America’s midsize sedan segment is one of the most crowded and fiercely competitive in the business. The Toyota Camry has long been our nation’s best seller, while the Honda Accord has dutifully come in second place, like some sort of codependent Cal Naughton Jr. riding Ricky Bobby’s back bumper.
There was that one year, 2001, when the Accord briefly broke the Camry’s streak, marring what would today have been a 17-year-long run of best-selling car titles. The Accord pulled the opposite move in 2011, letting sales slip far enough to let not only the Toyota by, but the Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion, as well. Aside from those anomalies, the Camry and Accord have been first and second in this segment since before many of you readers could even drive.
It’s 2014, and these frenemies have never before faced a threat to their world order as strong as today’s class of family sedans. The aforementioned Altima and Fusion are perhaps the most capable challengers, but the Chevrolet Malibu,Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Volkswagen Passat and Mazda6 are all capable of convincing new buyers to walk their way.
We at Autoblog predict the lineup of best-selling midsize sedans is about to be shuffled. We gave the current-generation Camry a pretty harsh review, and were it not for Toyota’s fiercely loyal customer base and increased incentive and ad spending, the king might have already stepped aside. The question for Honda is whether or not the Accord’s latest redesign is good enough to keep it ahead of this charging pack of competitors, or whether it follows the leader right off the podium steps.
Few would argue that the new shape isn’t an upgrade over the prior model, though it has been hit with criticism for being too derivative.
Honda played it decidedly safe with the Accord’s styling when the sedan was redesigned last year. Few would argue that the new shape isn’t an upgrade over the prior model, though it has been hit with criticism for being too derivative, particularly in the rear where it could be mistaken for a 2008-2014 Hyundai Genesis (it’s not the worst thing in the world to draw likenesses to class-above sedans).
The dimensions of the new design are perhaps more interesting than the way it looks. The Accord is now some 3.6 inches shorter in length, while also being shorter in overall height and a touch wider than the last-generation model. The vehicle’s stance certainly reflects those changes, and the wider front fascia that flows into gently upswept headlights looks more aggressive to our eyes, while at the same time remaining recognizable as both a Honda and an Accord.
Those exterior dimensions, of course, also affect how much room there is inside, and on paper, at least, there’s less: 103 cubic feet of passenger volume, down from the prior generation’s massive 106. Fortunately, the exterior shrinkage hasn’t made the Accord feel appreciably smaller on the inside, with plenty of space available in all directions and wide, comfortable seating for all. In fact, many key interior metrics have grown, like rear legroom and trunk space (up over a cubic foot to 15.8). Those three missing cubic feet of passenger volume appear to have been taken off the top, as front and rear headroom have both taken dips. Despite our tester’s moonroof, however, there was still plenty of clearance, even for passengers with six-foot, two-inch frames.
Many key interior metrics have grown, like rear legroom and trunk space.
The new dimensions have also dropped the Accord down a class in the Environmental Protection Agency’s classification system; whereas the prior Accord (eighth generation, for those counting) crossed the threshold of 120 cubic-feet of combined passenger volume and cargo space to become a fullsize car, the new Accord’s 118.8 cubic-feet of combined interior space keeps it among the midsizers.
In top-trim Touring spec like our tester, the Accord’s interior impresses with high-quality materials like nicely trimmed leather seats and dashboard plastics that generally look and feel better than is typical of this pricepoint. Almost everything about the interior, from its space and materials to the ergonomics of little things like the smartphone-sized cubby next to the power and USB ports, is well thought out and easy to use. Except the infotainment system. With our First Drive of the new Accord having been conducted in a Sport model lacking the upgraded infotainment system, this is our first chance to talk about Honda’s dual-screen system in the Accord.
The first screen is a large eight-inch unit that’s deeply embedded at the top of the center stack. This display is not touch sensitive, but rather controlled via rotary knob controller and set of buttons at the very bottom of the center stack. These controls, however, still require a reach, because they are not laid flat on the center console, so they don’t fall readily to hand like many other high-end systems. Below this big screen is a smaller display dedicated to audio functions. This display is touch sensitive, and lets you perform simpler tasks like switching music sources and advancing tracks.
We have a few issues with this setup, the first being its redundancy and generally poor use of the audio-only screen.
We have a few issues with this setup, the first being its redundancy and generally poor use of the audio-only screen. Most of the functions it performs can also be performed on the main screen using the knob controller, and the interface itself is more difficult to use than a simple set of physical buttons, because tasks often require the extra step of switching between screens. Our second gripe concerns operating the system on the larger screen using the single rotary knob and buttons. In particular, the Menu button manages to confuse because it doesn’t go to a top-level menu as expected. Rather, it takes you to a menu of options for whichever part of the system you happen to be at that moment, be it Navigation, Phone or Audio.
Lastly, the presentation of the system is decidedly a few years behind next-gen systems coming out from Honda’s competitors. The graphics, fonts and colors layered atop a confusing hierarchy of menus and controls makes the whole system feel like Windows 95 when everyone else is rocking Windows 8. We’ve tested many other systems in this competitive set and have found simpler schemes that rely on a single, large display with either touchscreen or well-designed central controller – this system is too complicated for its own good.
That doesn’t mean Honda doesn’t know how to do technology in these modern times, as our Accord also came equipped with the brand’s new LaneWatch system. Any time the right turn signal is activated, a camera mounted underneath the passenger-side mirror is used to project a view of the car’s blind spot, along with handy distance markers, on the main infotainment screen. At first we thought LaneWatch might be an overly complex solution to the simple problem of people not adjusting their mirrors properly, but in practical use, we found it not only helpful, but preferable and more trustworthy than the mirrors themselves.
