Can the Honda Ac­cord Sport 2.0T save the sedan?

San Francisco Chronicle - - CARS - By Tony Quiroga

Here we are, 17 years after the mil­len­nium, creep­ing to­ward a driver­less fu­ture dis­cussed else­where in this is­sue. Robo­cars will ask very lit­tle of us, only that we sit there and wait. After a few years of this, our driv­ing skills are likely to at­ro­phy like leg mus­cles in a cast. We’ll all be­come as help­less as Miss Daisy, re­liant on a ro­botic Hoke to drive us around.

Ex­cept maybe that’s not what’s go­ing to hap­pen be­cause we just hopped into the cabin of a re­designed 2018 Ac­cord and there’s a man­ual gear­box with a leather­wrapped knob be­tween the seats. That shifter shouldn’t be there, not this far into the driver­less cen­tury. It’s al­most like find­ing out that Cadil­lac of­fered a hand-cranked starter in 1959. Of course that didn’t hap­pen, but if the ro­bots win and the com­puter-driven car dom­i­nates mo­bil­ity, this fam­ily sedan with a man­ual will cer­tainly con­fuse the fos­sil record.

Nat­u­rally, we love it. Par­tially be­cause a man­ual fam­ily sedan gives us hope that our en­thu­si­asm might have a place in the fu­ture, but also be­cause we’ve loved slam­ming Hon­das into gear since the 1980s, and we’d like to con­tinue do­ing so for at least a few more decades. Slick and pre­cise, this six-speed — avail­able only on Sport trims — pro­vides a me­chan­i­cal con­duit be­tween the car, the driver, and the 252-hp tur­bocharged 2.0-liter four-cylin­der. We re­cently tested a 2.0T Tour­ing with the 10-speed au­to­matic, which is a no-cost op­tion on the Sport trim. The 2.0-liter is new and closely re­lated to the 306-hp 2.0-liter in the Civic Type R. It re­places the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion’s 278-hp 3.5-liter V-6 as the top-spec en­gine. Mov­ing up to the 2.0-liter from the base 192-hp tur­bocharged 1.5-liter will re­quire around $2000 to $4500 of your hard-earned grick­les, de­pend­ing on trim level.

The Civic Type R blood­line is deeply felt in the Ac­cord’s new en­gine. Equipped with Honda’s i-VTEC vari­able valve lift, the 2.0-liter de­liv­ers a rev hap­pi­ness and lin­ear thrust miss­ing from the 1.5. It re­wards you for run­ning right up to the 6800-rpm red­line. A hint of turbo lag is un­mis­tak­able, but it’s a mere split sec­ond be­fore the rush hits. In the Type R, the en­gine makes no at­tempt to fit in with po­lite so­ci­ety. Honda has wisely buried the en­gine’s more pruri­ent ten­den­cies for fam­ily-sedan use. At full throt­tle, the en­gine emits only 78 deci­bels, com­pared with the Type R’s 91 deci­bels of Vin Diesel-in­spired di­a­logue.

Pull through the first two gears, and the Ac­cord hits 60 mph in 6.1 sec­onds; the quar­ter-mile rolls by in 14.7 sec­onds at 98 mph in fourth gear. The last V-6 Ac­cord sedan, which came only with a

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six-speed au­to­matic and weighed 310 pounds more than this wiry 3283-pound Ac­cord, made it to 60 mph in 5.8 sec­onds and to the quar­ter-mile mark in 14.4 sec­onds at 99 mph. The turbo en­gine’s rush of torque be­tween 1500 and 4000 rpm gives the driver the im­pres­sion that the new car is quicker than its mea­sure­ments, but all that out­put will light up the front tires in first gear. Even with the front end hunt­ing for trac­tion, the steer­ing doesn’t tug and the nose doesn’t spas­ti­cally vec­tor you into ditches or on­com­ing traf­fic; you merely feel as if you’re ac­cel­er­at­ing on a damp road be­fore trac­tion con­trol steps in.

Cor­ner­ing grip, at 0.87 g, is strong for a fam­ily sedan and is achieved on the Sport model’s 235/40R-19 Goodyear Ea­gle Tour­ing all-sea­son tires. The Ac­cord is easy to man­age near the limit and re­mains com­posed, even if the steer­ing ef­forts through the leather-wrapped rim are a bit light and the elec­tri­cally as­sisted gag en­sures that its voice is largely muted. Like its pre­de­ces­sor, this Ac­cord is light on its feet and stays flat in cor­ners, and that com­pe­tence goads you to go ever faster.

