The best midsize sedan around
THE GOOD
  • Outstanding 2.0L engine
  • Top trim’s adaptive suspension
  • All-around excellence
THE BAD
  • Limited interior storage
  • Cramped rear headroom
  • City fuel consumption

I’m no prognosticator, but I’d have to imagine the days are numbered for sedans like the Honda Accord.

They’re generally more enjoyable to drive than SUVs, but the reality is they just can’t compare when it comes to space and versatility. That doesn’t make the prospect of watching them slowly disappear any less depressing, and if you look at the mainstream market today you’ll see it’s already happening. The Chrysler 200 got the axe a few years ago, Ford followed suit by killing off the Fusion, and rumours abound that it’s only a matter of time before the Chevrolet Malibu gets the same treatment. More recently, Mazda announced its entry won’t live past 2021, leaving just half a dozen or so sedans fighting for scraps in what was once a proud – and popular – segment.

But there’s something to be said for the sleek styling of a proper car, not to mention the staid demeanour and driving dynamics that even the most satisfying small sport utility on the mainstream market can’t match. In those ways and more the top-of-the-line 2021 Honda Accord Touring 2.0 in particular is all but perfect. In short, they simply don’t get any better this side of $50,000 – and maybe even beyond.

Power: 10/10

It starts under the hood, with a detuned version of the turbocharged 2.0L from the frisky Honda Civic Type R providing plenty of force for both casual cruising and all kinds of fun. All told, it generates 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque – not the most in the class, but more than enough to get the Accord moving in a hurry. Hammer the throttle and the engine happily piles on enough combustible force to feel downright quick, with peak torque arriving at just 1,500 rpm.

Honda’s patented VTEC technology is one helluva drug, and winding the engine out is just as rewarding as keeping it in the meaty part of the rev range. Tapping into the high-rpm cam profile makes this four-cylinder sing all the way to redline, with that signature sensation kicking in as the needle sweeps the tachometer.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

And it does it all on regular-grade gasoline. That fact also makes the official consumption rating of 10.4 L/100 km in the city a little easier to stomach. That’s the worst of all the sedans like it on the market, including the all-wheel-drive Subaru Legacy – it’s even (barely) worse than the V6-powered Toyota Camry TRD. Graciously, the 2.0L-powered Accord’s city rating of 7.4 L/100 km is much more reasonable and makes its combined 9.1 L/100 km competitive with the rest of the pack.

A highway-heavy initial evaluation drive saw the Accord turn in an impressive 7.6 L/100 km over the course of nearly 250 km. And while the full-week figure climbed closer to the official rating, settling at 8.9 L/100 km across about 530 km, that’s still impressive given how stout this engine is. If efficiency is top of mind, Honda will happily sell you an Accord decked out with the same equipment to go with a more miserly motor, while the hybrid version is even better, with a combined rating of just 5.5 L/100 km in Touring guise.

Driving Feel: 9/10

Of course, opting for either of those versions of the Accord Touring does away with more than just the motor. This isn’t the only trim that’s powered by the 2.0L turbo; there’s also a Sport version that’s nearly $5,000 cheaper. But beyond the extra amenities (more on those later), what makes this range-topper unique is its adaptive suspension that’s as smooth and supple as it is sharp and sporty.

Adjustability is limited to a pair of modes – normal and sport – but its responsiveness is simply outstanding, lending a premium controllability to the drive. It’s very obvious that the Accord employs an electrically power-assisted steering system, but the feedback is good despite the lack of genuine feel. It pairs well with the adaptive suspension, with both providing a similar sensation of poise and reassurance.

User Friendliness: 9/10

The 2.0L turbo motor works with a 10-speed automatic transmission that’s smooth and quick to do its job whether driven with enthusiasm or in a more relaxed manner. Should the former be on the menu, the combination of the selectable sport mode alongside paddle shifters makes this a playful sedan when pushed, and yet it’s sewn up quite nicely and never feels out of sorts or like the Accord is trying to be something it isn’t.

To engage sport mode, simply press the blandly labelled button on the console and off you go. And while the push-button gear selector isn’t my favourite way to make a car go, simplicity is the name of the game for every function and feature inside Honda’s midsize sedan. It’s a clean and uncluttered space, with basic buttons and knobs for everything – including volume and tune.

The infotainment system runs through an eight-inch touchscreen mounted high atop the dash that’s flanked by physical shortcut buttons instead of the touch sensors found in other Honda products. And the interface is an improvement, too, running the brand’s latest that uses smartphone-like tile icons for various features and incorporating wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections.

Features: 10/10

In addition to its exclusive suspension system and stout engine, the Accord Touring 2.0 gets enough good stuff to almost make a proper premium sedan an afterthought. There’s the 10-speaker stereo that comes in all but the base car, as well as that eight-inch touchscreen with those wireless phone connections (both new for 2021), and a pair of 2.5-amp USB-A ports each in the front and back seats. But it adds to that list built-in navigation – either way, it’s not as good as using Google Maps via those Android or iOS connections – as well as satellite radio and a subscription-based Wi-Fi hotspot.

The Touring trim also gets heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated rear seats, while the cabin is done up in swathes of perforated black leather that isn’t quite premium grade but gets good marks for comfort and durability. That’s on top of a 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat that’s standard across the lineup, as well as push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, active noise cancellation, and a wireless phone charger that comes in all but base models.

