Payne: Honda Accord is a luxe sedan in a mainstream wrapper

Posted by Talbot Payne on July 22, 2021

Some cars stick with you. The 10th generation Honda Accord is one of those vehicles.

I remember when it arrived in my driveway in 2017. Coupe-like profile. Tablet infotainment screen astride a clean interior. Smooth 252-horsepower turbo-4. It was a luxury sedan with a mainstream badge. Slap four rings on the mega-grille and most would think it was an Audi A6.

The Accord was perhaps the first vehicle that made me realize the gap between mainstream and luxury vehicles was shrinking. Fast. So when the 2021 Accord arrived in my driveway this summer, I was eager to see if one of my favorite dance partners still had it.

Without a doubt.

The 2021 Honda Accord is made in Marysville, Ohio.

Indeed, like “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” the Accord keeps getting better with each season. For its mid-cycle 2021 model year refresh, Accord gets a few upgrades while my favorite Sport trim (in a lineup that runs from LX to Touring trims, including a hybrid) gained just $640 in price. My Accord Sport tester was dressed in knockout Sonic Gray Pearl wardrobe, 19-inch wheels, black deck spoiler, 8-inch touchscreen tablet, sunroof.

Pardon me, but I couldn’t help noticing you across the room.

All that for just, ahem, $33,500. Which is $23,000 cheaper than, say, a comparably equipped Audi A6. You could buy a brand new 2022 Honda Civic Sport (another Made-in-America all-star from the Japanese brand) with the money you save. Think I’m making this up? Let’s pull the specs.

Both Audi and Honda sport turbo-4 cylinder engines. Accord’s 252-horsepower mill sprints 0-60 in 5.4 seconds vs. the Audi’s 5.8, despite the German’s all-wheel-drive traction. Both have adaptive cruise control, blind spot assist, auto high beams. Both have digital, configurable instrument displays. Sunroof? Check. My wife’s favorite, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? Yup.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne could easily sit behind himself in the 2021 Honda Accord - his 6'5" frame had knee room to spare.

Sure, the plush Audi’s all-wheel-drive system will more confidently deliver you home through winter storms. But the Honda has bragging rights, too. For instance, superior ergonomics, console storage and rear leg room. Heck, the Accord’s ridiculous 40.4 inches of rear legroom is not only three inches more than the Audi — it’s just three inches shy of a Ford F-150 Super Crew. At 6’5” tall, I sat behind myself in the Accord without my knobby knees reaching the seatback.

The Accord is more than just specs.

Powered by Honda engines, Red Bull’s Formula 1 team is neck-and-neck with Mercedes right now. This is a company serious about blending driving performance with everyday practicality, and Accord is engaging to drive despite its big dimensions.

Accord Sport and I danced through the twisties on M-32 — Sonic Gray dress flowing behind. Across sun-soaked and dripping-wet asphalt the sedan always felt balanced, its long wheelbase rotating nicely through corners with little push.

Honda is expert at putting torque to the road in front-wheel-drive cars (see the 292-horse Civic Type R hellion), and Accord’s no different. The front hooves would squeal when I put 252 ponies to cold pavement out of stoplights — but never with torque-steer. And, you’ll be happy to know, dear reader, the Accord doesn’t do that annoying engine stop/start thing at stoplights.

The 2021 Honda Accord features a coupe-like roof line and sculpted flanks. Its FWD is stable in wet weather but AWD is not offered.

With the Mazda 6 exiting the midsize sedan segment, Accord may be the new benchmark. The Sport certainly aims to please with a 10-speed transmission that rev-matched on downshifts in Sport mode while delivering crisp, quick shifts when racing through the gears.

I stopped at Summertime Rentals in East Jordan, where the Accord’s new wardrobe turned my friend (and fellow motorhead) Aaron’s head. He, too, appreciates Honda’s double threat of value/performance and had owned a previous-gen Accord. This gen adds a third element: looks.

The 2021 Honda Accord shows off its good looks and sharp handling through M-32's twisty bits.

The Sonic Gray color highlights the Honda’s lively lines — just run your hand along the deep stampings that form Accord’s high shoulders. They’re complemented by subtle scalloping in the quarter panel. A lovely dish, even if I cringe at the Black Hole grille. I know, I know … it’s all the fashion these days.

As attractive as the Honda is, it’s indicative of my fellow Americans’ obsession with high-ridin’ hatchback utes that Accord sales are just 52% of what they were a decade ago before the SUV-nami.

But for those who still covet sedans, Accord is the total package. When my corner carving is over, the Honda is an effortless, state-of-the-art driving experience.

For the long trek up I-75, Accord’s huge trunk swallowed two carry-ons, two tennis bags, a box full of iRacing equipment (pedals, steering wheel, etc.) and other odds and ends. Wireless smartphone-connect is one of the great equalizers between luxury and mainstream cars. My wife slipped into the car and the screen quickly recognized her phone — displaying Google Maps directions for our trip.

The interior of the 2021 Honda Accord Sport includes a tablet infotainment screen, comfy seats, and digital instrument display. All for just $33.5k.

On a return journey, the screen did the same for my Android Auto. That’s just the beginning of Honda tech. The Honda Sensing suite (adaptive cruise control, lane keep, lane departure mitigation) provides excellent self-driving assist. With the speedo set at 80 mph, the Accord stayed centered in its lane — comfortably keeping its distance from other vehicles — giving up only on extended interstate turns. I reckon it’s on par with a 2016-vintage Tesla Autopilot (before recent over-the-air upgrades).

The cabin was quiet, which Mrs. Payne loved — though I frankly yearned for more engine sound penetration so I could hear the 10-speed’s rev-matching downshifts when under the cane. VW/Audi has long been an engineering benchmark for steering wheel buttons allowing easy feature access — a lesson Accord has learned with wheel quadrants that let your fingers do the walking for instrument display-menus, cruise control, voice commands and so on.

The console “trigger shifter” is also an engineering marvel. Long a staple in Acura models (there’s that narrowing of luxe/mainstream again), the shifter made it easy to negotiate gears as I negotiated beach parking lots up and down Lake Michigan.

The console of the 2021 Honda Accord includes excellent storage, easy-to-use buttons and a trigger shifter.

Quick. High-tech. Roomy. And better-looking than the homely CR-V SUV (my Accord Sport even came with a family SUV-like backseat reminder in case you left junior behind). But I do have one hesitation in recommending Accord: little brother Civic Sport just unveiled a quick, high-tech, roomy, good-looking hatchback.

In (yum) Boost Blue Pearl wardrobe. Civic starts at $23,000 when it arrives later this year. Accord Sport or Civic hatch? If you were budgeting for an Audi A6, you could buy them both.

2021 Honda Accord

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: $25,765, including $995 destination fee ($33,500 Sport as tested)

Powerplant: 1.5-liter turbo-4 cylinder; 2.0-liter turbo-4; hybrid with 4-cylinder engine mated to electric motor

Power: 192 horsepower, 192 pound-feet of torque (1.5L); 252 horsepower, 273 pound-feet of torque (2.0L);  212 combined horsepower (hybrid)

Transmissions: Automatic, continuously variable transmission (CVT); 10-speed automatic; single-speed auto (hybrid)

Performance: 0-60 mph (5.4 sec., Car and Driver); top speed, 126 mph

Weight: 3,380 pounds  (Sport as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA, 22 mpg city/32 highway/26 combined (2.0L as tested)

Report card

Highs: Great bod; upscale interior with everything in the right place

Lows: Oh, that face

Overall: 4 stars

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