Once upon a time, the Honda Accord was the darling of Japanese sedans. It was extraordinarily efficient, with its nimble handling and its astounding reliability, and it had all kinds of neat cubbies to put your odds and ends in. Its advertising slogan, “We keep it simple,” was delivered with a wink that really said, “We’re way smarter than all those other guys.”
And they were. The Accord sold like crazy, one model generation after another, with its total reaching over 11 million.
However, in recent years the Accord has sort of lost its way, confused and increasingly cautious in a crowd of new and aggressive upstarts, including the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion and Volkswagen Passat. But rather than responding to them, the Accord’s styling grew stale. Honda also seemed to develop a tin ear to growing complaints from the automotive press that the Accord had becoming too loud inside, compared to its ever-quieter competition.
Even its one-time trump card – cutting-edge engine technology, such as its once-revolutionary hybrid – was outpaced by its rivals. And just when things seemed to be at their bleakest, the earthquake struck.
All of the Japanese brands were staggered by the Tokyo earthquake and the devastating tidal wave that followed. Honda, however, was punched particularly hard. Bottom line: The all-new, eighth-generation Accord had to snap the car out of its slow downward spiral. To do it, Honda’s CEO, Takanobu Ito, knew they’d have to take some chances.
Well, they’ve taken some pretty big risks here. Although the new car looks a lot like its predecessor, it has a more flowing and integrated shape. It’s actually graceful. And it’s also 3.5 inches shorter (going against the trend) because Honda felt that the Accord was getting so big it was becoming difficult to fit into a typical garage.
Beneath its skin, the Accord has swapped its traditional (and complicated) front suspension for a simpler strut type. But wait a minute, you suspension snobs; it’s for a few smart reasons. One is that it helps quiet the interior from road impacts and tire rumble. The other is a new crash test created by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that’s been causing automakers some sleepless nights. Without going into the nitty-gritty, it simulates two cars frontally colliding offset from each other, and it’s already gotten a few “prestige cars” a “Poor” rating by the IIHS. The new Accord’s struts should help it avoid that fate.
Power for the new Accords comes from a pair of efficient new engines that put Honda right back at the forefront of power plant tech. A direct-injected 2.4-liter 4-cylinder can be had with either a very nice-shifting 6-speed manual or – and here’s another risk – an efficient, continuously variable-ratio (CVT) automatic. (It uses a sophisticated belt instead of gears, rather like what Nissan has been installing in their Altimas.) Meanwhile, a new 3.6-liter V6 can be had with either a manual or traditional automatic. And arriving later will be a hybrid (that’s fully up to Honda’s technological standard) and even a plug-in version similar to the Plug-in Prius and Chevy Volt.
All this is great, of course, but is the technologically re-imagined Accord the bull’s-eye that Honda needs right now? It appears so. And most noticeable is how much quieter it is; the Camry is probably more hushed, but for the first time, the Accord is right there. Moreover, those new engines – and even that newfangled CVT – are peppy, refined and stingier with gas. Takanobu Ito can let out a sigh of relief.
Kim Reynolds is testing director of Motor Trend magazine.
≈ STAT SHEET ≈Who should drive this car? If you’ve test driven an Accord in recent years and have been underwhelmed, it’s definitely time to try it again. For sportiness, the Coupe version is better than ever.
How does it drive? Accords have always steered crisply and felt light on their feet, but their interior noise has often been unacceptable. No more. The Accord is as fun as ever, but now it’s quiet, too.
MPG (city/hwy): Best: 27/36 (4-cyl. with CVT); worst: 18/28 (V6 Coupe automatic)
Cost Range: $21,680 (base LX sedan with 4-cyl. and manual transmission) to $33,430 (Touring sedan with V6 and automatic); base price excludes $790 destination charge
Comparable: Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Volkswagen Passat
QUICK FACT: The Accord was the first car by a Japanese manufacturer to be produced in the U.S., and it was the best-selling Japanese car for 15 years (1982–97). In 1991 and 2001, its top sales were around 10 million vehicles.