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The 2018 Honda Accord is a totally-new, tenth-generation of the midsize sedan (image: Honda).

Honda 2018 Accord: antidote for crossover fever

Honda engineers aren’t saying it in so many words, but one could construe the tenth-generation 2018 Accord sedan as being purposely developed as the “anti-crossover.” At a time when most of the developed world is indicating a preference for the high-seating-position, high-center-of-gravity handling of crossovers and SUVs, the all-new Accord is lower, situates its driver lower and has a new, stiffer chassis that’s oriented towards increased driver involvement.

In other words, attributes that aren’t strong points for most current mainstream crossovers, the body style that for several years has nibbled at the midsize sedan segment’s longtime dominance. So as if to reward those who continue to choose a midsize car—still roughly two million buyers in the U.S. last year—the new Accord seems deliberately designed to be everything an SUV isn’t.

You can get the most-powerful variant of the car with a manual transmission, for heaven’s sake.

The 2018 Accord is, declared American Honda’s Ray Mikicuik, assistant vice president, Honda auto sales, “the most radical re-imagining of the Accord—ever.”

Chances for success seem promising, even if the sedan market is “losing” to crossovers: not only is the tenth-generation Accord as resolved a package as can be remembered for this nameplate, the primary competitive set is shrinking, as the domestic automakers scurry to blanket the truck and SUV segments at the expense of sedan body styles.

One fly in the ointment: Accord’s chief rival, the Toyota Camry, also is all-new for 2018 and also happens to be quite good. But the latest Camry doesn’t offer turbocharged engines—and certainly not a manual transmission.

Man-maximum, machine-minimum

Drop into the new Accord and that’s practically the first thing you notice—it’s a drop. The new hip point is about 1 in (25 mm) lower than before and overall height also is down by 0.6 in (15 mm)—all part of Honda’s current “man-maximum, machine-minimum” design brief that sees the car’s overall length slightly reduced while the wheelbase is hiked by 2.16 in (55 mm) and interior volume plumped by 2.5 ft3.

Factor in the quite noticeably thin A-pillars (about 20% narrower) moved rearward by an almost-remarkable 4 in (100 mm) and you’re left with the perception the new Accord has a longer hood and occupants sit further back. The effect “gives more of a rear-drive proportion impression,” said chief engineer and Global Development Leader Junji Yamano—even if 60% of the new Accord’s weight still resides on the front driven axles.

Rear-seat legroom is where occupants will enjoy most of the wheelbase expansion, where there’s now 2 in (50 mm) more legroom. Trunk space is up almost 1 ft3 for the conventionally-propelled 2018 Accords and a full 3.2 ft3 for the Accord Hybrid, where trunk space now is identical to the non-hybrid models thanks to the new platform’s repositioning of the lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seat.

“The biggest thing we wanted to do” with the Accord’s new architecture, Yamano told Automotive Engineering, “was extend the wheelbase.” But without a reduction in overall length, “it would have gotten really big for a D-segment vehicle.” So the front overhang was reduced and the A-pillars moved rearward by that whopping 4 in.

The A-pillars we able to be made so thin by using high-strength steel with a unique cross-section, said Yamano; 29% of the body-in-white now is ultra-high-strength steel, the most ever for a mass-produced Honda. And well more than half of the new body structure is high-strength steel of 440 MPa or better. The secondary benefit of all this HSS is weight reduction: Honda said the 2018 Accord is 110 to 176 lb (50 to 80 kg) lighter, depending on trim level.

Honda’s also begun slapping around more body adhesive than ever before and it’s helped the new Accord increase bending and torsional rigidity by a respective 24% and 32%.

Underpinning the body structure is a new Macpherson strut front suspension mounted to a solidly mounted aluminum front subframe. Rear suspension is a multi-link design attached by an isolated subframe. Yamano and Tetsuya Miyahara, chief engineer, body and chassis, say the front suspension’s new L-arm design markedly improves resistance to lateral forces coming from the tires when cornering. The new rear-suspension layout now attaches the trailing arm to the body rather than the subframe—delivering a pleasing and dynamics-enhancing “passive self-steer” according to Miyahara, while simultaneously improving ride comfort.

An optional new adaptive-damper system—a segment first—can adjust damping force every 1/500 s.

No V6, no problem

Long a holdout regarding turbocharging, Honda’s been all-in with recent model launches and the 2018 Accord follows the trend with two turbocharged and direct-injected 4-cylinder gasoline engines that displace either 1.5-L or 2.0-L; the Accord Hybrid employs Honda’s effective and efficient 2-motor setup.

