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2023 Honda Accord First Drive: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

The new Accord is one or two small changes away from greatness

2023 Honda Accord exterior action shot
  • The 2023 Honda Accord adds efficiency, lots of new tech, and gets sharper looks.
  • We find out what it's like to drive, and the results are a mixed bag.
  • It's a higher-quality item than before but fails to improve upon the old car in key areas.

After 10 generations and almost 50 years on sale, the Accord is still the prized pony in Honda's stable. Now in its 11th generation, the Accord grows slightly in overall length, packs in a lot of new tech, and takes on a more mature appearance. But where the 10th generation car was a revelation, the new Accord forgets to dot a few I's and cross a few T's in its quest to reassert dominance in the midsize sedan segment.

Hybrid hype, tech-packed Touring

The 2023 Accord is now available with just two powertrains, whereas the last generation offered three. The base trims (LX and EX) are powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder that kicks out 192 horsepower and that same number in torque. This is pretty much a carryover engine from last year. The higher trim levels (Sport, EX-L, Sport-L and Touring) all use a revised version of Honda's hybrid system. It pairs a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine with two electric motors. As before, the engine is primarily used to power an electric motor-generator that charges the car's hybrid battery. The battery then supplies electricity to a larger motor that drives the front wheels.

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2023 Honda Accord front 3/4 static

This reworked hybrid system can now sustain the Accord at higher speed so the engine won't cut in to assist as frequently. All told, the system puts out 204 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. This is down 8 hp but up 15 lb-ft of torque over last year's Accord Hybrid, but Honda says the new figures are based on a new measurement standard and applying that standard to the prior system would result in a similar horsepower output. Interestingly, Honda isn't marketing this system as the Accord Hybrid anymore. It's just part of the lineup.

The EPA says the new Accord should get 44 mpg combined (46 city/41 highway) in Sport, Sport-L and Touring trim levels, while EX-L trims will do 48 mph combined (51 city/44 highway). Non-hybrid Accords are estimated to get 32 mpg combined (29 city/37 highway). With fuel prices endlessly rising and falling, the reassurance that you'll be able to eke out more than 500 miles from a single tank is a huge boon for potential buyers, and the most fuel-efficient Accord finally matches up with the competition from Toyota and Hyundai.

Accord aficionados might have noticed that the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (codenamed the K20C4) is gone. Honda says there are a number of reasons for this. The first is that the purchase rate for the bigger engine wasn't high enough to justify bringing it back for the 11th generation. Honda's PR team also noted that the company is well on the path to carbon neutrality by 2050, and that the new Accord's trim structure is designed specifically to push people toward the higher-spec hybridized cars. Having a punchy 2.0-liter engine as an option doesn't jibe with that goal, so it had to go.

2023 Honda Accord interior displays

Our first taste of the 2023 Accord allowed us to sample both powertrains that are available for 2023, but we started our drive day in the top-spec Touring hybrid model. On first blush the Touring is an excellent place to spend time. The new interior layout is familiar (it's nearly identical to what we've seen in the Civic, CR-V, HR-V and Pilot), but it's been elevated by nicer materials everywhere you look and touch. All the hard controls fall easily to hand, and there's no guessing to do when you're trying to adjust the volume, change the temperature, or even fiddle with the drive modes. The central display is the big differentiator, though.

For 2023, hybridized Accords get a new 12.3-inch infotainment display that is crystal clear and instantly responsive. The colors pop and it's easy to use and well-placed in the driver's line of sight without intruding on the large view out of the windshield. Touring models also have a Google Assistant built right in. Think of it as having the smart speaker sitting on your bookshelf at home integrated into your car, too. That might sound like the start of a dystopian nightmare for some, but you don't have to use it if you don't want to.

Those who do find the feature appealing will find that it can handle navigation requests and can manage functions like the HVAC controls via voice command. It understands natural speech brilliantly and is a big step up for voice-activated in-car assistants. Not even Mercedes and its clever MBUX voice assistant compares to just letting a tech company do what it does best. It can also answer those burning questions you might be pondering on longer journeys. Want to know what the capital of Germany is? No problem. The current weather in Tokyo? You got it. You might even wonder …

"Hey, Google, what's the 2023 Accord Hybrid like to drive?"

We’re glad you asked. Honda says its goal in developing this new, more grown-up Accord was to create a car that's both engaging and relaxing. Or, put another way, fun when you want it to be and out of your way when you need it to be. But our first drive of the 2023 Accord in the top-spec Touring trim left us thinking that there's still work to be done.

