It's been a rough couple of years for Honda fans. Those of us who filed willingly behind the big H banner in days gone by have found ourselves making excuses for the death of the S2000, the inadequate mileage and compromised driving characteristics of the Insight hybrid, and the unworthy successor to the CRX throne, the CR-Z. But surely we could forgive Honda a few transgressions. After all, this is the manufacturer that my generation cut its driving teeth on. Hordes of us can recite engine, transmission and chassis codes at length and on command the way our fathers knew Chevrolet big-block VINs by heart because, after all, this is a manufacturer we love.
But with the addition of ungainly and uninteresting products like the Accord Crosstour, many of us couldn't help but take the company's missteps personally. When the 2012 Civic rolled out, even Consumer Reports, a publication that routinely hails Honda products as more crucial to living a fulfilled life than a quality washing machine, infamously didn't recommend the compact. Was our favorite automaker intentionally trying to piss us off? If so, it was working.
So when Honda announced the arrival of the 2013 Accord, we approached the reveal with measured skepticism. Like a dog suffering under the feigned throw-the-ball trick, we had no interest in going down the now familiar path of excitement and disappointment. This time around, Honda was going to have to prove it still knew how to build a competitive car.
Competitiveness starts with stylishness, which is something the Honda design department seems to have struggled with of late. Fortunately, the 2013 Accord is a remarkably good looking vehicle. Designers have managed to revitalize the exterior without making the sedan unrecognizable, which is important for a model that's sold 11 million units in the U.S. alone since Honda began manufacturing the Accord here some 30 years ago. Engineers shortened the new generation by 3.6 inches, which has done much to take the heft out of the design. With abbreviated overhangs front and rear, the new Accord doesn't look as portly as its predecessor, and that's a huge step in the right direction.
It doesn't look as portly as its predecessor, and that's a huge step in the right direction.
Up front, the 2013 model can't help but look attractively aggressive thanks to its swept headlamp arrays and inset fog lamps. Of course, the chicken-wire mesh lower grille of our Sport trim tester helps in that department, too. All in all, the front clip seems to have cribbed from the Acura design playbook of 2004, which is by no means meant as a slight. We dig it.
That aforementioned Sport trim is one of two new lines in the Accord stable. Higher up the chain, buyers will now find Touring models available on the order sheet. Snugged between the lowly LX and slightly nicer EX, the Sport trim delivers a range of aesthetic adjustments outside that include the 18-inch wheels you see here, as well as a deck lid spoiler and a whopping four-horsepower nudge in grunt from the direct-injection four-cylinder engine under the hood. Be still our beating hearts. The interior also gets a 10-way power adjustable driver's seat and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle-shifters on CVT-equipped models. Honda says the new trim line is an effort to lower the age of the average Accord buyer.
Viewed broadside, it's easier to get a glimpse of the sedan's massive passenger cell and expansive greenhouse. Honda managed to maintain the Accord's cavernous cabin and actually expand trunk volume while clipping the vehicle's overall length thanks to some packaging cleverness, and the result is a bit of a bubble roof. Surprisingly enough, the 2013 Accord has managed to maintain its slim A and C pillars even in the face of harder-to-ace roof-crush safety tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Given how readily engineers have come to embrace chunky arches, the thin lines are a welcome sight.
Honda says the new Sport trim is an effort to lower the age of the average Accord buyer.
Step to the vehicle's rear, however, and the design begins to look awfully familiar. The sedan's stern has more than a little Hyundai Genesis in the mix thanks to a set of sweeping tail lamp arrays that reach around the rear quarters. It's difficult to tell the two machines apart in a quick glance, especially when the Accord is wearing the dark silver paint of our tester. We aren't typically fans of faux chrome, but the bright strip along the trunk deck didn't hurt our feelings as it serves to tie the aft to the side sill treatment and front grille. The Sport trim serves up a set a dual exhaust outlets that deliver a nice burbly note on start up, which is a nice trick for the four-cylinder.
I'll admit, I actually sighed with relief when I plopped myself into the driver's seat. After wincing my way through the schizophrenic Picasso dash of the ninth-generation Civic, I was prepared for all manner of cabin travesties inside the 2013 Accord. Instead, I was met with a mature and attractive instrument panel without an overabundance of buttons. Snappy faux brushed-metal accents separate control clusters for the climate controls and stereo, though higher trims get a new touch-screen interface for the media system. All models get a huge eight-inch LCD display to handle video from the standard rear-view camera, as well as a new optional blind spot camera system.
Hit the right turn signal when changing lanes and the eight-inch display immediately switches to the side-view feed.
LaneWatch is a new piece of safety tech that uses a small camera in the passenger-side mirror to keep an eye on the vehicle's blind spot. Hit the right turn signal when changing lanes and the eight-inch display immediately switches to the side-view feed, complete with helpful distance markers to let you know if it's clear to get over. You can also leave the feed on all the time or turn it off completely if you find it too distracting. Make no mistake, this tech is going to show up on every car on the market very soon. LaneWatch is standard on EX models and above, and while our Sport tester did not come equipped with the gear, we shot a quick video of the tech in action on an EX model. Check it out below.
