There’s always been something about the Honda Accord. Somehow, despite being a mid-size sedan from a Japanese brand aimed primarily at the US market (as mainstream as you’re ever likely to get), it has managed to stand apart as just a little bit more special.
Ultimately, though, in Australia the Accord could never match the sales momentum of the Toyota Camry. With the new 2020 Honda Accord VTi-LX, the brand has its best chance yet of squaring up to Toyota with hybrid tech as compelling as the Camry’s, and a sharp new clean-sheet design.
The Accord just isn’t a Camry rival, though, at least not this time. The single-spec Accord VTi-LX in Australia starts from $50,490 plus on-road costs, and while it comes fully loaded with equipment, it’s already $8900 more than the most expensive Camry hybrid and almost $20K more than the cheapest.
Clearly, volume sales aren’t on Honda’s agenda, then. Part of the problem stems from the source factory. Australian Accords come from a factory in Thailand that only assembles a high-spec version of the car, unlike American Accords that come in multiple specifications.
Australia does get a non-hybrid version with a 140kW 1.5-litre turbo engine and CVT auto from the CR-V (from $47,990), but misses out on the flagship 185kW 2.0-litre turbo and 10-speed auto available in North America.
Really, though, forget the 1.5-litre model. The shining star is the new hybrid version.
It's powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine producing 107kW at 6200rpm and 175Nm at 3500rpm, in combination with a two-motor electric system (one for generating electricity and one for powering the wheels) with a propulsion output of 135kW and 315Nm. Combined, the system outputs 158kW and 315Nm.
Hybrid engines aren’t really a new-fangled technical feat anymore. If you’ve ridden in a taxi or Uber, you probably already know how they can silently pull away under electric power, with the petrol engine only kicking in as load rises or if a sudden burst of speed is needed.
Honda’s system does exactly that, and the handover between petrol and electric powertrains is so subtle that if you’re not watching the dash display, you may not notice. With enough charge on board, the electric system can easily whisk the Accord up to speed without petrol assistance.
The system combines its powertrain outputs via an electric continuously variable transmission, or E-CVT, which not only provides seamless acceleration, but also allows the car to run in EV mode as a series hybrid – where the petrol engine runs the generator, but the electric motor turns the wheels – as a parallel hybrid with tractive contributions from the engine and motor, or with the engine directly powering the wheels.
While it all sounds slightly complex, it's as easy as pressing the starter button and putting the car in drive. The car will select the most appropriate drive mode for the conditions, although the driver can choose EV, Eco and Sport modes.
There’s instant strong punch off the lights if you’re generous with your right foot and both engine and motor come into play. If you’re more gentle, the Accord hybrid is still able to roll up to speed gracefully, and is often persistent in making sure the electric motor does the hard work for as long as it can.
Only if you pin the accelerator will you hear any meaningful complaints from the petrol engine. The E-CVT provides the perfect match for whatever is going on under the bonnet, and only when you rush onto a freeway ramp at full-tilt will it pin revs and sound a little droney, like CVTs of old.
Explore the different drive modes and Eco dulls throttle urge, attempting to minimise petrol inputs. Conversely, Sport fires up the petrol engine much more often, and makes a meaningful difference to the Accord’s acceleration response.
Honda quotes a keen 4.3L/100km fuel consumption figure. In the real world, the best we could get was a still decent 5.4L/100km on the urban cycle, but after adding in a high-speed rural circuit consumption settled on 6.1L/100km.
Super-slim A-pillars, about as narrow as you’ll find in a modern vehicle, provide excellent forward visibility, and mean no pedestrian or cyclist goes unnoticed at intersections. On the other hand, the lack of a true blind-spot monitoring system is a disappointment.
There’s a camera-based and indicator-operated lane-watch camera, which is useful in some situations, but isn’t ideal in all conditions. Plus, it only features on the left side of the car, not the right. There’s no reason the two systems couldn’t exist side-by-side – the lack of BSM seems like a cut corner.
Much like the current Civic, the new Accord hunkers occupants low in the cabin, treading a fine line between sporty without completely turning its back on practicality and ease of access.
The front seats are well proportioned: wide enough to support a broad-shouldered Aussie back, with the right amount of under-thigh and lumbar support for the driver. Both front seats are power-adjustable, but the passenger seat lacks height adjustment, which not everyone adored, and the steering column lacks power adjustment.
