BY AARON ROBINSON
There were low points in the past few years when we doubted Honda, but Big H might be on its way back. The new, ninth-generation Accord is a convincing reminder of the company’s core values and—considering all Honda has been through, including an earthquake that smashed its Tochigi R&D center and floods in Thailand that crimped production—a triumphant return to form.
This latest Accord is 3.5 inches shorter bumper to bumper and 0.9 inch tighter at the wheelbase than its fleshy predecessor. Yet once again, Honda conducts a master class in packaging. Against its porcine predecessor, the 2013 car’s cabin dimensions vary hardly at all. The Accord still feels like one of the biggest cars in the segment, with two roomy and extra-comfortable front buckets and a back bench you and two friends can stretch out on. Moreover, the capacious trunk is even larger, maximum volume having increased by over one cubic foot.
The overhauled DOHC 2.4-liter four falls under the somewhat nonsensical Earth Dreams marketing slogan; more important, however, is that it represents Honda’s first whack at gasoline direct injection for the North American market. Your only automatic alternative to the six-speed manual with this engine is a Honda-built continuously variable transmission (CVT) called the G-Design Shift (Honda’s committee for cutesy names has been working overtime).
The 2.4-liter is quieter at idle than some other direct-injection engines with their clattering high-pressure injectors, particularly Hyundai’s. And the Honda likes to rev, sounding healthy and full throated at its 6400-rpm power peak. But it’s the CVT’s tuning that makes the Accord feel fleet. The typical rubber-band delay has been minimized, and the throttle responds curtly when you ask for acceleration (although sometimes with some audible transmission whine at high revs). In mountain snakers as well as on city streets, the CVT works so efficiently that it all but disappears, and you never notice the lack of a manual control. Of course, we’d prefer the optional six-speed stick, with its tightly spaced gates and short throws—but, finally, a belt-and-pulley transmission we can live with!
Somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of Accord buyers opt for a V-6, and for them, the 3.5-liter goes up slightly in horsepower to 278. But the news with this engine is its lighter weight due to items such as plastic cam covers and work on the Variable Cylinder Management system that increases the time the engine runs on three cylinders. In motion, the cylinder cutout is completely transparent, and the V-6 does what it’s supposed to: provide more sophisticated and effortless propulsion.
Once again, only in the Accord coupe can you pair the V-6 with a six-speed manual—a six-speed conventional auto is the only box in six-cylinder sedans. Out of corners, the car is a “one-tire fire” as the open differential sets the less-taxed wheel spinning madly. But it’s a very hot setup in eight-tenths driving, especially given that it’s front-wheel drive.
That’s because the Accord drives as if it were constructed of old-fashioned Honda “lightweightium.” It’s not the lightest car in its segment, but it feels it. The steering, the brakes, and the suspension work in harmonious balance to make the Accord seem agile and springy. Yes, instead of control arms, it now has struts in the nose, but so does a Porsche Cayman. The Accord hustles through turns with fog-free steering and little complaint from the tires and never seems to be working very hard. You wanted a mid-size family sedan that feels as if it were made of recycled CRXs? Here’s your car.
Lessons from the distressed Civic have been learned, and the Accord feels nicely appointed, with softer materials and better sound insulation. The dash is done to Honda’s familiar template of large, maxi-print gauges and many, many small buttons. You can pile on navigation and the associated extra panel of controls, which will be familiar to current-gen owners, or save your money and make do with a deep drawer hidden behind a somewhat clumsy-looking plastic door.
Our favorite option is a clever blind-spot camera that Honda calls LaneWatch. Mounted at the bottom of the passenger mirror, the camera switches on whenever you activate the turn signal or push the manual control button at the end of the turn-signal stalk. Another techie option is LED headlamps, Honda’s first and available on the top trim level. A regular hybrid model returns to the lineup, but not until next summer, some months after its plug-in variant arrives at dealerships. We’ve already driven a prototype of the latter.
With a flat roof and highly conservative rake to its glass, the Accord remains unapologetically a mid-size family car. You can complain about the design’s lack of sizzle but not its practicality. The door openings are wide, the step-over sills are narrow, and the beltline is kept unfashionably low to create huge glass portals. If people don’t see you because your vehicle is plain, at least you will see them.
There are more Accord models than ever. To chase younger buyers, there’s a 2.4-liter Sport trim with larger, 18-inch rims; a dual-tip exhaust; a rear spoiler; fog lights; and paddle shifters on cars equipped with the CVT. At the top end is the new Touring, a V-6–only model that is sort of a Honda Avalon with leather, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, a thumpy stereo, and so on.