The Accord nameplate is one of Honda's most storied, with nine previous generations of car dating back to the mid-1970s. Now it's time for an entirely new model to pick up the baton.
But where once this was a staple model for the brand, the public appetite for big sedans today is at its nadir. Honda's sales targets for this car are so conservative that they render it a niche player at best, one that it hopes will appeal to previous Accord owners first, foremost, and perhaps solely.
In terms of design it’s certainly more interesting than the car it supplants and follows many of the cues set out by the small Civic sedan, with a sleek fastback-like silhouette, pronounced shoulder line, and nice 18-inch wheels.
This iteration sits on a totally different platform to its predecessor model, with a claimed 24 per cent greater torsional rigidity. It's also longer between the wheels and wider in the body than before, but a smidgen shorter and lower overall.
Thanks to heavy use of high-tensile body steel and aluminium in key underbody components such as the front control arms, it's also up to 70kg lighter than the old one, helping reduce fuel use and enabling more agile handling at the same time.
Honda has improved its odds of delivering on the latter thanks to quicker steering with fewer lock-to-lock turns, re-calibrated all-round independent suspension, improved front-to-rear weight distribution, a lower centre of gravity, and programmed driving modes that sharpen the throttle response.
The car is also slipperier through the air thanks to a flat floor and the fitment of active grille shutters, and the promise of greater driver refinement is further enabled by acoustic glass, lots of sound-deadening carpet in the floor and wheel wells, in-wheel acoustic resonators lifted from the Acura premium sub-brand, and sound-countering ambient speakers inside.
It is indeed quieter than a Civic, though you still hear tyre roar over coarse-chip surfaces. However, the ride quality on fixed dampers won't appeal to all buyers, especially those after a plush US-style character. In a bid to up the dynamism, the ride is firm, and the dampers sometimes don't control the compression as well as they could, meaning low-amplitude surfaces such as a bumpy road unsettle the body a bit.
The upside is that hugely improved handling. This Accord's quick steering, stiff chassis, lighter body, and lower stance mean you can throw it into twisty roads with some abandon, knowing it will hold on and get you out at the other end without drama.
Like the beloved Accord Euros of old, this is one big sedan that actually carves corners and batters bends.
There are two engines on offer. The entry point is a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine, similar to that used in the CR-V but with some tweaks like a new head, and VTEC operating on the exhaust cam.
It produces outputs of 140kW and 260Nm, is matched to a CVT with paddles, and is front-wheel drive. These outputs are well up on the old Accord's naturally aspirated 2.4, yet fuel use has been slashed from 8.2 litres per 100km to 6.5L/100km. It will also run happily on 91 RON petrol.
It has a strong mid-range, with peak torque available between 1600 and 5000rpm, and offers sufficient punch for the average buyer. The CVT doesn't flare all that badly, though the soundtrack under heavy throttle is always a drone.
Would we like the US-market's 188kW 2.0-litre turbo with a 10-speed automatic option? You bet. But it's not made at the Thai plant from where our cars are sourced. On a side note, this Thai plant also supplies the Japanese domestic market with Accords too...
The other choice is a petrol-electric hybrid, technology now returning to Honda for the first time in a while. It pairs a 2.0-litre engine running the Atkinson Cycle, with two electric motors and an e-CVT that replaces the familiar belt and cones, with a simpler motor-driven solution.
This drivetrain makes 158kW and 315Nm, and slashes fuel consumption to a remarkable 4.3L/100km even with 91 RON, or just 3.2L/100km on an urban loop. And it's a very good hybrid system.
If you aren't watching the digital dash animation telling you what's happening, you'll quickly lose track, evidence of the system's refinement. When the motors hand over responsibility for turning the wheels to the petrol engine, it kicks in without vibration and, unless your right foot is pinned, without much noise. Plus, it has punch.
On the topic of refinement, pushing the small 'EV' button near the shifter lets you drive for a few kilometres at low speeds fully electrically, until that battery needs a quick charge from the engine.
Said battery can also run the car at highway speeds for short periods when you're going downhill, at which point the engine essentially decouples via the motor-clutch unit.
The other improvement to driving overall is the fitment of more driver-assisting active safety tech, such as a lane-departure system that steers you between road lines on a backup basis, active radar-guided cruise control, and forward/reverse autonomous emergency braking that senses pedestrians.
The lack of conventional blind-spot monitoring lights in the mirrors, in favour of a left-side LaneWatch camera view, rankles though. The fact of the matter is the driver's side blind spots on multi-lane highways are a real issue for people, and Honda's answer to addressing the problem doesn't stack up today.
Another thing that's sure to polarise is the price. Because of this car’s projected low sales rate there’s only specification level available, which kicks off at $47,990 before on-road costs.
Beyond this, the hybrid commands an additional $2500 premium that takes the list price to $50,490, which is $9000 more expensive than a similarly-equipped, sized and efficient Camry SL hybrid, and barely cheaper than the AWD 206kW Skoda Superb range-topper.
Still, the Accord is at least loaded with features including heated leather seats with front-row electric adjustment and driver’s side memory presets, a sunroof, satellite-navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, climate control, a 360-degree parking camera, an automated park assist system, and a Qi wireless smartphone charging pad.
Cabin highlights include armchair-like seats, a 7.0-inch TFT digital instrument display, a Honda-first head-up display on the windscreen, an electric parking brake, a new touchscreen-based infotainment system, and a low driving position with slim A-pillars helping you see out.
The build quality is typically high, though not all of the cabin plastics feel particularly tactile or premium.
There are acres of rear legroom, plus rear-seat vents and USB points, though the sunroof diminishes rear headroom and anyone over 190cm like me might have to stoop a little. The boot is a whopping-great 570 litres, and there’s a space-saving spare wheel below the loading floor. The rear seat-back also folds down on all models, and there’s a ski port to poke longer items through.
In terms of ownership, all Hondas get a five-year warranty (and eight years for the hybrid battery), while servicing costs are capped at $312 per visit for either engine type at 12 month intervals.
These costs aren't too bad, though a Camry Hybrid service with annual intervals is capped at $195 per visit...
I'd appreciate the US market's 2.0-litre turbo and 10-speed auto drivetrain, a better opening price, and a plusher ride, but the great fuel economy, mostly comfortable cabin, excellent driver-assistance tech, and head-turning lines mean there are still reasons to consider this oft-overlooked offering.
It'll be a hard sell over a Camry SL though...