First Drive: 2013 Honda Accord

INTRODUCTION

It may be hard for our younger readers to believe, but there was a time when enthusiasts cared about the Honda Accord, and even looked forward to a new Accord hitting the streets. That excitement faded over the years as the Accord became bigger and softer, and when the last generation -- an EPA-recognized full-size car -- debuted in 2008, it seemed as though the Accord was aimed straight at the old, Buick-driving ladies of a certain age. So as it enters its 37th year, we approached new-for-the-ninth-time Honda Accord with somewhat subdued enthusiasm.

TIME FOR A TUMMY TUCK

The last-generation Accord wasn't just big; thanks to bulbous styling, it wasn't shy about its size, either. Honda has toned the 2013 Accord down slightly, but it's still a very familiar shape. (Even if that means it looks like other cars -- the rear is virtually indistinguishable from a Hyundai Genesis, the optional front LED DRLs are a dead ringer for those on the current Lexus.) Overall, the Accord's dimensions have shrunk somewhat: length is down by 3.5 inches, the wheelbase is trimmed by 0.9 inch, and the roof is 0.4 inch lower. Width crept up fractionally, but the bigger news is that Honda has regained some of its packaging mojo: despite the smaller exterior, trunk space has increased 1.1 cubic feet, and almost all interior measurements increase slightly despite a smaller total interior volume. Rest assured: the Accord is still huge, especially in the back seat.

NEW FOUR-CYLINDER AND CVT

Though its bore and stroke are unchanged, the DOHC 2.4-liter four-cylinder is basically all new, and features direct injection for the first time. The engine's transverse layout remains, but the exhaust has been moved to the front side of the engine for packaging reasons (like it was two Accords ago). There is now only one engine calibration. It produces 185 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque with the standard exhaust or 189 hp and 182 lb-ft with the sport exhaust -- depending on which model you compare it to, that's a slight bump or loss in power. More importantly, peak torque has grown by some 20 pound-feet.

The Accord's base transmission remains a manual, which now has six forward gears instead of five. It's a slick-shifting unit, as you'd expect, and suits this large car surprisingly well. Of course, most buyers will opt for a two-pedal Accord, and the optional automatic has been replaced by a CVT -- Honda's first in this size car. CVTs are a wonderful compromise between efficiency, smoothness, and acceleration when programmed correctly, and the Accord's CVT is among the best. Enthusiasts will want the stick, of course, but regular Accord buyers will love the CVT's shiftless operation, and will be subjected to underhood mooing only when driving in a manner unbecoming to... well, Accord drivers. EPA city/highway ratings soar to 27/36 mpg with the CVT and 24/34 mpg with the stick.

REVISED V-6 AND AUTOMATIC

Bucking the turbo trend, Honda has wisely stuck with its optional V-6. The company stresses that its V-6 customers just plain want a six-cylinder under the hood, so Honda has fitted the Accord with a revised version of the corporate SOHC 60-degree 3.5-liter. It doesn't use direct injection, but the V-6 does have a new version of iVTEC that can not only switch between high and low cam lobes, but on the rear bank of cylinders, can keep the valves closed completely. This makes it the first Honda V-6 that has both VTEC and VCM (variable cylinder management) -- that latter available only with the automatic transmission. Gone is the last engine's ability to run on 4 cylinders -- the new engine can run on either 3 or 6.

Under full power, the engine produces 278 hp (7 hp more than before) and 252 lb-ft of torque (versus 254 lb-ft previously), although more of that torque is available down low. For that reason, 3-cylinder mode is available more often, resulting in a big increase in highway fuel economy. At 34 mpg, the V-6 automatic actually matches last year's four-cylinder. (And its 21-mpg city rating ain't half bad either.)

A non-VCM version of the V-6 is available with a six-speed manual transmission in Accord Coupe models. Otherwise, six-pot Accords use a new six-speed automatic, up a gear from last year. The automatic suits the engine far better than the stick, though it occasionally fumbles upshifts and doesn't rev-match on downshifts in sport mode. Despite the traction issues inherent in a heavy, front-wheel-drive car, the Accord tends to encourage bad behavior, mostly because of how good the V-6 sounds.

NEW STRUT SUSPENSION UP FRONT WITH ELECTRIC STEERING

In place of the Accord's traditional control-arm front suspension is a new strut-type arrangement that, according to Honda, is not only lighter but offers better NVH performance. There was some groaning about this during the technical presentation (as there was when the Civic switched to a strut front suspension several years ago), but we'd like to point out that the Porsche Boxster uses strut suspension all around. When done properly, struts can be made to do wonderful things.

A back-to-back drive with the old Accord demonstrates that fact quite clearly. The Accord's ride is still a bit tauter than the segment norm, but the new car is far, far more willing to turn into corners. That's especially true for the four-cylinder model, which now uses electrically assisted power steering. The steering is dramatically lighter at parking lot speeds, but effort builds naturally as cornering forces increase. Just about all of the on-center steering feel has been filtered out, but the nice weighting and path accuracy are quite good for this class of vehicle. Ironically, since driver involvement isn't a traditional Toyota strong point, it's the Camry that has the best EPAS in this class of vehicle. (The hydraulically assisted steering in the Mazda 6 remains the benchmark in this class.)

Unfortunately, the kind words don't extend to the EPAS in the Accord V-6. With an assist motor mounted on the rack for packaging reasons (rather than the pinion-mounted motor on four-cylinder models), the Accord V-6's steering is, by comparison, dreadful. It isolates the driver far better from torque steer than last year's hydraulically assisted system, but the programming is in need of a major revision. Effort seems to change on a whim, and in quick transitions, the system continues to want to turn the wheel after you've stopped.

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chaetophile
Nice to see that even the light beige interior comes with a matte black dashboard top. My old 96 Accord dash reflects in the windshield terribly. I've had to fit it with black fake-fur to see out on sunny days. Good that Honda is finally getting the details right again for drivers. Welcome back!
johncarync
Yet another driving appliance from Honda. Boring. I was intrigued by the statement regarding the horn, "You can actually give a quick toot, unlike some cars, which will allow either nothing or a half-second obnoxious 'Get Out Of My Way!'"I didn't know computers had begun interfering with our ability to blow the horn. I'll have to check the horn before I buy my next car. I like the little "beeplet" that I can do with my horn to scare the squirrels back onto the grass.

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