Accord remains the benchmark
First Drive: 2018 Honda Accord
JASPER, ALTA — Moose have no regard for traffic. Nor, of course, do deer, elk, bear or any of the other woodland creatures inhabiting Jasper National Park in Alberta. At any time they might amble across the narrow valley roads on which our 2018 Honda Accord is travelling in great haste.
And if the majestic mountain views to the north and west remind us of how small and insignificant we all really are, the scenery on the inside of the new Accord is just as serene, revealing how far Honda has come since the first Accord was produced in 1976 — the first Honda model to be built in Canada, not in Japan.
Long a tall mountain of its own in the sedan class, the Accord enters its 10th generation with sharper styling, new engines — gone is the V6 — a new platform and an interior that, in the topline Touring, comes very close to matching the fit and finish of an Audi or BMW.
Lower, wider and riding on a longer wheelbase (but shorter in overall length), the new Accord maintains the tradition of looking elegant without being overdone or dull; it’s a middle-class mode of transportation with upper-class aspirations.
A blunt nose with Honda’s signature chrome wing may not be universally adored, but it sets off a series of appealing design elements that include sculpted sides and a smart looking, fastback-style rear that hints at an Audi A7. Others see reflections of the Chevrolet Impala. Laser technology now brazes the roof to the body side panels to clean up the transition and eliminate those cheap-looking plastic strips that most cars have. LED daytime running lamps, turn signals and headlamps are standard, as are Cshape LED tail lamps.
More significant is what resides under its sculpted hood — or perhaps what doesn’t. No longer does the Accord come with a V6 engine, the power of turbocharging small blocks deemed superior to big displacement. Hence the Accord’s new 1.5-litre, direct-injected four-cylinder turbo with 192 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. That’s more than the old 2.4-L engine, and it is the standard engine across the line. There is also a new 2.0-L turbo four, the same engine as the hot, 306-hp Civic Type R, but tuned to 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. That’s the most torque ever in an Accord, and better than the 252 lb-ft from the outgoing 3.5-L V6. A hybrid model will be coming next year.
So, does cylinder count matter as much when there’s a turbo on board? The 1.5-L pulls with enough force to satisfy all but the most demanding drivers, is smooth off the line and strong through the mid-range. While the small engine has to work hard when passing and can be a little loud under full gallop, it never feels inadequate. It’s also quite efficient, averaging between 7.2 and 7.9 L/100 kilometres in combined city and highway driving. It motivates the Accord easily and it can be had in all four trim levels: LX, Sport, EX-L and Touring.
The bigger 2.0-L turbo-four engine, only available in the Sport and Touring, will of course be less efficient, but the final figures are still not out. As expected, it is substantially more responsive than the 1.5-L and the V6 engines it replaces, because peak torque arrives as early as 1,200 rpm and continues all the way to 4,800 rpm, the sweet spot of typical driving. The 2.0 turbo is also tuned to run on regular unleaded. On a short drive of the 2.0-L, the engine felt lively, able to perform smoky burnouts through the front wheels while charging hard to redline, but it lacked the character or the fun of the V6, as well as its snarl.
Opting for the 2.0 brings a 10-speed automatic or, in Sport trim, an optional six-speed manual. Long live the manual! We didn’t get the chance to sample the 10-speed auto and its pushbutton gear selector.
Accords with a 1.5-L turbo will come with a continuously variable automatic (CVT), but in LX or Sport trims, the six-speed manual is optional. In the 1.5-L Touring, where we spent most our time, a pleasing gear selector and paddle shifters made it seem like there was no CVT at all, especially because the CVT felt almost like a six-speed at first. Not until the car is being squeezed for all its octane is there any noticeable driveline awareness, but the CVT was not objectionable and feels well suited to the engine. We’d still take the manual, but if we wanted a 2.0-L Touring with a manual, we’d be out of luck. Nevertheless, our Touring 1.5 felt tight and responsive, the variable-ratio electronic power steering quick to move the Accord in whatever direction desired. Visibility is good, especially out front, and the brakes felt firm.
The Touring, of course, is the only trim to get Navigation, a brilliant new head-up display, and on 2.0-L models, an adaptive suspension that can firm up the ride whenever the driver desires. But all models get a sharplooking, seven-inch TFT instrument screen that has good-size type and easy-to-see menus. All models also get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 12-way power driver’s seat, a sunroof, Honda Sensing (which brings adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, lane-keep assist, and traffic recognition), remote start and a high resolution, eight-inch touch screen with two knobs, one for volume one for tuning. It’s part of an overall interior improvement that is roomier in front and back and finished in higher grade materials with an emphasis on noise reduction. Trunk space, at 473 L, is also improved.
Some road noise was evident on the highway, of course, but the overall feel is one of solidity and soundness thanks to the use of some spray foam in the construction of the shell and a chassis with 32 per cent better stiffness. Nothing rattled, squeaked or felt cheaply assembled. A high degree of polish is evident. And it comes at a very reasonable price — starting at $26,490 and peaking at $38,790 — proving, once again, the Accord remains the benchmark.