Our love for the new Honda Accord knows no bounds. We’ve squealed in delight about the transcendent subtlety that comes with the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four in the high-end models. Whether that’s with a six-speed manual or a 10-speed automatic transmission, the 2.0-liter turbo is a critical element in a wonderful car. The thing is, if history is a guide, the majority of the Accords that Honda sells won’t have that engine.
The heart of the Accord line is powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter four backed by a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). This is the powertrain that will be found in most of the Accords sold at retail, the ones dealers push out the door every day wearing $199 monthly leases or 72 months of $300-per-month financing. A million or more Accords equipped like this will make their way onto American roads over the next few years before Honda even thinks about revising this powertrain. If you don’t wind up driving a car like this yourself, it’s likely someone in your immediate family will. Maybe even someone with whom you’re on speaking terms.
One of the Family
After its debut in the 2016 Civic, where it’s an upgrade over the base 158-hp, naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder, the 1.5-liter spread to the ludicrously popular CR-V crossover as an upgrade over the standard 184-hp, naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four. In the Civic it’s rated at 174 horsepower—except in the supertasty Si, where it spins out 205 ponies. In the CR-V, it lights off at 190 horsepower.
The Accord’s 192-hp version is at least nominally close to the CR-V unit, with its 10.3:1 compression ratio, direct fuel injection, and VTEC variable valve-timing system. All variants use essentially the same hardware, including the Mitsubishi TD03 single-scroll turbocharger. What varies is the software, boost levels, and, in the case of the Civic Si, a preference for premium fuel.
Considering our philosophical bias in favor of manual transmissions, the charms of the CVT are limited. So the best thing about this automatic is that you don’t have to settle for it, because there’s a stick shift available with the 1.5T in the Accord Sport model. That said, the combination of 1.5T and CVT isn’t bad.
With the accelerator pedal mashed to the firewall, the Accord 1.5T ran to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds and waltzed through the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds at 91 mph. For comparison’s sake, that’s well behind the 6.1-second zero-to-60-mph run of the six-speed-manual-equipped 2.0-liter turbo Accord. And the 2.0-liter Accord with the 10-speed automatic dang near defied physics by sprinting to 60 mph in only 5.5 seconds and pulling a 14.1-second, 102-mph performance in the quarter-mile.
The 2018 Accord 1.5T’s acceleration, however, is an improvement on the previous-generation Accord equipped with its standard 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four and CVT. The last Accord had 185 horsepower aboard, needed 7.6 seconds to reach 60 mph, and ran the quarter-mile in 15.9 seconds at 91 mph.
More to the point, the 2018 model’s numbers beat out rivals such as the Toyota Camry and the Nissan Altima, while essentially matching the Mazda 6’s performance. Still, acceleration is not where the new Accord’s advantages lie.
Outside the Engine Room
What the 2018 Accord brings is a next-level driving experience. This Honda interacts with its driver almost intuitively; there’s an eagerness that isn’t available in its competitors. Let’s start with the transmission.
By their nature, CVTs are easy to despise. Their simple design has an elegance to it, but without the stepped, distinct shifts of a conventional transmission, the engine makes a beeline for its torque peak, where it drones on as speed builds. Fortunately, CVTs work better with modern turbocharged engines like the Honda 1.5T that have broad torque curves so that there’s usually adequate grunt on hand even at lower engine speeds. Honda pushes that advantage even further in the Accord’s CVT by building in virtual gear steps that produce a more natural engine note during acceleration.
It’s not that there’s no droning sound as the Accord accelerates, but Honda has done a good job of tamping down that irritation. And it’s almost fun in paddle-shifted manual mode. Yes, we prefer the conventional 10-speed automatic that Honda uses with the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, but Honda’s implementation of a CVT is among the best.
Comfy, Quiet, Wholesome
Aside from the transmission, the Accord delivers an unsullied ribbon of wholesome automotive delight. The steering is informative but light enough that it can be operated with fingertips. The interior is roomy, the seats in the Touring model out-comfort those in some hoity-toity pretenders, and the whole thing is quiet at speed thanks to excellent air management around the car’s skin.
The EPA rates the Accord 1.5T’s Sport and Touring trims with the CVT at 29 mpg in the city, 35 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg combined (the lower-spec LX, EX, and EX-L models achieve higher ratings of 30/38/33 mpg). While it was in our leadfooted possession for 590 miles, our Accord Touring returned 30 mpg. Not shabby but not quite vicuña, either.
The Accord is available with a full toy box of technology, too. That’s what buyers want, and Honda does a particularly good job of integrating it all to the point of near elegance. The ergonomics are good, the seats are pedestals of perforated leather happiness, the controls make sense, and everything the driver touches feels high grade. The interface between human being and car is elevated to a new level with this Accord.
This powertrain is available for as little as $24,445, and Honda asks $34,675 for the top-spec 1.5T Touring, a solid value for such a fully realized and useful machine. But yeah, save up a few bucks and get the 2.0T if you can. And we’d get the manual transmission, too.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
PRICE AS TESTED: $30,860 (base price: $24,445)
ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 91 cu in, 1498 cc
Power: 192 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 192 lb-ft @ 1600 rpm
TRANSMISSION: continuously variable automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 111.4 in
Length: 192.2 in
Width: 73.3 in Height: 57.1 in
Passenger volume: 103 cu ft
Trunk volume: 17 cu ft
Curb weight: 3298 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 7.3 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 19.1 sec
Zero to 110 mph: 24.7 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 8.0 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 4.0 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 5.2 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 15.7 sec @ 91 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 121 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 163 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.89 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY:
Observed: 30 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 33/30/38 mpg