to be more connected with their world, via applications like an online music system, Facebook and Twitter.
Except anyone who is on Twitter is either a professional athlete and drives a Bentley, or lives in their parents’ basement and cannot afford a car at all.
The automatic door locking can be disabled by the driver. Thank you, Honda.
Still with technology: Accord offers a lane-departure warning system (highly irritating in other cars I’ve tried with it), a forward collision warning system (can be useful if you’re dozing) and something called Lane Watch, wherein a camera in the right side-view mirror pod automatically displays a picture of your “blind spot” in the centre stack screen if it detects a car there.
This is inordinately pointless — there are no blind spots, remember? Not to mention distracting, when all of a sudden this picture flashes up in your peripheral field of view.
All of which means typical North American drivers are probably going to love it.
You can shut it off. I did.
If all this fails, Honda’s “Advanced Compatibility Engineering” (ACE) body structure has been revised for better crash performance.
Honda is staying with a two-engine strategy — a four and a V6. A plug-in hybrid will follow next summer.
The description of the four sounds the same as before — 2.4 litre twin-cam 16-valve with i-VTEC (variable valve timing and lift) and counter-rotating balance shafts.
But it is an all-new engine, with a lighter aluminum block, redesigned pistons and a host of friction-reducing technologies.
The big news is the adoption of direct fuel injection, which helps boost power by 4 per cent and torque by 12 per cent.
That means 185 horses and 181 lb.-ft. of torque in most models; the Sport’s more open exhaust system boosts those numbers to 189 and 182.
Fuel consumption is excellent, although not quite as good as Altima’s non-Direct Injection 2.5 litre — Honda engineers admit they’re stumped as to how Nissan gets its numbers.
The 3.5 litre V6 continues as the one-up option; it too has been reworked for improved power, torque and economy.
Bigger news still is the adoption of a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) as the automatic option on the four (a six-speed manual is standard fitment on lower trim levels; V6 models offer a six-speed conventional automatic or, on V6 Coupe, a six-speed manual).
A CVT has a wider spread of ratios — higher high; lower low — and allows the engine to remain in its most efficient rev band for a greater percentage of the time, leading to better fuel consumption.
There is also no jerkiness between “shifts” because there are no “shifts” as such.
CVTs typically do have drawbacks though. Most drivers are used to a “stepped” transmission, and the continuous variation feels unnatural.
There can however be some jerkiness when switching from Drive to Reverse.
Honda has incorporated a torque converter into its CVT, which essentially eliminates the latter issue, and also helps allow for shift programming to feel more “car-like,” even if it costs a count or two on the efficiency scale.
The double-wishbone front suspension is replaced with a seemingly less sophisticated MacStrut. Honda maintains the new system, combined with electric power steering and a fluid-filled bushing on the lower control arm, provides more precise handling and greatly reduced vibration for a smoother quieter ride.
It also saves weight and cost.
The rear suspension remains multi-link, although revised again for a smoother quieter ride.
I spent the majority of my time during this one-day driving preview in a four-cylinder CVT sedan, because that figures to be by far the most popular version of this car.
I’ll preface my remarks on Accord with a general comment that there has been concern in certain circles — OK, automotive media, mostly — about whether Honda has somehow lost the plot. Are there any current Hondas you feel you really have to own? Ones that can generate the passion of older Civics, Accords? Do I have to go back to S200, Prelude and CR-X?
The current Civic still sells well — there’s a lot of momentum there — but the reviews have been lukewarm at best, and changes are coming.
The little Fit generates some positive vibes — I may be the only journo I know who doesn’t like it; I think it feels cheap and tinny inside.
And the fact that the senior Honda engineers who worked on the new Accord felt the need to change so much suggests that even they felt their baby had fallen behind.
Can a company that has the engineering chops of Honda survive building cars that are only good enough to sell well? Are we asking too much?
All that said, the 2013 Accord is a huge step forward. As you’ll note when you step inside. Big, comfy seats, fine finish and detailing, a much more luxurious ambience.
The impression remains when you fire up and drive off. Quietness, refinement, precision.
That cheaper suspension does a surprisingly good job of controlling body motions — the lighter body makes that easier.
Ride is perhaps a shade on the firm side, not so much as to turn it into a sport sedan but not enough to scare off Granny either.
The electric power steering is very light — they do know the North American customer. But the enthusiasts should be able to dig down beneath that and feel that feedback and precision are surprisingly good.
This leads to quite nimble handling. OK, perhaps 90 per cent of Accord buyers won’t even notice, but I’ve never heard anyone complain that their car handled too well. If they don’t notice, the other 10 per cent will, so why not build for the 10 per cent and have everybody covered?
The engine is already pretty quiet; Active Noise Cancellation — such as your high-end headsets — is said to reduce interior noise even further, although without an “off” switch, it’s impossible to determine by how much.
About the CVT: personally, I have never minded the unusual characteristics of a CVT, because the things we have got used to — the steps in a transmission—are only there to cover up the failure of an internal combustion engine to generate sufficient torque over a broad enough rev range to be useful in a car.
A CVT simply works better, under most conditions.
But the customer is always right even when he’s wrong, and if he wants the transmission to react a certain way, then that’s how it shall be.
And Accord’s does work very well. Yes, you can sometimes still notice when engine revs and road speed don’t necessarily rise and fall in concert.
But the rubber-banding/motorboating effect — a complete disconnect between engine and road speeds — is largely absent.
The rear seat — one strong point of the outgoing Accord — is still spacious despite the smaller overall cabin, but if rear seat room is your primary criterion, you won’t look further than the VW Passat.
The high-tech connectivity and infotainment features may appeal to some; if, like me, you’re largely indifferent to most of this stuff, well, you don’t have to use them.
As we have noted in recent weeks and will do so a couple more times over the next few, Accord is entering one of the most hotly-contested market segments in the biz, with at least eight solid contenders.
The Accord has the built-in advantage of having been around for 37 years, leaving it with a huge a largely deliriously happy customer base from which Honda will probably draw the majority of prospects for the new car.
The wide range of attributes of the new one will surely tempt newcomers too.
2013 Honda Accord
ENGINE: 2.4 litre inline four, dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing and lift, direct fuel injection; 3.5 litre V6 with cylinder deactivation on automatic-equipped models, single overhead camshaft per bank, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing and lift.
POWER/TORQUE, horsepower / lb.-ft: litre — 2.4 l four: 185 @ 6,400 r.p.m. / 181 @ 349 0 r.p.m.; 3.5 l V6 — 278 @ 6,200 r.p.m. / 252 @ 4,900 r.p.m.
FUEL CONSUMPTION, City/Highway, l/100 km: 2.4 l M6 8.7/5.7; 2.4 l CVT 7.8 / 5.5; V6 A6 — 9.7 / 5.7
COMPETITION: Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry, Volkswagen Passat.
WHAT’S BEST: High-quality interior; low interior noise level; excellent all-round performance and dynamics
WHAT’S WORST: Can’t quite claim class-leading fuel consumption; some of the technology is over-the-top; CVT still not to everyone’s taste.
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Nine generations over 37 years
Used Honda Accord All Used Vehicles
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