2013 Honda Accord: First Drive

September 10, 2012
If there's been some kind of communique planning out the obsolescence of V-6 engines in mid-size sedans, Honda must have missed the memo.

With the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima already two years into an all-four-cylinder engine lineup, and for 2013 the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion both banishing V-6 engines from their lineup in favor of turbo fours, here we were, climbing first into a 2013 Honda Accord V-6.

And as we found, it's in the top V-6 models that the 2013 Accord surprisingly hits an Acura-like strut and stride. The powertrain is even smoother than before, with a refined responsiveness that could carry a luxury badge. And with the adoption of i-VTEC valve controls for the 3.5-liter engine, it now makes 278 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque, so the Accord is quicker yet.

Now's when we should tell you why quite a few shoppers might still consider the V-6: because it earns an astounding EPA highway rating of 34 mpg—the same number as the four-cylinder engine last year, and essentially the same as the Sonata Turbo.

Smooth, relaxed, and efficient with the V-6

Over several hours of real-world driving with the V-6—a mix of expressways, two-laners, and mountain roads, and some of it spirited—we managed an impressive 29 mpg overall; that's a figure we can't imagine beating in those turbo fours, and we much prefer the smooth, relaxed demeanor of the V-6 most of the time. And the new six-speed automatic has better calibration than the five-speed before it; there are no stumbles on light throttle, and it's decisive but not obtrusive.

The V-6’s gains in fuel economy are due to the wider ratio spread of the six-speed automatic transmission, as well as an expanded range for the Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system. Yet with the additional power and the six-speed, the V-6 can get to 60 mph about 0.5 seconds earlier than the 2012 model. And seriously, it's about all the torque that this front-driver can handle; nail the accelerator and it even squawks the tires dramatically shifting from first to second.

The base engine on Accord Sedan and Coupe models is a direct-injection, 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine, making 185 horsepower and 181 pound-feet in standard form or 189 hp and 182 lb-ft in Sport guise. The addition of direct injection gives some additional torque in the mid-rev range, as well as a small boost in efficiency, but the even bigger news for those who scrutinize EPA ratings (earning 27 mpg city, 36 highway) is the new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which completely replaces the five-speed automatic transmission for 2013.

Before you rush to judgment about this Honda-engineered-and-manufactured CVT, hold on; it’s probably a powertrain that will fit the bill just fine provided you don’t expect high performance. While the combination of the four-cylinder engine and CVT is by far the least exciting powertrain offered in the new Accord, it’s way more refined than we expected, and it feels more responsive and ‘natural’ from the driver’s seat than many other models with this kind of transmission.

CVT feels more 'natural'

Under typical light-to-medium acceleration in traffic, the Accord’s CVT lets revs rise quite rapidly to the 2,500-3,500-rpm range, then revs almost stop climbing for a moment, after which they rise again, as if now engaged to a particular gear (as long as you’re still at part throttle). Even though Honda might have given a half a mile per gallon or so in calibrating it this way, rather than just keeping the engine in its sweet spot, it’s clever as it keeps the seat-of-the-pants G-forces more constant, while also avoiding the drone of constant-rpm revs. If at any point you mash the accelerator to the floor, all bets are off and the tach pins to redline, 6,600 rpm, and stays there until you’re at the desired speed.

We also found it interesting that in a four-cylinder model with the CVT we averaged pretty much the same 29 mpg as with the V-6, in a comparable loop for distance and terrain—so while the four-cylinder combination returns better EPA ratings it might not be as impressive in real-world conditions.

In a back-to-back drive with the Nissan Altima and its four-cylinder/CVT combination, we noticed that from about 15-20 mph—effectively rolling around a tight corner—then flooring the accelerator, the Accord managed to take off a lot faster, while it took the revs longer to rise in the Altima. We look forward to comparing these models—and their mileage—in future drives.

A controversial change to struts—but excellent steering

While introducing an essentially all-new CVT in the volume models of the Accord lineup might seem like a pretty risky move, loyal Honda fans might find it more unsettling that Honda has at last given up its worshipped double-wishbone setup in the Accord, instead opting for more tunable MacPherson struts that it claims will improve ride and handling while cutting cabin noise and harshness. Honda has also reduced weight and keeps away harshness with a new aluminum-and-steel front subframe and some careful underbody aerodynamic work.

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