The ability to run on half its cylinders helps the Accord achieve excellent EPA-estimated fuel economy figures.
While many midsize challengers have ditched offering a six-cylinder engine altogether, the Accord continues to make the heavier, more powerful engine option available. In this case, it’s Honda’s well-proven 3.5-liter V6 that produces 278 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 252 pound-feet of torque at 4,900 rpm. While one might think the Accord would suffer a big penalty at the pump for such a powerful mill, the opposite is actually true, thanks in large part the Honda’s comparatively svelte curb weight and its Variable Cylinder Management system. While cylinder deactivation technology is nothing new, its application on a V6 is rare outside the engine bay of a half-ton pickup.
The ability to run on half its cylinders helps the Accord achieve excellent EPA-estimated fuel economy figures of 21 miles per gallon in the city, 34 on the highway and 26 combined. Our results were even better, with the trip computer reporting an average return of over 30 mpg after a week of mixed driving. The official numbers put this Accord ahead of all top-trim midsize sedans, including the Fusion, Sonata, Optima and Malibu, all of which offer powerful turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engines in their most expensive models. We’ve noticed that these high-tech forced-induction fours tend to get strong window-sticker EPA numbers but fall flat out in the real world. This Honda doesn’t make economy promises that it can’t keep.
The Accord is still at the front of the pack in terms of handling.
Of course, the Accord’s engine management system will tell three cylinders to take a rest every chance it gets, even more so when the car’s Econ button is pressed. While amazing fuel economy is the result, the byproduct is an occasionally rougher-running engine you can feel through the steering wheel and pedals. The vibrations while running on fewer cylinders might not bother some, but we found them very noticeable, and there’s no setting to turn off the Variable Cylinder Management system entirely, so they’re practically always present with the engine dropping and bringing cylinders back online constantly. Honda says that all Accords are also fitted with an Active Noise Cancellation system, but we found the overall levels of noise, vibration and harshness to be average at best – definitely not approaching industry leaders in that area from near-luxury brand Buick, which use a similar Bose-branded noise cancellation technology in its Regal, a slightly more expensive (and smaller) rival.
The Accord doesn’t sell hundreds of thousands of units per year because it’s such a smooth operator, though. We’d venture to say the car’s reputation for offering the most engaging handling among midsize sedans is its chief selling point (along with a history of reliability and a strong dealer network that combines to inveigle legions of repeat customers). We’re happy to report that the Accord is still at the front of the pack in terms of handling. Pairing a very rigid unibody platform with a MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear suspension yields a highly diversified setup that’s comfortable counteracting imperfect city streets but also stable and composed when the pace picks up and the turns become sharp. While the steering system has become all-electric in this latest generation, its accuracy and weight still feel sharp and natural, though there is a lack of feedback from the road through the wheel. Likewise, the brakes that measure 11.5 inches up front and 11.1 inches at the rear are go-about-your-business great, offering perfectly natural feel through the pedal.
There’s no other family sedan on the market with mechanicals that operate in such harmony.
Having driven nearly all of this year’s midsize contenders, we can say there’s no other family sedan on the market with mechanicals that operate in such harmony. From the powertrain to the transmission to the suspension to the steering, all of the Accord’s subsystems are on the same page with each other from the moment the start button is pressed. Most of its competitors nail one or two of these disciplines, but rarely do they come close to a complete package like the Accord (the Mazda6 is the exception, though which is better is close enough to be a matter of taste). What’s more, there’s even a six-speed manual transmission still available on LX, EX and Sport models, though the EX-L V6 and our Touring tester are only available with this well-tuned six-speed automatic.
Really, the only fault we could find out on the road with this Accord was not with its mechanicals, but with the Adaptive Cruise Control system that exhibited some worrisome behavior. We set the ACC during a long trip on the highway and discovered that when traveling through a left-hand bend with something like a big pickup or semi truck on our right, the radar-based system would register that vehicle as being in our path and the Forward Collision Alert system would sound its alarms and flash warnings in the instrument panel. At the same time, we suspect the Brake Assist system had also precharged the brakes, because when our foot instinctively went to tap them, we got more braking power than we expected. An unsettling experience each time, this happened more than once during our trip. We can’t rule out that the bumper-mounted radar on our particular test vehicle may have been misaligned or otherwise defective, but we’ve experienced this fault on other automakers’ vehicles with similar systems before as well, so we doubt it.
Lastly, the Accord Touring we tested features a base price of $33,480 with a destination and handling charge of $790. At first blush, that may seem more expensive than its pack of competitors, but note there’s not an option available that isn’t standard with this trim. For instance, while a Ford Fusion Titanium may start lower at $30,600, once navigation, adaptive cruise control, blind spot alert, lane departure warning, heated seats and sunroof are added, its price has ballooned to $34,410.
The Accord ups the ante with its improved design, more interior space and efficiency that belies the power of its remarkable V6.
What we find with the 2014 Accord Touring is a lineup-leading model that bodes well for the future of Honda. Still among the very best-handling midsizers in this market, the Accord ups the ante with its improved design, more interior space where it counts and efficiency that belies the power of its remarkable V6. The issues we identified with the infotainment system may be a sticking point for some, especially those comparing the experience closely across the entire segment, but there are lesser trim levels available that go without navigation yet gain a much more straightforward interface. Indeed, it’s not so egregious a failing that Accord sales have suffered because of it, and we don’t see anything about this new generation that will threaten its place among the segment’s top sellers.
At this point, the only thing preventing the Accord from being America’s best-selling car are a bunch of stubborn Camry buyers.