A new Accord comes as often as a comet, it seems, and generates just as much attention. “The very car that defines the company,” says Honda, is its elder statesman: for a car that’s been around for more than 30 years, every subsequent version manages to do better for itself. This is a car that still finishes near the top of its competition, even in the twilight moments of its current eight generation. This new one, in its ninth generation, happily marks 30 years of actually building Accords in America’s fast-food heartland of Ohio.
The midsize car market has turned into what seems like a homogenized group, with every sedan packing similar engines, similar base prices, similar options, similar air vent nozzles, the whole works. The 2013 Honda Accord, at first, seems like much of the same. A four-cylinder is the base engine, as is a high-zoot V-6 as per tradition; the 2.4-liter four produces 185 horsepower, while the 3.5-liter V-6 gets bumped to 278 horsepower. Manual and automatic transmissions are both available in various combinations across the coupe and sedan, as well as a new transmission trick up Honda’s sleeve for maximum fuel economy—read on.
So the Accord has to offer something, besides a certain fundamental goodness that’s been with the car for the past 30 years, to stay relevant. Here then, are six things that we think set the 2013 Honda Accord apart from its competition, and which if successful, will wind up being as ubiquitous on American streets as, well, a Honda Accord.
Continuously variable transmission
The 2013 Honda Accord is the first mainstream, non-hybrid Honda to have a continuously variable transmission since the mid-90s. It’s doing so for the fuel economy savings; Honda has set a goal of being a leader in fuel economy for the midsize segment. With the CVT, the four-cylinder hits 36 mpg highway, 27 mpg around town, and 30 mpg combined. This makes it one of a handful of companies to embrace the technology, and it’s a leap of faith for the Japanese automaker to throw down with a transmission some find annoying. Honda spent a lot of time making sure the CVT wouldn’t be too noisy under acceleration. We’ll be able to tell you next week if the Honda met its noise goals with the CVT, or if you’ll be reaching for the ibuprofen.
Active cruise control
That’s right: once the forbear of luxobarges like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, this feature has gone downmarket. If you haven’t experienced the unnerving effect of barreling towards slowing freeway traffic at 70 miles per hour, then feeling the car catch itself right before impact, then speeding up again all on its own, well, it’s a fun party trick—as well as a boon to safety. If you see this in a Kia Rio in five years, you’ll have heard it here first.
The new Accord comes with a host of advanced electronic safety features, like Frontal Collision and Lane Departure Warning, in case this whole driving thing needs a metaphorical helping hand. But the cleverest feature has to be LaneWatch. It’s a camera mounted on the passenger side, right under the side mirror, allowing a view of the right lane. It’s perfect for passing, checking for speeding cyclists, or scoping out parking spots that you just drove past. It comes on when you turn on the turn signal, but you can also press a button and let it stream ad nauseum. It’s also good for stalking particularly attractive pedestrians, but you won’t find that listed in the owner’s manual.
Two LED screens
Why does the Accord need an 8-inch VGA full-color screen and a touchscreen right underneath? Because cars these days have gotten so complicated, it’s the only way to juggle Bluetooth, Sirius satellite radio, FM, AM, CDs, auxilary input, Pandora, Aha Radio, Slacker, IHeartRadio, streaming podcasts, hard drive storage, audio, text messaging, and the soothing, mellow tones of the navigation system lady (her name is Cynthia, if you were wondering). That’s what consumers want, and Honda has gone to great lengths to ensure that it’s able to be figured out by the time you’ve pulled out of the driveway, which is exactly the sort of demographic-encompassing success that all carmakers need to strive for. HondaLink (more on that later) might be a different story though.
Sport and Touring models
Surprise, surprise: You can still get an Accord sedan with a manual transmission, albeit only with the four-cylinder. You’ll have to eschew lavish creature comforts such as LaneWatch (see Two LED screens above) or light, cheery interiors. But we admire the principle of offering a family sedan with a stick; between the Accord and the Volkswagen Passat, there’s no other way to row your own in the segment. On the top end of the Accord spectrum, Touring adds active cruise control (see LaneWatch above) and LED headlights, making the Accord downright luxurious and shielding comfort-seekers from the wrathful jealousy of the riff-raff.
Honda says that this is the future of in-car entertainment. And for the moment, it’s at the forefront, along with Ford’s SYNC and Toyota’s Entune: from an iPhone or Android app it can access Internet radio, podcasts, audiobooks, all 94 minutes of the 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Frampton Comes Alive!, and local radio stations. The beauty of HondaLink is that it uses Aha Radio right now, but everything’s stored in the proverbial “cloud:” if Aha Radio becomes bunk in the future, HondaLink can adapt quickly to the next trendy online media service. Hey, some thought MySpace would never go away, too.