GOLETA, CA – The midsize Accord is one of the three key pillars in Honda Canada’s lineup. Along with the compact Civic and CR-V crossover, this trio accounts for 80% of the company’s sales in this country, and it's a similar story in the U.S., which is the Accord's biggest market.
So when Honda decided to redo the Accord for 2013, it opted to make changes that were more evolutionary than dramatic. In fact, to the casual observer, it’s difficult to distinguish this ninth-generation Accord from its predecessor, unless you park them side by side.
The styling may be a touch more sweeping and the flowing character lines may be a bit more prominent, but there’s no mistaking the overall look – it is definitely an Accord.
The mid-size segment is a highly competitive market in Canada, with consumers having a very specific want list: attractive styling, cabin comfort, decent fuel economy and solid value.
Dave Gardner, sales and marketing vice-president for Honda Canada, says most mid-size competitors excel in some of these areas, "but few excel in all."
Gardner told journalists gathered here for a first look at the new Accord that, when the company set out to create the 2013 edition, it was Honda’s goal to deliver a car that was class leading in all four elements.
As a result, this car features advances in the powertrain and engineering, plus innovations in electronics and safety.
For starters, the car is built on a firmer foundation. Body rigidity has been improved significantly with the use of more high-strength steel (HSS).
This high-tensile material now comprises 55.8% of the steel used in the car – more than any model in the car’s 37-year history – and more than 17% of the HSS used is extremely high grade, helping make it car stiffer while reducing weight.
A stiffer chassis and lighter weight help improve ride and handling, as well as the car’s interior quietness.
While the Accord’s new body may, at first glance, look similar to the current iteration, project leader Shoji Matsui says there’s zero carryover.
The exterior package is trimmer as well as less boxy. The new car's wheelbase has been trimmed 25 millimetres to 2,775; the overall length (4,860 mm) is 70 mm less and the height has dropped 11 mm to 1,465mm.
Only its width has grown and that by just 4 mm to 1,850m, while the front track has been widened the same amount, to 1,595 mm. The rear track is unchanged at 1,590.
Fresh look, more rear room
New available LED projector headlights and LED daytime running lights – a first for Honda – give the front end a fresh look, as does the revised fascia and splash of chrome on the lower grille opening.
The rear end has a softer look, with a new tail-light treatment that flows into the body’s side panel. Overall, the styling is clean, especially on the sporty Accord coupe – the other body style offered in addition to the high-volume four-door sedan.
Inside, the cabin is spacious, with seating for five. While the overall volume of 2,922 litres in the sedan is 80 litres less than in the 2012 Accord, Honda says interior room is still class-leading, especially in the rear seat where leg- and hip-room have been improved noticeably.
I found the sedan’s rear seat more than comfortable for my "ample" six-foot-one frame, with access and egress no problem. There were no issues finding a comfortable driving position up front either, while visibility in all directions was excellent, due largely to the lower beltline and thinner A-pillars.
When it comes to trunk space, the 2013 Accord sedan has plenty – 447 litres to be exact. That’s an increase of 50 litres over the current model.
The floor of the cargo area is flatter, making the available space more usable. The coupe’s cabin also offers more people room with a 97-litre increase in overall volume. It has more head- and rear-seat leg-room than the previous model, while its cargo space is greater, too.
One point that’s immediately apparent when driving the new Accord is the reduction in noise and vibration that Honda's engineers have achieved – the cabin is impressively quiet.
Sound-blocking material has been added to minimize the intrusion of road and engine noise and the use of a new one-piece instrument panel has helped reduce rattles and squeaks.
A sophisticated active sound- and noise-cancelling system is standard on all models, helping to further improve quietness in the cabin.
A seamless, soft-touch instrument panel stretches across the front of the cabin, with its centre flowing into a stack arrangement that’s dominated by an eight-inch touch-screen digital display mounted high for easy viewing.
Below the screen is a cluster of easy-to-use buttons that control the audio and infotainment systems. The controls for the climate/ventilation system are grouped in a cluster on the lower part of the panel.
Of course, the latest electronics and connectivity features, including Bluetooth, are available, including HondaLink technology, which works with compatible smartphones to connect with music and media resources such as Aha by Harman.
Also available is Honda’s new LaneWatch blind-spot display system, which uses a camera mounted on the passenger’s side mirror to capture the view along the right side of the car and display it on the centre touch screen.
