2013 Honda Accord EX Road Test

What It Is
The mainstay of the midsize family car segment for the past 30 years.
Best Thing
Comfortable, practical, quiet, and loaded -- in short, everything you want in reliable transportation.
Worst Thing
Four-cylinder with CVT takes a while to get going from a dead stop; flimsy-sounding doors.
Snap Judgment
The 2013 Accord marks a fine return to form for Honda.

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Allow us to butcher a standup comedian's quote: The Honda Accord is kind of like pizza -- even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. Ask yourself: Has there really been a bad Accord? Certainly not in recent memory. Over the past 30 years, the Accord has evolved into Honda's raison d'etre in America. It's the car that built Honda's reputation here. Legions of trophies attest to it, and everybody at least knows somebody who has owned, carpooled or just borrowed an Accord.

The 2013 Honda Accord is the ninth generation, and it's about time. As good as the 2012 Honda Accord was -- it still placed near the top in comparison tests -- it was time to move on. There was a new Toyota Camry last year, a new Nissan Altima and Chevy Malibu this year, a stunning new Ford Fusion coming soon, and new Hyundai Sonatas and Volkswagen Passats as of two years ago. Like video game consoles or fighter jets, midsize cars arrive in bunches at around the same time, with about as much fevered competition.

Honda saw fit to coddle a band of journalists with two nights at the Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara, a lavish set of villas overlooking the Pacific Coast. To the chagrin of its well-meaning PR team, it was money poorly spent, because as we found out during the course of the introduction, plus a week driving the car around our Los Angeles offices, the 2013 Honda Accord is so good, they could have introduced it to us in a Motel 6 parking lot and we'd still fawn over it.

What We Drove

Our Accord was an EX with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder, which starts at $25,405 with a continuously-variable transmission (CVT). The Accord's lineup remains similar to tradition, from LX to EX-L trims, but with two noticeable additions: a Sport model on the sedan adds dual exhausts, handsome 18-inch wheels, a spoiler, and faux paddle shifters on CVT models. And a loaded Touring model tops the range by adding adaptive cruise control and LED headlights -- and at $33,430, a price to reflect.

But the feature content on all Accords has been dramatically improved. Even the $21,680 starting price for an Accord LX includes Bluetooth, a rear-view camera, and dual-zone climate control...all on the base model. Our EX model added keyless entry and a push-button start, a moonroof, and LaneWatch -- a new camera system that monitors the right-side lane through the standard color screen on the dash. Want leather seats? Then spring for the EX-L, which adds that as well as Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning, both firsts for the Accord. Add the $2,000 navigation system on top of that, and you'll bump up against $30,000 -- par for the course for fully loaded midsize family sedans these days.

The Commute

While the exterior changes are noteworthy, but subtle, the biggest change to the Honda Accord is the interior's refreshing absence of buttons. The previous model's confusing array of gray plastic squares has been thrown out on many models for a handsome 8-inch lower touchscreen, controlling the myriad audio functions (satellite radio, Pandora, Bluetooth, Hondalink -- more on that later -- Aha radio, USB, even terrestrial radio) that every Accord now comes with. Ergonomics are excellent. The climate control panel huddles underneath the touchscreen with a layout familiar to Honda eyes -- all the controls you need are in one place, without needing to use the touchscreen, though you can if you want. Connecting to Bluetooth was a cinch, and the voice recognition surprised us by actually recognizing voices. If you prefer your cars to be less complex, lesser LX, EX and Sport models come with a neatly-arranged button layout in lieu of said touchscreen, with big, straightforward buttons for maximum legibility.

In fact, the entire interior serves as a mea culpa of sorts for the poorly received 2012 Honda Civic's plastic fantastic. Nearly every surface is at least somewhat soft, and what pieces are wrapped in leather -- especially the steering wheel -- are slathered in buttery textures that make us wonder how hard it is to rub a cow with moisturizer. Sadly, lesser-optioned models get a pebble-textured foam steering wheel that really strikes home the message, "should've gotten the EX-L, bud." Volume and channel buttons don't always work on the first try, but fit the Accord's theme of ergonomics. The gauges are cribbed from the CR-V, including the "halo" speedometer, which looks complicated but works brilliantly. But the numbers on the center trip computer can be hard to fathom at a quick glance.

