Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Test Drive: 2013 Honda Accord Sedan Sport 6MT

Update: See how the Honda Accord did in our 2013 Mid-Size Family Sedan Comparison.

The 2013 Honda Accord marks the beginning of a perennial 10-Best winner’s ninth generation. Anytime an entirely redesigned Accord hits the market, it begs the question, “Is it as good as the previous generation; or better even better?” To find out, we looked at the Accord Sedan in Sport trim with the 6-speed manual transmission. This is an entirely new trim added to the Accord line up and slots in between the LX and EX models, adding a few items and tweaks to the LX, heavily focused around injecting a dose of sport to what would otherwise be just another mid-size family sedan.

The two most prominent visual features are the addition of new 18” alloy wheels and dual exhaust tips. Inside, the Accord receives a whole plethora of new features and gadgets. The first feature one notices when entering the car is the 8” iMID screen. Dual climate control is now standard on all Accords, as well as Bluetooth, USB, and back-up camera. In addition to the tech goodies that come standard on the LX, the Accord Sport adds 10-way power driver’s seat.

Under the hood, the Accord Sport has the all-new 2.4L, direct injected in-line four cylinder engine that is shared across the trim packages. This motor is the first of the Earth Dreams engine line-up that Honda has stated will be rolled out to its model range in the coming years. With the addition of the dual exhaust, the Accord Sport gains 4 hp and 1 lb./ft. of torque over the LX, EX and EX-L engines. Aside from the horsepower bump, the Accord Sport also gets a faster steering ratio, slightly larger front brake discs, and Sport trim exclusive suspension tuning.

The burning question here is whether or not Honda has gone back to its roots of offering fun and affordable cars. Considering the disappointments in the last few years, namely the Crosstour and the 2012 Civic, we hope that the introduction of the ninth-generation Accord will be Honda’s mea culpa for its past transgressions.

The Good
For a $24,000 car, this thing has an incredible list of standard features. Bluetooth hands free and radio, USB, 8” multi-info display screen, standard dual zone automatic climate control, standard rear view camera, standard disc brakes, standard 18” alloy wheels with 235mm width tires, and the list just goes on. The interior space is very generous and the trunk is bigger than even the outgoing Acura RL. Rear leg room is almost unbelievable for a car of this class with plenty of room for full-size adults.

Despite this car only being one step up from the LX, the interior looks and feels very nice. Plastic surfaces are soft and blend well with the rest of the car, making the car pleasant to sit in. The center stack has been cleaned up significantly from the previous model and feels much less cluttered. Since the MID has been moved to be part of the center stack, the gauge cluster is very clean and simple.

The car we drove was fitted with the 6-speed manual. In typical Honda fashion, every shift slid into place with a satisfying precision and each movement of the shifter was met with a sense of solidity that nearly every other brand in the marketplace could stand to learn from. The clutch was not too heavy and engagement is smooth, if a tad muddied. Mated to Honda’s new K24W Earth Dreams engine, the power train is impressive. Despite being a naturally aspirated 2.4 liter in-line four, the engine had good mid-range punch and moves the rather portly sedan with authority, pulling quite hard even towards its 6800-rpm redline; a clear demonstration that the added torque has had a positive impact on the driveability of this engine.

As the test drive was fairly short, we really did not get an opportunity to really test the handling of this new Accord. Based on our short experience of doing some quick turns in a city environment though, the sport-tuned suspension does its job quite well. In terms of ride and handling while cruising, the car was actually quite comfortable despite its sport tuned suspension, larger wheels, and short sidewall tires.

Steering felt precise and quick, most likely thanks to the quicker steering ratio. The wheel itself felt nicely weighted and did not feel too artificially boosted like some electric power steering racks out there today, including several that we had driven earlier in the day, but still not quite as good as the rack in Honda’s dearly departed S2000.

Overall design of the car is quite good. We really do like the way this new Accord looks, especially with the 18” wheels of the sport package. While the design is evolutionary, the changes give this latest Accord a handsome, if tame, and most likely timeless good looks.

The Bad
The one major gripe we had with the car was with the braking. This should come as no surprise as Honda has always struggled with the brake feel on their mass market cars. A better set of brake pads would go a long way towards making this an even better car, especially in the Sport trim. Perhaps Honda should think about offering upgraded brake pads as part of the trim package or maybe as a stand-alone dealer installed upgrade.

Speaking of things that need to be changed, Honda needs to specify a better set of tires for this car. The miserable all-season, low rolling resistance tires, while comfortable in cruising conditions, does not help the car with its intended purpose of being a sedan with sporting intentions.

Finally, the lack of available colors with the 6-speed manual is disappointing. When selecting the manual transmission, you are given your choice of color, so long as it is black or grey. When we walked into the show room, there was a beautiful “Basque Red Pearl” Accord sport sitting in the middle of the floor. While the black and the grey are nice, the Accord looks great in the deep red. Alas, the color is only available with the CVT. I understand that the bulk of buyers who purchase a 2013 Accord will not opt to drive a manual, but to so severely limit the color choices makes those of us who prefer manual transmissions feel somewhat unappreciated. If it means making us order the car, then so be it, but at least offer us a way to get the other colors. We would even be willing to pay a little more for the choice.

Summary
Overall, this new Accord demonstrates that Honda has definitely stated to right the ship. Sure, there are some minor things that could use some work, but overall, the 2013 Accord Sport is a very enticing package, especially with the 6 speed manual. Would we put our own money on the line and buy one? Actually, yes. In fact, this car would most likely be one of the top choices for a daily driver to supplement the S2000 in our garage. All Honda needs to do now is make sure all their future vehicles are at least as good, if not better. Now if they can only do something to fix Acura…

View from the East
I am really impressed with this car. This really is one of the best Accords in recent memory and the amount of room in the back seat is downright expansive, possibly larger than some New York City apartments. There are a few things that can definitely be changed, but for a large sedan, it drives much smaller and is a downright fun family car. While I found the engine sound a bit agricultural, that is an easy fix with a cold air intake and a catback exhaust. Definitely a great option for someone who needs the reliability and space of a family car, but wants something that is not too much of a drag as a daily driver. And if all manual transmissions were as easy to operate, there just might be more people who are willing to buy them.

View from the West

This Accord is one of the top choices for a daily driver to supplement my S2000. Sure there are minor quibbles, but the interior quality is top-notch for a non-luxury mid-size car and the car is loaded with tech gadgets, despite the Sport being only one step up from the base LX model. Rear seat room is cavernous and the trunk is quite large and usable. My only complaint would have to be the brakes as they felt a bit soft and did not inspire much confidence. Overall, this Accord is a win in my book. When I actually have the room to park a third car, this would definitely be at the top of my list of cars to consider.