It's not easy to live up to a reputation as the best in any segment.
In a market driven by reputation, it doesn’t get any better than being the Accord. Okay, maybe Camry is king in some households, but a car wearing either of those two nameplates is going to sell by the gazillions no matter what piddly little engine they stick in it. Toyota, while branching out with a hybrid option, has maintained tradition with a naturally aspirated four-cylinder and a V6 upgrade option, just as they have for the past few decades.
Honda, on the other hand, has jumped in with both feet following industry trends and has turned to small displacement turbo-fours for its 2018 Honda Accord lineup, plus a Hybrid of its own. While a 2.0-liter turbo as the upgrade and top-tier engine is nothing new in the segment, only a few have turned to even smaller turbo powerplants for their point of entry. The Accord’s new base engine is a fairly tiny 1.5 liters in displacement, but the turbo shows up early and must be working overtime, because it generates 192 lb-ft from as low as 1,600 rpm up to 5,000, then reaches its peak horsepower at 5,500 rpm.
What you feel in real-world everyday driving is a mild swell of steady acceleration without the engine feeling like it’s straining. The transmission pairing is a continuously variable type, but the abundant torque down low means it can avoid dialling up really high revs and getting stuck there, which is tiring to listen to, especially when the engine sounds like a wheezy lawn mower. Okay, it’s not that bad, and sound insulation is fair, so noise, vibration and harshness are subdued from the engine compartment, but the Accord 1.5T Touring I drove had an incessant whistling coming from the side mirror at high speeds that had me checking for open windows.
The powertrain’s best asset is efficiency, and ekes out as much as 38 miles per gallon on the highway in most trims, with 30 mpg rating in the city and 33 combined, but with the 19-inch wheels in Touring trim, that drops to 35 highway, 28 city and 31 combined. During my week with the 1.5T Touring, we landed at 27 mpg, which is still fairly good for our driving conditions and the additional drain of winter tires and cold weather. The new Accord tries to be a little more than just a commuter appliance and family shuttle, so you can toggle between Economy mode and Sport, which sharpens throttle response and gives the CVT more leeway to climb the rev range.
It is faster and more responsive, getting decent jump off the line thanks to that early torque, and big, 19-inch wheels should generate decent grip (the winter tires on our tester means it didn’t have the same grip as all-season or summer performance tires), but there really is very little joy in the process. This is not universal for Honda as a brand, however, because the Civic Type R has joy coming out of every vent and pipe and wing – it is literally oozing joy. The Accord can only go so far with that base engine and CVT combo, but Honda does offer a 2.0T Sport model that can be equipped with a manual transmission, so look to that if you want to rekindle driving joy in your family appliance.
Unfortunately, there is one major criticism I’d level at the Accord in its mission as a family cruiser, and that is ride quality. Perhaps in some communities that have never heard of potholes, the big 19-inch wheels and low-profile tires can get by, but most dips and bumps in the road can be jarring in the Accord’s cabin, with a clunk to announce any road imperfection even when you don't feel anything, so residents in the northeast and anywhere the roads are poorly maintained should consider avoiding those big wheels The Touring trim features an adaptive suspension, so it’s worse in Sport mode, but still too rough in normal mode. Perhaps the standard suspension is better sorted, but it needs work in the Touring.
The ride is a shame considering the interior is otherwise so comfortable, with acres of legroom in back and even sufficient headroom despite the sleek roofline. The middle rear position is best used as the fold-down armrest, but the back row is still wide enough for an adult to squeeze between two car seats... well, a small adult at least. The front seats are excellent, supportive and widely adjustable for different sizes, heated and cooled (heated steering wheel, too!) plus two memory positions for driver's seat. The trunk space is generous, with an impressive 16.7 cubic feet, and the seats split 60/40 and fold, with seat releases right in the trunk. This is about as good as it gets for practicality in a sedan.
Another practical touch is cabin storage, with large cupholders, huge center armrest storage space and a covered cubbie in front of the shifter that houses the wireless charging tray. Interior quality was right where it needs to be, with a classy, inoffensive design and materials that feel good to the touch where you come in contact with them, with a good grade of leather and a very convincing imitation wood pattern for the dash accent. One of the greatest improvements of this generation is the infotainment system and general level of technology.
The main touchscreen infotainment screen is bright and crisp, with a homepage that can be reconfigured with your most frequently used apps or functions. There are also additional screens for less popular systems that you might still want to reach without going through the deeper menus. There are also fixed buttons for the most common functions and pages, plus map, phone and audio, and a traditional volume and tuning knob means it’s completely intuitive to scroll through menus or stations. Best of all, jumping between menus is quick enough to avoid any frustration, and I found the menu setup up intuitive and easy to learn.
A couple nice perks specific to the Touring trim are the head-up display, which puts speed and some basic info right in your field of vision while driving plus 4G LTE wifi. The dash also features a Near Field Communication (NFC) touchpoint for instant pairing with compatible android devices. Driving tech was also well represented in this fully loaded model, and adaptive cruise control got the most use, followed by the backup camera (which is standard on all trims) and parking sensors. Exiting parking spots was greatly helped by the rear cross-traffic alert, which warns of crossing traffic coming from the sides that can be impossible to see if backing out from between two larger vehicles.
Visibility is quite good in all directions, but blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist also help relieve stress and fatigue in traffic, although the forward collision alert seemed overly nervous, beeping and flashing at the slightest approach, so you may want to dig through the settings to adjust that to a more mild setting unless you prefer maximum caution. Perhaps most impressive is that Honda has made so many of these features standard across the board. Even base LX models, at $23,570 (plus $890 destination charge), include the convenience and safety benefits of forward collision warning with braking, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation and adaptive cruise with low-speed follow.
Also, new for Honda, it gets Traffic Sign Recognition, plus the rearview camera features multiple angles to get a better idea of what is behind you backing up. Aside from the basic value of Honda’s well engineered vehicles that come with an expectation of long-term reliability and low maintenance and running costs, it is well featured for a good price. The 1.5T Touring model we drove retails at $34,690 with the freight charge rolled in, and is everything a modern family sedan needs to be. Of course, if you need your 200+ hp and nothing less will do, you can swap into the 2.0T EX-L for $2,000 more than the 1.5T in any trim and you get bumped up to 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque.
Some people might never do an ounce of research, but just walk straight to their nearest Honda dealership for their new Accord every five years, and Honda has given them every reason to continue that tradition. More discerning shoppers can put in the research hours and test drives, but those looking for a solid bet that is well rounded in terms of practicality and affordability will likely end up with the Accord at the top of their list anyway.