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2018 Honda Accord Test Drive Review
While American sedans have come and gone, the Honda Accord has kept a singular purpose (and the same name) for 42 straight years. It’s reliable, roomy, efficient, and unpretentious. Yet unlike most family sedans, the Accord has always been tuned with the sort of engineering attention given to sporty cars. It’s this rewarding connection between car and driver that makes the Accord, especially this all-new 2018 model, so appealing beyond its duty as a commuter.
Look and Feel
Fear not—that chromed, upright front looks better in person than it does in photos. Honda designers went a little wild with the latest Civic, but with the Accord they’ve crafted something elegant. The roofline curves like a Jaguar or an Audi, giving way to sweeping angles and flowing sheet metal that are nothing like the “three-box” look of a traditional sedan (hood, roof, trunk—all in a square, clearly defined space). The crisp shoulder line connects the front fender all the way to the LED taillamps. The large front air intakes and wide grille suggest power and poise. When equipped with 19-inch alloy wheels that fill the low-profile Michelins to the absolute brim, the whole package looks high-end. The staunch conservatism inherent in Japanese automotive design—generations of pleasing but forgettable styling—is on its way out. Even the latest Toyota Camry is attractive. The biggest risk Honda took with the 2018 Accord is having people potentially mistake it for a pricier German car. If there's a downside, it's that the Accord isn't available anymore as a coupe.
The German theme continues inside, with a business attitude that’s simple, upright, and not at all flashy. Materials and fit are impeccable for the class, with knurled knobs that click with precision, dampened switchgear, tight panel gaps, and a general feeling these parts were lifted from a car costing well more than its $23,570 starting price. The wood is fake, but it’s at least convincing, without the oversaturated, super-glossy look found on Buicks. The top rear door panels use hard plastic instead of padded panels like up front. That’s about all we can ding about the Accord's interior quality. Finishes look nicer than in the Lincoln Continental, which costs double or triple the price. The instrumentation and screens are tack-sharp. You get more than what you pay for.
We’ve tested every powertrain available in the 2018 Accord, which despite a prevalence of all-wheel-drive (AWD) competitors remains exclusively front-wheel drive (FWD). Two turbocharged, downsized 4-cylinder engines replace the naturally aspirated 2.4-liter 4-cylinder and 3.5-liter V6. Our loaded 2.0T Touring shares its 2.0-liter four with the Civic Type R, which claims to be the fastest FWD production car around Germany’s Nurburgring race track. Floor the gas from a stop, and the Accord will light up its front tires like the Type R for a dozen or so feet, pressing you back into the seat. Whatever you might think about little 4-cylinders powering larger cars, forget about it. This engine has 252 horsepower, which is down from the 278-hp V6. But the 273 pound-feet of torque (up 22 lb-ft) kicks in just off idle (1,500 rpm) and stays flat until 4,000 rpm. In other words, the Accord can out-drag your neighbor’s Fusion and provide steady thrust at any rpm, even with several adults weighing it down. It’s a remarkably smooth, quiet, and pleasant-sounding engine, too. If we’re making comparisons, the Honda is right up there with BMW’s turbo 2.0-liter four.
The 2.0-liter is paired with a 10-speed automatic with a Sport mode and paddle shifters. It’s quick to respond and doesn’t fumble trying to choose the best ratio or lug the engine in too high a gear when cruising. In Sport trims, a 6-speed manual is available. Let’s repeat: A stick-shift is still available in one of the most popular family sedans in America. Since it’s a Honda, the shifter's action is precise, short-throw, and comes with easy clutch engagement. Working the manual is a true joy that can’t be had in any of the Accord’s direct competitors.
The base engine in all 1.5T models is a 1.5-liter turbo four shared with the smaller Fit, only here it makes a stout 192 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. Again, that torque is delivered early and lasts a long time, from 1,600 to 5,000 rpm. While not as surprisingly quick as the 2.0T, the 1.5T is still enough engine for the Accord despite being louder and less refined. Instead of the 10-speed automatic, the 1.5T comes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Unlike CVTs in Nissan or Toyota models, this one mimics the feel of a conventional automatic without the “rubber band” effect of a strained engine always working at high revs. The manual is also available with the 1.5T, though we found the CVT was the better match in keeping the engine’s limited power on the boil. A manual 1.5T is still fun and no slug, but you’ll need to work a lot harder.
The hybrid falls short on refinement and power. While its 1.3-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery is smaller and repackaged underneath the rear seats, the powertrain is largely a carryover from the 2017 model. Its 2.0-liter four is gritty and coarse, and even with electric assist, it’s too annoying for all the gallons you’ll end up saving. Fuel economy, while not available at this time, may surpass the previous hybrid’s 49-mpg city and 47-mpg highway rating. That’s stellar, but now that we’re two decades into hybrid technology, a harsh powertrain should be inexcusable in this segment. The Accord 1.5T is rated at 30 mpg city, 38 highway with the CVT, while the 2.0T automatic drops to 23, 34. Sport and Touring trims have lower ratings, as do the manuals. We averaged about 28 mpg.
