On the Road Review: Honda Accord

{youtube}1heHeY1P8m8&feature{/youtube} It’s mid-summer (when written) and what do many Americans plan during our annual warm-weather season? Road trip!

{gallery}accord{/gallery} Actually, work was going to take me to Vermont for two days, traveling from South Burlington in the northwest corner of the state all the way down to Brattleboro in the southeast corner and over to Bennington on the western border with New York. While much of rural Vermont unfolded in my windshield, fortunately I had a surprisingly willing companion — the latest Honda Accord V-6 Coupe. Here are some random thoughts and notes from our 1,300-mile week together.

The revised 2013 Accord is a peach. The previously reviewed sedan proved to be a stellar family car with excellent road manners and much-improved fuel-efficiency. The interior earns high marks as well, for spaciousness and comfort. The Coupe, one of the few remaining sedan spin-offs still available as a two-door (the Nissan Altima is dead, as is the Toyota Camry Solara), only accounts for a little more than 10 percent of Accord sales, but the car has a legion of loyal followers. Think of the Accord Coupe as the larger, more versatile replacement for the celebrated Prelude — especially with the robust power of this V-6 engine.

Crossing into Vermont via Route 302 from New Hampshire continues the smooth, scenic road network that leaf-peepers love to clog every autumn. In late July, traffic is moderate, so the Accord can occasionally demonstrate its composed handling and eager acceleration abilities. The V-6 pulls hard as I dispatch several drivers who are obviously not on a timeline, or working. Shouldn’t there be signs reminding summer visitors not only to stay right on passing lanes, but also, “Hey buddy, not everyone is on vacation — get out of the way!”

Honda has always been known for its engineering abilities, specifically creating relatively powerful small engines teamed with great transmissions. This V-6 Coupe is no different. The 3.5-liter V-6 loves to rev, its light flywheel offering little resistance as you floor the right pedal in every gear. Equipped here with a sinewy six-speed manual gearbox that snicks between gears with minimal effort, plus a light clutch pedal that produces great feel and features hill-holder action in both forward and reverse, and the Accord is a lively, energetic car that is plain fun to drive. With only 3,400 pounds to pull around (still front-wheel drive) the Accord is a lithe mid-sized machine that will conjure images of some other more expensive cars — namely the Infiniti G-37 Coupe and the BMW 330i coupe.

Heading north on Interstate 89 through the rising and falling mountain passes into Burlington, the Accord is set on cruise at 74 mph. Every old clap-trap Subaru Outback adorned with a plethora of Save the Earth bumper stickers is passing me like I am towing Ben & Jerry’s cows. Leery of meeting a Green Mountain Mountie, I remain patient. Finally, I have to keep pace. The Accord revels at the higher velocity, calmly enjoying the pace at barely 3,000 rpms. Oddly, the cruise control is very slow to resume my selected speed after having to cancel for overtaking or slowing traffic. It is an oddity not often experienced in other products.

Accord sales are up 17 percent so far in 2013 as the domestic market rebounds nicely. Pent-up demand is the primary cause, as too many drivers are driving cars that are just too old. Retails are creeping up too; the average new car transaction price has leapt over $30,000 — which partially explains how an Accord Coupe can sell for $33,000 like our nicely equipped Crystal Black model. With the latest features like Forward Collision Warning system — works great — plus lane departure warning system, as well as Honda’s Lane Watch Camera setup (flick the directional control for right side movement and the center info panel converts to a large screen TV to view the whole right side of the car and its surroundings — I like it) the Accord Coupe is closer to the aforementioned near-luxury sports coupes mentioned. Include the push-button ignition, SMS text messaging and Bluetooth, plus Pandora radio and navigation, and you can see how much electronics are reshaping what our cars can do, and how they are priced.

