Owing to the vagaries of scheduling and time management, this week saw me stepping directly out of the eye-poking angularity of a Civic Type R and into the buttoned-down sensibility of a base-engine Honda Accord. It felt like heading back to the office after a week cosplaying a giant robot at an anime convention.
Enter the Accord, the proverbial parent at a Taylor Swift concert.
While I’ve a great deal of affection for Honda’s little tour de démence, swapping Civic R for Accord Touring also felt like going from the ridiculous to the sublime. The Type R may be thought of as a bestselling pop artist, one that grabs headlines and the attention of youngsters with outrageous behaviour and plenty of Loud Noises. But the pocket money to pay for all those iTunes downloads has to come from somewhere.
Enter the Accord, the proverbial parent at a Taylor Swift concert. A complete ground-up redesign, it charts its course into a rapidly shrinking segment without much in the way of fanfare.
Honda’s press releases point out that the block of the 2.0L engine is the same (more like similar) to that found in the Type R, and that you can even option a six-speed manual transmission, but let’s be real for a moment. The vast majority of buyers will opt for the 1.5L base engine, the CVT, and a bundle of Enya’s greatest hits.
Much like everyone’s every-song-sounds-the-same artist, the new Accord is the picture of inoffensive. Honda might even have been able to release a design this tidy ten years ago without comment, and in today’s market of hyper-aggressive fake grills, the Accord is a muted presence. Heck, it’s a muted presence on the Honda dealership lot.
Excellent. The job of a mid-sized sedan is to embody the spirit of “nice.” While not quite managing to be perfect in all aspects – the upticked chrome trim at the rear is a little wonky, and the 19-inch wheels look like pure curb-bait – the Accord’s overall packaging is enough to get admiring nod from the neighbour when you bring it home, and then work for a decade without aging out of style.
Inside, the Accord should bring a sigh of relief to anyone who thought Honda’s ergonomics department had run away to join the circus eight years ago. First, it’s roomy, with front passengers moved slightly inboard to give the illusion of an even wider cabin. Rear seat room is up too, though headroom out back has been given a slight haircut, thanks to the trim new styling.
But such expansion is to be expected, and is the reason a Honda owner from the 1970s would be shocked to see an Accord the size of a Lincoln. Take heart Disco Honda Stu, this Accord can still boogie, thanks to the details.
The hip-point has dropped by a not-inconsiderable 25 mm. The driver is also pushed a little closer to the windshield, giving better visibility and more of a panoramic view.
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The 8.0-inch touchscreen that controls most functions is speedier to swipe through, and features both large icons and a pair of knobs. It’s now much easier to fiddle with the audio without taking your eyes off the road. The air-conditioning controls are also simplified, and have coloured rings to let you know if the system’s heating (red), cooling (blue), or right in the sweet spot (white).
It’s also just... nice in here. Don’t interpret faint praise as an epithet – the Accord’s cabin is unfussy but upscale. Acuras used to be effortless as this, and perhaps because the Accord doesn’t have to worry about what BMW and Mercedes are doing, it looks good without trying too hard.
It says Touring on the badge, so let’s do just that. I had a chance to put a few kilometres on this very same Accord at the launch event in Jasper, where the scenery was spectacular. If the Accord is to truly shine, it must be good at handling much less picturesque conditions.
Thus, I loaded up my five year old and headed south to the zoo. (No, not to drop her off there. Although where my two year old is concerned...) Vancouver to Seattle on a wet weekday is just the sort of dull highway monotony that a mid-sizer should excel at.
Right from the start, the Accord began a pleasant and relaxing conquest. At the launch, I’d had the chance to hustle a more powerful 2.0L-turbo-and-manual combo up a pretty tricky mountain road, and had come away impressed with an overall sense of agility. The steering, while turned down a few steps from the Type R, felt quick and direct. Grip was above expectations, and while the V6 will be missed, the reduced weight on the nose made the car feel lively.