The big news for this generation is the addition of Hondalink, the company's new in-car connectivity system. It brings together a service called Aha Radio, which pulls your favorite podcasts, streaming audio, books on proverbial "tape," Internet radio stations including Pandora, and the ability to share your favorite songs on Facebook -- all connected through your smartphone. You can even listen to a compact disc, if you're so inclined.

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The touchscreen is the focus of Hondalink. It responds quickly and precisely, and its low-rent resolution is excusable, as all the info is placed on the much larger and sharper screen above it. We now live in a world where our cars are so complicated, the only way to reduce button clutter is to add a touchscreen. Think about that, if you will.

Hondalink is all cloud-based, which Honda claims is future-proof. Apps are available from the Internet, instead of hardwired into the car, so if Aha falls out of favor after a few years, Honda has the backup to sign onto other services, such as Slacker Radio, IHeartRadio, or whatever the cool kids use.

What's more, Honda is working with Apple on Siri-like capabilities, which they claim will be an industry exclusive. Other companies (Subaru, Toyota, etc.) are looking to integrate Aha specifically into their own cars, so expect these to be the norm in the next crop of family sedans.

Once you've settled in and set the various gadgets up the way you like, the Accord surprises in a couple of ways. The 3.5-liter V-6 gets a slight power increase to 278 horsepower, but this time around it feels much more controllable. But the real news is with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Paired with either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission, the four-cylinder Accord's 40-80 mph freeway passing speed comes effortlessly. While CVTs are often criticized for their noisy power delivery, this one mutes the engine noises from under the hood, except at higher revs, where it's not particularly pleasant. The engine itself delivers good power, except when accelerating from a dead stop, where it feels sluggish.

Honda's commuting ace-in-the-hole has to be the new LaneWatch camera, standard on all models from EX and up. It consists of a camera mounted to the passenger-side mirror, pointing backwards to monitor passing traffic, or sidewalk denizens. Its display on the navigation touchscreen comes on when the turn signal is applied, or it can be activated by a switch on the end of the stalk. There's no camera for the left -- Honda says turning your head right for a left turn would be confusing -- but at least one of us went from initially thinking it was a gimmick to becoming reliant on the technology for every rightward movement. The LaneWatch camera is Honda's opening shot in the Accord's technology onslaught, which includes Forward Collision Warning, blind-spot monitoring, Lane Departure Warning, adaptive cruise control, and three different rearview cameras -- which is standard on all Accord models.

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The Grocery Run

Honda bucked modern styling trends by making the new Accord smaller than its predecessor -- its three inches shorter -- but it still increased interior and trunk room by a few precious inches. The difference might be scant on paper, but rear-seat passengers can definitely spread out. Front and rear headroom is expansive, the rear seats are gently scalloped, and more expensive models get fans in the rear center console. The top of the doors sail high over the occupants heads, with Honda eschewing the coupe-like styling of its competitors' sedans in favor of practicality.

The front seats are wonderfully contoured and supremely comfortable, "like someone measured me and made them expressly for me," said news director Keith Buglewicz. EX-L models will get leather seats, but most other models will come with grippy, old-school velour that has been a welcome Honda mainstay since the Accord still had pop-up headlights. The Sport model gets its own unique upholstery: available only in black, it's slightly scratchier but comes with attractive contrasting stitching.

In another foregoing of automotive styling trends, Honda kept the windows big for maximum visibility: narrowly-sculpted windshield pillars and a wide rear window allow plenty of views outwards, and the LaneWatch system helps with blind spots while driving, as well as determining how close you are to cars on your right when parking.

Some complaints arose, however. The center hump in the rear is strangely tall for a car that doesn't offer all-wheel drive, and center passengers will find themselves eating their kneecaps for breakfast. There's no pass-through to the trunk for skis, pipes, or other long, slender objects. While the rear seatbacks fold down, it's an all-or-nothing choice; the Accord doesn't offer a 60/40 split like some of its competitors. On the other hand, trunk space increases by a cubic foot, but more importantly it's been shaped more evenly and squarely so it doesn't look like a stack of pillows -- the case with the last Accord.

