Past generations of the Honda Accord may have become lost in the competitive shuffle, but the 2013 model faces off well with the likes of the Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata. The 2013 Accord comes out as the ninth generation of a nameplate in existence since 1976.
More than just an update, the 2013 Accord represents a very necessary leap ahead for Honda, a company previously locked in a technology pit stop while other automakers raced ahead.
I could not help but think of the 2013 Honda Accord EX as another boring midsize sedan when I saw its name written on our schedule. My preconceptions began to fall apart when I saw it gleaming in the sun during our photo shoot.
The roofline gracefully stretches to the back of the car in that recently popular fastback style. The sides look unadorned, but bear subtle contours; the greenhouse, meaning the windows around the cabin, lets in a lot of light. There is a liquidity to the styling that falls short of the extreme sculpting of the Sonata.
Standing outside the car, the clatter of direct injection from under the hood was obvious. Our example was powered by a direct-injection 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, a new mill proudly displaying an Earth Dreams plaque, Honda's name for its recently launched driveline efficiency initiative.
That engine churns out 185 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, not very impressive-sounding numbers by themselves, but somehow more than they seem when driving the car. The engine accompanies a new continuously variable transmission from Honda, which adds to the good overall driving performance of the Accord.
Having previously driven the V-6 version of this new Accord, I would opt for the four-cylinder, especially considering the EPA fuel economy of 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.
Navigation not included
As noisy as the direct-injection engine is from outside the car, the clatter fades to nothing in the cabin. An active noise-canceling system, which proved effective in many driving instances, seems largely responsible for these sounds of silence. Other standard niceties of the EX-trim Accord include a smart key and an 8-inch LCD in the dashboard, which Honda calls an Intelligent Multi-Information Display (i-MID).
However, the LCD only shows audio, trip, and phone information, not navigation data. Honda only makes navigation available in the EX-L and Touring trims, not the EX or LX. The navigation system stores its maps on a hard drive, and looks much better than past systems from Honda.
With the navigation system, Honda adds a secondary touch screen, which makes the interface a little confusing. Without it, I could control the phone and stereo functions on the 8-inch LCD through the use of a dial and buttons, but Honda still manages to make this interface bizarre.
To see my phone's contact list, I pushed the Phone button on the dashboard. All fine and good, but when I wanted to select some music, pushing the Aux button merely toggled through Bluetooth streaming, iPod, USB, and Pandora, without changing the screen content. To see the music screens, I had to push a button labeled Disp.
Furthering these odd interface choices, a button on the steering wheel makes the center LCD toggle through audio, trip, and clock screens, but does not include the phone screen. I figured out which button does what in a couple of days, but the interface could be more intuitive.
The extensive audio sources available in the Accord made me very happy. After pairing my iPhone with the car's Bluetooth hands-free phone system, I was able to stream music to the stereo. And the Accord's screen showed full track information, along with Pause and Play controls.
Unlike in other Honda models, where the USB port is a pigtail hanging loose in the console, Honda actually mounted the USB port in the new Accord, right at the front of the console. This position is about as convenient as it gets.
That port handles iOS devices and USB drives. With the former, the audio interface in the car shows music categorized by album, artist, genre, and track. The system is not quite as smart with USB drives, merely showing folders and files, instead of parsing the music based on ID3 tags from the files.
Pandora worked very well in the Accord. Whether I had my iPhone connected via cable or just Bluetooth, choosing Pandora as an audio source caused the app to launch and begin playback. I know Android phones already offer this seamless functionality, but it was nice to see the iPhone work as well. The Accord's Pandora interface gave me everything I could want, from my personal station list to thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons for the currently playing track.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Model||2013 Honda Accord|
|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|
|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|
|Price as tested||$26,195|