Some people think Honda has lost their way over the past few years, and as a Honda owner myself, I'm inclined to agree -- they've gotten away from the simple, efficient cars on which they built their reputation.
The all-new 2013 Accord is Honda's attempt to get back to its roots, and it is indeed the most Honda-esque Accord we've seen in a decade. That's great for us long-time Honda fans -- but will anyone else want to buy one? Read on.
First Glance: New vs. old... and older
A week before the 2013 Accord press preview, Honda dropped off a brand-new 2012 Accord, probably one of the last of the old version to come off the assembly line in Marysville, Ohio. Before heading out to the event, I drove that 2012 back-to-back with my own Accord, a decrepit-but-functional 1996 wagon, and it was crystal clear how much the Accord has changed: My '96 felt simple and svelte, while the 2012 felt cumbersome and complex.
For 2013. the Accord is trying to get its mojo back. The new Accord, again available as both a 4-door sedan and two-door coupe, is smaller on the outside but roomier on the inside. The styling is cleaner, the controls are simpler, and the driving dynamics are more nimble and agile. And to show that they're keeping the faith, they've also kept the price down: The base-model Accord LX gets a lot more standard equipment than last year's car, including dual-zone air conditioning and a rear-view camera. And yet the price -- $22,470 -- is only $200 higher than last year's Accord. There's also a new $24,490 Sport trim, which features a low price and a more aggressive suspension setup, plus a new top-of-the-line Touring model ($34,220) with LED headlights and Honda's first adaptive cruise control system.
In the Driver's Seat: All better
In my opinion, the biggest improvement is the new interior. The outgoing Accord's dash was a jumble of buttons arranged with little rhyme or reason; for 2013, stereo and air conditioning controls have been simplified and segregated, and all Accords now get an 8" color display for the stereo, optional navigation system and a nifty side-view monitor that gives you a wide-angle view from a camera mounted on the right-side mirror.
The front seats are miles better than last year: The intrusive lumbar cushion is gone, which means that human-shaped humans can now drive an Accord comfortably. Despite the smaller exterior size, rear-seat legroom and trunk space in the sedan have both increased, though both still trail the Volkswagen Passat (albeit not by much). Like last year, the Coupe offers an okay back seat, provided you can squeeze yourself back there.
Other improvements include upgraded materials and nicer looking trim. The dashboard itself is now a once-piece molding, which Honda says reduces squeaks and rattles (as if that's ever been a problem) and eliminates the mis-matched trim that plagues the Civic. The active noise cancellation system makes a return, though at speed the Accord is still louder than most of its rivals. And the airbag count is low: The Accord gets just the standard six, in contrast to the competing Chevy Mailbu's ten.
On the Road: A little better, a little worse
Honda has finally adopted direct fuel injection for the 185 hp 2.4 liter 4-cylinder; unfortunately, they've also adopted a ridiculous name for the engine: "Earth Dreams". Instead of a traditional automatic, the Accord gets a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). Honda has successfully addressed the concerns of CVT critics -- the transmission responds quickly to power demands, minimizing the "rubber-band" feel that puts so many people off. Also on offer is a 6-speed stick; it's an excellent transmission, as Honda manuals usually are.
But it's the 4-cylinder/CVT combo that hits pay dirt at the pumps: 26 MPG in town and 35 MPG on the open road, versus 24/34 for the manual. A 278 hp 3.5 liter V6 is offered on EX and Touring models, and with variable valve timing, cylinder deactivation, and a 6-speed automatic tranny, EPA numbers are a respectable 21/34. A V6/manual combo is exclusive to the coupe, but fuel economy drops to 18/28.
Another big change is the front suspension, which has switched from double wishbones to McPherson struts. Normally, I don't write much about this sort of thing; as long as the car drives well, I don't care if they attach the wheels with bananas and paper clips. But the new suspension makes a big difference: While the Accord now handles far more responsively than its competitors, the ride quality has gone down the tubes. It isn't hard, but it's very busy -- the suspension allows the body to move up and down with such great frequency, rapidity and duration that smooth roads feel bumpy and bumpy roads fell like the surface of the Moon. It's as if, in response to charges that the Civic (Honda's last McPherson design) was too soft, they made the Accord too firm. Oddly enough, the Sport version -- which gets more aggressive suspension tuning -- has a slightly more comfortable ride.