The Weekend Fun

For years, the Honda Accord had a reputation of being a practical and comfortable family car that also drove and handled in a way that let former sport coupe drivers feel at home. More recent versions of the Accord strayed from that ideal, but the 2013 Honda Accord feels like it's returning to that philosophy.

Honda expects just 5 percent of Accord buyers to buy a stick, in four-cylinder Sport sedan or V-6 coupe models. It's a shame, because the Accord Coupe V-6 shifter is pure magic. There is no other shifter on a front-wheel drive car today that is this crisp and precise. Every gear slicks firmly with a decidedly mechanical thunk, paired with a clutch that gives excellent feedback.

But one of the most noticeable differences between the new Accord and the last one is how quiet it is. No longer do drivers hear the whompa-whompa-whompa slapping of tires on pavement, as road noise is hidden from audibility. Both engines kept quiet at cruising speeds, only getting noticeable at full throttle. Honda used to invite road and wind noise into its cars with the assumption that it made people feel more "connected" to the road. Now, what actually gets people to feel connected are the controls, which are supposed to do the connecting in the first place. The downside is that the revised suspension is springy, damping minor highway disruptions but bouncing softly over the bigger bumps. Get the sport-tuned suspension in the aptly-named Sport model, or the coupe, and it's stiffer, offering a better compromise between ride and handling. Regardless of model, the steering is delightfully light and accurate; Honda has traditionally done this well, and this is definitely an improvement over the previous car.

Honda claims fuel economy increases across the board, with the four-cylinder and CVT combination getting an EPA-rated 27 mpg in the city and 36 mpg highway; the V-6 sedan gets 21/34 city and highway, respectively. Over our time with the four-cylinder, we saw highs of 34 mpg and as low as 21, thanks to a bout of lead-footed around-town driving. There's little doubt that driven conservatively, the Accord could reach 40 mpg with its four-cylinder -- which, we may reiterate, has plenty of power on tap.

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This year marks the 30th year of American-built Accords, which makes it more American than the Canadian-built Chevy Camaro. And while the splitting of automotive birthing hairs may be infantile territory to lay a point upon, the Accord's longevity in America is far more substantial.

At this rate, longevity is assured. Because nobody on staff had any gripes with the Accord -- other than meaningless niggles that left us grasping for something to say against it, lest we sound like we're deep within the corrupt Honda conspiracy. Some thought the doors should have slammed with a solid "thunk" rather than a soft "thump." Others thought that our test car's black-and-tan trim looked dorky. Navigation-equipped sedans don't feature quite enough cubbies for cell phones or bags of Haribo gummy bears. And like in every other Accord of the past 30 years, there continues to a failure in equipping Accord EX-L models with massaging seats, glass-lined champagne refrigerators, or a pair of $90,000 Montblanc 75th Anniversary Skeleton 24-karat fountain pens in blisteringly heated cupholders.

But other than that, "it's like the Accords of old," said Keith Buglewicz, "it does everything at least very well, and enough things excellently that it makes it a first choice."

The last Accord stayed with us for 5 years, but it still gave up little to competitors in its twilight years. We expect this Accord to take as few prisoners as the last one.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $25,405
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 27 mpg
EPA Highway: 36 mpg
EPA Combined: 30 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 516 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: No Rating

Notebook Quotes

Honda hit it out of the park with this one. I think it returns the Accord to best-in-class contention. The upcoming Ford Fusion is going to have to kick some serious butt to be better than this. -Keith Buglewicz, News Director
That's better, Honda. The all-new Accord isn't going to set the world on fire with its awesomeness, but Honda will sell a metric ton of these things nonetheless. Exterior styling is very Hyundai Genesis-like, but that's not a bad thing. It's heading back in the right direction for Honda. If the new Fusion turns out to be a dud, the Accord will move in record numbers. -Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor
The Accord was a massive step up in nearly every conceivable way. The plastic panels don't creak anymore. Everything above the arm rests is soft-touch. Everything below the arm rests feels durable -- the center console between the seats doesn't so much as shift in its place when grabbed with the typical evaluative force of an automotive journalist looking for a reason to call a vehicle junk. The Accord just feels solid. -Jacob Brown, Associate Editor
The 2013 Accord gently evolves the nameplate for the better. It looks good, is comfy, and is a car that offers a value proposition, one I'd recommend to my dad. -Matt Askari, Associate Editor