Could an enthusiast enjoy a Honda Accord? After all, it is the antithesis of everything that most enthusiasts want – a front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan. And now, the all-new 2018 model is further neutered because the V6 engine was dropped, leaving it with a choice of two four-cylinder engines. Yawn, snore, wake me up when the Accord Type R wagon with all-wheel-drive and seven-speed manual comes out.
Except that Honda did something different with this new Accord. It’s as if they found that magic potion they used on their cars in the 1990s and sprinkled it on the Accord.
This new Accord is a really good car but to understand what makes it a really good car, we must look at Honda’s recent history.
Some refer to the 1990s as the Golden Age of Honda. Pretty much every vehicle that Honda made in the ’90s was great, from the CR-X to the CR-V. Those cars were typically lighter than their direct competitors. Double wishbone suspension made them fun to drive. Simple, but logical, high quality interiors made them easy to live with. Great gas mileage and excellent reliability made them affordable.
And then the 1990s were over. With the new millennium came new thinking and new designs at Honda. Each new model gained weight and size. McPherson struts became the new standard. Honda made some questionable choices in interior design. The reliability was there but due to the reputation of the vehicles from the previous decade, prices have increased. It seemed that Honda focused more on profits than just making really great cars.
With the exception of the fabulous S2000, itself a 90’s design, it was all over for Honda enthusiasts. The brand’s sporty cars stubbornly stuck to front-wheel-drive and naturally-aspired engines. The 2001 EP3 Civic Si was a design disaster. On the Acura side, the RSX didn’t get fraction of the love its predecessor, the Integra, got. And by that time, the competition has seriously stepped up – Evo, WRX, even the new Mini Cooper quickly became a favorite.
Honda was also no longer the go-to brand even for casual buyers. After years of getting their butts kicked by Honda, the competitors stepped up their game in terms of design, quality, economy, features, and reliability. And because Honda’s prices have lost their edge, people started exploring new options, even giving Hyundai and Kia a chance.
I grew up on 1990s Hondas. I owned about seven of them and still own one today. And for me, that post Y2K period has been very difficult in terms of being a Honda fan. I wanted to like them but I just couldn’t. Each one has something that would totally turn me off from it. I switched to BMWs and drove a variety of those for most of first decade in the new millennium.
Over the years Honda has been taking some chances, some good and some bad. Everyone is trying to forget the Crosstour and the CR-Z. Other vehicles, such as the Ridgeline pickup never got the credit they deserve. The Pilot pioneered the large, three-row, cross-over segment. The company has also made significant progress in alternative fuel vehicles.
But to me, in that post Y2K time frame, Honda never got one single car that I could just love. One that represented what Honda was in the 1990s – innovation, simplicity, efficiency, value, in both engineering and design.
Until now. And it, shockingly, it came in an unexpected form; that of a Honda Accord.
The exterior is handsome with side profile of resembling a hatchback, perhaps inspired by Audi. In the front, the grill has a slightly negative slope but in and of itself is rather subtle. Typical narrow and long headlights make the car seem wider. The C-pillar windows, taillights, and exhaust ports is where the designers took some risk. Some people I spoke with found that objectionable. The same people would call the design boring if those details were not there.
I’ve touched upon the dash design before – it’s great. Honda’s push button shifter is surprisingly intuitive and your muscle memory will master it before you get a chance to complain about it. There are a ton of cubbies, storage pockets, and a huge center compartment.
The seats are comfortable while being supportive. All passengers have plenty of head and legroom. The rear bench is split 60:40 to allow transport of longer items, and there is a center armrest. The dome light is cleverly placed further back, almost by the rear window, as opposed to the middle of the roof, which results in better illumination for the rear seat and less distraction for the driver. Front seat occupants have their own lights over their heads. And most importantly, all windows are big and roof pillars are thin, yielding great visibility.
The most impressive thing about this Accord is how it drives, however. That 2.0-liter 252-horsepower turbo engine is just a gem. The power delivery is very linear free of lag or other delays, with plenty of low-end torque, 273 torques to be exact. It just pulls hard to the redline. And there is no engine start/stop to annoy you at traffic lights. This engine is simply fantastic. It sure as heck does not feel like a turbo four and it is the first downsized engine that doesn’t make me cry for its V-shaped predecessor.
The test vehicle was equipped with the 10-speed automatic transmission. It shifted quickly and it was always in the right gear. There were paddle-shifters but I never felt inclined to use them – it just did its own thing and it did it well. And here Honda shows that it cares about its enthusiast customers – both Accord engines are available with a six-speed manual transmission! Pow! Mind blown!
There are two disclaimers I have to make. The first is that the 2.0 engine is at its best when the sport driving mode is selected. In normal it feels heavier and less responsive. The second is that I have not driven an Accord with the 1.5-liter engine. I drove a Civic and a CR-V with that engine and I really was not that impressed with it. And there are two things I didn’t like about the Accord – the front radar that looks like an add-on in the middle of the front lower grill, and the fact that the trunk lid does not have an inside handle to pull it down with.
To go along with that two-liter engine, Honda chassis engineers must have put in some serious overtime. The steering is quick and direct, and even though it is electric it almost feel hydraulic. The chassis responds very well to all steering inputs and remains natural. The feel of the car trying to understeer is not there until the very limits, which should not be explored on public roads. Along with this great handling is the suspension that prohibits any unwanted rolls or yaws but at the same time keeps the ride over pothole-ridden roads comfortable.
In case it wasn’t clear, I think this is a really great car. It’s very quick and it handles great. It looks good on the outside and functions well on the inside. It is both powerful and efficient. It is downright sporty, which is the most surprising thing about it. It took Honda a long time but this new Accord is firmly taking the brand back to its new glory days. Great job!
Disclaimer: Honda provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2018.