The Honda Accord is in trouble.
So far this year, Honda has only sold about 165,000 Accords. In 2017 (the year before the Accord was completely redesigned), the Japanese company sold more than 320,000.
In other words, Honda has only sold about half as many of the new Accord this year as it sold in the final year of the old Accord.
This bad news can’t be laid at the feet of this year being a bad year for everyone, bad as it has been. The Accord didn’t do very well the previous year, either. In 2019, Honda only sold 267,566 Accords, about 50,000 fewer than the old 2017 model.
So what’s the matter with the new Accord?
Nothing that a V6 or a manual transmission couldn’t fix.
Unfortunately, neither of those are available in the Accord anymore, which may account for it not selling as well as the old Accord.
The 2017 model offered both of those things.
But there might something else on deck to compensate . . .
What it Is
The Accord was one of America’s best-selling mid-sized family sedans, vying for the title with the Toyota Camry, its primary rival.
Historically, the Honda offered more personality and driving fun than the Camry and others in the segment because it was available with both a V6 and a manual transmission and because you could put those two things together.
That made the Accord special.
While the Camry was available with a V6 (and still is), the big engine was (and is) only paired with an automatic transmission.
But when the Accord was redesigned for the 2018 model year, the previously available 3.5-liter V6 no longer was. A less powerful turbocharged 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder replaced it as the Accord’s top-dog engine, but you could still get it with a manual transmission.
That option’s off the table now, too.
For 2021, the 2.0-liter turbo-four is still the top-dog Accord engine, but it’s automatically paired with a ten-speed automatic. The standard engine is an even smaller 1.5-liter turbocharged four paired with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic.
Last year, it was available with a manual, too.
It no longer is, either.
Prices begin at $24,770 for the base LX trim with the 1.5-liter/CVT combo. A Sport trim with the larger 2.0-liter engine and the ten-speed automatic stickers for $31,910.
A top-of-the-line Touring trim with the same drivetrain lists for $36,700.
All Accords are front-wheel-drive.
In addition to slight exterior and interior styling tweaks, all 2021 Accords, including the base LX, now come standard with an 8-inch “floating” tablet-style LCD touchscreen. EX-L and Touring trims come standard with a wireless cell phone charging pad.
- The standard 1.5-liter engine is capable of almost 40 MPG on the highway, exceptional for a mid-sized non-hybrid sedan.
- More rear-seat legroom (40.4 inches) than rivals like the Camry.
- Sport still comes with sporty 19-inch wheels and short-sidewall tires.
What’s Not So Good
- No manual option with either engine.
- Not much trunk relative to crossovers.
- Not as much personality as it used to have.
Under The Hood
The Accord’s standard 1.5-liter engine makes 192 horsepower and the same amount of torque (192 ft.-lbs.) at just 1,600 RPM. It is paired exclusively with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission.
Last year, you could opt for a six-speed manual transmission, a type of transmission no other car in this class offered. Most buyers went for the automatic, but the availability of the manual set the Accord apart from the others in the class.
So why is it no longer offered?
In two words — the government.
Along with every other car company, Honda is under great pressure to increase the mileage of the cars it sells to avoid the fines it would otherwise have to pass on to buyers for not meeting federal fuel economy standards. The 2020 Accord with the 1.5-liter engine and the six-speed manual transmission carried an EPA rating of 26 city, 35 highway as opposed to 30 city, 38 highway for the ’21 with the same engine and the CVT automatic.
That 4 MPG or so difference may not seem like a lot, and it isn’t, but it makes a lot of difference in complying with the MPG “fleet averages” demanded by the federal government and the fines imposed and passed along by not complying with them.
The pressure to comply is so great that even the Sport version of the Accord is automatic only.
But the good news is the 2.0-liter engine comes with a ten-speed automatic rather than the CVT. As CVTs do, shifting through the gears feels (and sounds) better than varying through the ranges.
Also, the 2.0-liter turbo-four, which makes 252 horsepower, maintains the performance of the now-absent 3.5-liter V6, despite the larger engine making 278 horsepower. The ’21 Accord 2.0 with the ten-speed gets to 60 in about 6.3 seconds, the same as the old Accord with the V6 and the manual six-speed.
It manages that trick because the 2.0-turbo four makes significantly more torque — and much sooner: 273 ft.-lbs. at just 1,500 RPM vs. 252 ft.-lbs. at a much higher 4,900 RPM.
The torque (an application of leverage) gets the new turbo four Honda to 60 as quickly as the old V6 Honda.
Interestingly, the gas mileage difference is essentially nil as well.
The 2.0-liter four with the ten-speed rates 22 city, 32 highway; the old V6 Accord with the six-speed manual rated 21 city, 33 highway.
So what accounts for the ditching of the V6 and the six-speed, if not gas mileage?
