2018 Honda Accord preview: Big changes including a turbo four

2018 Honda Accord preview: Big changes including a turbo four

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The era of the Honda Accord V6 is winding down, and no one should be surprised by how it ends: Honda comes late to the 2.0T game, yes. But if its initial tease is indicative, the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four in the next Accord will stand out in a crowded marketplace.

The 10th-generation Accord, shown here in camouflage and expected this fall as a 2018 model, will share its platform with the recently launched Civic sedan and CR-V crossover. The new Accord will also share its base powertrain with those brand cousins: a 1.5-liter turbocharged four, rated at 175 hp in the Civic and 190 in the CR-V, with a continuously variable automatic transmission. The Accord lineup will include a two-motor hybrid built around the 2.0-liter, Atkinson-cycle four used in the current Accord Hybrid.

Honda’s new 2.0-liter turbo will be the Accord’s upgrade engine, and it could be the most powerful in its class, but the news doesn’t end there. The new engine will come standard with a Honda-developed 10-speed torque-converter automatic (the first in a front-drive car), and both the 1.5 and 2.0 turbo engines will be offered with a six-speed manual. The leaves Accord and the Mazda 6 as the last bastions of the conventional manual among midsize sedans. Hallelujah.

For now, Honda is keeping the Accord 2.0T’s horsepower and torque ratings under wraps, but the company promises both better acceleration times and better fuel economy than the current V6/6AT Accord (21 city, 33 highway).

The Accord’s 2-liter turbo is identical to that in the forthcoming Civic Type R, save some trimmings and tuning. It has two chain-driven cams, full variable valve timing, one single-scroll turbo with an electric wastegate and an air-to-air charge cooler. Its exhaust manifold is cast into the cylinder head and the engine is loaded with heat-mitigating features, including coolant passages between the bores, sodium-filled exhaust valves and new piston-cooling measures. Honda engineers say it’s substantially lighter than the Accord’s current 3.5-liter V6, but they won’t say precisely how much. The company’s engine plant in Anna, Ohio, will be the sole source of 2.0T production for applications around the world.

An identical long block generates 306 hp and 295 lb-ft in the Civic Type R, which recently set a front-drive lap record at the Nurburgring. Honda’s 2.0T will certainly be de-tuned for the Accord, but it will also add things to deliver the refinement expected in a midsize sedan, including a balance shaft and different engine mounts. It will also pipe digitalized engine sounds into the Accord’s cabin.

Honda’s 10-speed automatic will be assembled in Tallapoosa, Georgia. It’s 10 percent lighter than the current six-speed, according to engineers, but it can handle 20 percent more torque.

Honda recently offered a sneak peek at the new Accord at its proving grounds in Tochigi, Japan, then treated a handful of journalists to a couple laps around the flat lanes of its high-speed oval. The car was a final prototype, camouflaged inside and out. Impressions suggest the next Accord will be a bit roomier than the current one.

Its 2-liter turbocharged inline four is strong — as strong as any of its competitors in comparable cars. It’s weaker at the bottom end than the current V6, but it torques up quickly and stays strong going north. This writer might guess 260-270 peak hp and as much peak torque.

There’s wasn’t much shifting on the oval, but it never felt like there were too many gears in the 10-speed. Downshifts were accompanied by little rev-matching burps. Under hard throttle, the automatic held gears to the 7,000-rpm redline, and it’s worth it — even when boost peaked, the 2.0 pulled strong, never raspy or gaspy, through the upper reaches of its rev range. The 10-speed seemed to know when the driver wanted power and response because in sport mode it never chose the overdrive top gears. The streets and byways of Sacramento, California, or Columbus, Ohio, are a long way from Tochigi, but Honda’s new 2.0T isn’t likely to disappoint the faithful. Then there’s that manual transmission.

Honda’s first 2.0T comes years after the same engine configuration went mainstream at Ford, GM, Hyundai, VW and Toyota (though not yet in Accord’s archrival, Camry), but resistance to trends is hardly unprecedented at Honda Motor Co. When the Accord finally got its first V6 for 1995, nearly all of its competitors — including the Mazda 626 and Mitsubishi Galant — had long since embraced upsized V engines. Back then, of course, such midsize sedans were unquestionably the fattest part of the car market, particularly for Japanese brands. Now, the Accords and Camrys of the world are inexorably ceding sales leadership to crossovers like the CR-V.

It still matters. While sales are off 14 percent so far this year, the Accord remains the top seller among midsize sedans in the retail market, and it still represents a big chunk of Honda’s profit in North America. The new 2.0T will go a long way toward keeping it there, or not.