SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- At first glance, the 2013 Honda Accord doesn't look much different than the current edition.
While the automaker painstakingly pointed out the LED projector headlights (a first for Honda), the revised rear end, the sweeping curves here and flowing character lines there, it didn't seem like much had changed -- that is, until I was following another Accord sedan on our drive here and the owner of a current-generation model pulled up alongside a couple of colleagues ahead of me to check out their ride.
The 2013 Accord is indeed different.
Perhaps it's Honda's pattern of making less-than-dramatic styling changes from generation to generation. Accord project leader Shoji Matsui says the goal is to create "styling that endures."
That said, one really needs to see this new kid side by side with its senior sibling to fully appreciate the subtle changes in the all-new ninth-generation Accord. There's zero carryover from the past. It's svelter, more flowing and less boxy when compared with the current car. The wheelbase has been trimmed, the overall length is shorter and the height has dropped. The width of the Accord has been increased and the front track has been widened. The rear track is unchanged.
Though the exterior package is trimmer, Honda says the Accord's interior room is class-leading, especially in the rear seat, where legroom has been improved noticeably. Trunk space, too, has increased 50,000 cubic centimetres to 447,000 cubic centimetres.
Less noticeable are the changes made to improve the car's aerodynamics. Drag has been reduced seven per cent, which helps boost fuel efficiency and reduce wind noise. The A-pillars are now nearly flush with the windshield, and the windshield wipers fit tight to the rear edge of the hood. The underbody has been tailored to reduce drag with the addition of covers in front of the engine and transmission, as well as the rear wheels and trunk area.
On V-6 models, additional covers have been added under the driver's and front passenger's floor areas. In addition, ground clearance is purposely lowest just in front of the rear wheels, causing a low-pressure area in the area between the wheels that pulls the airflow around the rear wheels instead of across them. Improving visibility was a priority for the Accord design team. They have lowered the belt line and made the A-pillars thinner to minimize blind spots.
Reducing noise and vibration was another priority, with numerous steps taken to achieve it, including the addition of sound-blocking material to minimize the intrusion of road and engine noise and the use of a one-piece instrument panel that reduces rattles and squeaks.
A sophisticated active sound and noise-cancelling system is standard on all models, helping to further improve quietness in the cabin.
You'll find the seats have been improved compared to the previous generation. They are more supportive, thanks to many changes in the structure and materials -- "even better than NASA seats," quipped one presenter in a shot at rival Nissan, which is touting space-age seat design in its new Altima.
Among other interior features, the seamless, soft-touch instrument panel is dominated by an eight-inch touchscreen digital display mounted high on the dash for easier viewing. The audio buttons are arranged below the screen, with the easy-to-use controls for the climate/ventilation system located farther down on the centre stack.
As an example of the attention to improving craftsmanship, considerable time was spent finding the right stitching to secure the leather wrapping on the steering wheel. The designers wanted stitching that felt good in the driver's hands and, after evaluating numerous samples, opted for a new chain stitch to replace the conventional baseball stitching.
I wish I could tell you how successful these improvements are, but Honda has placed an embargo on mentioning any driving impressions. It also restricted me from telling you the pricing for the new Accord, but I will say it's a reasonable guess the price walk will get rolling at around $23,990 for the base LX sedan and work its way to $35,290 for a top-of-the-line Touring V-6.
The sedan will be offered in four trim levels, starting with the LX, which comes with such standard features as heated front seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, power driver's seat and a rear-view camera. The Sport, EX-L and premium Touring model complete the sedan lineup.
Honda is also offering a coupe, now a rarity among Japanese manufacturers after Toyota killed the Solara midsize two-door and Nissan axed its Altima coupe this year. The Accord Coupe is an attractive car with sporty flair that will still accommodate four adults. It will be offered in three trim levels: EX, EX-L Navi and EX-L V-6 Navi.
Depending on trim, the sedan and coupe are available with one of two new Earth Dreams engines -- a direct-injected 2.4-litre four-cylinder, the base power plant or a significantly updated 3.5L V-6. The naturally aspirated four-cylinder, which operates on regular-grade fuel, generates 185 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, an increase of four per cent in horsepower and a 12-per-cent boost in torque compared with its predecessor. The addition of a high-flow exhaust system boosts the output to 189 hp and 182 lb.-ft. of torque in the Sport sedan.
The four-cylinder engine can be paired with either an all-new six-speed manual gearbox or a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) that helps improve fuel efficiency.
The V-6 now delivers 278 hp (an increase of seven hp) and 252 lb.-ft. of torque, making it Honda's most powerful V-6 to date -- and it also runs on regular fuel. It, too, can be mated to the six-speed manual gearbox or a new six-speed automatic. When paired with the automatic, the V-6 is fitted with a new generation of variable cylinder management and a special SOHC i-VTEC valve train. Depending on driving conditions, the engine will operate on three or all six cylinders to help boost fuel efficiency.
Both powertrains significantly surpass the previous-generation models in fuel efficiency. The four-cylinder sedan with the CVT has an estimated fuel-consumption rating of 7.8 litres per 100 kilometres in city driving and 5.5 L/100 km on the highway. Its combined rating of 6.7 L/100 km is an 11-per-cent improvement. The V-6 sedan with the automatic transmission has an estimated rating of 9.7 city, 5.7 highway and 7.9 L/100 km combined. This combined rating is an eight-per-cent improvement.
There's an even more fuel-efficient Accord coming soon. Honda provided an opportunity to take a prototype version of its Accord plug-in hybrid (PHEV) sedan for a spin. Scheduled to launch early next year as a 2014 model, it's powered by a new 2.0L Earth Dreams four-cylinder and two electric motors.
-- Postmedia News