Ac­cord re­mains the bench­mark

First Drive: 2018 Honda Ac­cord

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - DRIVING - DEREK MCNAUGHTON

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.

DRIV­ING.CA

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