Amid all of the talk of the decline of four-door sedans, the 2016 Honda Accord arrives on the scene wondering why all of its rivals are panicked about the segment’s future.
Last month, I drove the 2016 Hyundai Tucson and thought it was the best reason to not get a Hyundai Sonata. One could argue Honda is in a similar boat with the 2016 Accord.
The CR-V is hugely competent and gets roughly the same fuel economy ratings in four-cylinder form. Then there’s the new HR-V, a hugely versatile thing that’s a great value and validates the existence of these little SUVs almost by itself.
Honda, on the surface, isn’t worried. After all, Accord buyers are extremely loyal and more than half of them keep coming for Hondas. They’re also fairly young as far as midsize sedan buyers go. Accord buyers may move up, but they move up to other Accords.
The 2016 Accord is a step to keep Accord buyers not so much from venturing to the likes of Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, or Ford Fusion, but stop them from looking at anything that isn’t an Accord – possibly even an Acura. So to combat that, this facelifted 2016 model is better in some ways, different in others. And maybe more Accord-like than ever before.
Yes, the new headlights really make the 2016 Accord look like an Acura TLX. I’m still not used to the LED “eyes” staring back at you, but because of the comparisons to Honda’s upscale brand, the mainstream Accord looks more aspirational than before.
It’s a similar story with the 19-inch wheels that now come on both the volume Sport model and the top-trim Touring V6 sedans and coupes. Wheels of that size on an Accord sound over the top, but because of their clean design they work pretty well. In fact, they work really well with the sheetmetal that looks largely the same as before, but is noticeably more chiseled in areas.
I’m still not sure why Honda got rid of the handsome wheels on lesser Accords and replaced them with designs that look like they were inspired by the company’s lawnmower division.
The new Accord’s interior is another case of minor refinements and some glitzy revisions. While pretty much all of the additions are welcome, they tend to come with new quirks.
First off, the addition of the Honda Sensing suite of driver assistance features such as forward collision warning, lane departure warning and prevention is commendable, especially when it’s standard on Touring and available on every single other trim for a modest $1,000. As in the 2016 Pilot I drove earlier this year, it’s a little too sensitive out in the real world but ultimately worth the price if you value this kind of safety assist.
The addition of Honda Sensing also makes for woefully long model names – the Accord EX-L CVT w/Navi & Honda Sensing PZEV is great fun to type.
New fabrics and trim across the range go mostly unnoticed, but Touring models still make do with strange sparkly finished plastics around the shift lever and fake-looking fake wood. It’s passable on a $27,000 mid-level EX model, less so on the fanciest Accord.
The biggest mixed bag is the new radio, which incorporates Honda’s newest Android-based infotainment system and Garmin navigation on models equipped with the built-in system. Those systems are far more user-friendly than the outgoing unit and the stuff they still put in models like the Fit and HR-V. But the lack of physical radio buttons on EX trim and up mean you’re going to be a pro at using voice commands and steering wheel-mounted controls.
And the whole system needs more fire in its gut. It’s still too slow when flipping through functions, which makes it more distracting than necessary. The radio also struggles to operate its big new systems, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In fairness, once the radio is warmed up and recognizes your iPhone, CarPlay works pretty slickly. Its faults stem more from what Apple’s done to make its iOS more complicated than necessary in playing your own music, for example. Perhaps it was our Android illiteracy, but neither my co-driver nor I could get Android Auto to recognize the phone Honda provided for us. Odd, considering the radio’s Google roots.
Finally, the Accord finally has a split-folding rear seat in place of the one-piece folding seat, a change that was way overdue.
Still not forgetting what works
From a driving perspective, however, the 2016 Accord’s story suddenly becomes about how it hasn’t changed.
Despite keeping pace with the ever-enlarging midsize sedan, Honda has maintained a feeling of athleticism for their entry. The Accord is still a large car, but it has an eagerness that other midsize family sedans sorely lack. But the compliance and refinement remains, even with the suspension changes to accommodate the 19s on the stiffer Sport models and more refined Touring V6.
Thank Honda, too, for continuing to offer a manual transmission in both four-cylinder and V6 coupe guise, even though almost none of you are taking them up on the offer.
There are caveats to this, however. As lovely as the 3.5-liter V6 is, it’s just too much engine for the Accord. It makes the car far too nose-heavy and feel more ponderous than it really is through sweeping curves. And while there’s no torque steer, it so throws off the balance of the car that it just isn’t that fun even in the V6 Coupe with the HFP Package that’s a dealer-installed set of spoilers and springs to make the car slightly sportier.
The four-cylinder, meanwhile, remains a strong point. Even with the CVT, it’s a fizzy and lively performer that lets the chassis skills shine. Too bad the steering is lifeless. Honda still lets you have a hydraulic setup on the V6, but the four-cylinder cars make do with an electric power steering system that’s too limp to be fun. You can’t have everything.
View from the top
After driving the Touring V6 and hearing about all of the new styling and safety features, I would’ve guessed Honda would be pushing ever-closer to a $40,000 Accord when they go on sale later in August. I was wrong.
That most expensive Accord Touring will go for $35,400 after destination charge, or pretty much the same as the 2015 model. The base LX that more than a quarter of Accord buyers go for stays the same at a touch under $23,000 with the six-speed manual. This is the part where you wonder why anyone would buy another mainstream midsize sedan.
I wish the steering on the base four-cylinder cars was more precise. I wish that V6 didn’t make the car so nose-heavy. I wish the interior detailing was more tasteful. But none of this dents the overall package severely enough for the Accord to be vulnerable in this class where it’s still the midsize sedan most popular among individual buyers.
In fact, it’s not enough for it to be vulnerable to increasingly popular crossovers. With every new Accord, there’s still something so familiar about it, whether it’s a model from 1986 or 2016, from the seats to the pedals to the airy feel of the cabin.
Even though the lesser LX and Sport models make up most of the sales, the fact longtime Accord buyers want to have something nicer without actually switching to a nicer kind of car means high-end Touring models will probably be even more successful than before. I still think Honda is missing something by not offering a Touring with a four-cylinder engine. But the Accord is still so unflappable that it’s easy to see why its devotees don’t shop anything else.
Honda can add new bits and baubles, but as long as the five senses recognize it as an Accord, everyone is going to be happy.
(Honda offered to fly me to San Diego and put me up in a hotel where there was a lake with boats and a Uni-Cub to ride and Miimo the robotic mower to look at. I offered to drive there instead, but was unable to take Miimo home with me and live happily ever after.)
Photos: Zac Estrada/Carscoops