2018 Honda Accord First Drive – Like It or Not, Honda Will Sell a Lot

Published on October 4, 2017

Let’s get this out of the way up front – I’ve always had a soft spot for the Honda Accord. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a fanboy, but I am a former owner of an ‘90s-era Accord coupe (I bought it used in 2005 or so and sold it in 2012) and I always felt that the Accord was sportier, generally speaking, than most other mid-size sedans.2018 Honda Accord First Drive – Like It or Not, Honda Will Sell a Lot

Sure, the Mazda 6 has been the best driver’s car in the class for a while, and the Ford Fusion is fun to drive, but I’ve long thought the Accord had a sporting character the Camry and others lacked, at least until recently. Honda seemed to get more vanilla with the Accord in the past generation or two, even though the car still presented a strong package overall. Would the newest Accord, which comes with a choice of turbocharged engines and is available with a three-pedal setup, bring back the flavor of yore?

Full disclosure: Honda flew media to New Hampshire, put us up in a historic hotel, left tasty local snacks and soda in our room, fed us several fine meals, and offered us a baseball hat I did not take. Some of us also partook in a video-racing simulator, in which my mediocre best time was nonetheless on the leaderboard for about 30 minutes.

The answer to that question is somewhat mixed. But before I get to that, let’s talk about the details.

Accord is fully redesigned for this year, and as you no doubt know by now, there is no more available V6 engine, nor can you get a coupe.

You have two engine choices – a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder or a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that Honda says is derived from the powerplant available in the Civic Type R. The 1.5 is available with a stick-shift or a CVT, while the 2.0 is also available with a stick (the manual transmissions are different, but both are six-speeds) or a new 10-speed automatic. A hybrid goes on sale next year.

Speaking of choice, Honda offers a host of trim-level choices. The 1.5 has five trims from which to choose, the hybrid will have four, and the 2.0 will have three. The trim that caught my eye, naturally, was the Sport trim – which is the only trim to offer the manual.2018 Honda Accord First Drive – Like It or Not, Honda Will Sell a Lot

I was able to get seat time in all four engine and transmission combos, although the way the drive event was structured and the limited amount of time in a day meant that some samples were smaller than others. Honda also brought along Camrys, a Fusion, a Hyundai Sonata, and previous-gen Accords for comparison drives. I drove at least one version of everything but the Sonata, since I just had a taste of that recently.

Let’s start with sportiness, since that’s how I introduced this piece. I’m disappointed to report that even in the Sport trim, the Accord continues to have steering that feels too light, distant, and artificial. That’s especially troubling given the driving dynamics of the current Civic (even non-SI/Type R trims) and how well Honda has done with other vehicles in its line. The current Ridgeline is the only truly car-like truck out there (meant as a compliment) and while I haven’t yet driven the current Odyssey, I’ve heard tell that it’s pretty engaging to drive. Certainly the previous one was.

Selecting “Sport” mode on the automatic-trans models does tighten it up a little (you create your own “Sport” mode by your driving if you’re piloting a manual), but not quite enough.

That doesn’t mean the Accord doesn’t handle well – it does – but it’s not quite as engaging as the Fusion or the 6. It still beats the Camry, which has significantly narrowed the gap.2018 Honda Accord First Drive – Like It or Not, Honda Will Sell a Lot

The story isn’t all bad. Disappointingly distant steering aside, the car is otherwise a competent handler (some body roll aside), as noted above, and both engines offer up appropriate acceleration. The 1.5 doesn’t feel significantly slower than the 2.0, despite the power difference (192 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque, versus the 2.0’s 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft), and both are peppy even when hitched to one of the automatic transmissions.

Speaking of transmissions – the 1.5 and 2.0 use different six-speed manuals, and it shows. The 1.5 has a more user-friendly clutch with a lower, less-abrupt takeup point, though both shifters offer the same throws. Those throws are precise but a tad long. You do get used to the higher take-up clutch in the 2.0 after some time with it.

Despite its lower power, the 1.5 with the manual felt a bit more engaging to the driver than the 2.0.2018 Honda Accord First Drive – Like It or Not, Honda Will Sell a Lot

Perhaps the biggest difference between the 1.5 and 2.0 is noise – the 1.5 is much louder, especially under throttle. That’s a direct manual-to-manual comparison. When equipped with the CVT, which droned on and on, that’s a rough aural combination. Tire noise also was present at times, and it’s important to note that the radio was off during just about all of my drive time.

My last drive of the day came in the 2.0 automatic, and the 10-speed was unobtrusive. If you can’t or don’t want to drive a manual, it may be worth the extra moolah just for this transmission over the CVT.

Let’s be real – it may be a bummer that the Accord takes third place in the “driver’s car” category to the Fusion and 6, but only enthusiasts and hardcore Honda fans are going to care. Most mid-size buyers in general and Accord buyers specifically are going to care more about ride, interior space, cargo space, infotainment system, fuel economy, and exterior styling.

On the ride side, the Accord is compliant and comfortable, with only a hint of float and wallow on occasion. It’s a comfortable cruiser that won’t exhaust you when put into commuting duty.2018 Honda Accord First Drive – Like It or Not, Honda Will Sell a Lot

Honda claims the car is smaller outside and bigger inside, and that latter claim feels true. Legroom is plentiful front and rear (it’s up almost two inches in the rear), and rear headroom isn’t terribly compromised by the sloping rear roof line.