The camera and display are activated when the right turn signal is engaged, providing a clear view of vehicles, cyclists, people, pets or whatever that may be alongside the car. A rear-view camera and an expanded-view driver’s mirror are standard on all models.
Quality and craftsmanship
Honda says it wanted to raise the bar with this new Accord, especially in terms of quality and craftsmanship.
While overall fit and finish are excellent, as might be expected, here is just one example of the attention that was given to details.
Considerable time was spent finding stitching for the leather-wrapped steering wheel that delivered the right tactile feel to the driver. After evaluating numerous samples, the interior designers selected a new chain stitch to replace the conventional baseball stitching – and it does feel good in your hands.
Similar attention was paid to designing the Accord’s front seats. They are now more supportive — "even better than NASA seats," one presenter said, poking a jab at rival Nissan, which is touting space-age seat design in its new Altima.
I had no quibble with them. During a day of driving around Santa Barbara County, the seats held me comfortably regardless of how aggressive the driving or how rough the roads. It’s worth noting, heated front seats are standard, regardless of the trim level.
Earth Dreams engines
Both the sedan and coupe are powered, depending on trim, by one of two new lightweight Earth Dreams engines.
They are a direct-injected 2.4-litre four replacing the current base four-cylinder, or a significantly updated 3.5-litre V-6 with a revised i-VTEC valve train and next-generation variable cylinder management system that enables the engine to run on three or all six cylinders, depending on load.
The naturally-aspirated four-cylinder runs on regular-grade fuel, generating 185 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque. That’s a 4% boost in power and 12% more torque than its predecessor.
The addition of a high-flow exhaust system boosts the output to189 horsepower and 182 lb-ft of torque in the Sport sedan.
While I can’t say I felt the four additional ponies when I drove the Sport sedan, I did notice that the change in the exhaust system resulted in a pleasant note coming out the pipes.
In either form, the four-cylinder delivers performance that will be more than adequate for most drivers.
The four-cylinder engine can be paired with either an all-new six-speed manual gearbox that’s a breeze to shift or a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) that helps improve fuel efficiency.
While I confess I’m not a huge fan of CVTs, I had few complaints about this new Honda unit – other than the motorboat-like acceleration common to this type of transmission, regardless of manufacturer.
I did find the tranny had one trait I found a bit annoying – on highways with varying grades the CVT tended to search around for a ratio appropriate for the changing conditions. My nit-picking aside, most drivers should be completely content with Honda’s new CVT.
The V-6, which also runs on regular fuel, delivers 278 horsepower (an increase of 7 horsepower) and 252 lb-ft of torque. It can be mated to the six-speed manual gearbox or a new six-speed automatic, which changes gears crisply.
Improved fuel efficiency
Both powertrains surpass the previous-generation models in fuel efficiency. The four-cylinder with the CVT – likely the preferred combination for most sedan buyers – has an estimated fuel consumption rating of 7.8 litres/100 km in city driving and 5.5 on the highway.
Its combined rating of 6.7 L/100 km is an 11% improvement, although it does fall short of the new Altima’s efficiency – an issue Honda says its engineers are trying to remedy swiftly.
The V-6 sedan with the automatic transmission has an estimated rating of 9.7 city, 5.7 highway and 7.9 L/100 km combined – an 8% improvement.
Honda is also working on two hybrid Accords. A prototype version of the Accord plug-in hybrid (PHEV) sedan, scheduled to launch early next year as a 2014 model, was available for a brief test drive.
Powered by a new 2.0-litre Earth Dreams four-cylinder and two electric motors, the PHEV accelerated smoothly from a standstill on electric power on urban streets and cruised easily at highway speed.
Surprisingly, to me at least, I was able to accelerate and merge safely with the highway traffic flow on electric juice alone – I reached about 103 km/h before the gasoline engine kicked in.
Honda is also working on a conventional hybrid Accord, which is scheduled to join the lineup in a year or so.
Six trim-level choices
The 2013 Honda Accord sedan will be available in six trim-level choices: the base LX, Sport, EX-L, EX-L V-6 and top-of-the-line Touring, which can be ordered with either the four-cylinder or V-6.
The coupe will be offered as an EX-L or EX-L V-6.
Pricing has not been announced, but one can expect the base LX to start around $24,000 with premium Touring V-6 starting around $35,000.
The sedan goes on sale Sept. 24, while the coupe will arrive in showrooms Nov. 1.