Rating: 8.4
Bottom Line:
Much like its recent Civic update, Honda isn’t rewriting the book for its latest Accord. Also like the Civic, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as this Accord is the same model you know and love, only newer and better.
  • Improved, more balanced exterior design
  • Better power and efficiency from engines
  • Great brakes and good suspension damping
  • Predictable update will disappoint some
  • Steering feel is nearly nonexistent
  • Primary control knob remains unattractive

After 37 years in production, the Honda Accord is unquestionably one of the most recognizable and popular vehicles on the road today. So how does an automaker improve on such a proven winner without mucking up a tried-and-true formula for success?

Honda's answer: nothing out of the ordinary.

While it might not look like it, Honda has completely revamped this midsize category heavyweight for the 2013 model year. Seriously, every inch of the car has been reworked. The new Accord has a sharper look that combines more interior space and some much-needed aesthetic tweaks.

However, did Honda do enough to maintain the Accord's top-dog status in a marketplace flooded with more competition than the Japanese automaker has seen in years? Or, are the changes too subtle for anyone or notice or care?

Model lineup
The layout of the Accord lineup doesn't really change for the new generation. The existing trim designations will carry over, and the vehicle will continue to be offered in both sedan and coupe form. Both variants will be available with either a 4-cylinder engine or a V6, with additional hybrid options to follow.

The new body design is both unmistakably recognizable as an Accord and entirely new at the same time. Overall length, as well as wheelbase, is slightly shorter than the 2012 version, while interior space has actually increased. A focus on materials has also resulted in greater rigidity and lower vehicle weight across the model lineup.

The new Accord sedan lineup starts with the LX as the entry-level trim. Next comes a new trim for 2013, the Sport, which primarily just adds a few aerodynamic and faux-performance bits. Adding a roster of equipment to the LX are the EX and EX-L versions, the latter of which is available with the V6 engine. Topping the range is the new-for-2013 Touring trim, which includes features such as LED headlights and adaptive cruise control. The Accord Coupe trims basically follow the same scheme, although without the Sport and Touring variants.

A plug-in hybrid variant, the Accord PHEV, will arrive in early 2013 as a 2014 model, and will be based on the Touring trim in terms of equipment. It will then be followed by a traditional (non-plug-in) hybrid.

Under the hood
The engines powering the latest Accord models have received modest bumps in power and efficiency, as well as some noteworthy new technology. Obviously, they both continue to feature all of Honda's expected technologies, including the ubiquitous i-VTEC system controlling the engines' four valves per cylinder.

The standard 4-cylinder engine remains 2.4 liters in displacement, but gains a significant feature — direct injection. Thanks to this, as well as numerous other tweaks, the new unit now produces 185 horsepower (up eight horsepower from last year) and 181 lb-ft of torque (up 20 lb-ft). Despite the increase in power, the new engine sips less fuel than its predecessor, rated at 27 mpg city/36 mpg highway.

For the V6, changes are less noteworthy, but welcome nonetheless. Despite lacking direct injection like the 4-cylinder, the 3.5-liter V6 engine receives a modest boost of seven horsepower to a new total of 278, although in return, torque drops by a hair, to 252 lb-ft.

The cylinder-deactivation system remains in place, but it has been redesigned to no longer need the middle 4-cylinder stage, now simply switching between three and six cylinders. The V6 engine continues to be offered with a 6-speed manual transmission, and its automatic option has been updated to a new 6-speed unit as well.

The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variant will feature a powertrain consisting of a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a 124-kilowatt electric motor, producing a combined output of 196 horsepower. Featuring several different drive modes, the PHEV will be able to run all-electric for 10 to 15 miles and achieve a total tank range of over 500 miles, as well as an expected 100 MPGe fuel-economy rating.

Inner space
Interior build quality, fit and finish have for years been strong suits with Honda, and the newest Accord is no exception. Opinion of the design itself, however, can be a bit subjective, and we're disappointed to see the continued presence of Honda's now-trademark "proboscis" of a primary control dial jutting out from the dash. Luckily, that's about our only grievance with the interior; however, if we're asked to pick nits, the navigation software feels dated and could stand for a refreshing.

In terms of equipment and gadgets, the new Accord is chock-full of features. All Accords will come standard with an 8-inch screen to display and control various car functions (audio, climate, etc.). All the usual modern features are present and standard, such as Bluetooth, USB audio and even a rearview camera. There's also an available display system designed to assist with blind-spot detection, as well as forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems. All Accords have the ability to work with your phone's SMS texting system, reading incoming texts aloud and replying with one of six default responses. (Worth noting: Apple's iPhone doesn't appear to support this system at this time.)

Also introduced on the 2013 Accord is the new HondaLink technology, a system that uses your smartphone to connect the Accord to various entertainment, safety and information programs and apps.

On the road
We recently sampled some of the new Accord offerings and came away mostly impressed. But it's no sports car, and given Honda's history of engineering impeccably crisp, lively manners into even the lowliest of its automobiles, that can be a bit of a bitter pill to swallow.

Gone for 2013 is the sporty double-wishbone front suspension design, now replaced with a more typical MacPherson strut layout. Honda says this improves comfort, and we figure it most likely costs less, too. Considering that the Accord's steering has gone the electric route, the change in suspension design doesn't result in an overly dramatic change in steering feel. The new electric power-steering system does effectively remove steering-wheel "slop," but it doesn't help improve steering feel itself, which is nearly nonexistent. The steering ratio, however, is intuitive and makes for easy, correction-free cornering. The suspension's damping is quite well sorted, and the Accord handles itself well. So that's the downside, basically. Honda is continuing to slide away from its once-brilliant handling feel.

On the plus side, the new Accord has a lot going for it behind the wheel. The brakes are wonderful — strong and full of feel. The V6 engine, while not the most powerful on the market, feels potent enough and delivers a fantastic, healthy engine tone. Amazingly, even the 4-cylinder's continuously variable transmission is quite good - something we're surprised we'd ever write. Still, we're sworn to always prefer a traditional stick shift, and have to give kudos to Honda here for keeping it real and continuing to offer a manual-transmission Accord. Particularly when paired with the 4-cylinder engine, the new 6-speed unit is a delight.

It's worth mentioning that visibility is great out of all windows, something that, along with the wonderful blind-spot camera system (yes, it sounds gimmicky, but trust us, it's excellent), helps to make for a very reassuring drive.

Right for you?
The Accord is still a great family car, and truly has no noteworthy faults. The problem is, enthusiast loyalty to Honda has been slowly waning for years now, and competition has never been stiffer. The new Nissan Altima has arrived, and the next Mazda6 is right around the corner. Many car lovers may feel that Honda just hasn't done enough to capture their attention.

Still, the Accord won't lose its stride any time soon. If you're shopping for a great all-around midsize car, then you're already familiar with the reputation of the Accord and we can safely say it'll fit the bill as well as it always has. While we mentioned that the handling feel isn't representative of what Honda once was, the average Accord buyer won't care one bit.

Pricing starts at $21,680 for the LX ($23,350 for the Coupe) and topping out at $33,430 for the Touring trim.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report).

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.