DETROIT — Honda wants to silence its critics with the new Accord it rolled out this month.
The automaker, chastened for cheapening the Civic compact earlier this year, says that won’t happen with the midsize Accord.
It had better not. The sedan is up against the toughest competition it’s ever seen.
It faces a new Nissan Altima that leads midsize sedans in highway fuel economy at 38 mpg, and a revamped Toyota Camry that has cemented its place as the best-selling car in America. The Hyundai Sonata, the redesigned and lower-priced Volkswagen Passat, and a more efficient Chevrolet Malibu also are on sale.
Coming up is the European-looking Ford Fusion, due out in the fall.
“It’s certainly a battle royal in the midsize sedan segment,” says Sage Marie, a Honda public relations executive who coordinated the Accord’s Aug. 20 marketing launch. “And we have a lot of confidence.”
Five years ago, leading the midsize segment wasn’t that difficult. It was pretty much a two-car contest between Accord and Camry, with the Altima a distant third.
Camry and Accord still lead, but in the past few years, other car companies have upped their games. American, South Korean and German rivals are chipping away at their sales.
“Honda and Toyota can no longer take it for granted that this is going to be a two-horse race,” says Jesse Toprak, the vice president of market intelligence for TrueCar.com auto pricing service. “It’s a remarkable change, how competitive the segment has become.”
Honda says it’s aiming to beat Camry in sales to individual buyers. That excludes rental car companies and other fleet buyers.
The company started making the five-passenger Accord this month in Marysville, Ohio. It says the Accord’s fuel economy with be competitive with the Altima and the price similar to the current Accord, which starts at $21,480.
The car’s look is still conservative, and it resembles the 2012 version. Side creases give the new version a little more style, and the front and rear look more aggressive and athletic.
The car is a little smaller on the outside and bigger on the inside, says Honda’s Marie. It is shorter – making it easier to handle and park – and more aerodynamic, giving it better gas mileage.
The door lines were lowered and the glass area enlarged so the driver and passengers can see better, Marie says. The changes buck the industry trend of making windows smaller.
The car will get all-new engines and transmissions, including a four-cylinder with direct fuel injection, which uses less gas by mixing it with air in the cylinder. The Accord has a continuously variable transmission that doesn’t shift gears. That allows the engine to work at the optimal level regardless of speed.
Honda also went against trends by giving buyers the option of a V-6. Hyundai, Ford and Chevrolet offer only four-cylinders in their new midsize cars. Marie says Honda kept the V-6 because it is smooth and powerful.
Honda hasn’t released any pictures of the interior, which Marie promises will have rich materials and a high level of craftsmanship.
Honda is trying to avoid the kind of criticism it got for the Civic. Consumer Reports panned the new Civic, putting it on a list of five popular cars to avoid. Although reliable and efficient, Civic has a choppy ride, noisy cabin and mediocre interior, the magazine says.