COAL: 2013 Honda Accord EX-L – The Appliance

It gets me there.

It’s my last COAL and the car I’m driving these days. Thank you all for sticking with me.

In 2017 we decided to sell my wife’s aging 2001 Jetta. Since she drove only once or twice a week she would take my 2010 Volvo XC70 in an attempt to keep repair and maintenance costs low. I would try to find something where I could pile on the miles and not worry so much. Given my trouble-free 240,000 miles with the CR-V, I was pretty certain to stay with the house of Honda this time around.

The problem was that used CR-Vs were hot commodities and anything in my price range had mileage in the six digits. While I hoped to keep whatever I bought for a long time I didn’t think starting with something quite that broken in would be the best choice.

I found a 2012 Crosstour about an hour away and took it for a test drive. The price was right and the mileage was low, but the weirdly leaden handling and acceleration turned me away. Maybe there was something wrong with this particular example, but the feeling of disconnection made my XC70 feel like a Mini by comparison. Seeing the oddly shaped cargo area in person with its huge wheel well intrusions put me off as well.

As a searched the regional inventory over the course of weeks with no good hits, I began to question myself. Did we need two all-wheel-drive vehicles? Did we need two cars with the capacity to haul stuff? In all likelihood, if I had to drive to work on a particularly snowy day I could take the Volvo, as any appointments my wife had on a day like that would likely be canceled. Not to mention the option of taking one the many vacation days I had piling up. (Flash forward to 2020 where telework is a viable choice, too).

As the news of different car companies getting out of the sedan business due to slow sales came out, I noticed that there were plenty of low-mileage fairly priced sedans for the picking. SUVs were in, sedans were out, and the used car market seemed to reflect the trends in new cars. If I didn’t want all-wheel-drive, I could get a lot more car with a lot fewer miles on it for less money.

The dealer that used to service my CR-V had several Accords to choose from. One that caught my eye was a 2013 EX-L with 57,000 miles on it. On a test drive the 185-horsepower 4-cylinder engine seemed to move the car well and without the “I need to keep pressing the gas pedal to keep moving on the highway” experience I had with the CR-V. It felt quicker than the Volvo (weight being a factor, no doubt). The continuously variable transmission was remarkably unobtrusive. I’d heard many CVTs provided a kind of delayed rubber-band experience, but I don’t think I would have known the difference if I hadn’t read the specifications. Outside of some vibration at idle and a bit more strain when fully loaded, you could easily believe there were six cylinders under the hood.

The particular Accord had been purchased and serviced at this dealer. It had complete service records, a clean CarFax, and the original window sticker. After I test drove the car I came back with my wife a few days later so she could check it out. We considered trading in the Jetta given the age of the car they weren’t able to offer much, despite the low mileage. We ended up selling it for about twice as much on our own. Money changed hands, papers were signed, and we had a new car.

I think they color-matched the interior to a 1980’s Macintosh SE.

My Accord is a rather anonymous-looking Alabaster Silver Metallic with grey leather interior. Whoever ordered it must have been shooting for a rental car aesthetic. Shortly after we bought the car I ordered a set of Honda painted body side moldings to get a bit of protection from parking lot dings. So far that has either worked or I’ve been lucky. They also helped to visually break up the rather tall body sides. Someone in my parking lot had a 2015 Accord V-6 with every external plastic molding, spoiler, and add-on you could get from the factory. While it was a little overdone, I had to admit that the side molding helped a lot.

A little thing like a side molding can make a world of difference.

The 2013 Accord was the first year of the ninth generation. While much had changed under the skin and no sheet metal was shared between this and the eighth generation (introduced in 2008) it was very much a refresh and not a clean-sheet design. The window cutouts do not lie. That said, they worked some kind of makeover magic because in the flesh the 9th generation is a much more attractive car, in my opinion.

Different, but the same.

The Accord now has about 120,000 trouble-free miles on it. In that sense, everything has gone according to plan. I’ve kept up with the Honda maintenance schedule, and while some visits are more expensive than others there have been no big-ticket surprises.

The new tires that came with the Accord wore out pretty quickly (this seems to be a thing with the new tires they put on used cars, though these were OEM-spec). I replaced them with a set of Goodyear Assurance Maxlife SLs, which have thus far provided long tread life and traction with the tradeoff of a bit more road noise. Still, after about 30,000 miles (the other half of the mileage being on snow tires) they still get checked as green (versus yellow or red) on during service checks.

The Accord came with 17” wheels, but for winter I purchased 16” wheels and higher profile Michelin X-Ice tires for better snow and ice traction. The reviews are mixed. I think they’ve been helpful in a few situations, but the cost has been moderately obtrusive road noise and a kind of tippy, less-stable feeling on dry roads. I suspect that when the Michelins wear out I’ll either stick with the all-season tires or try snow tires on 17” wheels.

I’d heard that Honda and other Japanese car companies had been slowly cost-cutting over the years, to the point where the cars aren’t quite the gems that earned them their reputations. Mechanically, the Accord has been rock solid, but I can see hints of these changes in the places you don’t normally look. For example, in the trunk the speaker backs are completely exposed, risking damage to the speakers (or parcels) if loading something tall. I’ll typically fix ten bags of wood pellets in the trunk but I have to be careful not to rip them on the speaker screws. Everything about it feels lighter and less carved-from-a-metal-block than the CR-V. Maybe this is due to weight reductions from using more aluminum and such, but it just feels less substantial in a way that I can’t pin down.

Although it’s a few Accord generations old now, the styling still seems fairly fresh, to me.

The interior is pleasant and the patterned black-matte trim is a nice change from plastic wood. The two-screen system (an upper screen for information and the backup camera, a lower touch-screen for media and other controls) takes some getting used to, but works well in practice. My Accord didn’t come with navigation so I bought a custom clip to mount my GPS on the dash. The number of monitors in my car outnumbers those on my computer!

Surprisingly, more rear legroom in the Accord than in the XC70.

If the Accord is unexciting it is also undramatic and that’s exactly what I needed. It’s not a car that inspires an ounce of passion, but it’s always there like a trusted companion. It gets me there, it gets me back, it doesn’t break. As the years and miles pile on I think my appreciation for those qualities will only grow, as they did with the CR-V. Maybe I won’t let this one go so easily.