When you hear about “emissions” nowadays, it’s about the inert gas, or carbon dioxide, which doesn’t cause or contribute to smog/respiratory problems but is claimed to contribute to “climate change.” A 3.5-liter V6 “emits” more of this gas than a 2.0-liter four, and that is important as far as complying with the latest and pending federal “emissions” standards.
That’s why the six was nixed.
As far as the manual with the four, it cost Honda about 2 MPG overall on government fuel efficiency tests vs. the 10-speed automatic, and that’s why no soup for you.
On The Road
The 2.0 Accord is just as quick as the old V6 Accord, but it’s not the same in a way that’s hard to quantify but no less real for being so.
Honda makes one of the best V6 engines if you like an engine with personality and durability. It revs, and it lasts. There are so many 20-year-old V6 Accords still in use today that it’s hard to avoid seeing them unless you close your eyes.
The turbo four feels stronger in traffic, coming off the line because it is. That swell of turbocharged torque is both pleasant and practical in that this is not an engine that needs to be revved to move you. For people who commute and rarely have the chance to open her up, it is probably a better engine than the old V6, which did its best work when floored and giving it the time and space to rev up to 7,000 RPM before you grabbed the next gear up, which you could do because there was a third pedal to push.
This was fun, especially after a long day at work. A V6/manual Accord was a car you took for a drive when you didn’t need to–just for the fun of it. Yet, it was still just as practical for the drive to work on Monday and to cart the kids home from school, too.
That Accord was a kind of stealth BMW, for two-thirds the price, back when BMWs were still driving machines, at any rate.
Honda’s mistake here is that this Accord is too much like the others in this class. The Camry and the Mazda6 are both automatic-only (and in the case of the Mazda, also four-cylinder only). If anything, the Camry, the car that for decades has been the apotheosis of the Family Car, is now the sportiest car in the class because it alone still offers a V6 along with a Nextel Cup-looking body kit and suspension tuning for the TRD version.
If anything, Honda arguably should have doubled down on the Accord’s sporty bona fides, and not just because it would have maintained a separation between it and arch-rival Camry. Sedans (all of them, including the Camry) are losing market share to crossovers because they can never be as practical as a crossover.
So why try?
It is instructive that the only sedan doing well right now is the Dodge Charger, arguably because it does not emphasize practicality and barely gives a flip about gas mileage, either. It comes standard with a big V6 and offers a massive V8.
People love it, and they buy it, despite the current Charger being an automotive Aurochs. The 2021 is essentially the same car as the 2007, which was the last time Dodge gave it a major makeover because it doesn’t need one.
People still want that big rumbly engine, not an engine that’s size-appropriate for a compact economy car. But there may be something coming to address these concerns: A Type R variant of the Accord that ups the ante, visually as well as functionally. It may be available as soon as next summer.
At The Curb
Honda might take it one step farther.
The Accord has the sleek fastback styling of a hatchback; why not make it one?
Instead of a 16.7 cubic foot trunk, which is a good-sized trunk for a mid-sized sedan, make it a hatchback, and there’d be twice as much available space. It would make it functionally more competitive with a crossover without being a crossover.
That’s the magic number.
Sedans like the Accord and the Camry are having trouble competing with crossovers as family cars because they have trunks limiting what they can carry and limiting who wants to buy them. If they could be made bigger, full-size, with full-size trunks, they’d probably sell better (see the Charger). The problem is that the government makes it really tough for any car company to sell big cars that need big engines. Dodge gets away with it because it’s the last of the Mohicans and also because the Charger has been around forever. The tooling costs were probably amortized ten years ago. Pouring millions into R&D’ing a new big car is a hairy prospect given the good odds Green New Deals and such will cripple such vehicles.
But, converting a fastback into a hatchback solves the trunk/space problem without incurring government problems.
Just a thought.
The Accord does have second-row room in its favor. The 40.4 inches of legroom back there is two inches more than in the Camry’s backseats (38 inches) and more than in most same-footprint crossovers, too.
The Accord’s trunk is also larger than the Camry’s 15.1-cubic footer and the Mazda6’s 14.7 cubic footer.
There’s a lot to recommend it, and it’s just a shame about what’s missing.
All trims come with automatic climate control AC, but if you want more than just a four-speaker stereo, you’ll have to move to the Sport or higher trims; these come with a much better eight-speaker stereo system, but it’s a roughly $2,500 price bump to go from the LX to the Sport.
A ten-speaker premium system comes standard in EX-L and Touring trims, which also get heaters for the backseats, rain-sensing wipers, and a Heads-up Display (HUD).
The Sport comes with a 19-inch wheel/tire package and paddle shifter controls for the automatic transmission.
The Bottom Line
The Accord is still a really good car, but that’s just the problem. And not just for the Accord.
It’s still a car.
Making it more competitive with crossovers would probably help a lot. Or just making it more interesting.
Without a clutch pedal, it’s less so.
A V6 would make it more so.
The Type-R tease, if it becomes fact, a lot more so.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.