The new-generation Accord is certainly nice inside, but perhaps not $50K nice.
There are a few things missing that you’d find available in Euro cars, like three-zone climate, cooled front seats and heated rear seats. Not only that, but the plastics used in the interior aren’t particularly premium.
There’s convincing wood-look trim and some gloss detailing, but also an abundance of dull finishes, and hard plastic used for all bar the door tops and armrests where you might expect something a touch more sumptuous.
The rear seat is ridiculously spacious. Although the roof line is low, there’s still enough space for full-sized adults. Low though it may be, the Accord provides a natural and comfortable reclined seating position and loads of leg room. In fact, the Accord almost approaches the long-gone Holden Caprice in terms of distance between front and rear seats.
Boot space is a handy 570L, and remains the same in hybrid and non-hybrid models. There are low-placed bag hooks on each side of the boot, and the rear seats can be folded via a lever in the boot, but opening and closing is of the manual kind.
Interior amenities cover things like wireless phone charging, keyless entry and start (plus remote start), leather seats, steering wheel and gear knob, dual-zone climate control, and folding rear seats. The driver scores auto lights and wipers, two-position seat memory, a driver’s head-up display, and partial digital instrument cluster.
Unlike some brands, Honda doesn’t use a one-size-fits-all infotainment system, and has both good and bad throughout its range of vehicles. The Accord’s is thankfully one of the good ones.
The touchscreen is an 8.0-inch display, which is responsive to the touch and packs in AM/FM/DAB+ radio, Bluetooth, inbuilt navigation that’s quite user-friendly, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
There’s a 10-speaker sound system with subwoofer (though no premium branding) and the interior features active noise cancellation. The system isn’t amongst the cutting-edge, with no online services, but the functions it has – along with the physical shortcut buttons and knobs around the screen – make for a solid user experience.
The Accord’s interior design is subtly elegant and harmonious, and just the thing if the visual noise of the new Camry’s asymmetrical dash is too much to handle. On that, the interior is a delightfully serene place to be.
So smooth and quiet is the Accord that it gives prestige cars a run for their money. Tyre noise is a weak link in the chain, with the rest of the package so serene that the roar on coarse-chip surfaces, even at low speeds, really stands out.
Although it is in no way positioned as a sports sedan, there’s an underlying handling ability that’s reassuring to have. Tip into a corner with zeal and the Accord is accurate and predictable up front, and grippy and stable overall – more than it even really needs to be.
Ride is mostly comfortable, though the suspension can develop the jitters on high-frequency bumps. You’ll do highway distance with ease, but sub-par rural roads aren’t always met with the kind of magic carpet ride you might expect in a big, plush, lounge-like sedan.
There are also typical driver-assist systems that work with the driver, rather than against. While the Accord doesn’t have a fully fledged lane-centring system, the lane-keep assist is almost good enough to fill that gap.
The safety and assist roll call includes six airbags, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, rear cross-traffic alert, driver-attention monitoring, auto high beam, a surround-view camera, rear cross-traffic alert, smart parking assist, a rear-view camera with dynamic guidelines, and front and rear park sensors. At the time of publishing, ANCAP had not yet put the Accord through a local crash-test assessment.
Owners will be covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with extended cover on the hybrid battery system to eight years. Service intervals are set 10,000km apart with 'adaptive' timing depending on how owners use their vehicles.
Each of the first 10 service visits is priced at $312, but additional charges apply for scheduled replacements of the air cleaner ($55 every 60,000km), brake fluid ($166 every 36 months), spark plugs ($289 at 100,000km), and cabin filter ($45 every 24 months).
Honda has a really good car on its hands with the new Accord, but premium pricing in a still competitive but shrinking segment means this new generation will only ever see a shadow of the success of past versions.
The Camry will still reign supreme in the mid-size segment on volume, and the Mazda 6 remains the high watermark in terms of luxury. But at least past Accord and Legend buyers, who haven’t already made the switch, will still have somewhere familiar to retreat to.
The new Accord isn’t pretending to be something it’s not. It doesn’t masquerade as a sports sedan, but it delivers soothing comfort, traditional solid build quality, and adds impressive efficiency to a spacious and well-rounded family sedan.