SANTA BARBARA, CA –
A typical car launch goes something like this: begin somewhere pretty enough to show the car in the best possible light, then spend most of the day following a highly choreographed drive route -- complete with detailed guide book -- stopping at prescribed check points along the way to both fortify our souls with candy handouts and reassure the manufacturers that we haven't managed to toss their vehicle off the side of a mountain.
The route is always picturesque, with plenty of kitchy photo ops along the way, and usually predictable with the result that everyone attending submits a variation on the same photographic theme. And since we're piloting the base, 4-cylinder model of a conservative midsize sedan, the day promises to be rather devoid of drama.
"I know a road," my partner began, shuffling the route book while I took first shift behind the wheel.
"Go on," I said.
"I saw it during the (insert wildly expensive sports car here) launch and wondered where it went."
And so began one of the best drives in memory, easily equalling anything the Smoky Mountains, the Hollywood Hills or the Alps had ever thrown at us.
Spiralling continuously upward, we eventually crested the snaky spine of the Ynez Mountains, grinning ear-to-ear, while the Pacific coastline receded to a hazy blur far below. Heat waves shimmered off the cracked pavement, an occasional lizard streaked across the road in front of us, but not a single other vehicle did we see.
"You're not going to believe this," I said to my driving partner. "But this thing is actually pretty good."
|Photo: Leslay Wimbush
The ninth generation 2013 Honda Accord
doesn't look significantly different. Although it's been massaged into a more sculpted image with sharper character lines, both sedan and coupe are instantly recognizable. New LED driving lights add a touch of sophistication, and a lower belt line and narrower, high-tensile steel a-pillars improve visibility.
No, the biggest changes lie under the skin. Honda swapped the old double wishbone front suspension setup with MacPherson struts in an effort to reduce noise and vibration and improve its handling. Our crazy, impromptu drive route revealed the 2013 Honda Accord to be balanced and settled on the kind of twists and turns no family sedan had ever boldly gone before.
The electrically assisted steering is on the light side, but we were pleasantly surprised by a crisp new steering ratio that was sharp and accurate even through the snaky loops. Weeds pushed up through the pavement's cracked and fissured surface, but any vibration or harshness was absorbed by the car's suspension.
In fact, the only disconcerting sound making its way into the well-insulated cabin of the 2013 Honda Accord was the drone of the continuously variable transmission, which moaned like a sorrowful Wookie when pushed hard. Accleration is good though, and it displayed none of the inherent rubberband behaviour so maligned in CVTs. Paddle shifters would have made our drive more fun, but their absence isn't really an oversight in this segment.
Smaller on the outside, bigger where it counts
|Although it's been massaged into a more sculpted image with sharper character lines, both sedan and coupe are instantly recognizable. (Photo: Honda)
Although the 2013 Honda Accord's wheelbase has shrunk by 90 mm, interior space has increased. Overall cargo volume increases by 36 litres, while rear passengers gain 33 mm of legroom.
Quieter and more sophisticated, the overhauled cabin features premium soft touch materials and a redesigned centre stack. The confusing array of switchgears gives way to a modern, more intuitive interface that features an 8" touchscreen. It's attractive and sophisticated, although what initially appeared to be "piano black" trim turned out to be an odd, sparkling metal flake treatment.
New technology in the 2013 Honda Accord includes cloud-based HondaLink connectivity, which lets the driver access a variety of services using their own cell phone data. Facebook, Twitter, thousands of music stations and even audio books can be accessed using steering wheel or voice-activated controls.
There's also a host of new safety features including Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW), which we found irritatingly sensitive, and eventually it was switched off. Impressive though, is the new Lane Watch system which, when the right turn signal is activated, uses a passenger-mirror mounted camera to reveal blind spots in the inside lane. Just the ticket for urban driving and spotting cyclists.
New powertrains, better fuel economy
|Quieter and more sophisticated, the overhauled cabin features premium soft touch materials and a redesigned centre stack. (Photo: Lesley Wimbush)
There are two new "Earth Dreams" power trains offered in the 2013 Honda Accord, including a direct-injection 2.4L, 4-cylinder that's mated to either a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or 6-speed manual; and a 3.5L V6 with automatic or manual -- both 6-speed. Estimated fuel economy (L/100km combined) for the sedan is 6.7 (I4 CVT), 7.4 (I4 6MT), 7.9 (V6); for the coupe 6.7 (I4 CVT), 7.4 (I4 6MT), 8.2 (V6 6AT) and 9.5 (6MT).
Both coupe and sedan 2013 Honda Accords have just begun production and should be in showrooms by late fall. Scheduled for early 2013 is an Accord plug-in hybrid powered by a 2.0L Atkinson cycle engine paired with a 124 kW electric motor. Although its range of 20-28 km is less than competitors, it can be quick-charged an extra 16 km in only half an hour. Honda claims it will achieve 100 mpg (2.35) in estimated fuel economy.
Although final pricing won't be released until late September, Honda estimates that the Accord LX sedan will start around $24,000, the Accord Touring sedan $32,000, Accord V6 Touring sedan $35,000 and pricing for the coupe will be revealed later.
And as for our spectacular drive route? We're keeping that to ourselves.