2013 Honda Accord EX review: New Accord runs on 21st-century tech (at last)

This Accord lacked satellite radio, another feature only available at trim levels above the EX. Likewise, the new HondaLink smartphone-based connected car system comes in in the EX-L trim and above. The HondaLink system integrates Aha's Internet-based podcasts, news, music, and location services.

The six-speaker audio system in the Accord EX comes off as pretty average, and there is no upgrade available. Listening to the Beastie Boys' "Ill Communication," the system showed off some good stereo separation and good treble response. However, the bass and vocals sounded muddy. Turning the volume up to the three-quarter mark led to distortion.

Car with a view
Beyond phone, audio, and trip data, the center LCD also pulls duty as the rearview camera and LaneWatch display. The rearview camera includes distance and trajectory lines, helpful when parking.

The LaneWatch feature is Honda's take on a blind-spot monitoring system. Either signaling for a right turn or pushing a button on the end of the turn signal stalk activates a camera view down the right side of the car. Unlike the more traditional systems, which show a warning icon in the side-view mirror, LaneWatch shows you whether it is safe to turn or change lanes.

2013 Honda Accord
LaneWatch shows the view down the right side of the Accord. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

I found the system to be more generally useful than a traditional blind-spot monitor, as it would not only show me if the next lane over was clear, but also reveal bicycles and pedestrians when I wanted to make a right turn in the city. The image comes through bright and clear, and it worked at night, too, although visibility was reduced.

Also unlike traditional blind-spot systems, LaneWatch only covers the right side of the car. A Honda spokesperson explained to me that the company felt it was natural for a driver to look right, to the center of the dashboard, when moving the car right, but it would be counterintuitive to look right when making a left-hand lane change. Honda fits a piece in the outer quarter of the left-side mirror angled to catch traffic in the blind spot.

The good stuff
The engine and transmission constitute yet more new technology for Honda in the Accord. Although the engine still uses Honda's i-VTEC variable valve timing system from the last decade, it also employs direct injection for greater efficiency. The continuously variable transmission (CVT), only available on four-cylinder Accords, contributes to fuel economy by offering many more gear ratios than from the available six-speed manual transmission.

2013 Honda Accord
The Accord's engine proudly displays its Earth Dreams plaque. Josh Miller/CNET

Nissan has been the king of the CVTs, offering a very refined version of this technology for many years now, but Honda looks like it could be a contender. The CVT in the Accord operated seamlessly, providing smooth and linear gearless acceleration. I noticed a little roughness when creeping along under 10 mph, but it disappeared at faster speeds.

Other CVTs have been criticized for letting engines wind up in a manner out of sync with the actual acceleration, but I did not see that issue in the Accord. The engine did not afford tire-squealing antics when I floored it from a stop, but the transmission helped it deliver natural-feeling acceleration. Of course, Honda's noise-canceling technology may have defeated unpleasant sounds from the engine.

That noise-canceling technology really showed its worth as I drove over a section of road recently paved in a manner that seemed designed to enhance harshness. In other cars, the new pavement made driving this road particularly unpleasant, but the Accord kept the road noise down to a low hum.

I drove this road not for the harshness test, but because it offers an excellent series of turns that become challenging even at the posted speed limit. The Accord, though meant for the flat roads of suburbia, handled these mountain turns better than I would expect.

The suspension kept the car from wallowing too much, although it was certainly prone to leaning a bit at speed. More impressive, the steering lacked the obvious clues that it used an electric power boost system. At low speeds, there was none of the telltale whirring. As I tossed it through the turns, the wheel maintained a comfortable heft, and did a credible job mimicking hydraulic power steering.

2013 Honda Accord
A Sport mode seems a little too ambitious for the Accord's CVT. Josh Miller/CNET

The CVT's Sport setting did not contribute much to my cornering antics. I could feel how it raised the engine speed a bit, but not to where it would let the tachometer sit at redline through successive turns. I found the best use of the Sport mode came in city driving, when I wanted to keep extra power on tap for sudden traffic maneuvers.

To enhance the Accord's fuel economy, it includes an Eco mode, activated by a nice green button on the dashboard. Not only does this button light up green accents on the instrument cluster, but it also detunes the accelerator a little. Eco mode did not change the Accord's driving character much, and for that matter I don't think it contributed all that much to fuel economy. But every drop counts and it made me feel good about the car's efficiency, which seems the ultimate purpose of Eco modes.

Which is not to say the Accord's efficiency was merely illusory. Its EPA numbers, 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway, are quite good for a midsize sedan. My average came out on the high side, at 33.7 mpg, despite pushing the car along some twisty roads and forays into the urban jumble of frequent stoplights and 25 mph streets.

A trim too low
On the surface, the 2013 Honda Accord EX fits the boring character of the midsize segment well. But in looks and driving character, it exhibits a sublime refinement. The Accord breaks above the average in a number of little ways that add up to a satisfying, quality car. And in that regard, it recaptures the essence of Honda, when its earlier cars stood above the pack.

The EX trim falls a little short in tech options, missing features such as HondaLink or navigation. However, standard Bluetooth, digital audio sources, Pandora integration, and especially the LaneWatch feature will impress most buyers. That is, if they can figure out the cabin tech interface.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Honda Accord
Trim EX
Power train Direct-injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder, continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy 27 mpg city/36 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 33.7 mpg
Navigation Not available
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Pandora, Bluetooth streaming, iPod, USB drive,
Audio system 160-watt six-speaker system
Driver aids Right-side blind-spot monitor, rearview camera
Base price $25,405
Price as tested $26,195

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About The Author

Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET. Prior to the Car Tech beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine. He's also the author of "Vaporware," a novel that's available as a Nook e-book.