A highly camouflaged 2018 Honda Accord prototype is circling Honda’s high-speed oval at its Tochigi test center, a short Shinkansen ride from Tokyo, and doing its best to replicate the bullet train’s impact on spectators.
There’s no warning. No “I think I hear it approaching.” No exhaust trumpet sneaking ahead announcing its pending arrival. Nothing. There is only the lightly rustling of leaves, a particularly annoying crow and then 1.2 seconds of fury as a 10th-generation Honda Accord prototype breaks all of the wind somewhere near 130 mph. There’s a sharp gasp and the young woman to my left is wide-eyed and staring at blank space where a car used to be.
This is not the traditional way a carmaker reveals that it’s eliminating a beloved naturally-aspirated 3.5-liter V6 and replacing it with a potentially lower-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. But every once in awhile a show of force is required to show the world you can still throw down.
“No. Never in the last five years.” Junji Yamano, chief engineer and leader of Accord development, confidently tells us when asked if a V6 was ever really on the table for his new midsize sedan. Through a translator, the engineer gives the same pitch every other carmaker gives when making this switch: flatter torque curve, earlier low-end power, increased fuel economy … when not on boost.
These are the situations where the Accord’s 2.0, just like all of the other motors of its ilk, kind of fall short. Tuned for fuel economy, as soon as you start a steady-state cruise, the transmissions leap to the highest gear possible and the engines try to use that turbo as little as possible. Prod it for a little extra momentum and you’re met with a bit of a lag as the 10-speed starts dropping to find the right gear followed by a little bit more of a wait while the turbo spools up.
While these situations can seem a little annoying, there are two very real rubs to this behavior: The first is that as soon as you want to use the power, those low-load EPA fuel economy numbers get burned up and dumped right over the turbine. Second is that, after experiencing this a few times, confidence in the powertrain declines. If you need to accelerate to catch a gap in traffic or get out of a jam where it may be too late to brake, the last thing you want is noticeable, two-step delay.
The 2018 Honda Accord won’t go on sale until later this year which means that Honda will have tweaked the formula to the best of its ability. Given Honda’s near 70-year history of engineering excellence, if it can’t crack this nut, nobody can.