Elsewhere, the Accord—hybrid included—is brilliant when the road twists. Our car’s adaptive dampers didn’t do anything noticeable, but all Accord models are compliant, comfortable, and soak up bumps with ease. Noise is muted well (Honda even put insulation across the width of the wheel rims to drown out the road). The steering is direct and lively, the brakes grab nicely, and it’s plain fun to toss this car around. The Accord won’t complain, and neither will you.
Form and Function
The Accord’s low driving position and narrow steering wheel are the perfect match for sporty driving. The seats are supportive and snug in all the right places. This all makes you feel part of the car, as opposed to plopping on a clumsy chair. But in a quest for style, you'll have less visibility than in previous Accord models. The rear glass is sloped so much that it distorts and shortens your view out back. The C-pillars also block a considerable portion of the road. These aren't deal-breakers, but you’ll need the reversing camera more than you did in the past.
Wisely, Honda no longer uses competing dual screens on the center stack. There are no touch-sensitive buttons like in the Civic. There’s just one (7- or 8-inch) screen placed within easy reach, surrounded by large buttons and knobs for accessing all the infotainment system's important functions. Climate controls are entirely separated with more knobs and switches. The half-digital instrument panel (the speedometer is analog) is controlled by a thumb switch on the steering wheel. We’re getting used to the push-button gear selector found on other Honda and Acura models, though its odd-shaped buttons and tabs are the Accord’s least intuitive feature.
Despite a sloping roof, rear passengers over 6 feet tall have gobs of space for long necks and legs. Honda says it stretched rear legroom by 2 inches and increased total interior volume by more than 2 cubic feet. The trunk’s 16.7-cubic-foot capacity is spacious. In the hybrid, since the battery is located under the rear seats as opposed to behind them, the trunk carries the same capacity as the non-hybrid trims, and the seatbacks can now fold down. But on all trims, Honda cheaped out with the trunk lid, which kicks back (toward your head!) when opening it all the way. The hood requires a prop bar to stay open. Come on, Honda, spend a few extra bucks for some hydraulic struts.
Honda’s new infotainment system works much faster and more easily than past versions. The home screen color-codes tasks by function and can be customized. The Garmin nav includes 5 years of map updates and responds quickly and accurately to voice dictation, including point-of-interest searches. HondaLink comes standard, which includes remote unlocking, stolen vehicle tracking, automatic 911 assistance, maintenance reminders, and other features accessible via a smartphone app. But there's one annoyance in that you have to hit "Save" across the various submenus before exiting. Almost every automaker lets you make a change without confirming it, and on the Accord, sometimes that Save button requires you to scroll down. So while you might have adjusted the bass on the stereo, the car didn't. But that's the worst we can say.
The instrument panel is clever and uncluttered, without getting bogged down by configurable gauges. The driver can switch audio modes, enter a destination, and access the trip computer and various other functions in place of the default tachometer. In sport mode, the tachometer rescales its hash marks and a turbo boost indicator appears alongside. Our car's head-up display had multiple displays, allowing the driver to see rpm, speed, speed limits, navigation, and the adaptive cruise control with a few taps of its dedicated steering-wheel-mounted button.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims except the base LX. Wireless device charging is standard on the Touring and a $300 option on all other trims. On the Touring, an NFC sensor (near-field communication) lets an Android phone connect to Bluetooth and transfer photos to the car by tapping it on a portion of the dash marked with an “N.” In reality, the NFC doesn’t transfer any photos larger than 2MB and repeatedly failed to transfer compatible photos on two separate phones. It’s not a worthwhile feature. Rear USB ports are a $120 option on all trims.
Honda Sensing, a group of driver assists, comes standard on every Accord. That includes auto-braking, forward collision alert, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, traffic-sign recognition, and adaptive cruise control. Auto high beams, LED low-beam headlights, a driver attention monitor that signals a tired or inattentive driver, and a backup camera with three views (including a wide-angle and a top-down view of the bumper) also come standard. Blind-spot monitoring is standard on the 2.0T Sport and EX trims and above. Honda’s unique and useful LaneWatch system, which displays a camera feed of the right-hand-side blind spot when signaling, is strangely absent for 2018.
The 2018 Accord is rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, scoring the highest in all five crash tests and a separate crash-avoidance test that measures the auto-braking system. A lower rating for the headlights kept the Accord from earning a Top Safety Pick+ rating, though we found our car’s bi-LED lights to be plenty sufficient. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has yet to rate the 2018 Accord.
The Accord 1.5T and 2.0T come in five trims (LX, Sport, EX, EX-L, Touring), while the Hybrid comes in four (base, EX, EX-L, Touring). Prices range from $23,570 for an LX to $36,000 for our 2.0T Touring. Hybrid pricing is currently unavailable. Adding that great 2.0-liter 4-cylinder costs $4,530 more on Sport, EX-L, and Touring trims (it’s unavailable on LX and EX trims). Even so, the Accord packs a lot of features, upscale refinement, and impressive powertrains to justify its price. Overall, it’s a lot of car—especially a car this satisfying to drive—for the money.
Clifford Atiyeh is a reporter and photographer who has spent a good portion of his life driving cars he doesn't own. He is vice president of the New England Motor Press Association and committed to saving both manuals and old Volvos.
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