The traditional sedan’s struggle to stay afloat amidst an SUV sales tsunami has dominated headlines. But is has obscured another trend: the blurred line between luxury and mainstream autos.
The ute’s reign has been driven by a multitude of factors from five-door utility and command seating, to more fuel-efficient drivetrains. The narrowing luxe-mainstream gap hinges on two big developments: electronics and style.
The convergence has come with significant mile-markers: Ford Fusion’s premium Aston Martin face. Chevy Malibu’s Audi A7-like bod. Mazda 6’s suite of digital gee-wizardry. But this fall it hits full force in one complete and astounding package: the 2018 Honda Accord.
Yes, the dependable Accord, a car as genial and predictable as its inoffensive, peace treaty-evoking name: Oslo Accords. Geneva Accords. Honda Accords. All are excellent accomplishments. Genial. Hopeful. Um ... what were they about again?
My wife’s 1992 Accord was typically Accord-like. We bought it because it was reliable, efficient, had four doors, four wheels and ... um, doggonit, I’m going to have to Google “1992 Honda Accord” to remember what it looked like.
Not so the stunning, all-new 2018 car in top-drawer Touring trim which arrived in my driveway (at your local dealer this November) looking like someone swiped an Audi Sportback and stuck a Honda logo on its tookus. Priced at $36,675 — walking up the trim ladder from a $24,445 base LX — it is a glorious recipe containing the best auto ingredients baked to perfection.
My focus in this review is on the Touring trim, but it’s icing on top of what is a very good cake. In chassis dynamics, interior room and standard features like auto-brake safety systems and auto headlights, the Accord is a new mid-size standard.
We knew it was coming when Honda announced the all-new Accord would share a platform with the sensational 2016 North American Car of the Year Honda Civic. Like King Civic, which has more trophies than Tom Brady, the Accord is longer (two inches), wider (one-third inch), stiffer (32 percent more torsional rigidity) and with a lower center of gravity than the previous gen car.
Forget about its class competitors, Honda engineers base-lined the chassis to Audi. No wonder the luxury-mainstream gap is closing.
While front wheel-biased (most luxury chariots are rear-wheel drive), Accord handles with the confidence of a premium car. I tested Accord against an $82,000 BMW 540i X-drive and $46,000 Lexus IS 200 F-Sport (I have a big driveway), and the samurai was a worthy competitor.
Let me count the ways.
The Honda attacks corners with gusto, as predictable on turn-in as the Bimmer even without the BMW’s all-wheel drive advantage. A size smaller, the compact, tightly-sprung F-Sport was easier to rotate — until I hit the throttle.
The Honda’s 252-horse, 2.0-liter turbo-4 — a detuned version of the Tasmanian Devil that possesses the track-ready Civic Type-R — blows away the Lexus’ 241-horse turbo-4. Mated to Honda’s first 10-speed tranny, the Accord beats the 8-cog Lexus off apex. Power has long been the ace in the hole for luxury brands, but this is a mainstream driveline that is superior to one of the world’s premier luxury brands.
The Bimmer (remember this is car that stickers for $45,000 more) suffers no such embarrassment. Its 335-horse turbo-inline six is a rocket — as you would expect with two more cylinders and all-wheel-drive that gives the German better grip than the Accord. But so torquey is the Honda engine off the line that it routinely squeals the rubber. This provoked stern warnings from Mrs. Payne who was doing her best “National Lampoon Vacation” impersonation of Chevy Chase’s wife — to “SLOW DOWN!” Like the BMW, this kind of performance deserves all-wheel drive (please, Honda?).
The Honda’s athletic confidence is externalized in its coupe-like roof and sculpted torso. The rocker panels are scalloped upwards like the Lexus, but Honda’s designer eclipsed the IS with a subtle chrome signature that dovetails nicely with the rear bumper line.
From a rear, three-quarter view, the Accord holds its own with the iconic BMW 5-series. Both showcase handsome rooflines tapering to chrome-tipped rectangular tailpipes. Low profile tires frame artful, 19-inch, multi-spoke wheel designs.
Only the Accord’s face disappoints. Under an elegant, chrome monobrow and LED headlights (reminiscent of EV-maker Lucid’s signature look) — the grille reverts to mainstream form with a gaping black maw. It reminds me of a base Dodge Charger, only without the restraint. Like other Honda grilles (think the CR-V ute) it is a riot of too many conflicting details.
Given Honda’s history of righting wrongs, I’m hopeful a future Accord will get a face-lift. Kind of like its interior.
Step inside the Accord, and the fascia is forgotten because the car’s living space is a masterpiece. Talk about righting wrongs.
The previous generation Accord contained a confusing, two-tiered infotainment system that put the navigation screen on the top plane and the radio on the bottom (or was it the other way around?) That confusion still afflicts Acuras, Honda’s luxe brand.
But the ’18 Accord has gone to Audi school and transformed its interior into something worthy of the Teutons. A single, tablet screen rises out of a horizontal dash underlined in wood trim. The graphics are crisp, the leather stitched. Accord wants for nothing. You want a heads-up display? Both Bimmer and Honda got it. Programmable seat memory? Got it. Adaptive cruise control with 5 mph increments? Got it. Configurable driver instruments? Yup.
The Accord even one-ups the 5-series with more intuitive buttons to control its cornucopia of features, a roomier cabin and a better digital gearbox shifter. The BMW uses a confusing monostable while Accord sports the same intuitive “trigger buttons” used in the Acura NSX.
Speaking of Acura, I’d buy the Accord Touring over its luxury lineup. The back seat is huge (I could set behind myself with ease), the trunk could swallow an elephant, and the rear seats are heated. Yes, just like the Bimmer.
The only comparable mainstream car I’ve driven is Mazda’s CX-9 midsize SUV which is as gorgeous and capable as any premium SUV. Or VW’s European Passat wagon. Punchy, handsome and fuel efficient, it beats an Audi for $10,000 less. The Euro-Passat is not yet available in the States. But it will be.
Premium buyers will buy their Bimmers and Lexi because badges matter. But mainstream buyers can drive around in their Accord Touring with no class envy. They aren’t missing a thing.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2018 Honda Accord
Front-engine, front-wheel drive,
1.5-liter turbocharged, inline-4
cylinder; 2.0-liter V-6
6-speed manual; continuously-
variable transmission (CVT;
3,131 pounds (3,428 Touring trim
$24,445 base ($36,675 Touring
192 horsepower, 192 pound-feet
torque (1.5-liter); 252 horsepower,
273 pound-feet torque (2.0-liter)
0-60 mph, TBA
EPA est. 30 city/38 highway/
33 combined (1.5 liter);
TBA (2.0 liter)
Luxury class interior and
features; smooth turbo-4 and
10-speed tranny makes great
Oh, that grille; will make Acura’s
comeback more difficult
Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★Fair ★★