Otherwise, the 2013 Accord offers comfortable seats with plenty of adjustment as well as lots of head room and leg room for both front and rear passengers. The sedan gives front passengers 42.5 inches of leg room and rear occupants 38.5 inches. That's an extra inch in the way back compared to the 2012 model, and gives the Accord an extra 2.4 inches of leg room in back over the also-new 2013 Nissan Altima. The Altima makes up that gap up front, however, with an extra 2.5 inches of leg room for front occupants. Even so, buyers opting for either sedan would have to struggle to feel cramped inside. Even with full-grown adults up front, there's ample room in the rear for jolly-green passengers.
Honda has also stretched the rear cargo area 1.1 cubic feet by re-engineering the trunk floor. The flat load surface combines with a redesigned trunk spring mechanism that intrudes on the rear space by just 1.2 inches. The old hardware required 3.9 inches of travel to function properly.
In the engine department, Honda has finally stepped out of the last century by gracing its volume model with a direct-injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder. The lump is good for 185 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 181 pound-feet of torque at 3,900 rpm in standard trim. Our Sport model made 189 horsepower at the same revs while turning out one more pound-feet of torque at the same engine speed. The base numbers mark a jump of seven horsepower and 20 lb-ft of torque over the 2012 model. More importantly, Honda managed to pull 27 miles per gallon in the city and 36 mpg on the highway from machines equipped with the new CVT gearbox.
For comparison's sake, the old five-speed automatic delivered four mpg less in city driving and two mpg less on the highway. Models boasting the six-speed manual of our tester, meanwhile, get along with 24 mpg city and 34 mpg highway – a jump of one mpg in both categories. The Accord loses out to the Ford Fusion and Nissan Altima in highway fuel economy by one and two mpg, respectively, but ties the Ford and falls one mpg behind the Nissan in combined driving.
Like Honda engines of old, the four-cylinder loves a good caning with plenty of pull well into redline at just under 7,000 rpm. Likewise, the six-speed manual feels fantastic, proving Honda hasn't forgotten how to make a gearbox that's both tactile and accurate without being too coarse. Clutch throw is a bit on the soft side, but appropriate for a family hauler with aggressive pretentions. As nice as the six-speed manual is, we were more impressed by the CVT. Make no mistake, there are few acronyms in the automotive vernacular that can send us wincing quicker than that of the continuously variable transmission, but this band box isn't a curse on driving.
As nice as the six-speed manual is, we were more impressed by the CVT.
At mid to three-quarter throttle, engineers have programmed simulated steps to make the CVT behave like a standard automatic transmission. The idea was to expunge any of the notorious "rubber band" sensation from the drivetrain. Smother the carpet with the throttle, however, and the CVT will put the engine where it makes the most power and hold it there in perpetuity. Not a bad compromise.
No matter which transmission buyers settle on, they'll be greeted with a car that feels incredibly quick for the segment – quicker than competition like the Toyota Camry. Jumping up to interstate speed takes no effort, and launches from a dead standstill are executed with just a little torque steer at very high rpm. We imagine most drivers will never get there. Brakes are crisp and linear with good initial bite, which help give the 2013 Accord a confident feel. At highway speeds, though, the Honda continues to struggle with road and wind noise. The company's engineers say they've done plenty of work to quiet the cabin down, but it falls well behind competitors like the Volkswagen Passat and Chevrolet Malibu.
Honda continues to struggle with road and wind noise at highway speeds.
But what the Accord lacks in cabin civility, it largely makes up for in driving dynamics. The new generation bows with a MacPherson strut design up front and an independent multi-link set up in the rear, giving the sedan enough compliance to comfortably overcome broken and uneven pavement without sacrificing handling. Unfortunately, engineers also saddled the new model with electronic power steering, and while the system is precise enough for our needs, it also feels incredibly synthetic. The driver gets very little in the way of feedback from the steering wheel, diluting an otherwise excellent driving sedan in the pursuit of better fuel economy.
Buyers looking to step into a 2013 Honda Accord will need to cough up $21,680 for an LX model with a six-speed manual gearbox, though stepping up to the CVT will add an extra $800 to the bottom line. LX guise includes Bluetooth, a rear-view camera, USB connection and dual-zone climate control as standard equipment. Our Sport tester, meanwhile, carried a base price of $23,390, and all prices exclude a $790 destination fee. At $1,710 over the base LX, the Sport is a good value given the aesthetic adjustments inside and out. With the excellent manual gearbox, a little extra pep and a set of attractive wheels, this is likely the Accord we'd have for daily duty.
This is the Accord as we know it best.
So where does all this put the 2013 Accord in the mid-sized fray? Coming into this model year, the Accord's place among the segment's top three sellers was Honda's to lose, but the next-generation sedan has the chops to ensure long-time Honda buyers will drive away from the dealer with a machine worthy of the badge on the hood. This is the Accord as we know it best. While there is no revolutionary engineering on hand, the model delivers plenty of power, solid fuel economy, lots of space and a compelling drive for accessible money.