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First Drive: 2018 Honda Accord

Hats off to Honda: Every automaker claims to be committed to the ever-shrinking mid-size sedan market, but Honda seems to be the only one actually doing something about it. While other brands keep giving us the same three boxes in slightly reskinned packages, the all-new 2018 Honda Accord is the only midsize sedan that feels genuinely all-new.

My editor would like me to get straight to the driving experience—which is just dandy, I assure you—but the changes to the Accord’s physical manifestation are the big story, so let’s get through those as quickly as possible. The new Honda Accord sports the same fastback shape as the Civic, and it wears it well. The grille is a bit fussy and the chrome-trimmed rocker panels on the Touring model are a bit silly, but the all-LED headlights (standard on all models) look cool and futuristic and the taillights are slicker than goose droppings. Besides, when it comes to design, proportion is king, and the Accord rocks it. From any angle, this is a great-looking car.

Even bigger improvements can be found in the cabin. The previous Accord’s ridiculous dual-screen dashboard has been tossed into the dumpster, where it belongs. Replacing it is a dash that is smooth and sleek and modern. Climate controls have been simplified and the stereo finally has freakin’ dials—two of them, even; one for volume and one for tuning, just as God commanded to Moses. The stand-up display stereo also gets accessory buttons for common functions, and while Honda’s graphical infotainment interface still trails the best in the biz, it’s getting better.

Though the new Accord is smaller on the outside, it’s bigger on the inside. Thanks to an increase in wheelbase and a back seat that nestles deep into the C-pillar, the 2018 Accord offers an absurd amount of rear-seat legroom—2.5 inches more than last the outgoing model—and a decent level of headroom considering the swooping roofline. The trunk is bigger as well, but with the bottom edge of the rear window dragged so far rearward, the opening is rather small—it may be time for Honda to follow Buick’s lead and turn the Accord into a liftback.

One of the coolest details is the semi-digital dash. The speedo on the right is the real thing, but the center display and left-side tach are a 7-inch TFT screen. The tach can be substituted with navigation, phone, audio and trip computer displays, but leaving it in rev-counter mode is a real treat—the animation is classic-era–movie-smooth, and were it not for the fact that the speedometer needle is a 3-dimensional object, it’d be nearly impossible to tell which of the two gauges is real and which is a video image.

So how is the driving experience? The answer is long, but it can be summed up in three words: Pretty darn good.

The big news for the 2018 Accord is its all-turbo engine lineup, the old 2.4-liter four-cylinder and 3.5-liter V-6 having been replaced by 1.5- and 2.0-liter turbocharged fours. The 2.0T is essentially the Civic Type R’s engine detuned to 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, the latter being the highest torque figure ever applied to an Accord.

Turbo lag is minimal; some other 2.0Ts stumble when floored from a standstill, but the Accord’s jumps off the line, picks up sharply at 2,000 RPM, breaks the tires loose at 3,500, and spins them all the way to redline. On paper, the 2.0T’s torque curve begins to drop off above 4,000 RPM, closely mimicking the behavior of a traditional V-6. In the real world, pickup is terrific: I dropped the hammer to pass an 18-wheeler on a tight two-laner, and by the time I pulled back into my lane, the speedo was brushing the century mark. Honda may be late to the 2.0T party, but it’s used its time wisely: In my opinion, this is the first four-cylinder turbo that is genuinely better than the V-6 it replaces.

Two-liter Accords with an automatic gearbox get Honda’s new home-grown ten-speed, a dream of a tranny that delivers smooth upshifts and prompt downshifts. Sport models can be had with a six-speed manual and while the shift action isn’t quite as tight as the outgoing Accord Sport, it’s still a pleasure to row.

Honda expects about 80% of Accord buyers to opt for the 1.5-liter turbo, which produces 192 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. Turbo lag is bit more pronounced than that of the 2.0T, but the engine comes alive around 2,250 RPM and pulls strongly and evenly right to the rev limiter, with peak torque delivered right all the way to 5,000 RPM.

Sport models can be had with a six-speed manual (the same gearbox paired to the 2.0T engine), while other 1.5-liter Accord models employ a continuously variable automatic. Honda hasn’t tried to make this CVT act like anything but what it is, and while purists may despise the droning engine note, its smooth, shift-free acceleration should be a hit with the masses. Even the most die-hard stepped-tranny snob will be forced to acknowledge how well the CVT does its job, snapping the engine up into its torque band when power is needed and promptly dropping it down into run-silent mode when the driver eases off the accelerator.

Let’s shift gears to the 2018 Accord’s chassis, which has also been completely reworked. The basic layout is the same, with MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup out back. New this year is an adaptive damper system, but it’s only available on the top-of-the-line Touring model, which is a shame; I’d love to see it on the Sport. Also new is a dual-pinion variable-ratio steering system.

Out on the open road, the 2018 Accord puts it all together pretty well. The revised electric power steering system is both heavier and stiffer than the outgoing setup, and while off-center feel and precision are excellent, there’s not much feedback when making mid-corner corrections. Grip and balance felt good, though I was prevented from pushing the Accord to its limits by narrow roads, blind curves, and local drivers. Suffice it to say that if you subscribe to this publication’s “No Boring Cars” mantra, you will find the 2018 Accord a very satisfying drive.

Honda has retained the somewhat-firm ride of the outgoing Accord, but its gone on a witch hunt for noise, slathering the body with sound insulation and adding a third microphone to the standard-fit active noise cancellation system. EX, EX-L and Touring models even get sound-absorbing wheels. The new Accord is noticeably quieter than the old one, though there’s still a moderate amount of road noise, particularly in cars without the noise-nixing wheels.

Honda has taken a big step on the safety front by making its Honda Sensing system (which comprises a collision detection system with automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, road-departure mitigation, automatic high beams, and a backup camera) standard on all Accord models. Unfortunately, the nifty LaneWatch system, which mounted a wide-angle camera in the right-side mirror, is gone. I thought this was one of the most innovative safety features ever developed, and I asked Honda why it got the axe; they said that while journalists like me loved it, owners were more likely to switch it off. Honda has replaced it with a traditional blind-spot warning system, though it’s only offered in EX, EX-L and Touring models.

The Accord Hybrid will return to the lineup in early 2018. Honda’s two-motor hybrid system returns, but the downsized battery is now small enough to share under-seat space with the fuel tank. That means the Hybrid gets the same 16.7-cu ft of trunk volume as the regular Accord, along with a 60/40 split-fold rear seat. I took a brief drive in an early-production version of the new Accord Hybrid, and liked it just as much as the current-gen Accord Hybrid—in other words, plenty.

The 2018 Honda Accord will keep the same basic trim lineup (LX, Sport, EX, EX-L, Touring) as the outgoing car, with the 1.5T liter engine offered in all five levels; the pairing of the smaller engine with the Touring model is new for 2018. The 2.0T can be had in Sport, EX-L and Touring trims.

The 2.0T Sport is the new addition here, and it gets a few extra standard features compared to the 1.5T Sport. Pricing ranges from $24,465 (including an $895 destination charge) for the 1.5T LX up to $36,675 for the 2.0T Touring, and Honda expects most buyers to gravitate towards the $26,655 1.5T Sport or the $28,345 1.5T EX.

Honda had not revealed pricing for the Accord Hybrid at the time of writing, but they did announce a new base model to complement the EX, EX-L and Touring trims. Once again, all Accords sold in America will be built in America, with the cars assembled at Honda’s Marysville plant and the new turbo engines built in nearby Anna, Ohio.