About that smaller yet bigger claim, here’s the specifics – the wheelbase is a little over two inches longer, but the car is about a half-inch shorter. It’s also a little more than a half-inch lower and a half-inch wider.

Meanwhile, it gains nearly a cubic foot of cargo space, up to 16.7 cubic feet. That same number carries over to the hybrid, which gains 3.2 cubic feet.

Cabin space jumps 2.4 cubic feet to 105.6 cubic feet.2018 Honda Accord First Drive – Like It or Not, Honda Will Sell a Lot

Space is just part of the story, of course. Perhaps the biggest interior news is the return of volume and tuning knobs for the radio – hallelujah, indeed. The gauge cluster also allows you to customize the left circle. Want tach, or fuel economy, or radio info, among other choices? All you have to do is scroll via the steering wheel.

The infotainment system looks tacked on – a scourge across the industry that more than a few automakers are guilty of – but it’s easy to use and intuitive. It’s also customizable in the same way your smartphone is – tap and hold an app and you can move it around. The touchscreen does offer physical buttons, too.

Speaking of smartphones, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available. Top trims offer a near-field communication connection to certain phones, and Qi wireless charging is also available.

If you buy an automatic-trans car, be prepared to deal with an all-button shift setup. This annoyed me as it feels like Honda is overcomplicating things just to be cool.

I’d be remiss to skip over the hybrid, despite the fact that it, like the other cars I drove, was pre-production (extra early pre-production in this case). It pairs a 2.0-liter four-cylinder to an electric motor for a total system horsepower of 212, and it offers Eco, Normal, and Sport drive modes, plus an EV-only mode. You can run EV-only even in Sport mode, if you choose.2018 Honda Accord First Drive – Like It or Not, Honda Will Sell a Lot

There’s no cutoff for EV-only top speed – it’s all about throttle application. Steering wheel-mounted paddles are used to control regenerative braking. You can select up to four levels of regen, with each one slowing the car more rapidly. It’s a neat system and lets you engine brake while going down a hill or catching up to slower traffic. Honda has yet to finalize fuel economy numbers for the Accord Hybrid.

Another big piece of news is that Honda Sensing (a suite of safety tech) is standard on all trim levels, although LaneWatch, which I personally liked, dies. LaneWatch is being replaced by available blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic detection, and I was also told that it’s going away in part because snow and ice caused problems with the camera.2018 Honda Accord First Drive – Like It or Not, Honda Will Sell a Lot

Honda Sensing includes collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and road departure mitigation system. Other standard or available tech-based driver-assist features include lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, rearview camera, head-up display, and traffic sign recognition.

Convenience features matter as much or more than back-road prowess in this class, and the Accord acquits itself well here. In addition to the smartphone-mirroring systems, you can get dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, heated rear seats, cooled front seats, nav, USB, Pandora, Bluetooth, power seats, leather seats, satellite radio, in-car wi-fi, and HondaLink.

If you’re hellbent on shifting your own, note that the Sport model foregoes nav, the HUD, cooled seats, in-car wi-fi, near-field communication, wireless phone charging, and the most premium audio system. Additionally, if you want a stick and satellite radio and heated seats, you need to step up to the 2.0. Of course, if you need navigation, you can plug your iPhone or Android in and use CarPlay/Android Auto.2018 Honda Accord First Drive – Like It or Not, Honda Will Sell a Lot

Styling is subjective, obviously, but count me a fan – I think the car is mostly handsome. I do find the gap in the front grille to accommodate Honda Sensing to be problematic, and the rear is a bit too derivative – there’s an Audi A7 influence in the rear three-quarter panel and a Civic/Subaru Legacy mish-mash in the taillights. Some folks on our drive pronounced it boring, and it’s true it won’t turn heads, but I am a sucker for cars that look plain but handsome. Blame it on my Midwest roots.

Note that all trims have LED lights, and if you get fog lamps, they, too, will be LED.2018 Honda Accord First Drive – Like It or Not, Honda Will Sell a Lot

Honda hasn’t finalized fuel-economy for the 2.0, but it has the 1.5 at 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway for all but Sport and Touring models with the CVT – those are 29/35. Manual-transmission Sports are 26/35 with the 1.5-liter engine.

Pricing starts at $23,570 plus D and D, with a loaded 2.0 Touring setting you back $35,800, again before D and D.

Mid-size sedans are about packaging, and this is where the Accord excels. If you really, really must have the best driver’s car, you can choose the Fusion, or choose the 6 if you want a manual. But if you’re more concerned about owning a car that’s comfortable, handles well enough, offers all the bells and whistles and has space for you and your stuff, the Accord makes as strong an argument as it ever did. Which is why it’s still going to sell like hotcakes, even if its lost some of its character or even if not everyone digs the conservative styling. Yes, that is taking increased CUV sales into account.

I wish certain aspects of the Accord were better, but it’s still very good. Good enough that it will do what Accords do best – move out of dealerships and into driveways at a rapid clip.2018 Honda Accord First Drive – Like It or Not, Honda Will Sell a Lot

[Images: © 2017 Tim Healey]

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