At Bellows Falls, I dive inland to Jamaica, Vt. — there is no beach and it was none too hot the day I visited either. Yet the narrow, rural roads that populate the Green Mountain State can be very enticing when driving a car with the adroit manners of the Accord. Up, down, left, right, down, up, right, left, back and forth we go as the V-6 coupe never seems to put a wheel out of place. Except for occasionally missing the shift to second (slow hand, fast leg — not the tranny’s fault) the Accord was a seamlessly entertaining little rocket. However, following a dawdling trailer truck for 12 miles on these roads tests a driver’s patience. Hence, “truck drivers” earn the number four spot on my list of annoying, incompetent ‘steering wheel operators’ who uncourteously and unnecessarily clog our road networks. “That line of cars stretching out in your rear-view mirror ever make you think about, maybe, pulling over, buddy?”

As the miles roll on, I’m grateful for the Accord’s satellite radio and the clear directions from the navigation system as these unfamiliar roads can get confusing — and I’m trying to hustle through my work. At the end of the week, there are no comments in the log-book about the Accord’s seat — it was neither distinguishing nor were there complaints. I guess that’s faint praise. Otherwise, the cabin is a pleasant place to spend the day — including the rear seat, which will actually hold two adults in relative comfort. Not a hatchback like you might expect, the Coupe has a spacious trunk too. However, the elongated rear glass panel really needs a wiper as the window is unusable in the rain.

As my appointed rounds are complete, the decision is made to avoid the slow-moving east-west traffic on New England’s secondary roads — there is just no swift path to go west-to-east in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. I point the Accord Coupe south on I-91 out of Brattleboro and head to Massachusetts for the Mass Turnpike. Route 2 east could have been an option, but that route also is too rural for my expected pace, so the Accord must travel the extra 40 miles to the toll-road. The Accord’s composed ride lets the miles roll by quickly.

While the former Prelude holds cult status among Honda owners, there is a growing cadre of buyers who admire the Accord Coupe’s graceful lines. Last year’s makeover lends better proportions to the two-door (it is a little shorter and an inch narrower) while enhanced front and rear fascias give the Coupe a more European-based stance. Wearing the optional painted alloy wheels, plus the deep black paint, the V-6 Coupe is actually quite fetching. Romping around with 278 horsepower and the slick six-speed also make the car quite entertaining.

At the Hampton, N.H., toll plaza a late model Porsche 911 Cabriolet oozes past the Accord at an elevated pace. Why not pace a Porsche, at a safe distance, and relax as rush-hour/summer traffic starts to build heading north into Maine. If you ever wondered if it would be faster to stay on the Maine Turnpike to North Falmouth and then move back over to I-95, avoiding the congested  road through Portland,  it did not prove so on this day. The Accord re-entered I-295 in Falmouth exactly next to the Porsche that we had previously paced for 50 miles. Theory debunked.

At rest, the Accord’s steering is very light. At speed, the electrically assisted steering wheel is nicely weighted and quite precise. From the perspective of an enthusiast driver the Accord delivers appropriate feedback, graceful road manners and the sensory rewards that make sporty cars a viable decision when a conventional sedan or compact might be more relevant to your overall needs. Prelude; what Prelude?

While Vermont is overpopulated with old Subarus, the car of the week that continually appeared everywhere was Toyota’s venerable Corolla. They were in front of the Accord, next to it in traffic, hindering progress at the light — they were as common as black flies. Other notable viewings: there are a lot of Mustang GTs in Vermont and New Hampshire, plus a smattering of the departed Pontiac GTO. For newer cars, Chevrolet’s latest Impala makes the Toyota Avalon — its primary rival — look like a dowdy back-marker; the new Impala is handsome.

After 1,300-plus miles, the Accord Coupe proved to be a darling of a car. Peak fuel economy exceeded 29 mpg — beating the EPA sticker of 28-mpg highway — while the powertrain is simply engineering excellence. Some of the controls inside could be more user-friendly — too much distracting interaction for simple changes — yet the traction/stability control system lets just the appropriate amount of wheelspin to occur before stunting acceleration.

Accord Coupe fans also can pick the base 2.4-liter powered edition and save almost $10,000 over this high-end edition. That would make the Civic Coupe almost as irrelevant as the Prelude. I think we have a Ten Favorites Winner in the making right here.

Find in-depth coverage of local news in The Ellsworth American. Subscribe digitally or in print.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.