The American car has come a long way, hasn’t it? Once despised as an oversize, overweight, overwrought, and thoroughly despicable waste of resources, a comfortable, all-purpose, freeway-friendly, American-style sedan now can be found in the model lineup of every brand from Audi to Volkswagen.
For this we should thank the Honda Accord. When it arrived here in 1976, it embodied a formula that every American quickly understood: American comfort, European looks, and Japanese reliability. The Honda Accord made the American car smart instead of dumb, and as the Accord rose to the top of the yearly sales charts, other manufacturers learned from its example. Last year, 388,374 Americans voted with their pocketbooks to endorse the Accord’s compelling, made-in-America mixture of comfort, style, and reliability.
Don’t be talking that smack around here
There’s plenty of talk that Honda has lost its way, both on Wall Street and Main Street. There’s a kind of perverse fear that the newly American-centric Honda is no longer driven to excel. We think the talk might have less to do with the Honda Accord itself than with heightened competition from other mass-market sedans such as the Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata that seem newer and sexier, though not necessarily better.
In any case, all this doesn’t seem to have thrown the Honda engineers off their game, because the 2016 Honda Accord has been improved in more ways than you would expect at this midpoint in its design cycle. Naturally it starts with the obligatory, new bodywork fascias front and rear. Fast-acting LED taillights are standard equipment. The new aluminum hood has strong character lines, and you can get 19-inch wheels if you want them. Altogether it’s a flashier look, if not an elegant one.
More successful is the revision of the dashboard architecture to accommodate a 7-inch touchscreen for audio inputs. You can swipe, tap, and pinch in iPad-style, and the availability of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in the top Accord trim levels brings your smartphone stuff onto the big touchscreen display, plus you can make commands with the voice-recognition software. The high-res 7.7-inch screen above the dash displays navigation information, as well as the images from the multi-angle rearview camera that is now standard equipment. As usual with Honda, the center console is a little miracle of clever utility, a complement of bins, trays (one for your mobile phone, of course), and one of the car’s four USB outlets (two of which are 2.5-amp units for simultaneous use/charging).
You’re sitting on basically the same seats that you remember, although the Honda body engineers have finally allowed the use of a 60/40-split folding rear seat to improve cargo utility. Sadly the interior colors come from the same range of cold, serious tones as before, as if the Accord is one of those kids more comfortable with graph paper than a paint palette.
Sometimes doing your homework is a good thing
Perfectly calm and perfectly maneuverable, the 2016 Accord has the same faintly reserved character on the road as ever, only you can tell that it’s been predictably improved in every possible way. (The Honda engineers never sleep.)
For starters, the Accord is quieter, as low-rolling-resistance front hubs eliminate the persistent road rumble that has always cursed this car. The Accord also has shed that little bit of quiver from the suspension on rough pavement thanks to more compliance from the significantly upgraded dampers. At the same time, these new dampers also help deliver more control when the car has to change direction to follow one of those snaky back roads. The comprehensively recalibrated electric-assist steering combines heavier on-center effort during freeway cruising with a more predictable increase in effort as you steer through corners. If anything, the 2016 Accord feels even calmer and more natural to drive than before.
Just as you’d expect from Honda, all this comes with improved fuel economy. The 2.4-liter inline-four makes the same 185 hp @ 6,400 rpm and 181 lb-ft of torque at 3,900 rpm as before, but it now delivers 37 mpg EPA highway when the CVT is in place thanks in part to the bodywork’s sleeker aerodynamics (which represent 2.5 percent of the mpg improvement, we’re told), and the low-friction hubs (42 percent of the mpg gain).
The same, only better
Sure, you can order up the 3.5-liter V-6 with its 278 hp @ 6,200 rpm and 252 lb-ft of torque at 4,900 rpm if you like, and once this engine is in place in the all-singing, all-dancing, fully equipped Touring sedan, the Accord feels as poised and deliberate (and a little bit heavy) as a true luxury sedan. You could choose the Sport model with its larger, 12.5-inch front brakes and match them with the new-for-2016 19-inch wheels and tires, although the result is a little bit like wearing a Superman costume over a business suit. You can even ask for all this hardware in the 2016 Honda Accord Coupe, but this model remains a personal luxury car (not a sporting car), no matter how tightly you close your eyes and wish otherwise. You can even get a six-speed manual transmission pretty much across the range, a gesture of faith from the Honda engineers that we deeply appreciate.
But for all these alternatives, we still think the Accord is best in the guise of an all-purpose American-style sedan, a car that is modest and yet deeply capable. Choose the thrifty engine, smooth-riding tires, and standard interior trim, and you can’t go wrong. It's a right-size car that’s always easy and natural to drive, and the span of its abilities keeps you safe wherever you go thanks in part to the new availability of Honda Sensing, the company’s suite of active safety features including adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation, lane departure prevention, and lane keeping assist.
The 2016 Honda Accord remains the benchmark among American-style sedans. It would be great if the Accord were as much fun to drive fast as a Ford Fusion, had as much personality as a Mazda6, or looked as warm and sophisticated as a Hyundai Sonata. But with great power comes great responsibility, and the 2016 Honda Accord is nothing if not responsible.
Of course, some people are still going to fret about the Accord. Like us, for example. Driving a Honda is all about feeling smart, and there’s nothing about the way the Accord looks or behaves that tells you it’s smart. And since this is the company of Soichiro Honda, the Honda Cub moped, CVCC clean-air engineering, Formula 1 engines, and made-in-America pride, we think this American car deserves to look interesting, enjoyable, and smart. But instead of giving you a smile, the Accord is always trying to show you its SAT scores.
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