Honda resculpts Accord to counter sedan slump

Honda resculpts Accord to counter sedan slump

Honda has taken the gloves off in the battle of cars vs. crossovers by introducing a redesigned 2018 Accord sedan that promises crisp styling, a trio of modern powertrains and numerous upscale features.

The 10th-generation Accord, introduced Friday in Detroit, will go on sale later this year. It faces stiff competition not only from a thriving crossover market but also within the ranks of family sedans, a segment that's in a slump, yet getting more competitive. A redesigned Toyota Camry and a refreshed Hyundai Sonata recently hit the market while a redesigned Nissan Altima is expected next year.

The Accord has long been the cornerstone of Honda's U.S. lineup and indeed the brand's identity in the U.S. market. Introduced in 1976, it became Honda's best seller in 1979 and stayed there until it was eclipsed by the CR-V crossover and Civic compact car in 2016, when sales dipped 2.9 percent to 345,225 units.

"We are redefining the Honda Accord for a new generation of buyers by bringing something unexpected that challenges the idea of what a mainstream sedan can be," Jeff Conrad, senior vice president American Honda Motor Co., said in a statement.

Yet the Accord, like its contemporaries, will have an uphill battle in persuading buyers to choose sedans over utility vehicles, which have virtually eliminated the gap in fuel efficiency, cost and ride quality in recent years. Sales of midsize sedans dropped 12 percent in 2016, and they're down another 18 percent through June of this year.

The steady consumer migration to crossovers could prevent the 2018 Accord from recapturing its sales crown within the Honda family.

"The major challenge to the new Accord is the market shift to crossovers that has hit the midsize sedan market hard," said Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book. "So while we expect the new Accord to be a technological, design and engineering success, it's unlikely to be the sales success that its predecessor was."

It won't be for a lack of trying.

Like the current-generation Civic, the Accord is new from the ground up. It rides on a modular chassis that it shares with the CR-V and the Civic that promises increased stiffness and rigidity while also cutting weight.

First turbocharge

For the first time, the Accord will be available with a turbocharged engine. The base model will have the 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder used throughout Honda's model lineup. It will make 192 hp and 192 pounds-feet of torque and will be matched with a continuously variable transmission.

Honda will drop the longstanding V-6 as the Accord's optional engine and instead offer a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. Based on the engine in the Civic Type R, this unit makes 252 hp and 273 pounds-feet of torque. It will come with a new 10-speed automatic gearbox.

A short-throw six-speed manual transmission will be available on Sport trims for the 1.5-liter and 2.0-liter engines as well.

A revised two-motor hybrid model -- now built in Honda’s Marysville Ohio plant -- will use a 2.0-liter gas engine.

Additional details on the Hybrid and fuel economy for all new models will be released closer to the 2018 Accord’s on-sale date later this fall.

Honda was keen to wrap these new powertrains in a body that had more style than earlier, more conventional Accord models. Despite being a true sedan, the 2018 Accord has a sloping, fastback profile that echoes the silhouette of the current Civic while also bearing a family resemblance to Honda's Clarity lineup.

The new Accord is bigger than its predecessors in nearly every dimension. Its wheelbase is 2 inches longer (though the overall length shrinks by 0.39 inches, effectively pushing the wheels farther towards the corners).

Inside, rear legroom grows by 2.5 inches, passenger volume is up by 2.5 cubic feet to 105.7 cubic feet and trunk space grows by just under a cubic foot to 16.7 cubic feet total.

The 2018 Accord sheds between 110 and 176 pounds, depending on the trim level. Much of these weight savings are due to its modular chassis, as well as the use of aluminum in areas like the front subframe and suspension and ultra-high and high-strength steel throughout.

Safety tech

All 2018 Accords will come standard with HondaSensing, the automaker’s suite of safety tech. This includes pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and blind-spot monitoring.

Inside, Honda revised the Accord’s dashboard to include a new eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a seven-inch digital screen in the instrument panel. A six-inch heads-up display is a new option. Wireless phone charging, 4G LTE Wifi and over-the-air system updates -- first used by Honda in its recent Odyssey -- will also be available.

The trim levels of the 2018 Accord will largely echo those of the outgoing model. The 1.5-liter models will come in LX, Sport, EX, EX-L, EX-L Navi and Touring. The 2.0-liter models will come in Sport, EX-L, EX-L Navi and Touring.

The 2018 Accord will hit dealerships later this fall and pricing will be announced closer to that time.

When it does arrive, the industrywide reach of the Accord could lift the tide of all midsize sedans, similar to the success the current Civic had when it came out.

“Though midsize sedans have been struggling due to the SUV boom, the Accord has the power to stabilize the drop for the near future,” said Akshay Anand, executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “If Honda can do with the Accord what they did with the newest Civic, it would be a huge win for Honda and the industry.”