2013 Honda Accord

Seeking to regain leadership in America's toughest segment
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Once upon a time, Ford's Taurus led the mid-size car market, only to be overtaken by the Honda Accord. Then Toyota Camry rose to the top, pushing Accord down to second. And that's the way it was for more than a decade.

Until 2011, when Accord supply was disrupted by the tsunami in Japan, and the Nissan Altima vaulted to second. Now, with the arrival of this all-new 2013 Honda Accord, all three of the Japanese mid-sizers are new and back in cutthroat competition.

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Honda Accord Reintroduced

But they'll find the going much tougher thanks to excellent new 2013 domestic entries Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion, not to mention the two-year-old but still strong-selling Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima from Korea, and the year-old Volkswagen Passat from Germany. Just over the horizon is an all-new Mazda6 with fuel-efficient SKYACTIV technology, while a little further out lurks an all-new Chrysler 2011.

In 2011, nearly one of every five new cars sold in North America was mid size, and that share is predicted to increase in 2012-13 with so many new models entering the market. It won't be easy for anyone to prosper, let alone lead. And with today's major differentiators being fuel economy and features, how does this new Accord measure up?

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Multiple Models

For starters, the new 2013 Honda Accord is again offered in two body styles, a sexy-sleek coupe and a handsome but conservative sedan, with a choice of fuel-efficient four-cylinder or V6 engines and three transmissions: standard 6-speed manual, optional continuously variable transmission (Honda's first CVT) for four-cylinder models and a 6-speed automatic for V6 Accords. Trim levels range from base LX through Sport, EX, EX-L and EX-L V6 to top-of-the-line Touring on the sedan and LX-S, EX, EX-L and EX-L V6 on the coupe.

Even the $22k LX is nicely equipped with alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, a rearview camera, an eight-inch multi-info display, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio, cruise and phone controls, an Expanded View Driver's Mirror, 160-watt audio with Bluetooth, USB/iPod, Pandora internet radio and SMS text capability, an Eco Assist "Econ" button, Hill Start Assist, and Active Noise Control that cancels out unwanted sounds.

Both the four-cylinder Sport and the V6 Touring are new models for 2013. Priced at $24k, the youth-oriented Sport features 18-inch wheels, fog lamps, 10-way power driver's seat, a rear-deck spoiler, dual chrome exhaust tips, tighter-tuned suspension and steering and (with the available CVT) steering wheel paddle shifters. With a $34k MSRP, the Accord Touring is loaded with nearly everything on Honda's feature menu, including its first use of LED headlamps and Adaptive Cruise Control that maintains a safe distance behind the vehicle ahead.

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Fuel Efficiency

Accord is the first U.S. Honda to be powered by the company's all-new "Earth Dreams" (Dumb name? You decide) 185-hp 2.4-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine. Coupled to the CVT, it delivers EPA ratings of 27 mpg city, 36 highway and 30 combined in the sedan, about one mpg less in the coupe and two less with the 6-speed manual gearbox. Interestingly, the Sport model squeezes four more ponies out of it at the sacrifice of one EPA mpg.

The eager 278-horse V6, available in EX-L and Touring models, is good for 21/34/25 EPA economy with its 6-speed automatic transmission -- one mpg city, four highway and one combined better than the 2012. The small number of 2013 Honda Accord Coupe buyers who opt for the 6-speed manual with the V6 will see 18/28/22 EPA economy vs. 21/32/25 with the (same price) automatic. Remember when manuals were more fuel efficient?

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Features

You want cool features? The 2013 Honda Accord offers (on EX and above models) an industry-first LaneWatch Blind Spot Display. This trumps increasingly-common blind spot warning systems by displaying an expanded camera view of the next passenger-side lane on the multi-information screen when your right turn signal is on. Nearly every entry in this hotly contested segment has one or more features that no one else does, and this is the Accord's.

Other useful and interesting features include Smart Entry and Pushbutton Start (EX and above), Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning (EX-L and above) and an available HondaLink cloud-based connected-car system that Honda says "allows owners to put their smartphones away and still stay connected to their favorite digital content." The standard safety package includes four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with Electronic Brake Distribution and Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) with Traction Control and six airbags, the side bags a new "SmartVent" design that replaces the previous Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS) to reduce the risk of excessive deployment force.

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Driving Impressions

The 2013 Accord's all-new interior is plusher, quieter and roomier than before despite the new car's three-inch shorter length on a one-inch-shorter wheelbase, and its trunk is more than a cubic foot bigger. We also found the seats more comfortable, the materials more upscale and the controls much improved over the previous model's complex array. The optional premium audio shares a big touchscreen display with the available navigation system, which includes voice recognition and FM traffic.

The most fuel-efficient four-cylinder/CVT combination is more than adequate for most drivers, and the (coupe only) V6/manual combo is a higher-performance hoot to drive. Thanks largely to new lightweight McPherson strut front and multi-link independent rear suspensions, the 2013 Honda Accords rides and handles about as well as anything in their class, though the coupe feels more planted on twisty roads. We appreciated the cabins' much improved quietness and loved that new blind spot display.

One other important thing: most U.S. mid-size competitors now offer, or soon will, a gas-electric hybrid. Honda's slow-selling first Accord hybrid was dropped a few years back, but a pair of new-tech two-motor hybrids -- a plug-in model, followed by a conventional hybrid -- will arrive in calendar year 2013. We briefly sampled a prototype plug-in and found it smoother and more pleasant to drive than the old one, but no fuel economy or pricing info was offered.

We can't predict who will lead this white-hot segment once all new models are out, but we're betting this excellent 2013 Accord will be a very strong contender.

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