In the automotive world, the euphoria that goes with launching a bestseller is short-lived, usually lasting until the day after, when the development team members sit down to start planning the next generation.
This cycle has been repeating itself at American Honda roughly every five years since May 7, 1976, when the company unveiled the first Accord. Each time, the task has been daunting: the creation of a car that's improved in every way, easily perceived as superior to its competitors, within the constraints of budget.
So here's generation number nine, and this Honda is all-new. The question is how well the Accord's all-newness will stand out in a mid-size sedan arena crowded with other all-new offerings.
At a Glance
This brings us to the element that's the starting point for a huge percentage of new car sales—what you see. All-new should register with the viewer like switching on the light in a dark room, creating a powerful gotta-have-it urge in the beholder.
Does the new Accord generate that kind of curbside wattage? There's not a shred of carryover sheetmetal. The front fascia has been redesigned with LED accents, the hood sports some sculpting, the beltline is lower, and the character creases running down the sides are more strongly defined.
Moreover, the latest Accord sedan is substantially smaller—and a smidge lighter—than generation eight, 3.6 inches overall at 109.3 inches, on a wheelbase that's been reduced almost an inch to 109.3. Tidier dimensions, with shorter front and rear overhangs, give the new sedan a more athletic look, an answer to those who perceived the previous generation as a little bloated.
But against a backdrop of uninhibited designs emerging all over the mid-size class, the new Accord comes across as quietly evolutionary. The , whose dimensions have also diminished, is sexier, and Honda is playing from strength—the Accord has been a perennial segment leader for decades.
Still, though it's handsome, and readily identifiable as an Accord, the new car's newness can't be called electrifying. The gotta-have-it-factors lie elsewhere.
The Inner Athlete
A key trait that's made the Accord a winner over the years is its agility. Compared to most other cars in this size/price class, especially sedans, Accords have always ranked at or near the top in terms of athletic response, and the latest generation builds on that tradition.
The agility index varies according to model—some trim levels are tuned for softer ride quality, and tactile information delivered by the new electric system is programmed for more road feel with the sport suspension package—but even the most basic Accord LX is quick on its feet.
Similarly, body motions are well controlled, inspiring confidence in quick maneuvers—a critical active safety element in any car—and with the firmer suspension and more aggressive tires that go with the performance package, the Accord becomes a credible sports sedan. Or coupe.
While the foregoing isn't surprising , how Honda got there represents a departure from recent practice. The rear suspension is a familiar multilink, but there are MacPherson struts up front, rather than the double wishbone setup that's distinguished previous Accords.
Heresy? Keep in mind that BMW has been using struts for many years, albeit with rear-drive cars (the Accord, of course, continues with a front-drive layout). And did we mention that Honda claims a 40 percent improvement in torsional rigidity? That's an almost incomprehensible increase over a chassis that was far from tofu.
The bottom line: it works.
The Accord's new hood shelters two engine choices: the company's 2.4-liter four, updated with direct fuel injection, rated for 185 horsepower (189 with sport package); and the familiar 3.5-liter V-6 option, up seven horsepower to 278. Both engines are paired with six-speed manual transmissions as standard equipment, and the V-6 continues to offer a six-speed automatic option. The option for the four, however, is a new continuously variable automatic, or CVT, and this combination yields the Accord's best EPA fuel economy ratings: 27 mpg city, 36 highway.
However, the CVT/four-cylinder combo will be upstaged in early 2013, when a new plug-in hybrid joins the Accord lineup.
The manual transmissions are typically Honda—snick-snick, short throws, precise engagements, sweet clutch. The CVT is one of the best yet, with artificial shift points programmed in. But in full throttle applications, there's still that slipping clutch feeling, as the transmission works to catch up with the engine.
Though the new Accord is smaller outside, it's bigger within. Honda's designers have worked their usual magic, creating a roomy interior that seems almost bigger than the exterior dimensions could possibly allow. It also has a more open, airy feeling compared with competitors, as well as its predecessor, thanks to the lower beltline and reduced cowl height.
The lower cowl is reminiscent of Honda designs from decades past, affording excellent forward sightlines, an active safety . And as expected, the new Accord will maintain the brand's tradition of top safety ratings.
From basic LX to top-of-the-line EX-L trim levels, the new Accord interiors are markedly improved, with better materials, extensive soft-touch surfaces, a unique one-piece (i.e., rattle-free) dashboard, supportive seats, enhanced telematics, and a long list of new features that includes active noise cancellation.
Though the noise cancellation could use a little more work—some road noise finds its way into the car depending on pavement composition—the new car is generally quiet, comfortable, and refined, with a generous dollop of fun-to-drive.
New Accords are due in showrooms September 16, priced from $21,605. Meanwhile, Honda product planners are already toiling on Gen Ten.