We have given a 10Best Cars award to the Honda Accord so many times (31, to be exact) that it’s natural to wonder if the hype is real. But if you’ve ever experienced an Accord—and with more than 13 million sold in the United States over its 41-plus-year history, chances are you have—you probably understand what we’ve been talking about all this time. Beyond its vaunted reputation for quality, and even beyond being consistently fun to drive, what has impressed us most about the Accord is how well it has always fulfilled its core mission: to be an affordable, spacious, and comfortable conveyance for people and stuff.
But times are changing. With versatile crossovers like Honda’s own CR-V now prevailing as the practical and rational (read: boring) choice, once-modest mid-size sedans can no longer afford to be wallflowers—not even excellent ones like the Accord. Several of the Honda’s competitors, including the Mazda 6 and even the newest Toyota Camry, have already begun making more emotional appeals to the masses by prioritizing style and driving verve. Is Honda’s new, tenth-generation Accord up for the challenge?
The new Accord’s more fashionable looks show that Honda designers understand that a solely left-brain approach doesn’t cut it anymore. The previous Accord sedan’s upright greenhouse has given way to a fastback-like roofline, which combines with a pronounced crease just below the beltline to give the car a sinewy, athletic stance (the two-door coupe model is no more). A 2.1-inch-greater wheelbase, on a vehicle that’s actually 0.3 inch shorter overall, allows for tighter front and rear overhangs and makes the new car look considerably longer than before. It’s certainly the most elegant-looking Accord since the sleek, pop-up-headlight model from the late 1980s, and its body thankfully avoids much of the surface excitement that plagues the latest Civic. The front-end styling has proved polarizing among our ranks, but from any other angle, it’s undeniably a handsome piec
Such an emphasis on appearances typically would result in some functional sacrifices—but not with Honda’s packaging know-how. Rear headroom is reduced by only 0.2 inch thanks to a scooped-out headliner that allows plenty of noggin space even for tall adults, although they may need to duck their heads more than before while getting in. Meanwhile, the 17-cubic-foot trunk is actually one cube larger than that of last year’s Accord. In typical Honda fashion, the view out front is aided by a low cowl; rearward visibility, however, is somewhat compromised by the sharply raked rear window that narrows the driver’s field of view compared with that afforded by the previous Accord’s more traditional three-box shape.
Saving the Manuals
Despite the fact that mid-size sedans with stick shifts have all but disappeared—other than the Mazda 6, all of the Accord’s competitors have dropped their clutch pedals in recent years—Honda is leaning into enthusiasts’ desires by offering a six-speed manual transmission for both of the new Accord’s engine options. They consist of two direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinders, a base 1.5-liter and a 2.0-liter upgrade engine to replace the outgoing car’s V-6. (A replacement for the Accord hybrid goes on sale early next year and will be automatic only.)
Both of the boosted inline-fours are familiar from elsewhere in Honda’s lineup. The 1.5-liter, which makes 192 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque in this application, is also found in the Civic and the CR-V, while the 2.0-liter shares its basic architecture with the high-strung four found in the 306-hp Civic Type R. In the Accord, its output is a tamer 252 horsepower, but the 2.0T’s torque peak of 273 lb-ft at 1500 rpm surpasses that of the old Accord’s V-6, which made 252 lb-ft at 4900 rpm. While we’re most excited about the manuals, which are available only on Sport models, the majority of Accords surely will be sold with automatic transmissions—specifically, a continuously variable type for the 1.5-liter and a 10-speed torque-converter unit with the larger engine.
The Accord’s 2.0-liter turbo is so smooth, quiet, and refined that you’d never guess it shares anything with the raucous Type R engine. With either transmission, it pulls strongly enough to help you forget about the defunct V-6, with linear power delivery throughout the rev range and almost no turbo lag. The 10-speed automatic is a willing partner for this flexible engine, with quick and unobtrusive shifts that lend the powertrain a polished character. When paired with the sweet-shifting manual in the Accord Sport, the engine’s isolation is less of a positive, as it lacks some of the thrill and character that the V-6 returned in spades.
The Accord is a mature sports sedan, tranquil and composed when you want it to be but ready and willing to play when asked. With a sense of harmony between the primary controls and a fluidity to the responses of the chassis, the Accord engenders confidence. The steering is a bit too light and short on feel—the Civic’s helm is better in both regards—but the Accord’s more relaxed tuning strikes us as appropriate for this larger car. Exquisitely dialed-in damping strikes a near perfect balance between compliance and tautness, giving the Accord wheel control and impact absorption that shames many cars with luxury badges. Our ear also tells us that the new car’s cabin is more hushed than before.
This sense of polish extends to the 1.5-liter Accord. Although somewhat grainier than the buttery 2.0-liter, the smaller engine is more than up to the task of moving the Accord with enthusiasm. (Honda claims the 1.5T model to be some 115 to 165 pounds lighter than the previous four-cylinder model.) As in the Civic with this powertrain, the turbocharged engine’s broad torque curve meshes well with the CVT, which does a great job seeking out the ideal ratio for quick responses to your right foot without too much annoying droning. Our brief experience with the 1.5T Sport with a manual transmission suggests that this combination forces the driver to work a bit harder for the desired amount of acceleration, although that’s part of the fun of driving a stick shift.
Compared with the 19-inch wheels on the 2.0-liter cars we drove, the 17-inchers on the 1.5-liter EX-L model added another measure of plushness to the ride quality, while the slightly lighter engine up front serves to sharpen turn-in somewhat. The adaptive dampers and their available Sport mode—included in top-level Touring models—seem unnecessary, as the base suspension tune is wholly excellent on its own.