Words by: Adam Allen
Ah, the humble sedan. Herder of families, darling of Uber drivers, and lately, seemingly forgotten. Have you looked at some industry sales figures recently? Let us save you the trouble- sedan sales are in a freefall, with many models bearing the brunt of double digit declines. Point the finger of blame where you want, but it’s the almighty crossover that has captured the hearts, minds, and wallets of those in the market for new cars these days. While we watch incredulously at this current state of affairs from the sidelines, we get why people buy crossovers even if we don’t agree with their reasoning- they’re rugged! You sit way up high!
We have never wavered from gravitating towards cars that are engaging and fun to drive. It is an exceedingly rare thing when a crossover or SUV can deliver the goods in those areas, so naturally we appreciate sedans more overall than their high riding counterparts. They handle better, are quicker, offer much better efficiency and in some cases are even more practical, providing more room for people and their stuff. And yet the sedan finds itself cloaked in uncertainty and a gloomy forecast in general as the shift towards cars pretending not to be cars continues unabated.
Although auto manufactures may not be building as many four doors as they used to, healthy choice still exists in the mainstream sedan segment. Yet some auto scribes and motorists at large still harbor a collective ambivalence, boiling the experience of driving one to two succinct words: “They’re fine.”
We agree that many sedans bring enough to the table to be classified as “fine”, but there is excellence to be found; you just need to know where to look. The Honda Accord is a fine example of brilliance hiding in plain sight.
Without fail, each and every time an Accord finds its way into the Carpages Garage, consensus is reached unanimously and quickly. “Thoroughly excellent…Everyone should drive an Accord…so much better than it needs to be…” goes the typically purple prose we levy at Honda’s ubiquitous family sedan. There’s a simple reason for that, and you can find it in other cars like the Porsche 911 and VW Golf- every single detail has been agonized over and the dedication to quality permeates every single nut and bolt and line of code. Simply put, this car is an overachiever.
Last fall we drove the Accord Touring (fully loaded in Honda parlance) with the 2.0 litre turbo/10-speed auto drivetrain. It should come as no surprise that we fell for it, especially with the surprising turn of speed it provided whilst never wavering from the surefooted competence we’ve come to expect with the Accord family. Since you, dear reader, place your unconditional trust in us to bring you stories from all corners of the automotive kingdom we did something uncharacteristic, at least for us: we asked for the keys to an Accord powered by the smallest engine, a miniscule 1.5 litre turbo. And wait for it: it’s powered by a CVT.
Have the Carpages Crew lost it? We kind of wondered the same thing, but with our sense of investigative duty urging us on we somewhat grudgingly showed up at Honda HQ to collect this seemingly dull version of a car we love.
But oh, how we underestimated this car. Based on the spec sheet we didn’t exactly give it a fair shake. The made us feel silly at the end of the week when we had to give it back and suddenly realized how much we enjoyed driving it.
It does all the sedan-y things right. First, it sips fuel. We coaxed 7.8L/100kmh over a week of driving in the depths of winter and through a couple of snowstorms. It has impeccable road manners and it is smooth and quiet no matter where you find yourself driving. Our tester was equipped with every bell and whistle you would expect, being in Touring trim. Perhaps the biggest x-factor that never grabs any of the headlines is the roominess of the cabin and trunk, respectively. The Accord is not huge, and yet it offers limo like levels of room in the rear seat- just about what you get with a Mercedes Benz S-Class. On a recent trip to Costco (one that was put off time again because who likes going to Costco during a global pandemic?) we figured it would hold everything we bought but that the likelihood we’d have to fold down the seats to get everything in would be high. To our surprise, we managed to finagle the whole haul to fit save for a jumbo sized replenishment of paper towels and toilet paper which we threw in the backseat.
For most of the Accord’s competition, they seem to suss out the basic requirements for building a car that should sell handsomely and call it a day. Not Honda. Yes, the Accord excels as a sedan, but when you look it under our go-to lens of engaging and fun to drive, that’s where things get interesting.
Our Lunar Silver Accord 1.5 Touring looked innocuous and blended in with all the automotive versions of toasters you pass but are largely unaware of on your commute. Perhaps pulse rates aren’t raised measurably in the Accord’s presence, but it absolutely nails the dynamic part of the equation (read: fun factor) in every single way. The steering is open to conversation, letting you know what’s going on at the front contact patches. The brake pedal has zero wasted motion and stops the car without any drama, be it from high speed or inching along in rush hour traffic. The best part might be the suspension, taut yet compliant, and it gets unruffled by only the gnarliest winter potholes. It might be hard for some to believe, but the Accord is a joy to unwind a twisty bit of road with. If Porsche ever decides to throw its hat into this segment and built a front-wheel drive family sedan, we’d imagine it would feel a lot like this.
Back to the 1.5 turbo/CVT combo for a minute. It sounds like a recipe for boredom, but it just isn’t. The 1.5 feels so much stronger than its displacement and numbers suggest, so while it is slower than the 2.0 litre engine it isn’t significantly so, and you won’t notice the horsepower deficiency much when you are out running errands and the like. The CVT, which we have never tried to hide our contempt for in the past, works perfectly well here. All the oily bits are so inherently good that it feels like you’ve uncovered a secret hack to sedan enjoyment, a clandestine handshake to those who need a practical conveyance but refuse to give up their fun. Notwithstanding the Civic Type R and Si, this might be the best Honda product on sale today.
While it stands out as an undeniable bright spot in the Honda lineup, the Accord is not perfect- we have to reach fairly deep to find stuff to complain about. The infotainment has come a ling way in a few short model years but still needs work. The shift paddles, which call up fake ratios throughout the CVT’s spread, aren’t exactly spritely in their response. And the trunk lid employs gooseneck hinges instead of ones that tuck neatly away from the cargo you’ve got back there.
Now, do you see why we’re saddened by the sedan’s plunging popularity- especially so when great cars like the Accord exist? Oh sure, you don’t get AWD or the high up seating position. At least with the Accord you get an ridiculously good chassis, polished drivetrain and as much or more room for passengers and gear compared with your neighbors’ crossover. Like John Lennon might have sang were he writing songs about the Accord today: All we are saying…is give sedans a chance.
2020 Honda Accord 1.5 Touring- Specifications
- Price as tested: $37,405
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger Sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
- Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged inline-four, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 192 @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 192 @ 1,600 rpm
- Transmission: Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT)
- Curb weight: 1,497 kg (3,300 lb)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 7.8L/100 km (30 mpg)