2023 Honda Accord top down view exterior

The first head scratcher is the ride. The Accord handles well (more on that later) but the trade-off for the buttoned-down suspension is a choppy ride. This is most apparent in the Touring and Sport models, which have large 19-inch wheels with a slender amount of tire sidewall to soak up impacts. As a result, it's crashy over rough pavement, and thumps and bumps from big potholes and expansion joints make their way through the suspension and directly into your spine. Road noise is also a problem. The Accord's sleek new shape and sound-reducing windshield on the Touring trim help to keep wind noise at a minimum, but tire roar abounds.

Another part of the Accord experience we didn't get on with is the brake pedal. While the stoppers themselves deliver a surprising amount of bite, the pedal is dead and its travel is confounding. The initial pedal travel delivers almost no stopping power, but dig in just a little bit further and you're immediately met with too much braking force. Honda hasn't managed to blend regenerative braking well enough with friction braking here, and though there are paddles on the wheel that add regenerative braking force (with the max regen setting almost mimicking one-pedal driving found in EVs), it doesn't change the fact that using the brake pedal itself leads to abrupt stops.

The Accord still has the moves

Thankfully, that's largely the end of the new Accord's woes. The hybrid system, which can feel underpowered in the CR-V, feels just right in the new Accord. It's nowhere near as potent as the previous 2.0-liter, and enthusiasts will definitely miss that engine, but this latest version is a more refined powertrain than the one that came before it. New programming for Honda's Linear Shift Control system mimics traditional transmission shifts instead of raging against its rev limiter like the old car did when you demand full power. The whole system does a good job of delivering enough pep when you need it and excellent fuel economy when you tone things back down.

2023 Honda Accord rear 3/4 action

Although a stiff ride does present compromises on the day-to-day, the new Accord handles every bit as well as its predecessor. It's accurate, and though the steering isn't weighted as naturally as in the previous car, it responds well to inputs and is engaging when the mood for some more spirited driving takes hold of you. The stern nature of the brakes start to make a bit more sense, too, because when you want to stop it stops — it's just difficult to do so comfortably.

We don't know how many Accord buyers will end up wringing out their hybrids on a twisty mountain road, but they can all be confident that it will handle as confidently as the car that came before it. But that means the new Accord only accomplishes the first half of its new mission (to be engaging when you want it) to the concession of the latter half (to be easy going when you need it).

To be fair, the new Accord doesn't feel any stiffer or louder than the last one. Honda brought along a 10th-generation Hybrid Touring for the sake of comparison, and whether you're on the highway or puttering around town, they're tough to tell apart. But the brakes are night and day. The last car was more progressive and easier to modulate when slowing down, and in this respect, the new Accord is a step backward. If Honda wanted something truly more comfortable, it should have made concessions in the handling, smoothed out the braking performance, and found a way to quiet the new car's cabin.

2023 Honda Accord interior

1.5-liter surprise

If you wanted an Accord that manages to blend both everyday comfort and that familiar Honda handling prowess, you might be surprised at where it comes from. We also tried the EX model, the second lowest trim on the ladder, and it managed to be the pick of the litter. Because it rides on smaller 17-inch wheels with oodles of juicy sidewall, it is far more compliant on bumpy pavement. It also has a more naturally weighted steering rack, and because there's no regenerative braking to blend, it even has a linear, nicely weighted brake pedal.

It's only down 12 horsepower compared to the hybrid but isn't lugging around the hybrid addenda (the two electric motors and heavy battery pack). As a result it feels just as punchy off the line, and the CVT has similarly excellent programming to the hybrid models. It mimics short, quick shifts when you're puttering around town and delivers good power when you need to make a pass.

Technophiles might bemoan the loss of the big and bright central display (non-hybrid Accords make do with an inferior infotainment setup with a dimmer, smaller 7-inch screen) and subpar audio system, but what it lacks in tech features it more than makes up for in livability and affordability. The LX starts at $28,390 after destination, and the EX model we drove costs $30,705. It's nearly $9,000 less expensive than the Touring trim we tested, and that makes it a stellar value on top of being a more comfortable place to be.

2023 Honda Accord profile

What to make of all this? That's easy. Avoid Accords with the bigger wheels and you'll be just fine. The EX-L is likely be a favorite among buyers and its $34,635 price tag. It's the only hybrid to feature the smaller 17-inch wheels while also including leather seats and the new 12.3-inch infotainment display. It'll be the most serene Accord of the lot while returning the best fuel economy, too. It's the best of both worlds, and that's exactly what Honda wanted in the first place.

Edmunds says

Honda was always going to have trouble one-upping itself, but the new Accord offers stellar fuel economy, a suite of desirable features, and some more buttoned-up looks. We just wish Honda went a little further in refining its flagship experience.