The ninth-generation Honda Accord enters the field facing pummeling competition, including recent redesigns from popular competitors like the Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Fusion, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry. Family sedans represent a massive chunk of the auto market, and five out of the six best-sellers have been redesigned for 2012 or 2013. If family-car makers were gunslingers, this would be the O.K. Corral.
With the new Accord, Honda brings some heat, but it doesn't knock anybody down.
The redesigned 2013 Honda Accord adds refinement and convenience, but it loses a bit of driving fun.
The Accord comes in sedan and coupe body styles, with a four-cylinder or V-6 engine and a choice of manual or automatic transmissions, depending on trim level. Sedan trims include the LX, Sport, EX, EX-L and Touring; the coupe comes in LX-S, EX and EX-L trims. I drove a mix of trim levels and drivetrains.
In 2013, Honda will introduce an Accord Plug-In Hybrid and, later on, a conventional Accord Hybrid. As of this writing, Honda has provided few details on the latter. Click here to see our first drive of the plug-in.
Where Ford, Hyundai and Kia turned heads with their redesigned family sedans, Honda went in a more conservative direction, as did Toyota, Nissan and Chevrolet. The new Accord looks a little classier than its slab-sided predecessor, but the change is modest. Familiar thin headlights flow into a two-slat grille, with LED daytime running lights available on uplevel models. The Accord Touring and Accord Plug-In Hybrid get full LED headlights — uncommon among all cars, let alone family sedans — while the sedan's tail sees the biggest shift, with taillights that are far better than the clear-lens ones they replace. Sharp.
The ninth-generation Accord has shrunk, reversing the eighth generation's growth. The sedan's length is down about 3.5 inches, and its wheelbase has lost almost an inch. It's closer to the Accord of two generations ago (2003-2007) — to the delight of any Accord faithful who thought the 2008-2012 car had become too big.
The Accord coupe shrank, too, though not as drastically as the sedan. It downsizes the chunky taillights that enveloped the last Accord coupe's posterior, but vertical reflectors in black housings and a chrome strip now festoon the bumper. It looks busy. I wish Honda had just used the sedan's tail. Accord coupes come with 17- or 18-inch alloy wheels.
Sixteen-inch alloys are standard on the sedan — most competitors have steel wheels in their base models — and 17s and 18s are optional. An affordable new sedan trim level, the Accord Sport, slots between the LX and EX. Honda got the cosmetic changes right on this one; it adds fog lights, dual tailpipes, a rear spoiler and the 18-inch wheels — but not the garish ground effects that characterize some family-car sport packages. (I'm looking at you, Toyota.)
Spotty interior quality marred the last Accord (see the review), but this time Honda has cleaned up its act. Dashboard and door materials are more attractive, with low-gloss wraparound panels. Stitched door panels with generous padding recall the Acura RDX, and chrome door pulls finally replace the last generation's wretched silver plastic. It's not a slam dunk — some dull gray panels still line the center dash, for example — but the improvement is consistent with redesigned competitors. The Toyota Camry may be the loser in the group when it comes to cabin quality; it shoots for the moon in some areas but falls short in others (see the review).
Cloth seats are standard, with leather on the EX-L and up. Honda's characteristically supportive seats are present: After hours behind the wheel and in the passenger seat of various sedans and coupes, I felt little fatigue. A power driver's seat comes on all sedans except the Accord LX, and uplevel trims have a power passenger seat. The Accord coupe gets deeper bolsters.
Despite a slight drop in cabin volume, the sedan backseat dimensions have increased. Headroom is fine, legroom is excellent and the seat sits high enough for adults to have sufficient knee height. The five-seat Accord coupe saw gains in the back, too, with adult-friendly confines for outboard passengers.
You can see from back there, too. Narrow window pillars frame lots of glass, providing decent sight lines for passengers and drivers — particularly over the driver's right shoulder. Compare the Accord's blind spot with that of the Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry in the photos on the right.
