We'll be as frank as we can be: the midsize sedan is an endangered species.
Sales of 4-door saloon cars are on a downward trend versus SUVs and crossovers. And we're not talking about the domestic market only. It's a worldwide thing, a result of changing (or changed) customer preferences based on (but not limited to) price points because there are so many options for the same money, the extra capability brought about by ground clearance and the larger 5-door SUV bodies, and the more powerful impression that an SUV gives.
So why then, with the deck stacked against them, has Honda released an all-new Accord? Does it have something special to offer in the Rise of the Planet of the SUVs?
The Accord is clearly a clean sheet design. The front is somewhat rounded, but has some rather neat creases and cuts that we don't see in other vehicles, particularly with a ledge in front of the full LED headlights. There's a very profound character line that spans the side of the vehicle. The greenhouse is different, particularly with the C-pillar. The profile is a distinct departure from before with a roof that slopes rearward like a fastback. The taillights are different, and appear to be a different interpretation of the C-style lamps found on the Civic.
But, as you may have guessed by the way we described the exterior, we're not too impressed. Yes, there are some neat futuristic details about the new Accord like the headlights, the trim on the side windows, and the e- or g-shaped bezels for the foglights, but we've always felt this model should have the character of the Accords of yesteryear. The new designers seem to have forgotten that Accords have had a sportier and edgier look than its competitors. Some may not agree, but this is one of those rare times that we'll say that we prefer the look of the previous generation compared to the new one.
Despite our misgivings about the look from the outside, Honda did make up for it with the inside. The designers say they took some inspiration from a concert hall, which is odd; we're not getting that feeling from the interior or the dashboard, but it does look good, particularly with the way it integrates with the door panels. The materials definitely look premium and are great if you're the type who likes to touch the surfaces all around you in a car.
The steering wheel is very nice to hold, as is the shifter. We particularly like the duality of the gauge cluster; the left hemisphere is a screen, while the right hemisphere is a more traditional gauge with a large speedometer. The symmetry of the center stack is nice, and the touchscreen unit is also very intuitive and smooth; dare we say, it's one of the best integrated head units we've tried in a while.
There are buttons fairly logically placed all around the driver with the electronic parking brake and the auto brake hold just aft of the shifter where the lever handbrake would be. The climate control panel is just below the audio unit. There's the typical panel behind the wheel just above the driver's left knee. There are also plenty of buttons on the steering wheel that control the audio system, but the new thing here is the presence of Honda Sensing.
The Sensing package is a new generation safety suite from Honda, and the Accord is the second model in the Honda line to get it; the first being the CR-V. What it does is provide a virtual bubble of safety by detecting vehicles and lane markings in front using sonic sensors (including one under the front license plate) and a camera, which activates a variety of warnings to alert the driver. It can even go so far as to tug the steering wheel gently to keep itself within a lane and avoid a sideswipe, or even apply up to full braking to bring itself to a stop.
It's neat stuff and it all works well, but the one function we really like is the smart cruise control that you can use in low speeds and in traffic; basically, you can enable the Accord to almost drive itself. They're so proud of it that the official name of this model is hilariously long: this is the Honda Accord EL Turbo CVT Honda Sensing. Yes, like the Ferrari LaFerrari, this Accord has the word Honda twice in its official name.
Here's the thing though: in the local setting, cars like the Accord are meant to be driven by a driver in the employ of the car's owner, either a professional chauffeur for corporate vehicles or even a family driver for private use. The owner will most likely be sitting in the back, and that's where there are some rather profound changes.
Of course you get your rear sunshades, folding center armrest, and a generous amount of legroom. But the major change with the Accord is the position of the rear passengers. It can still seat 5 people if need be, but the scalloping for the rear seat cushions mean left and right passengers seem to sit a bit closer to the center line of the vehicle.
It's actually more comfortable than before especially with the center armrest folded down, but we wish Honda focused on more amenities for the rear passengers given the clientele of models like the Accord, particularly given their clear shift to make it more of an executive vehicle. For instance, the comparable Camry 2.5V has a control panel to allow the rear passengers to adjust the climate control, put up the rear windshield electronically, and even the recline the rear seats. The previous Accord 3.5SV at least had audio controls in the back as well as a power rear windshield sunshade. The new Accord has none of those features; just two cupholders.
