2013 Honda Accord arrives, and the crowd goes mild: Motoramic Drives

Neal Pollack

"The Honda Accord is the greatest car in the world," the guy with the inexplicable mini-Mohawk, a lead designer for the company, was saying. "It is, absolutely, without question."

He said this live-miked while sitting in a brand-new 2013 model on the patio of a resort in Santa Barbara. Two-dozen car reviewers circled around him like buzzards, waiting for him to utter something else outrageous and uncomfortable. His Honda co-workers gritted their teeth, muttering shutupshutupshutup under their breath. This was the definition of an oversell. At some point, the guy realized he'd stepped outside the bounds of conventional car hype, saying, "What I meant is that the Accord does its job better than any car in the world." But the statement had already been released into the wild, ready to be judged.

Shockingly, the Honda Accord is not the greatest car in the world. It never has been, not even close, and, barring some catastrophic event where dozens of contemporary models are suddenly wiped away from history and memory, it never will be. The 2013 update of the Accord will be available in many flavors, with a 4-cylinder engine or a 6-cylinder one, as an automatic 4-door, a manual coupe, or a CVT, and even, starting early next year, as a plug-in hybrid. It boasts a tighter rear and slightly sleeker lines than previous models. But no matter the iteration, the Accord will be what it has been for more than 30 years, a reliable, safe, reasonably comfortable, moderately priced family sedan running between $23,000 and $33,000. Few will be amazed and even fewer will be offended.

On a beautiful day in mid-August, I drove several different versions of the new Accord. The first one my partner and I got was a 278-hp V-6 with all the trimmings. Family sedans don't tend to be that fun to drive, and this new Accord wasn't much of an exception. The front end felt a little sluggish, it didn't corner brilliantly, nor did it accelerate with a ton of gusto. Everything seemed a bit heavy, including the brakes. The transmission, when we put it into Sport mode, whined and churned when it was switching gears. It was fine. The Accord never really claimed to be a driver's car.

But it also had great leg room and fantastic visibility. Compared with other cars of its class, where window height sometimes feels like an afterthought, the Accord seemed to boast a 360-degree panorama, lacking only a glass floor, a perk which no car maker has yet figured out how to safely install. The Accord had other strengths, too. Side cameras, which can be turned on and off, worked extremely well, greatly mitigating the dangers of the blind spot. The rest of the electronic safety-warning apparatus was also efficient, smart, and not annoying.

The version we had was fully appointed, with breathable leather seats and a bit of faux-wood panelling, a higher-end version of the Accord than most people will buy, more like an entry-level Lexus, Infiniti, or, dare I say it, an Acura. At the very least, it almost exactly resembled a high-end Toyota Camry. That's one of the problems with the Accord, though, or maybe with all mid-range cars these days: They're mostly alike.

At one point in our drive, we got stuck on a country road, where we were winding toward a winery to be fed like pigs at the trough. A car crawled along in front of us. I wondered why the test-driver was going so slowly; even when they're running a quotidian Accord through its paces, car writers try to drive like the Sennas they imagine themselves to be. But as we got closer, I saw that it was actually a Hyundai Elantra, not being test-driven at all. At other points in the day, I mistook a Taurus, an Impala, and even an older Accord for the new one. Such are the perils of a crowded category.

After lunch, I got into a 4-cylinder Accord with a CVT. This one had cloth seats with bland gray material that looked like something you'd find at an assisted-living home, no automatic seat adjustments, none of the bells and whistles of the earlier version, and about 30 percent less power to boot. It drove as you might expect. Eh. But it was still roomy, still air-tight safe, and still had the same excellent wraparound view. It also will cost less, and should easily meet the expectations of the thousands of faithful Accord customers that Honda has carefully cultivated over the decades.

On fuel economy, Honda has followed the crowd; the most-efficient 4-cylinder gets a 29 mpg combined and 35 mpg on the highway; the 6-cylinder matches the 25 mpg combined posted by the 2013 Nissan Altima. Honda hasn't released details on its hybrid version, which never sold well in its previous edition, and won't go on sale until next summer.

Later, I also drove a preview version of the Accord plug-in hybrid, arriving in about six months. Like the Prius plug-in, it has an all-electric range of 12-15 miles, and like all electric cars, it boasts a zippier, cleaner-feeling drive than a combustion-driven engine does. With the Fit EV, Honda has proven it can do electric as well as any manufacturer, and the Accord plug-in should be a nice arrow to add to Honda's growing alternative-fuels quiver.

It's been a rougher-than-usual period for Honda. The Japan earthquake and tsunami devastated production and development. The most recent Civic, its other flagship car, has decent sales numbers, but has been savaged by critics. Consumer Reports called it one of "five cars you're buying but probably shouldn't." The company needs the Accord to do well, and it almost certainly will.

The 2013 Accord isn't going to get you laid. No one's going to write songs about its excellent safety features and visibility. But those are precisely the qualities that will allow it to continue to vie for the top spot in the car industry's most hotly contested segment. It's not the greatest car in the world, but it's among the most competent and reliable. Absolutely, and without question.

2013 Honda Accord

CLASS Midsize sedan and coupe
ENGINES 2.4-liter 4-cylinder; 3.5-liter V-6
TRANSMISSIONS 6-speed automatic, CVT or manual
POWER 185 hp (4-cylinder); 278 hp (V-6)
TORQUE 181 ft.-lbs.; 252 ft.-lbs.
WEIGHT 3,100 lbs. -- 3,500 lbs.
0-60 MPH N/A
EMISSIONS 5.1 tons/year
MILEAGE 26/35 city/highway (4-cyl. w/CVT)
PRICE RANGE $21,680 -- $33,430
CONS All the excitement of slicing white bread
PROS Honda preserved all the reasons people buy Accords