Inside the new Honda Accord
Transmission, suspension sure to stir loyalists
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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- For all the similarity in the sheet metal to its predecessor, the 2013 Honda Accord is as close to a clean-sheet redesign as possible.
It is several inches shorter, and a new engine, transmission, suspension and body structure are among the key changes for Honda's mid-sized sedan. It also marks the first use of Honda's plug-in hybrid technology.
The redesigned Accord is Honda's crucial test to see if it once again can challenge the Toyota Camry as America's top-selling car, while fending off the Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and others that are surging in mid-sized sales.
Honda also has reunified the Accord platform for all markets; no longer does the United States get its own version. And while Toyota stopped building the Solara, claiming weakness in the mid-sized coupe market, Honda will continue selling an Accord coupe.
The basics: Honda has caught up with other automakers in offering direct-injection engines. With the Accord, it is standard across the lineup. Also, Honda has updated its VTEC variable valve timing system to include variable cam timing. The four-cylinder offers more power, better fuel economy and lower emissions than its predecessor.
While some automakers are shifting to turbocharged four-cylinder engines for upmarket trim levels, Honda is sticking with a 3.5-liter V-6 paired with a six-speed automatic in the sedan.
The V-6 has variable cylinder management, which runs the engine in three-cylinder mode when cruising. That enables the V-6 to get 21 mpg city/34 mpg highway while shaving a half-second off its zero-to-60 time. The V-6 has gained six horsepower but has lost a couple pound-feet of torque.
Perhaps the most radical change for the Accord is switching from a geared transmission to a continuously variable version for all four-cylinder automatics. Honda says it has developed a solution to the CVT's traditional lack of refinement.
"Historically, CVTs had a 'rubber band' feeling, or a nonlinear acceleration feeling," said Art St. Cyr, American Honda vice president for product planning and logistics. "Ours has a more natural shift feel, and an earlier rise in G-force acceleration compared to the five-speed automatic. And it has quicker acceleration than the Camry or Altima."
Enthusiasts will probably complain about the changing of the front double wishbone suspension, to MacPherson struts. Honda has prided itself on the Accord's track-inspired double wishbones since the automaker dominated Formula 1 in the 1980s.
But packaging realities intervened. Double wishbones lend themselves to crisp, precise handling. But they are heavier, take up more space, provide a busy ride on long trips and let more noise into the cabin.
Honda changed to a strut design to quiet the ride -- both dynamically and sonically. Honda engineers say the car is more agile, predictable and responsive, with better high-speed stability, thanks to the addition of hydraulic compliance bushings. But they admit there was difficulty in overcoming the off-center numbness inherent in the car's electric power steering system.
To save about 14 pounds, Honda used a new "friction stir welding" technology to bond steel to aluminum in the subframe. Overall, the body in white weighs 55 pounds less.
As for the sheet metal itself, while the front and rear fascias retain their distinct Honda flavor, the greenhouse, door cuts and body creases closely mimic those of the BMW 3 series.
Notable features: Inside, the instrument panel features a standard eight-inch telematics screen, the largest in the segment. While the previous instrument panel was made from four distinct pieces with 16 seams, the new design is one seamless piece. That will reduce the chance for squeaks and rattles. To further calm the cabin, the stereo speakers send noise-cancelling sound waves into the cabin.
Although the car is shorter it gains one cubic foot of trunk storage space thanks to a higher bulkhead and a narrowed and relocated torsion bar.
The Accord comes standard with 16-inch wheels, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, alarm system with remote locks, Bluetooth connectivity, rear-view camera, auto-off headlights and a 160-watt CD stereo with USB and Pandora Internet radio. Prices will be announced Monday.
Optional safety features include lane departure warning, a precollision warning chime and a camera mounted in the right-side mirror that displays the blind spot area on the navigation screen when the right-turn indicator is flicked.
For the hybrid version, a plug-in hybrid that arrives first in spring 2013, as opposed to the more mainstream, and less expensive, conventional hybrid consumers are used to. That comes later in 2013.
The two-motor hybrid system allows engine power to drive the front wheels, charge the battery pack or power the generator to supply electrical propulsion.
The car defaults to electric vehicle mode at startup, and can drive for 10 to 15 miles in EV mode before the gasoline engine kicks in. It is expected to have a range greater than 500 miles, with a miles-per-gallon equivalent of greater than 100.
Honda says a 240-volt charging system can recover eight miles of EV range in 30 minutes and fully charge in an hour. The car can run its climate control full blast and remain in EV mode.
What Honda says: "All companies are coming forward with good fuel economy, so we needed to bring a car with these winning features," said Shoji Matsui, Accord chief engineer. "This is a product you can't go wrong by. It excels in all areas."
Compromises and shortcomings: Purists probably will despise the CVT transmission and the loss of the front double wishbones. The PRND gear-shift tree does not offer a manual-shift mode. Paddle shifters are offered only on the sedan's "sport" trim level.
The market: The sedan's on-sale date is Sept. 19, and the coupe is scheduled to arrive in dealerships Oct. 15. Honda hopes to sell 350,000 Accords a year, with the coupe accounting for about 50,000 units, which likely won't surpass the Toyota Camry.
Through August, Honda sold 218,665 units of the current Accord in the United States, a 35 percent gain over the same eight months of 2011 in a market that has risen 15 percent.
The skinny: Some big changes were needed to the current bland, bloated Accord. Its look is crisper, its engines stronger. But in the case of the suspension and transmission choices, some may argue Honda went too far.
You can reach Mark Rechtin at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Mark on