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Is it too early to say that Honda's got its groove back? Maybe, but that doesn't discount how much the 2013 Accord Coupe V-6 feels like a return to form for the Honda brand. It's attractive. Its design is thoughtful. Most importantly, it's actually fun to drive.
We've seen Honda's new dashboard interface before in the Accord sedan and in the new Acura RLX (albeit, highly modified and reskinned for the premium brand).
In our navigation-equipped Accord Coupe, the infotainment system actually consists of two color LCDs and two different control schemes that work together. The main screen is standard to all Accord models and is an 8-inch display that sits at the top of the dashboard outside of the driver's reach. It's not touch sensitive and is controlled by a large control knob located low on the center stack, which is an odd placement. It's not as easily reachable as the center console placement that the German manufacturers have favored recently, not as visible as the high placement favored by Nissan/Infiniti, and requires a bit of reaching around the shift knob depending on the chosen gear.
The main screen is where the the majority of the driver's interactions occur, its interface split into four modes (navigation, phone, audio, and info) each accessible via a hardware button located near the control knob. Honda's interface is greatly improved in this generation; every function is easy to find and, with a few exceptions that I'll nitpick in a bit, I like what I see.
The second, smaller display sits lower in the dash and juts out from the dashboard a bit, making its touch screen easy for the driver to reach. However, the purpose of this second touch-sensitive display left me feeling a bit confused for the first few days with the Accord. Mostly, it just displays metadata for the currently playing audio source and offers additional controls. I was convinced that most of the functions accessible on this second screen could have been more elegantly solved with more clever integration into the main display.
But on the second day of my testing, I went to input a destination into the main screen's navigation system and the audio controls on the touch screen were replaced with an input keyboard. Honda also gives drivers the option of using the control knob to select alphanumerics on the main screen, but with the keyboard right there, inputting destinations was quick and easy. While taking advantage of, for example, the Pandora app integration, the second screen allows for quick browsing of stations and rating songs without leaving the navigation interface on the main screen. The HondaLink Aha Radio integration works similarly. In these instances, what at first seemed like an overcomplication of what should have just been skip and pause buttons becomes a configurable interface that puts a lot of flexibility at the driver's fingertips.
However, even for a old car-tech hand such as myself, dealing with two screens while driving takes a lot of getting used to, and there are a few oddities that never go away. For example, it's possible to display and browse audio source information on both screens at the same time -- possibly a holdover from models that don't feature the second screen.
Speaking of audio sources, our Honda was equipped with an AM/FM tuner. a single-slot CD player, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input, and a USB/iPod connection -- the usual suspects for what we expect to see at this point in a modern car. Our navigation-equipped model also featured hard-drive-based turn-by-turn directions with voice command and 16GB of storage space dedicated to storing ripped music and audio. The aforementioned Pandora app control with metadata, rating, and browsing and HondaLink app integration (which is basically just a customized connection to Aha by Harman's audio and data streaming service) round out the audio source mix.
Driver aid technologies
The Accord is available with what is largely a modern outfit of driver aid technologies, including a standard rear-view camera with multiple views (wide, standard, and close).
Our model featured a camera-based lane departure warning system that alerts the driver when crossing guide lanes without signaling and a collision warning system that beeps and flashes amber LEDs at the base of the windshield when you get too close to the car ahead too quickly. I found the collision warning system to be too alarmist, beeping far too frequently, but it is both customizable and defeatable. On at least one occasion during my testing, I was glad to have the system in place.
Missing from Honda's driver safety mix is a conventional blind-spot monitoring system with little LCDs in the side mirrors. In its place, Honda offers its LaneWatch system, a side-view camera that aims into the blind spot on the passenger side of the car, displaying its image on the main LCD in the dashboard. When the right turn signal is activated, the camera springs to life.
At first, I found it a bit odd and distracting, drawing my eye when I went to look over my shoulder (as I always do when changing lanes). The Accord actually has pretty good visibility even without the camera. Over time, however, I learned to use the camera in addition to the shoulder check -- glancing at it as I turned my head and again as I returned to center, allowing me to triple check the blind spot before changing lanes.
Guidelines on the LaneWatch's display also helped with judging whether cars visible were one, two, or three lengths behind, which prevented me from cutting off other drivers while I got used to the Accord's length. A button on one of the steering column stalks allows the LaneWatch to be manually activated, which also aided in judging the size of spaces for parallel parking or double-checking the distance to the curb when you're done. However, shifting into reverse brings up the rear view camera, a more useful view anyway.
There is no LaneWatch display for the driver's side of the car, so you'll have to stick to looking over your shoulder for lane changes in that direction.
While not immensely powerful, the Accord Coupe's V-6 engine is a gem. Output for the 3.5-liter engine is stated at 278 horsepower and 252 pound feet of torque in this '6MT' incarnation, which sends its power to the front wheels via a standard six-speed manual transmission.
The six-cylinder engine uses a technology called Variable Cylinder Management, which allows it to shut down one of its two banks and operate on just three cylinders when cruising and idling for increased efficiency, then reactivate the dormant bank when acceleration is required. The system is completely transparent in operation and I never noticed a lack of power when I called upon the engine. Fuel economy is estimated by the EPA at 21 city, 32 highway, and a combined 25 mpg. I averaged about 23.9 mpg over a long weekend that consisted of roughly equal parts highway cruising, city traffic, and a few early morning back-road blasts to test the Coupe's handling prowess.