Honda has been cranking out cars here in the states for 30 years now. It all started with the 1982 Accord and the Marysville, Ohio plant. My memory is fuzzy since I was just two at the time, but I believe the story goes that Batman acted as the liaison between American and Japanese executives and it was captured in the documentary film Gung Ho. Fast forward to 2012, and Honda is ready to introduce the ninth generation of the car that served as the gateway to American acceptance.
Over the years, the Honda Accord has maintained a few core traits that serve to keep it in it’s current position of a mid-size mainstay. The problem is that this segment of the industry has become ever more crowded, and the vehicles doing the crowding are chipping away the the best of the bunch. Offerings from Korea are proving more stylish and attractive to younger buyers, while the likes of the Detroit denizens have shaped up into solid choices built to do battle around the globe.
For Honda to have an Accord worthy of the car-buying bucks of today’s shoppers, it would need to produce quite a few upgrades over the outgoing eight-generation car. The design of that car is bland both inside and out, and reliability can’t be the only crutch to stand on these days. Honda has addressed some of the serious issues that plagued the old car, but it’s also missed the mark in a few areas with the new one. Click past the break to see what I’m talking about, and be prepared to find one special surprise lurking in the lineup for the enthusiastic hoons.
I asked if I could drive the original Accord, and heard “No.” before I finished my sentence.
In order to get my hands on the 2013 Accord, I took a four-hour train ride from our Southern California Orange County headquarters and ventured north to Santa Barbara. It’s a town just like Huntington Beach, where we’re based… but better in pretty much every way. Thus it’s the perfect place to lay our eyes on the Accord, which is better than the car it replaces in pretty much every way.
On the outside, Honda has given the styling of this sedan a much-needed shot in the arm. The Accord now looks like it belongs alongside the likes of the Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, and Ford Fusion if we’re talking about mid-size players and the style they wear. Sure, the Accord is still a bit safe compared to what the Koreans are drawing up and it’s no Aston Martin wannabe, but it’s a serious leap forward from 2012. The lights are swept into the face more dramatically and the lower fascia is far more aggressive. On the side, the shoulder line is sharp and works its way backwards into a much more flushed out rear end. The whole look works quite well for the Accord while also showing itself to be a true iteration of the cars that came before it.
The looks suffer a bit on the plug-in hybrid version of the Accord… but I’m not going to talk about that one. Yes, it exists and no I did not drive it. I heard it’s a lovely product that offers serious competition in the segment dominated by the Toyota Prius, and that’s a good thing. There was another machine on hand besides the sedan, however, and it’s the 2013 Accord Coupe. As strong an update as the sedan received in the looks department, it’s the coupe that deserves even more praise. The “H” formed by the nose and lower fascia is a great starting point for the eye, and the rear caps off the visual journey with more sporty and aggressive touches like the blacked out lower grilles.
If the outside of the new Accord needed a leg up looks wise, then the interior needed a complete tear down and renovation. The eight-generation Accord featured a cabin space that was rather bland. You can’t produce bland these days in segment that is getting more crowded seemingly by the hour. So Honda came out swinging with its updated interior for 2013, and the results are solid. There’s no goofy double stack here like we were given with the Civic. Instead, the layout is smart and clean because Honda designers and engineers pushed less-oft used buttons into the touch screen space while preserving actual button placement for the items we use regularly like the HVAC and various audio controls. It’s not just about layout though because one thing all Accords have always been is comfortable, and the 2013 model is no exception. The Honda and Acura teams might swing and miss in the styling department on occasion, but they know how to build a damn good seat.
They also know how to build engines and transmissions, and I’d like to award the Accord the highly coveted check plus plus in these two categories. I’m going to ignore the fact that the new engine series is referred to as the Earth Dreams series because that sounds like the title of a group of poems and short stories from the perspective of our planet as it weeps for its future written by a second-year Modernist Literature major. That’s not we we’re dealing with here though, as Honda is offering up the 2013 Accord with a choice between a 2.4-liter four banger and a 3.5-liter V6. The four-cylinder engine produces 185 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque in most trims with the exception of the new Sport version, which is equipped with a racier exhaust that squeezes out 189 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. The V6 mill churns out 278 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque, and it does so with a pleasant raspy wail. In fact, the four-cylinder makes a great noise too if you keep your foot planted, and each engine is rated to hit well over 30 miles per gallon on the highway.
Both engines can be paired with a six-speed manual gearbox or CVT, with the exception of the I4 Coupe which can be had only with the CVT. That’s a shame because the six-speed manual is a terrific gearbox, and it’s not all bad news because the 6MT Coupe with the V6 is the best driving car in the entire Accord family. Additionally, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this, the CVT unit employed on the new Accord… is good. In fact, it’s shockingly good. The car never feels like it’s sending power to the wheels by way of a constantly adjusting rubber band or cone system, instead it rides like the smoothest automatic gearbox you’ve ever felt. The CVT drops down when called upon, and relaxes when power is not an urgent issue. The four-cylinder sedan with the CVT is an excellent pairing… and I almost feel like I need to cry in the shower for having said that, but it’s true.
With the new engines and transmissions offered, Honda is looking to spruce up the overall driving experience. To do so, it’s dialed in some serious firmness in the suspension. The result is a surprisingly hard ride that, while fun on a twisty road, is a bit excessive for daily comfort. The 2013 Accord bounces a bit when rolling down the average freeway. On top of that, the handling was clearly calibrated by Pfizer because it’s numb. As is the case with nearly all vehicles equipped with electronic power steering, feel gives way to slightly improved fuel economy and that’s not something I can get excited about. Steering and suspension here are at odds with each other because the springs needed to be toned down while the feel needs to be dialed back in.
The rest of the driving experience is a pleasant one though, thanks to the brakes and transmission. Step on the middle pedal and the car comes to a smooth stop. Grab the manual-equipped machine and you’re treated to one of the best row-your-own cog swappers in the industry. Yes, it’s that good, and it’s part of the reason that the most interesting part of the 2013 Accord lineup is the V6 Coupe. Slot it into first, slam down the gas pedal, and sit back and enjoy the excellent growl that comes seemingly out of nowhere. Sure, the handling issue is still present but the car is a blast in all other areas.
Since that V6 Coupe is our pick of the litter, it should come as no surprise that it would cost us nearly the most as well. Isn’t that always the case? The pricing on the Accord Coupe ranges from around $23,000 up to over $32,000, and you can’t get the manual without the V6. If you need more doors, the 2013 Accord Sedan runs from just under $22,000 to over $33,000, which means there really is an Accord for many different levels of car buyer. I’m holding out hope for a V6 6MT stripper coupe… but I’m not holding my breath.
One thing I don’t have to hold out hope for though, is the return of a good Accord because the 2013 model is just that.
[Disclosure: Honda invited Hooniverse to come take a look at the 2013 Accord. The automaker paid for our train ride to and from the event (which was a rather pleasant experience), and also included a bunch of food and drink at the swanky hotel where we rested our train-rested head.]
Photos copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Jeff Glucker