So much for the so-called “entry luxury” sedan market. All those lightly-gingerbreaded four-doors selling in the forty-to-fifty-thousand-dollar range, with their oh-so-ambitious advertising and their mild dustings of gee-whiz tech and their touching little pretensions to upscale credibility, are now just as dead as Julius Caesar or Napoleon or Charles Manson courtesy of the new Accord Touring.
It was inevitable that this would happen. The past decade has seen a sharp decline in the specialness, for lack of a better word, available in that segment. Relentlessly pressured by technological advances in mass-market sedans even as European emissions-consciousness and fuel-economy concerns have seen their bespoke drivetrains ditched in favor of clattering direct-injection turbo four-bangers, the class that was once defined by the BMW 3-Series on the sporty side and the Lexus ES on the posh end now finds itself rendered completely irrelevant by Honda’s decision to fit the tenth generation of its big sedan with pretty much every piece of equipment you’d expect on a $55,000 loaded-for-lease-residuals kinda-sorta luxury car.
The early press on the new Accord has mostly focused on the Accord’s “return to the top” in the family-sedan segment but that’s what they call “fake news” nowadays. The outgoing model was still best in class by a big margin and would have remained so for the entire current product cycle. In fact, much of what you notice about the new car appears to be driven less by a desire to make the car better and more by a conscious alignment of the Accord with its perceived competitors, both in its own segment and the one directly above.
Compared to the old car, the new one is a bit smaller on the outside. It’s also quite a bit lighter in most trim and powertrain configurations. Honda claims that it’s more spacious inside but that depends on where you sit. The front half of the cabin is actually a bit tighter, based on a side-by-side comparison with my 2014 EX-L V6 coupe, and that’s particularly true for the area typically occupied by the driver’s right knee. Not everybody who fit comfortably in the old car will do so in the new.
The story is different in the back seat, where passengers now have an embarrassment of legroom compared both the eighth- and ninth-generation sedans. In some markets this is considered a chauffeur-grade automobile and it’s now significantly more suited to the task. Unfortunately for the professional drivers out there, access to the trunk isn’t nearly as good as it was before, a casualty of the new fastback body style that aimed for “Audi A5” but missed and hit “Chevy Malibu” instead.
Our test car was supplied with the new Honda 10-speed automatic transmission mated to the 2.0T engine. This is not the Civic Type R engine, as a quick dyno session rather drastically confirmed. Instead, it’s meant to match the outgoing V6 for power while besting it on fuel economy. As to the first claim, you’ll want to check back tomorrow and see our dyno results in full–but as to the second, I’m afraid that the 29.7mpg we saw in mixed use is easily matched by an automatic 2017 V6 Accord sedan. Even my stick-shift coupe manages to return 27mpg in heavy-throttle city/highway situations.
As you’d expect from a transmission that doesn’t achieve direct drive until sixth gear, the 10-speed is always shifting. Yet it’s remarkably civilized in regular use and seems to have outstanding ability to predict a variety of driving styles. In full kickdown situations, there’s a noticeable pause while the gear ratios figure themselves out, but in truth you need to be deliberately misbehaving for such a situation to occur. Half-throttle is enough to motivate this sedan into even the smallest possible traffic gaps, and it is noticeably less likely to spin the front wheels while doing so compared to its illustrious six-pot predecessor.
Selecting the Touring trim for your Accord 2.0 gets you everything from metal-tipped power window switches to evil-looking full LED headlamps to soft-touch leather seats that wouldn’t be out of place in an Acura RLX. The ninth-generation car had materials shortcuts both visible and tangible but this one cracks the code for effortless luxury that nevertheless carries the “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” vibe so beloved of upscale-Accord buyers. It’s obviously still just a Honda, but it’s also awfully hard to pinpoint what the benefit would be of buying something like an E-Class. More wood, probably.
The annoying dual-screen solution of previous Accords disappears in favor of a bright tablet-style central screen with real moving buttons on both sides for major functions and knobs for both volume and tuning. Thankfully, the HVAC controls remain separate. Sound quality from the multi-speaker infotainment system is better than adequate, although this is one area where Honda is clearing a deliberate gap between the Accord and the recently revamped TLX.
Grab the oversized plastichrome door handle and take a seat; you’ll be greeted by a charming combination of analog speedometer needle and full TFT-screen instrumentation. There’s no attempt to blow the buyer’s mind with elaborate startup screens or animations, but the information is presented in a clear and usable manner that matches the old double-barrel analog setup for visibility, even under conditions of direct sun.
To our immense delight, the Accord offers precise and atomic control over the Honda Sensing features, all accessible via the multi-function controls on the left spoke of the steering wheel. Do you want to turn off lane-keep assist but retain lane-departure warning? No problem. And the best feature of all: it’s possible to switch between active cruise control and traditional “dumb” cruise in just a few button presses.
In terms of features, materials, and overall capability, this is a big step over the previous car. What’s it like to drive? Well, in that area it’s more of a mixed verdict. The ride is considerably better, as is the NVH that was a sore spot in the ninth-gen car. This Accord might not be Lexus-quiet, but it’s Infiniti-quiet. It’s a supremely relaxing and confidence-inspiring freeway warrior, even during the torrential rains that intruded on much of our time with the car.
What’s gone missing, however, is the sense of adventure that the previous car had baked into its suspension and steering. The new model is calm and confident but it’s in no way playful. This is a regrettable departure from traditional Accord practice but it should be noted that you can still get those qualities in the Civic hatchback, which is nearly as big as all but the most recent Accords. It’s also true that pretty much all of the competition from all corners of the globe has abandoned the idea of a joyful, deliberately unstable chassis in any of their mainline sedan offerings. At least the Accord has a sense of humor; failing to buckle a seatbelt on the move generates an actual voice warning that seems deliberately similar to the stilted old “a door is ajar” mechanical recordings so commonplace in upscale Japanese sedans of the Eighties.
It’s not perfect. The blunt-edge hood vibrates visibly at freeway speeds, the auto-dipping headlights will occasionally flash the driver ahead of you for no good reason as if the car itself is spoiling for a fight, and the ridiculous nineteen-inch cast alloy wheels that you get with the Touring trim are more like cement shoes than seven-league boots. But this new Accord represents a terrifying unification of family car and luxury car. Halfway through our test of the Touring 2.0T, I took a weekend off with a $62,000 European-brand long-wheelbase sedan that did absolutely nothing better than the Accord and did several things much worse.
This is the unexpected benefit of Acura’s undignified retreat towards origami-folded SUVs: the Accord need not respect the TLX’s turf too much and therefore is free to seek and destroy anything of similar size and powertrain without concern that it will be too good. The only way to make this car significantly better would be to restore the 3.5L V6 and six-speed automatic transmission featured in the previous car–but we are now in an era where cars like this are expected to feature a light-pressure turbo four. Once upon a time, Honda would have gone its own defiant way regardless but those days are long gone.
The days of the Accord’s supremacy over all enemies both foreign and domestic, however, are far from over. At $35,800, the Touring 2.0T represents something of a bargain for entry-luxury intenders who can steel themselves to deal with the sidewalk drama and high-pressure sales tactics of their local Honda dealers. No car has been as consistently good as the Accord over the past four decades, and for drivers who do not absolutely require the Sturm und Drang of the old V-6 this is the best Accord, and the best family sedan, ever built.