Safety: 9/10

The Touring trim also gets one of my favourite features: a head-up display. But rather than the kind that’s common on the mainstream market that projects drive-related information on a flimsy plastic panel that pops out of the gauge cluster hood, the Accord’s puts the info on the windshield so it’s directly in the driver’s line of sight. If there was a nit to pick it would be the lack of a surround-view monitor – a feature offered by rivals like Toyota and Nissan.

Otherwise, Honda’s whole suite of advanced safety goodies is here – and that’s true of the entire Accord lineup. Adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking comes equipped on every Accord model. And it all works as advertised, though Honda’s forward collision warning is rather sensitive, beeping and flashing incessantly in city traffic. Once during testing, it even jammed on the brakes in response to a jaywalking pedestrian who was already clear of my lane of travel and next to a street-parked car.

Value: 9/10

With pricing ranging from $34,570 to $43,770 with freight but before tax, the Accord skews to the high end of the midsize sedan pricing spectrum but delivers plenty to like – particularly at the top of the lineup. The sub-$44,000 pre-tax price for the Accord Touring 2.0 is especially appealing given the extras like the powerful engine and adaptive suspension, but if you can live without them the rest of the amenities can be had for $40,770. If it’s the engine you’re after, the Accord Sport 2.0 skips the comfort and convenience goodies for $39,070. (Sadly, the Sport trim’s six-speed manual was discontinued as part of some minor tweaks to the lineup for 2021, making the 10-speed automatic the only transmission offered with the 2.0L engine.)

A V6-powered Toyota Camry, meanwhile, can cost anywhere from $38,330 to $43,780 before tax, and while it packs a punch it misses out on adaptive suspension. Ditto the Nissan Maxima ($43,270 – $47,930), while the Volkswagen Arteon includes it for significantly more money ($54,845).

Here’s another way to look at it: the Honda CR-V I tested the week prior to this Accord wasn’t anywhere near as refined or well-featured, and it rang in at $45,840 before tax in its priciest Black Edition duds. That’s for what’s a pretty pedestrian crossover – albeit a satisfyingly predictable one – that misses out on amenities like ventilated front seats, a head-up display, and a Wi-Fi hotspot, nor does it feel as upscale as its sedan sibling in Touring trim.

Practicality: 9/10

Naturally, the Accord can’t compete with the CR-V when it comes to its ability to move stuff, but it’s outstanding for shuttling people around. While headroom in the sedan lags the CR-V it’s not by much, and my 6-foot-3 frame fits inside without much trouble. It’s only the sloping roofline that makes the rear seats a little less than comfortable by forcing me to slouch a bit back there, but the average occupant should find it more than adequate. And the Accord hits back with identical rear-seat legroom to the CR-V both on paper and in practice, and it’s hard to find more space than this without stepping up to a larger sedan. (Seriously, at 1,026 mm in the back, the Accord offers almost as much legroom as the massive Chevrolet Suburban’s second row.)

There aren’t many places to stash stuff in the Accord’s cabin but there’s enough to make do, with a cubby beneath the climate controls that houses the wireless charger, a reasonably sized console bin, and decent door pockets front and back. And the trunk is generously sized at 473 L, with plenty of width and depth. This, of course, is the trump card in favour of crossovers like the CR-V, but as far as sedans go the Accord certainly isn’t cramped.

Comfort: 7/10

The front seats are in need of perhaps just a little more cushion width, the bottom bolstering just narrow enough that my right thigh ended up on top and led to some discomfort during longer drives; but the seatbacks are wide enough to accommodate occupants of all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, the ventilation functionality for the front seats lacks the force found in some competitors – for example, the Subaru Legacy’s draws air away from your backside rather than blowing air on it – but the heating elements are quick to warm up and stay that way (as is the steering wheel).

Styling: 9/10

All that and more makes the Accord’s cabin a pleasant place to be (with the exception of road noise, of which there’s a fair amount), and while it’s understated it has a certain modern elegance in the top trim tested. While it relies a little too heavily on plastic finishes to be considered a true alternative to a proper premium car – see that wood trim along the dash? It’s plastic, despite looking convincingly genuine – the aesthetics are second to none on the mainstream market.

The exterior will be viewed with far more subjectivity, but I happen to be a fan of the execution. It’s a cohesive design, with sleek proportions and just enough creases and shapes without going overboard. The front end received a slight revision for 2021, but otherwise it’s the same stylish sedan that was introduced a handful of years ago. And while I miss the pre-facelift version’s propeller-like five-spoke alloy wheels, this remains among the best-looking cars in its class.

The Verdict

There simply isn’t an SUV this side of $50,000 I’d choose for a cross-country drive over this particular version of the Honda Accord. Come to think of it, there aren’t many cars I’d pick instead, either. It’s so ideally suited for anything from mind-numbing highway cruising to casual commuting and even spirited side-road driving. It’s both serene and sporty, coming about as close to that premium one-two punch as anything on the mainstream market in recent memory.

The pessimistic prognosticator might point out that this segment perhaps isn’t quite a shell of its former self, but it’s creeping awfully close. But then the competition is hotter than ever, with overhauled entries from both Hyundai and Kia coming for the Accord’s lunch money with slick styling and amped up dynamics of their own. Its updates for this year didn’t do much, but that’s because they didn’t have to. This is still the best midsize sedan around.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2021 Honda Accord Touring 2.0
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $42,070
Peak Horsepower 252 hp @ 6,500 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 273 lb-ft @ 1,500–4,000 rpm   Destination Fee $1,700
Fuel Economy 10.4 / 7.4 / 9.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $43,870
Cargo Space 473 L  
Optional Equipment
None