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.