The Accord sedan's trunk measures 15.8 cubic feet, up 1.1 cubic feet from 2012. The subwoofer-equipped EX-L and Touring have slightly less — 15.5 cubic feet. That's competitive, but the trunk's opening is a bit more of a squeeze than the other models. The folding backseat remains the biggest disappointment — it folds in a single piece rather than the 60/40 split other cars boast, allowing a passenger to sit in back when carrying longer cargo.
The Accord coupe's trunk totals 13.7 cubic feet, which is up nearly 2 cubic feet and impressive for a coupe.
Whole Lotta (Audio) Love
The Accord's standard audio setup includes USB/iPod integration, stereo integration with internet radio powerhouse Pandora off your Pandora-enabled smartphone, and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. It's a generous standard array that's controlled via an 8-inch dashboard screen that you work using a rotary knob farther down the dash. One downside: The screen is hard to see if you wear polarized sunglasses.
Uplevel trims add a more straightforward touch-screen below the 8-inch screen to work the audio system. Though redundant, the touch-screen also enables the HondaLink system, which streams podcasts, audiobooks and online radio stations through your iPhone or Android smartphone and a HondaLink application. The integration works much like Ford's Sync AppLink or Toyota's Entune, but HondaLink uses Aha, a lesser-known internet radio service, to stream audio content. It can read Facebook and Twitter feeds aloud over the stereo — with hash tags and other punctuation stripped out — but doesn't allow you to reply.
Of course, all this relies on your smartphone data plan, and a lot of major carriers restrict data packages. HondaLink buffers enough data to maintain an audio stream through brief interruptions: "Tunnels aren't a problem," project manager David Kirsch told me.
Driving & MPG
The Accord's new staple drivetrain, a direct-injection four-cylinder and continuously variable automatic transmission, provides enough oomph around town, but the pairing isn't as sprightly as the 2.5-liter Camry (see the details). The Nissan Altima's CVT responds faster to accelerator nudges, but Honda's gets the job done, kicking engine revs sky-high when you need passing power.
The V-6 packs more power — 278 horsepower versus the four-cylinder's 185 — but it behaves like the four-cylinder around town. Its fuel-saving cylinder deactivation is designed for aggressive cylinder shutoff, so the V-6 doesn't show its stuff until you press hard on the gas — then the Accord moves out. The six-speed automatic upshifts smoothly but sometimes hesitates on kickdown. Still, it picks gears on hilly roads without too much hunting.
An Econ button adjusts accelerator response, air conditioning and cruise control to improve mileage 5 percent above the EPA rating, Honda says. The Econ-ofied air conditioner kept up with a 90-degree day, but drivability took a hit. The V-6 felt two cylinders short until I stepped more than halfway down on the accelerator, and the six-speed automatic downshifted lazily. Whether you're in Econ mode or not, you'll get full acceleration if you stand on the pedal — an important safety provision.
Honda says the EPA didn't account for Econ mode in its ratings, which are 27/36 mpg city/highway for the four-cylinder and 21/34 mpg for the V-6. Both are good but not class-leading. See how the combined figures — 30 mpg and 25 mpg, respectively — match up:
|EPA Combined Gas Mileage, Family Sedans|
|Base four-cylinder||High-powered option|
|2013 Nissan Altima||31||25 (V-6)|
|2013 Honda Accord||30||25 (V-6)|
|2013 Hyundai Sonata||28||26 (turbo four-cylinder)|
|2012 Toyota Camry
|2013 Chevrolet Malibu
||26 - 29*||TBD (turbo four-cylinder)|
|2013 Ford Fusion
||26 - 30**||27 (turbo four-cylinder)|
|*Higher figure comes from extra-cost high-efficiency package: Malibu 2.4L eAssist.
***Estimated; EPA figures not finalized. Combined mpg estimates based on Ford-provided ratings of 22/33 mpg city/highway for the Fusion 2.5L and 26/37 mpg for the Fusion 1.6L EcoBoost. The more efficient EcoBoost model is more expensive.
