First Drive: Honda gears all-new 2018 Accord toward driving enthusiasts but retains mass appeal

Once the most popular class of vehicles in the country, the midsize sedan market has contracted significantly in recent years as consumer preferences shift away from cars.

Many were quick to lament the death of this segment but such eulogies were premature at best. Roughly 1.3 million of these cars were sold in the first eight months of this year, a significant bloc that trails only pickup trucks, entry-level SUVs and compact cars.

First Drive: Honda gears all-new 2018 Accord toward driving enthusiasts but retains mass appeal

Honda has brought fresh styling and sportier driving dynamics to the all-new 2018 Accord.

(WES ALLISON)

Interest in midsize cars is waning, that much is true, but too many buyers remain loyal for them to go away entirely. However, manufacturers that want to compete in this space have to redouble their efforts to survive while those who haven’t the stomach or the budget for that will inevitably pull back, as Chrysler did with the 200 and Volkswagen with the CC.

First Drive: Honda gears all-new 2018 Accord toward driving enthusiasts but retains mass appeal

While the midsize car segment as a whole has struggled, the Honda Accord has retained its popularity in the 21st century.

(Honda)

Honda, a perennial top-seller in this segment, isn’t heading for the hills any time soon but it has brought a new approach to the Accord for it’s 10th generation by striving for a more specific audience rather than broad appeal. That means a more striking appearance, more dynamic driving capabilities and an interior design that fosters a more engaging on-road experience.

In short, the Accord is no longer a default option for the nuclear family; that territory has been ceded to the crossover class. It’s not just a vehicle for someone who simply needs to get from point A to point B. The 2018 Accord is a car for those who drive a car because they like to, because it’s sleek and fun.

First Drive: Honda gears all-new 2018 Accord toward driving enthusiasts but retains mass appeal

Once a popular segment for transporting small families, midsize sedans such as the the Accord are losing ground to their crossover counterparts.

(WES ALLISON)

This isn’t to say Honda has abandoned practicality. Quite the contrary, in fact; the Accord’s condensed exterior hides a more spacious interior with added rear legroom as well as a larger trunk. The Japanese automaker has also made its suite of advanced safety systems standard for 2018, so it’s not as if it can’t be used as a family vehicle.

There also won’t likely be a glut of Honda sedans lining up outside the race tracks of America. The 2018 Accord simply takes the weaknesses of the car—the things that have caused so many drivers to defect to crossovers and SUVs—and turned them into strengths.

First Drive: Honda gears all-new 2018 Accord toward driving enthusiasts but retains mass appeal

Honda has given the 2018 Accord an aggressive new appearance with flat front end and tapering rear roofline.

(WES ALLISON)

To show off the redesigned Accord, Honda invited a few dozen automotive analysts, journalists and so-called influencers up to northern New Hampshire and put us up in the historic Mt. Washington Resort, nestled amidst the White Mountains in Bretton Woods. After the initially round of formalities and schmoozing, we were introduced to the car and instructed to simply look at it.

This, too, was a formality in its own right, as all of us had already seen the vehicle in one form or another since it was unveiled in July. However, it was also an exercise of pride for the company, which now possesses one of the more well-crafted mainstream sedans ever made. In fact, the first thing Junji Yamano, chief engineer and head of global development for Honda Research and Development, said to me when were seated next to one another at dinner that night was “What do you think of the design?”

My answer was that I thought quite highly of the new exterior, with its flat front end and tapered, coupe-like roofline. Honda made the new Accord about half an inch lower and just a smidge wider, giving it a more athletic stance. Also, while the entire body is a bit shorter than the current model, the wheelbase and the axle tracks have been expanded to offer better traction.

First Drive: Honda gears all-new 2018 Accord toward driving enthusiasts but retains mass appeal

The redesigned Accord is lower and wider with a stretched out wheelbase and tire track. 

(WES ALLISON)

In addition to its reworked posture, the 2018 Accord also adds a powerful front fascia with large, LED headlights and broad chrome wings flanking the “H” badge. Honda also broadened the grille and added active shutters, at least for the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. Capping off the front end are a set of sculpted rectangular air curtains at the bottom corners along side LED fog lights.

Small details, such as the accent creases along the sides and the laser-brazed roof skin that seals the top of the car without the need for rubber sealants, give the Accord a crisp, clean appearance.

First Drive: Honda gears all-new 2018 Accord toward driving enthusiasts but retains mass appeal

Despite removing the V6 offering from the Accord lineup, Honda has actually ratcheted up the performance specs of its midsize car, making it more enjoyable to drive regardless of whether it sports a 1.5-liter or 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. 

(Honda)

Since it was introduced to the U.S. market more than four decades ago, the Honda Accord has been the best-selling passenger car in the country. That is a testament to the quality of the product, its ability to adapt to ever-changing landscapes and the strong customer loyalty it’s built up over time.

