Borrowed Car Review: 2018 Honda Accord EX – Debbie Downer Drives the Best

I’m a bit of a contrarian by nature. I’ll propose counterpoints just for the exercise of it, and by default I am skeptical of trends for reasons inexplicable even to me.  Why go with the flow and be happy when you can be miserable swimming against the current to no effect? One extension of this is that I tend to favor Toyotas over Hondas. Why? Who knows. Honda has a far more impressive history of building driver’s cars.  Seems like a no-brainer. But then a smug fanbase and slavish automotive press arrive, provoking the contrarian in me. It’s not like the cars are perfect, they’ve tended to be more crashy, loud, and high-strung.  Tiresome on road trips.  The Accord is the poster child for this, earning accolade after accolade, even over the last decade when they were bloated and cheapened.  Well, the new generation seems to address those things and is certainly receiving praise with nary a fault to be found. 

What does Debbie Downer think of the new king of the hill?  I just had a chance to drive an in-law’s 2018 Accord, so I’m going to tell you. My father-in-law was suffering at the 8000-foot elevation of my sister-in-law’s wedding and needed a ride home to lower elevation pronto.  I volunteered so no one in the immediate family would miss the ceremony, and was thereby able to drive their Accord there-and-back for 80 miles of mixed highway, suburban traffic, and high elevation mountain tarmac under gentle conditions (father in-law riding shotgun) and more assertively (solo return back up the mountain).

And I’m going to dump on this press darling because no one else is willing to do it.

“They call him Flipper, Flipper…”

So let’s do this thing! First, which super-duper Accord do we have here?  An EX with the new 192hp L-Series 1.5-liter direct injection turbo paired to a CVT.   Zowee. Nicely equipped as the parlance goes, with 17-inch alloys, sunroof, dual auto climate control, and irritating lanewatch nannies that became confused four times and tried to adjust the car’s course.  $28K MSRP, identical to the competing 2018 Camry SE and my 2016 Camry XSE which I will use as reference points from here on out. It’s a grandma car, both literally (a grandmother owns it) and figuratively: this is the powertrain combo and non-enthusiast buyer that accounts for the lion’s share of units moved.

This is a quantum leap over the prior generation

As with the Camry, it’s ugly. Hunchbacked and swollen in profile, uninspired and droopy from the stern, and with a chrome unibrow across the tall face.  The rooftop antenna is weirdly large, resembling a dorsal fin and making this cetacean-grey car look like a breaching dolphin.  There are some quality lapses: three noticeable uneven panel gaps and orange-peel paint that, if the prior car is any indicator, will chip easily.  That doesn’t bother me, but it is the type of miss the brand’s more ardent fans like to think does not exist.

If you’re done using it, the 2014 Mazda3 would like its dashboard back now

Once you reach the car and open the door, you’ll immediately notice it closes with a far more solid sound than the 2018 Camry and the inner door panel is made of nicer materials.  That makes a big difference in initial perceived quality and Toyota was foolish to not recognize this. The new dashboard is far nicer than the prior Accord and just edges out the 2018 Camry.  The Toyota is more stylish and unusual, the Accord more derivative and traditional. Take your pick.

Sloppy.  Look at the poorly-done black level on the digital side of the cluster.

Reviewers have been rightly wowed by the attractive infotainment graphics, convincing imitation wood, and excellent climate control knobs that provide solid tactile feedback and glow blue or red depending on the direction you turn them.  So wowed that they failed to notice the misalignment of the door handles with their surrounding trim. Or that Honda cut pennies on the rear door panels by replacing soft touch materials with hard plastic look-alikes. Or that this $28K car still has a stiff plastic steering wheel instead of leather and the 2018 Camry’s shift lever feels more solid and expensive moving through the detents.  Or the sloppy integration of the digital screen into the gauge cluster. I bring this up mainly because we’ve been told only competing cars have cheap aspects, yet I’m finding them in the Accord without much effort.

