One of the first cars I learned to drive on was my family’s fifth-generation, 1996 Honda Accord. It might be one of the most generically-designed cars you could imagine, but it was fantastic regardless. It was safe. Comfortable. Durable. Deceivingly fun, too — its chassis was nimble and its quick-revving four-cylinder was as energetic and eager to please as a Labrador Retriever. It was not a fast car, but it was so overwhelmingly competent you couldn’t help but fall in love with it. And many people did — ’80s and ’90s Hondas turned many Americans into brand loyalists.
Decades later, many enthusiasts have bemoaned that Hondas of the last few years lack that certain something that made early Hondas so special. In 2016, just a year into his tenure, Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo agreed: “Over the years, our product development process became overly complex and slow, involving a huge number of engineers and sales and marketing people,” Hachigo told Reuters. “We began producing watered down, uninspiring…designed-by-committee, cars.” Hachigo’s objective has been redistributing more power to engineers in hopes of building a more captivating product. The new Civic Type-R has been promising — even the standard Civic received glowing reviews when the tenth generation debuted in late 2015.
Now, Honda’s brought out the tenth generation of the Honda Accord, and it seems Hachigo continues to keep his word. The new Accord is fully redesigned, and bestowed with a fastback silhouette and turbocharged engines — a 1.4-liter turbo four as a base and a 2.0-liter turbo four usurping the old 3.5-liter V6. Both are available with 6-speed manual transmissions, a decidedly not-lame decision for Honda to make in a marketplace that continues to edge out the enthusiast’s choice of gearbox.
That 2.0-liter (equipped in my test car) has been hyped a lot lately as a “de-tuned” version of the engine inside the beastly Civic Type-R, and while mechanically there are some significant differences between the two (including a different turbo and pistons), fundamentally it’s the same engine underneath. Power output is 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, slightly less than the old V6, but the new Accord is lighter and, when mated with the 10-speed equipped in my test car, 60 miles per hour comes from a standstill in 5.5 seconds (this is according to a test by Car & Driver).
2018 Honda Accord 2.0T SpecsEngine: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 10-speed automatic
Horsepower: 252 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 273 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm
Milage: 22/32mpg city/hwy
Which is kind of nuts when you think about it. In testing the Accord’s acceleration in sport mode, it effortlessly chirps the tires when taking off, and thanks to that turbo there’s plenty of grunt down low. Throttle response is excellent, as is the 10-speed’s manual mode which shifts quickly and on-demand (great for passing on the highway) and so smooth it’s barely noticeable in automatic. It’s not a spectacularly fast car, but it’s swift, closing in on honest-to-god sports car territory. What more could you possibly want in a low-cost, mid-size sedan?
A lot of things, actually. The biggest takeaway from driving the new Accord wasn’t so much it’s sporty acumen but rather how nice of a place it is to spend time. The cabin is roomy both front and back, and placement of all the buttons, switches and instruments are ergonomically sound. For example, Honda ditched its old (and much hated) infotainment system for an upgraded one that comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as, more importantly, physical knobs for both the volume and tuning. It’s intuitive and easy to use, and its placement atop the dash is both aesthetically pleasing and intuitive.
The rest of the Accord’s dash is clean and incredibly well-designed: It’s adorned with matte metal trim and a long strip of faux wood that I couldn’t even know was faux until I touched it. The gauge cluster is now a nicely-laid-out screen that’s very easy to thumb through. It even gives you access to Honda Sensing, standard on any Accord trim level, which is a suite of semi-autonomous safety features. With every parameter switched on it kinda drives itself, though its automated steering on highway cruising requires some human steering input on sharper curves — don’t take your damn hands off the wheel.
There are some caveats to this car, of course — the seats are a little stiff, the handling will not blow you away and the exterior design is frumpy from a few angles. Look past these foibles, though, and you’ll find that it’s fun enough to make driving not feel like a chore, and its interior and standard features are polished enough to potentially even sway luxury car buyers who want to save some cash. At its core, the new Accord succeeds where its earliest successors do: it’s hypercompetent at being just an honest, normal-ass car.