Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Test Drive: 2018 Honda Accord Touring 2.0T

I'll be the first to admit that we're a bit late to the party when it comes to reviewing the all new, 10th generation Accord. The car with the 1.5 liter turbo four cylinder has been out since late last year, and the 2.0 liter engine version has been around since about February. As the owner of a 2016 Accord Touring V6 though, I still felt it was relevant to review this car, as East Brother and I are considering it as a potential replacement for our current Accord. So how does it stack up to our current Accord?

I probably should have driven our Accord to this test drive, just so I could get a better back-to-back feel. But hey, it's a weekend and the sun is out, so I really couldn't resist driving the S2000. But to get back on topic, the first thing anyone will notice about the new Accord is that it looks nothing like its predecessor. While the ninth generation Accord sticks with standard sedan styling, the 10th generation adopts all new fastback like styling. The new Accord definitely has much sleeker lines compared to the old car, but, as East Brother mentioned in our comparison of our Accord with our retired 2014 Acura RLX, the ninth generation car looks more mechanically menacing. Overall, I do like the look of the new Accord, but I have to give props to Honda on the front end design of the previous Accord. The stubby, flat look of the new Accord will take some time getting used to.

Stepping into the interior, it feels like a completely different car from the last generation. The new Accord's interior is something that should belong on an Acura. Material quality of the last generation was already fairly good, but the new generation is definitely a step up. Most noticeable is the wood trim. While the ninth generation had that shiny, fake plastic looking wood (that Acura continues to use in their cars for some stupid reason), the new Accord adopts a matte, porous look that makes it look and almost feel like real wood. Honda has really gone out of its way to further blur the line between mass production vehicle and luxury vehicle.

Looking at the dash, it is also quite a big improvement. Gone is the old car's two tiered dash, replaced by one large touch screen. Below the screen are...knobs! Yes, Honda has brought back knobs for radio and HVAC controls, and they feel glorious! OK, I never had a huge issue with the buttons and touch controls, but knobs are just easier to use and I can reach over and make adjustments without having to take my eyes off the road. Of course, all the software has received a major overhaul and functions quicker than the old software. Stability is something that couldn't be tested in such a short time, but I certainly hope the latest version of Honda's infotainment software is far more stable than the one in my 2016 Accord. My only gripe with the center stack? Honda has now gone on to copy everyone and adopted the "tacked on at the last minute" look for the screen. Why can't anyone seem to offer a proper integrated screen these days?

But let's get to how the car drives. Get in, start the car, and the all digital LED dash cluster comes to life. Put the 10-speed automatic into gear with the gear select buttons on the center console, pull it out into the street, step on the gas and...wait...where's the noise? The Civic Type-R derived 2.0 liter turbo four is actually quite a good engine. There's ample thrust at lower RPMs thanks to the turbo spooling up relatively low in the powerband. Really step on it, and the thrust easily rivals the 3.5 liter V6 in the old car. The only problem is the noise doesn't really live up to the old car. It's a little too quiet when you really get into it. This is perfect for daily cruising, but when I step on it, I want to really be able to hear the engine. I think this was a complaint about the Civic Type-R as well. Honda does seem to have an issue when tuning exhaust sound, so I'm not all that surprised. I did think leaving the car in Sport Mode would let me hear a little more grunt and possibly the turbos spooling. No such luck.

Also new is Honda's 10-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the old six-speed from the old car. I had my doubts about it at first, wondering if it would spend a lot of time gear hunting like some of the eight and nine-speed transmissions I've experienced in the past. I was pleasantly surprised with how the transmission handled itself. In Eco mode, the car upshifts early and often, just as suspected. In sport, it stays in the lower gears for quicker acceleration without the need to downshift as often.

Speaking of Sport Mode, the 10th generation Accord marks the first time an Accord has adaptive dampers. In normal driving mode, the car is actually a fair bit more comfortable than the old car, even though it is on the same size 19 inch wheels and tires. Put it into Sport though, and the car really comes alive. Handling is much more crisp than the old car, and thanks to having a lighter engine up front, there is much less plowing when braking, and understeering when cornering. Even the brakes feel better than the old car. Unfortunately, the one thing where the old car is superior is in steering feel. While the old car's steering wasn't exactly great, it felt properly weighted and offered some steering feedback. The new car's steering, even in Sport mode, felt lighter and a little more numb than the old car. I sincerely hope this trend doesn't continue, or we may end up with Honda's that can be steered with one finger and offer zero feedback, a la Audi in the early and mid 2000s. But hey, on the plus side, Honda gave us our paddle shifters back!

At the end of the day, the new Accord is, pound for pound, the better car versus the old one, with maybe the exception of steering feel. And while I will miss the guttural sound and acceleration of the J-Series V6 under the hood, the new 2.0 turbo four is quite an engine in itself. Besides, for $695, I can get the Hondata ECU reflash and have the car producing Civic Type-R levels of power. That's something that I can't do with my current Accord.  

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