Not aligned, and it isn’t the perspective

Not that the OCD scrutiny of every interior piece is worth much.  One cheeky British journalist had some good fun opening the Camry’s center armrest to vertical and harshly wobbling it side to side to demonstrate its apparent cheapness.  This was illuminating to me. I’ve never had the need to do this before, but apparently I’ve been neglecting a critical quality metric so I tried it out on this Accord and guess what? It does the same thing.

Feeling newly informed and empowered, I began poking and prodding at more irrelevant materials. The woven headliner is kind of hard and scratchy. The plastic A-pillar shrouds don’t line up perfectly with it, either.  How on earth is a guy supposed to feel good about his car if the ceiling isn’t nice to caress?  If the armrest has play when I force it in a direction it was never meant to go?  When you stop being silly, this is a nice interior.  Nicer than the 2018 Camry? To use another British reference: aside from the door panels, they’re as near as makes no difference.

Except for this: the absolutely revolting seat fabrics.  I miss velour and this is why.  The fabric looks and feels as if it were woven from re-dyed Barbie hair. It’s slick, it’s shiny, it’s thin, it’s plasticy.  It glistens in the sunlight.  You’ve crossed over to the wrong side of the tracks when going from the dashboard to seats.  Since you do touch this part of the car, it matters.  Mazda has far nicer fabrics.  The faux-suede in my 2016 is leagues ahead. The 2018 Camry restricts the slick fabric to the central panels of the seat and places a decent vinyl on the bolsters.  The Accord, however, is covered in acres of this fabric kudzu.

Look at ’em shine!

I’ve picked all the interior nits that I can, so on to driving impressions.  The little engine starts so quietly that I needed to look at the tach to ensure it had done so.  That’s a premium touch compared to the harsh Bruh-zzaaaaah! of my 2016 coming to life.  Outward visibility is quite good to the forward and sides, but the raked roofline puts a lot of pillar and ceiling into your rear view.  Road noise is well suppressed for an Accord, although I think the 2018 Camry is quieter still. The steering is excellent. Turn-in is sharp but not nervous, and there is good front end response to steering input. It’s a big car but feels quite agile.  The steering has a more natural feel than my 2016 Camry, although the gap with the 2018 is much smaller.

The Accord’s suspension tune is also largely impressive. It corners flatly and generally rides very well, without much of the thrumming, thumping and thwacking of some prior Hondas, but some of that still exists over certain surfaces.  Put the Sport’s 19-inch rubber band tires on it, though, and I’ll bet that all returns. The 2018 Camry SE has ironed out that remaining harshness at only minimal expense to handling and steering response. I think it’s a better tradeoff, and I also don’t think the Camry and Accord have ever been closer in handling. The Accord was a very confident car to drive down the mountain from 8000 feet of elevation to 4500 and back up again.  There was, however, some brake judder through the pedal on a grandma-driven car with only 17K miles.  Honda rotors haven’t had the best reputation.

Visibility suffers compared to the prior Accord.  More gross seat fabrics.

The hood flutters above 50mph, sheet metal wobbling in the wind.  Another auto journalist omission that would have been noticed in a Ford or Chevy or Toyota.  Just go ahead and lower that power seat to the point where you can’t see it.  Unlike the prior generation, those seats are supportive but a bit stiff for someone without a lot of built-in body padding.  The seats in both Camrys are more comfortable to me because they provide similar support and better cushioning.  YMMV.


How about that hot-pot little turbo engine?  As a slightly detuned version of the Civic Si engine, one would expect good things. It certainly is potent and it will nudge you back into your seat when running full steam in a way that completely belies its displacement.  It charged up the canyon road effortlessly. It destroys the Ford 1.5T while returning better fuel economy. At my elevation, it feels noticeably quicker than the new Camry 2.5 despite the modest dearth in rated power.  At sea level, their performance is identical. The 1.5 has no Honda personality, though, mooooing its way up the tachometer in an inoffensive but bland manner more befitting a Toyota.