Drive it as if you just signed up to be an Uber driver, and you’ll find the ride to be firm enough to be in­ter­est­ing be­tween fares but supple enough to earn you five stars from pas­sen­gers. The struc­ture is solid, but this lat­est gen­er­a­tion does not seem to have turned down the vol­ume on road and tire noise. The Ac­cord’s 70 deci­bels at 70 mph is only a sin­gle deci­bel up on the old V-6 model, but it’s enough to keep this sedan from be­ing con­fused with a lux­ury car.

Rear-seat space is lux­ury-car mas­sive, how­ever. Legroom and shoul­der room are abun­dant, even for six-foot-tall adults. The driver’s seat pad­ding is hard, but it starts to feel sup­port­ive after a cou­ple of days. And in typ­i­cal Honda fash­ion, there’s space for all the ac­ces­sories of 21st cen­tury life. Deep cub­by­holes in the cen­ter con­sole, un­der the arm­rest, and in the doors eas­ily swal­low all your phones, charg­ing equip­ment, iPads, Kin­dle read­ers, and Oprah Cin­na­mon Chai Crème Frap­puc­ci­nos.

There’s more mod­ern tech­nol­ogy perched atop the dash­board, where Honda has wisely up­graded the Ac­cord’s in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem. Gone is the pre­vi­ous car’s slow-act­ing unit whose dis­plays had all the charm of a com­puter run­ning Win­dows 95. A new eight-inch screen (a seven-incher is stan­dard on 1.5T and hy­brid mod­els) re­li­ably re­sponds to the briefest of taps, the lay­out is log­i­cal, and there are re­dun­dant but­tons around the perime­ter to make even your first at­tempt at us­ing it easy. With it, Honda has gone from be­ing one of the worst in­fo­tain­ment providers to a class leader. There’s even a ded­i­cated vol­ume knob on the left and a tun­ing knob on the right, just as RCA and Philco in­tended.

The rest of the in­te­rior holds few sur­prises. Cli­mate con­trols are sim­ple, just three knobs with a few log­i­cally marked but­tons. A con­vinc­ing dig­i­tal fac­sim­ile of an ana­log ta­chome­ter is set to the left of an ac­tual ana­log speedome­ter. It’s pos­si­ble to change the ta­chome­ter dis­play to show trip-com­puter, au­dio, and other in­for­ma­tion, but, this par­tic­u­lar car be­ing a man­ual, we left the ta­chome­ter dis­played. We do wish that Honda gave driv­ers the op­tion of putting a dig­i­tal speedome­ter in the vast dark­ness be­tween the two gauges.

Maybe it’s be­cause we’ve been vis­ually as­saulted by other new Hon­das, such as the Civic and fuel cell-pow­ered Clar­ity, but we find the new Ac­cord at­trac­tive. In front, a broad black grille is topped by a large chrome band that makes it look as if the Ac­cord is wear­ing a wrestling-cham­pi­onship belt (an ac­knowl­edg­ment of all its past 10Best wins?). Honda’s In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal tag-team belt is flanked by LED head­lights that look as if they could’ve come from an Acura and shine brightly at night.

The Ac­cord’s out­ward ap­pear­ance may con­form to class norms, but Honda isn’t a fol­lower. Of­fer­ing a man­ual trans­mis­sion in the Ac­cord is a protest of sorts, a se­cret hand­shake from Honda that lets us know that you shouldn’t have to give up driv­ing just be­cause you’re buy­ing a fam­ily sedan. Life may get lost in a repet­i­tive blur of cu­bi­cles, choos­ing paint col­ors at Home De­pot, eat­ing meat­balls at Ikea, and pick­ing up the kids from karate. But a man­ual Ac­cord — a re­ally fun and pow­er­ful Ac­cord at that — serves as a re­minder of the joy and free­dom we used to have as driv­ers back in the 20th cen­tury. Call it an anachro­nism or an anom­aly, but the stick shift be­longs to us, those who love driv­ing. We will not give up and let our left legs and right arms wither away. The man­ual trans­mis­sion’s ther­apy is as much men­tal as it is phys­i­cal.

2018 Honda Ac­cord Sport 2.0T Man­ual Es­ti­mated price as tested: $30,000 (es­ti­mated base price: $30,000) Zero to 60 mph: 6.1 sec Top speed (gov lim­ited): 125 mph EPA fuel econ­omy (C/D EST): Com­bined/city/hwy: 28/ 25/34 mpg

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