If you can't tell by now, we've got our misgivings about the Accord. There's a lot of promise, but there are things that are glaring as well, but maybe the drive can convince us otherwise, and that begins with the engine. We've become accustomed to Accords having larger power units; that's expected of a class of vehicle that the Accord belongs to, which is why engines with a displacement more than 2.0-liters are the norm. The previous Accord can be specced with either a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder 175 horsepower or the larger 3.5-liter V6 with 281 horsepower. This new one has a tiny 1.5-liter engine.
Yes, the Accord has a puny 1.5-liter motor under the hood, and they didn't even try to mask it with decorative covers made of high temperature plastic like you would expect in higher-than-normal spec cars. But despite its diminutive displacement and unusually cluttered look, the 1.5-liter engine has it where it counts because it's turbocharged, intercooled, and comes with VTEC. Yes, it's basically the same type of engine as the one in the Civic, but has been uprated. At 190 PS, it means it has more power than the older 2.4-liter naturally-aspirated VTEC engine. It has more torque too at 260 Nm that's available starting at 1500 rpm up to 5500 rpm. The transmission is a CVT that drives the front wheels.
Around villages and around urban hotspots in the metropolis, the Accord performs very well. That's expected. We wouldn't say that it's quiet inside like a Lexus (the noise from typically loud jeepneys can permeate inside), but it's still quite good, all things considered. The ride is also comfortable; the wheelbase has been lengthened by 55 millimeters, and that generally makes it easier for the suspension to generate a better ride. Parking was also fairly easy with the sensors and rear camera, though you do have to be careful not to get into unusually tight parking paces as the doors are fairly thick.
The CVT is smooth, the engine is fairly quiet at low speeds, and the max torque at early revs means we can drive it extremely efficiently. 8.6 km/l at an average speed of 21 km/h is incredibly good for a car of this size, weight, and intended purpose. On open roads, the Accord's fuel economy was even better; we were netting 12.3 km/l with three persons in the vehicle at an average of 86 km/h on the expressway. And mind you, we were using the smart cruise control for most of the way; it really does work and maintains a fixed safe distance and speed in relation to the vehicle you're following, up to a full stop if need be.
When the roads get twisty the Accord holds its own very well. There isn't much in the way of undue pitching or yawing, as the suspension manages the weight shifts very well even on bumpy tarmac at higher speeds. There's a fair degree of handling dialed in, but this is still a pretty long car at 4.9 meters with a fair amount of weight; Honda didn't say how much this Accord weighs, but we'll estimate that it weigh about 1,500 kilos or maybe slightly under.
So we've come to the end of our time with the Accord. There are clearly big improvements particularly with innovative safety, technology, the ride comfort, and the outright performance compared to the previous 2.4-liter Accord. But there are fundamental issues, one of which is pricing: this sole-variant Accord is being sold for PhP 2,288,000.
To put that price in perspective, the equivalent predecessor, the early-2019 Honda Accord 2.4 S Navi was priced around PhP 1.9 million while the top-spec Accord 3.5 V6 SV Navi was at PhP 2.3 million. The current Toyota Camry 2.5V, the TOTL spec, is priced at PhP 2,027,000. Does the Sensing technology warrant a difference of about a quarter of a million over their prime competitor? Moreover, is the Accord experience elevated enough to make it logically justifiable to get over a similarly priced SUV or crossover? That's up to you.
There is one more fundamental issue, and that's a matter of identity: we don't know who exactly Honda was aiming for with the Accord. Previous Accords were bold, edgy, and classy. This one, we can't really determine. It seems to have lost the sportiness and the visual impact of previous generations. We never thought we'd say this but today's Camry is more exciting to look at than the Accord.
Judging by the driving technology present and the nice infotainment system, we could say that this Accord was meant to be driven to be enjoyed, but the overall feel doesn't give you that experience. If Honda was aiming for a more mature market, why didn't they try to focus more on enhancing the experience in the back given that customers will most likely be sitting there?
By our estimation, it seems Honda weren't so sure what their fans and customers wanted when they designed, built and specced the Accord. It may work in markets where the Accord would be a primarily owner-driven vehicle, but it's different in the Asian market, particularly ours. And in a price range that's already oversaturated with options, the issue of identity is something they need to agree upon for the car ironically known as Accord.