You can buy an Accord Sport with this engine paired to a manual transmission and you should probably do so, because when paired to the CVT the 1.5 manages to be awful in a way the magazines refuse to address.  It is completely lifeless and inert when pulling away from a stop. In some unholy alliance of lazy CVT response and glacial turbo lag, this car will not step off from the light with any enthusiasm or linearity.  Progressively roll into the throttle? Nothing. The speed creeps up through the single digits until the turbo can finally blow some fuel into the cylinders and then it jerks forward. Poke the throttle quickly? Still nothing, just a bigger jolt when the turbo hits. Stop and go traffic is infuriating because this delay leads to big gaps between you and the car in front, and once the turbo wakes up you have put on the brakes again.   You must carefully time how you pull into traffic or make a left against it.

Shunting the gear lever into Sport does little to rectify the launch, it just holds onto low ratios for way too long when you’re finally underway. The response is better when on the move, but if you let that tachometer fall into the sub-2000rpm torque well, it doesn’t like to climb back out of it unless you’re in Sport mode.  Motortrend pussy-footed around this and Car and Driver didn’t even mention it.  Not surprising since “Our love for the new Honda Accord knows no bounds. We’ve squealed in delight…” is the opening line to their review of a 1.5 CVT Accord.

Look at how small the block is! You’d never guess it is so quick.

I had the same problem with the Jetta 1.4T and automatic.  Perhaps this is just how heavy cars with tiny turbo engines behave, but it had me running right back to natural aspiration. Both Camrys walk all over this in driveability even if they lose the drag race.  I complained about the low-speed throttle response in the new Toyota but the Accord is worse.  I’m being intentionally negative by pointing out the Accord’s little overlooked deficiencies above, but in truth I could live with those.  I could not, however, live with this powertrain.

It does not make me squeal in delight.

It does not set my heart alight.

I do not like it here or there.

I do not like it anywhere.


Honda put the excellent 2.4 liter K24 out to pasture for this turbo engine and that is a shame, because even with the CVT it was a strong and linear combination that delivered good mileage. It also has a great reliability reputation.  This new turbo, however, is refilling its own oil pan with gasoline in some CR-Vs.  Caveat emptor, folks.  You may want to consider leasing this Accord, much as you would the A7 it is aping.

The trunk is enormous but the aperture is a bit small

I returned the keys to my mother-in-law and told the truth that it is a very nice and roomy car which handles well.  No need to break manners and be a Debbie Downer by bringing up imperfections that the auto media should have noticed during their breathless praise.  She likes this car.  She bought it because a trouble-free 2007 Civic earned her loyalty to the big H, and this Accord was roomier and didn’t roar and resonate like a tin can on the highway.  I haven’t had the heart to tell her that her Civic, with its bomb-proof 1.8L engine and 5 speed transmission, was the scrappy and tough old Honda and this Accord may well be different animal. She has no idea how substantive the powertrain differences are, she just knows it has the same H on the hood.

Avoid ones equipped with this shift lever.  Where is my manual ratio selector, anyway?

When the enthusiast press is done fixating on their narrow short-term criteria, they should realize that a family sedan needs to be more to most people.  This is a near-stellar car brought right back to earth by some real faults that the magazines have ignored in their zeal to declare this Accord the biggest moonshot since Apollo 11.   The high-end 2.0T seems to have blinded them to the deficiencies at the lower end of the spectrum, and they’ve wrongly assumed every Accord is brilliant in every way.  That doesn’t serve anyone well.  I think this 1.5/CVT combo is subpar for any type of owner and any type of driving, the seats cheapen the interior significantly, and I don’t think the gee-whiz interior flourishes and slightly-better-than-Camry handling make up for this.  If we’re talking stick-shift family conveyances, then that’s another matter altogether.  It’s the only game in town and divorcing the engine from the CVT just might wake it up.  But in the realm of base-engined automatics?  The Accord is bad enough that this contrarian would be looking elsewhere for his squeals of delight.