The 1.5-L 4-cylinder has dual Variable Timing Control valvegear, SAE rated at 192 hp (143 kW) at 5500 rpm and 192 lb·ft (260 N·m) from 1500 to 5000 rpm. It replaces the base Accord’s normally-aspirated 2.4-L and by comparison is a distinct upgrade in general liveliness and urge. As with most small-displacement turbocharged engines, the urge tapers at higher road speeds, but it’s small price to pay for the 30 mpg city/38 mpg highway rating achieved in this spacious sedan.

Generating an SAE rated at 252 hp (188 kW) at 6500 rpm and 273 lb·ft (370 N·m) from 1500 to 4000 rpm, the 2.0-L is an eye-opener from a standstill and pulls majestically in nearly every situation. Yamano smiled when asked if V6s are relics—even if the chief competition retains a V6 in the lineup for its newly-redesigned midsize sedan.

“I don’t want to disrespect the V6,” he said. “We still use it in various models. I think there are ‘best solutions’ in all categories. There still is a place for high-displacement V6s” in larger vehicles, he contends, but “I really think the low-end torque of turbo engines contributes a lot to the acceleration experience.”

Another contributor to the 2018 Accord’s acceleration experience is the keen choice of transmissions. Yes, Virginia, Honda still believes in manuals and both of the Accord’s new turbo engines can be coupled with a 6-speed manual transmission. The 2.0-L gets the same crisp and willing short-throw job used in the new Civic Type R.

Manual-gearbox midsize sedans are a last gasp of fresh air when the world can’t talk of anything other than cars driving themselves—but the reality is that nearly everyone will choose an automatic. Honda’s new 10-speed planetary automatic (a front-drive sedan first, Honda asserts) is paired with 2.0-L engine and its superb performance and general deportment are alone enough to convince a buyer to choose the Accord’s upgrade engine. The 10-speed has a 68% wider ratio spread, including a 43% lower first gear and 17% taller top gear, compared to the outgoing Accord's 6-speed automatic—and it manages all the ratios with stunning effectiveness.

Honda’s redesigned continuously-variable transmission (CVT) is the automatic that comes with the 1.5-L engine; it offers an 11% lower ratio compared to the outgoing unit for improved launch performance. It’s one of the best-operating, least-cantankerous CVTs in volume production and is far from a medieval torture device, but the 10-speed automatic is equally efficiency-enhancing and its refinement is advanced that one wonders how far the variable-cost of the 10AT would need to be reduced to justify obsoleting the otherwise-commendable CVT. For now, however, it’s worth noting that Honda’s early projections see the CVT generating nearly 10% better fuel economy than the 6-speed manual.

Meanwhile, the new hybrid powertrain brings no such issues. Under its hood is a 2.0-L Atkinson-cycle 4-cyl. that Honda said surpasses 40% thermal efficiency; the engine works in conjunction with the dual electric motors, the first for any production hybrid to use non-rare-earth magnets. A new twist is a driver-selectable choice of regenerative-braking intensity via steering-wheel paddles.

Superior interior

The tenth-generation Accord cockpit seems to mirror much of the design intent of the exterior: there’s deliberately more than meets the eye, as the simple and sweeping dashboard lines and streamlined instrument-panel and controls dispel any perception of feature overload. Even if the Honda Sensing driver-assist suite (lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic braking road-departure mitigation and, for the new Accord, traffic-sign recognition) now is standard, as is a slick new information display for it all.

The all-new HMI incorporates a 7-inch TFT driver's meter and 8-inch touchscreen infotainment interface that’s augmented by actual volume and tuning rotary knobs. Both 1.5-L and 2.0-L Touring models feature a new 6-in driver's HUD (Head Up Display) with selectable information, including speed, engine rpm, turn-by-turn navigation, and Traffic Sign Recognition. Available connected-car technologies include wireless device charging, automatic Bluetooth phone pairing with Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, 4G LTE in-car Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi-enabled over-the-air system updates.

Honda also said it is the first OEM to include near-field communication (NFC) capability in a production model. The NFC chip enables the user of Android and Apple smartphones to tap the small NFC tag—marked by an oddly distracting scrawled “N” on the passenger-side dash—to instantly pair the phone with the Accord’s Bluetooth connection.

Honda invested $267 million to upgrade its assembly plant in Marysville, Ohio, to build the 2018 Accord, a figure that included several new production processes incidental to the car’s new architecture. The 1.5-L and 2.0-L models hit showrooms by the end of November and the Accord Hybrid goes on sale in early 2018.

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