Mike, the man who would take me to Manchester-Boston Regional Airport for my return trip to New York, asked me what had brought me to New Hampshire in the first place. When I told him I was there to test drive the new Accord he had a laugh and said “My girlfriend drives an Accord, always has. Whenever she needs a new car she doesn’t even shop around, she just trades in for the new one.”

For those die-hard fans—and there are quite a few of them—the styling update would have probably been enough to sell them on gen 10. However, Honda wanted to go beyond looks and that was clear from the moment I first entered the 2018 Accord and sat in the driver’s seat.

First Drive: Honda gears all-new 2018 Accord toward driving enthusiasts but retains mass appeal

One of the biggest differences between the outgoing generation and the all-new 10th generation is seat design.

(WES ALLISON)

With mild side bolsters, an arching back and big, stiff head restraints, it’s clear that these seats were meant to have a race car feel. The same can be said for the tightly wrapped steering wheel, with it’s large thumb grooves and ergonomic ripples, especially when they’re accompanied by optional paddle shifters.

Honda also took things a step further by lowering the position of the driver’s seat and moving both front seats closer to the center of the car, making the driver feel closer to the road and more engaged.

Despite being between 114 and 187 pounds lighter than the current edition, the 2018 Accord has a more rigid body thanks to the implementation of more ultra high-strength steel. This is evident by the car’s steady behavior, even when taking on sweeping curves at high speeds. Sport editions offer a smooth-shifting 6-speed manual transmission and the steering on all versions is also noticeably heavier than previous generations.

First Drive: Honda gears all-new 2018 Accord toward driving enthusiasts but retains mass appeal

Honda has made the steering noticeably heavier for its new Accord, a change that will please driving enthusiasts and frustrate those looking for an easy ride.

(WES ALLISON)

All of these things should please enthusiast-minded drivers but for those looking for a more relaxed, comfortable and less involved driving experience, the Accord might be less appealing than competitors such as the recently redesigned Toyota Camry, which isn’t as fun to drive but noticeably cushier.

Things aren’t entirely rosy for gear heads either, as Honda has opted to remove the V6 option form the Accord lineup in pursuit of better fuel economy averages, leaving it with only a 1.5-liter turbo, 2.0-liter turbo and its hybrid system. For those who opt for the smaller engine, five out of six trim packages only offer a continuously variable transmission while the 2.0-liter engine comes mated to an all-new 10-speed automatic.

But fear not, despite having two fewer cylinders than the current edition, the 2.0-liter turbo Accord Sport is still plenty of fun, especially when paired with the stick shift, making 252 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque. It might not have the power of the new Camry XSE’s 3.5-liter V6, but I found the Accord to be a more enjoyable overall experience, thanks to tighter steering and stiffer suspension. The 1.5-liter version is projected to get 30 mpg in city driving, 38 mpg on the highway and 33 mpg overall while the city/highway split for the 2.0-liter is 23 mpg and 34 mpg, respectively.

First Drive: Honda gears all-new 2018 Accord toward driving enthusiasts but retains mass appeal

Honda will launch the 1.5-liter turbocharged Accord on Oct. 18 and follow up with the 2.0-liter turbo at the end of November.

(Honda)

With its 2018 redesigned, the Accord is ready for the future of the midsize car market. It’s sleek design and sporty dynamics will make it popular with driving enthusiasts while an additional two inches of rear legroom and an extra cubic foot of cargo room will make it a viable option for the active lifestyle buyers as well as the family crowd. Honda also wisely makes its Honda Sensing suite of advanced driver assistance technologies a standard feature.

It also offers 4G LTE Wi-Fi, Bluetooth connectivity and an app that can turn a smartphone into remote control, all features that will help win over the growing number of tech-savvy Millennials moving into this customer segment. Plus, with an 8-inch floating infotainment screen and nice, buttoned down interior, it feels nicer than a vehicle that starts at less than $24,000.

All of this is to say, Honda has upped the value on the Accord, which was already a high-value buy to begin with.

First Drive: Honda gears all-new 2018 Accord toward driving enthusiasts but retains mass appeal

The all-new Accord will start at $23,570.

(WES ALLISON)

However, added amenities alone would not have sustained the nameplate for long. With a base MSRP of $23,570 for a 1.5-liter LX and a top starting price of $35,800 for 2.0-liter Touring, the Accord’s pricing is almost identical to the CR-V, another recently redesigned midsize vehicle that’s a strong value proposition. Herein lies the problem for the Accord and all other midsize cars, they are quickly losing ground to SUVs, often times ones that are sold on the same lots.

This is also where the artisanship of the 2018 Accord is on full display. Honda knows where it stands in the segment and where the segment is heading. It took a popular car, updated it in ways that both strengthen its mass appeal while also honing in on the specific traits that will keep it relevant into the future.

In other words, Honda has itself another hit sedan.

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