A host of noise abatements — A-pillars mounted flush with the windshield, more hood and fender insulation, noise-canceling speakers — make for a much quieter Accord, without the road and suspension racket that helped land the car in the bottom half of our last family-car shootout.
The prior Accord picked up a lot of slight bumps on pockmarked interstates but cushioned well enough over bigger stuff. Honda swapped out the car's double-wishbone suspension for a simpler Macpherson strut setup, but it didn't alter much: The Accord still rides comfortably enough, if busily at times.
It also remains one of the few family cars to offer a stick shift, which is the base transmission on the LX, Sport and EX. The six-speed manual is a good unit, with smooth, short throws that belie the fact that it's the cheapest way to get an Accord. I drove it in the Accord Sport, whose four-cylinder benefits from dual exhaust, for an extra 4 hp. The drivetrain lacks much pep below 3,000 rpm, but it holds its own when you keep revs above that mark. The 18-inch tires and sport-tuned suspension come closest to the old Accord's noisy suspension and tires, but the payoff comes in traction: Throw the Accord Sport into a corner, and it holds the line better than other sedan trims.
Alas, no Accord steers with much confidence. Honda swapped the last generation's hydraulic steering for more fuel-efficient electric power assist, so you no longer have to muscle the wheel around parking lots. But the numb feedback disappoints — especially on the highway, where the Accord needs more tending to keep on course. Electric power steering doesn't have to be this way.
Like before, the V-6 and six-speed manual come together only on the Accord coupe. It makes for high-revving fun, but performance enthusiasts will get more acceleration for their dollar in a V-6 Ford Mustang and far better handling in a Scion FR-S. The Accord coupe's modest V-6 torque — 252 pounds-feet at a high 4,900 rpm — dampens the excitement, and engine revs drop too slowly for rev-matching. The coupe-specific suspension tuning keeps body roll down, but nose-heavy dynamics and too much uneven wheelspin limits any real handling glee. The stick-shift V-6 Accord needs a limited-slip differential like wings need hot sauce.
As of this writing, the Accord has yet to be crash-tested.
Standard safety features include a backup camera — impressive — plus head-protecting side airbags for both rows, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Honda's available LaneWatch system mounts a camera on the passenger-side door mirror to show two lanes of adjacent traffic in the 8-inch center screen. The automaker says it displays a view that's around four times wider than the mirror alone.
Other safety options include lane departure and blind spot warning systems. EX-L and Touring models get a forward collision warning system, which alerts drivers to obstructions ahead but doesn't apply any braking on its own.
Pricing & Value
The stick shift sets the Accord LX sedan's entry price around $22,500, including a $790 destination charge. The automatic runs another $800, which makes the Accord about even with the base Malibu. The Fusion and Camry run some $500 to $800 less, but the sub-$22,000 Sonata still comes in cheapest.
As family cars go, the Accord comes quite well-equipped. Alloy wheels, a backup camera and dual-zone automatic climate control are standard. So are USB/iPod integration and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming with Pandora integration. Move higher up, and you can get Honda's LaneWatch camera, a moonroof, power seats, premium audio with HondaLink and keyless access with push-button start. The leather-lined EX-L (around $28,000) gets an automatic transmission standard, plus a navigation system and optional V-6. Top-of-the-line Touring models (around $33,500) include all that, along with LED headlights and adaptive cruise control. Click here for a full breakdown on trims and pricing.
The Accord coupe starts just over $24,000, with similar — but not identical — features as the sedan. The coupe lacks a power passenger seat and all the extras on the Touring sedan, leaving a navigation-equipped EX-L V-6 coupe to top out around $33,000.
Accord in the Market
In Honda's inventory-strapped 2011, the automaker ceded its No. 2 family-car spot to the Altima. Does the 2013 Accord have what it takes to return? So long as it maintains its trademark reliability, I suspect so. The lackluster steering will lose some Accord faithful, but the majority of shoppers will care more about the improved refinement and better gas mileage. Honda threw everything at the board: sedan, coupe, hybrid, plug-in hybrid. Plenty of it should stick.
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