Likewise this 1.5 Touring felt light on its feet, much less ponderous than the ubiquitous crossover that has mostly replaced the family sedan in most driveways. Equipped with Honda’s variable valve timing (VTEC) on the exhaust side, the 1.5L produces 192 hp at a peak 5,500 rpm, but the real boon is the 192 lb-ft of torque available from 1,600 to 5,000 rpm. Low torque applications paired with a continuously variable transmission are pure misery.
But with maximum shove available at a mere 1,000 rpm above idle, the Accord glides up to highway speeds with ease. Once at cruising speed, it’s both quiet and comfortable. You’d have difficulty making the case that many of the luxury brands are any better.
For the drudgery of the US interstate, the Accord’s Honda Sense technology is both a boon and a danger. I appreciated the adaptive cruise control, and the lane-keeping system seemed less prone to weaving between the lines.
On the other hand, it’s already been proven that standard cruise control isn’t great for maintaining maximum awareness, and there are a lot of Weavin’ Stephens and Swervin’ Mervins out there. Honda Sense – and other driver assist systems – lull you into a sense of ease. You might just be relaxed a little too much.
The five-year-old fell asleep in the back seat, but I’m cautious about using this fact as evidence of superior comfort. She’s fallen asleep in a McLaren before.
From the driver’s seat, however, the Accord handled expansion joints, rain, heavy traffic, and other regrettable elements of real-world driving, all the way to Tacoma. There, we popped in to the LeMay museum to examine an imaginary sort of world where every machine’s an exotic or classic.
Battling back through Seattle’s rain-soaked traffic, which is worse than expected, we cranked up the tunes (not Tay-Tay yet, praise be, but Dad’s mix of AC/DC and The Cult). Honda’s packaged the Accord well, if you’re an audiophile, with only the base, LX trim cars not getting the powerful 452W, 10-speaker audio system.
After an overnight at an Airbnb – an antique tugboat, which the kid dubbed “an Airbnboat” – we headed off to the zoo to watch gorillas pick their noses industriously. Again, my youngest would fit in nicely here.
Throw in some visiting of friends with similarly aged kids, a little shopping around for a Hot Wheels haul, and driving over to gaze up at the Space Needle, the trip was a memorable one. What was not memorable in any way was the Accord itself. We filled the cupholders with don’t-tell-your-mother milkshakes, tromped dead leaves into the carpets, and finally loaded up the comically large trunk for the long drive back home.
Among other lessons, here are some things I’ve learned as a father. Temper your expectations: remember that your child is more likely to play with the cardboard box than the toy that came in it. Understand the limits: kids get tired, and so do you; pace yourself. Never feed them sugar after 5pm: if you’ve seen Gremlins, you’ll understand.
And lastly, understand the value of consistency. I’m not sure I’m entirely ready to throw in the towel and grow up yet; the family ride is an STI, and a Type R would make a much more direct replacement. Or, if dragged kicking and screaming from the turbo-hatch segment, perhaps some joy can be found in thrashing a six-speed Accord.
There’s joy too, of a different kind, in the volume model. It’s a stalwart. It doesn’t ask too much from its driver, and it delivers in ways that will please its passengers. Does it fit the cliché of Driver’s Car? Certainly the Accord isn’t boring if you’re the one behind the wheel.
It’s better than that, though. The Accord isn’t just for people who care about driving, it’s for people who have to care about other, littler people too. The Accord’s for grownups. We won’t set a record at the Nürburgring, but we’ll make a little magic all the same.
Competitors:Toyota Camry Hyundai Sonata Mazda MAZDA6 Ford Fusion Chevrolet Malibu Volkswagen Passat
|2018 Honda Accord Touring|
|Engine Displacement: 1.5L|
|Engine Cylinders: I4|
|Peak Horsepower: 192 hp @ 5500 rpm|
|Peak Torque: 192 lb-ft @ 1600–5000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy: 8.2/6.8/7.6 L/100km city/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space: 473 L|
|2018 Honda Accord Touring|
|Base Price $35,790|
|A/C Tax $100|
|Destination Fee $1,695|
|Price as Tested $37,885|
|Optional Equipment $300 – Metallic Paint $300|