As advanced, next-level and high-tech as in-car connectivity systems like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are, they operate with a polished simplicity the first time you meet them. Pair your phone via Bluetooth. It takes about 8 seconds. No lagging. No anticipation of whether the connection will work. No swearing. You do this once and then the car-to-smartphone connection is automatic every time you start the engine.
Next, plug in a USB cable, tap a button on the central screen, and BOOM: much of your Apple iPhone or Android’s display is visible on said display.
Its high-tech goodies like these that lay the foundation for the recent round of updates to the Honda Accord, which has been kitted out to be the most advanced and high-tech Accord yet for model year 2016. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto play no small part in the updates.
“Customers absolutely want these features. The demand comes from them,” says Ron Wong, a Human Machine Interface (HMI) expert at Honda Canada. “The customer is looking for features like these in new cars -- and we’re delivering.”
Why all the fuss? Whether you use an iPhone or an Android (Windows phone and Blackberry users, you’re outta luck!), the premise is simple: The same gestures, menu structures, appearance of pop-up alerts, settings, and applications you use on your phone are available right in the 7” central screen.
Used to be that you’d use your smartphone and tablet all day, but switch to an entirely different interface while driving. Now, the same interfaces, programs, lists, media players, maps, and functions you’re using on your handheld devices are on-screen, front and centre. Drivers even get Siri or Talk to Google functionality with a tap on the steering-wheel voice button. No need to relearn the vehicle’s specific (and different and often clumsier) voice-command structure.
I made the connection with my Android and current Google Now cards popped onto the screen immediately, as well as a list of recent navigation destinations, and contacts. Pressing the “music” button saw Slacker Radio (which my phone knows is my listening app of choice) pop into action on the Accord’s screen. Same menus. Same buttons. Same interfaces.
And all the while, a high-performance graphics processor keeps things running smoothly and quickly between menus and screens, and the Google Maps and navigation program proved excellent thanks to real-time traffic info, and constantly updated maps. These are loaded into your phone on WiFi with a price of Free 99, while you’re asleep instead of after a trip to your dealer to purchase a pricey new map CD.
Of course, distracting functions are blocked. You can’t watch Youtube while driving, and if you ask Siri or Talk to Google to compose or hear a text message, they’ll read it back to you, but never display it on the screen. Maybe you shouldn’t text or stay connected while driving at all -- though you’ll probably try anyways, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto make it fast, easy, and all but distraction-free.
Notably, all Touring-grade Accord models include standard Qi wireless recharging: just lay your compatible phone on the recharging surface, and delicious electrons are beamed through the air into its battery -- no need to plug it in like a peasant.
Of course, this cutting-edge new smartphone integration stuff is only a part of the updates.
High-tech extends outside of the Accord for 2016, too. The Honda Sensing suite of technologies is an umbrella term for numerous safety features powered by radar and camera, and networked into a single package. Honda Sensing is available on each and every automatic-equipped Accord or about 85% of units sold. This marks the widest roll-out of advanced safety gear in the segment yet. With Honda Sensing on board, the Accord can alert drivers of an elevated collision risk up the road, warn of an unintended departure from their lane, and even self-apply brakes to prevent or mitigate certain types of accidents. Agree with these systems or not, everyone has a lapse in attention at the wheel from time to time, and the system could save lives.
A trick new steering system even lets Honda Sensing take control, slightly, if the car is leaving the roadway. An alert lights up on the dash, and a slight wriggle through the steering wheel encourages the vehicle back into the road via a slight and discreet amount of self-steering. Using the same self-steering ability, a straight driving assist feature enables the steering system to automatically compensate for, and neutralize, the natural steering pull inherent when driving down an uneven road or in a heavy crosswind.
Styling is updated across both the Coupe and Sedan Accord variants as well, with extended use of LED lighting for a unique after-dark illumination signature, more aggressive and distinctive fascias, slick-looking new wheel designs, and a re-sculpted hood.
On sedan models, said hood is made of aluminum, cutting 18lb and featuring a new shape that’s more aerodynamic than the steel hood it replaces. Under the skin, further fuel savings come from revisions to the 4-cylinder engine’s pistons, which get a more slippery coating to reduce gas-sucking friction. Beyond this incremental improvement, both 4- and 6-cylinder powerplants are carryover units.
Finally, tweaks to the suspension and chassis include revised bushings, premium shock absorbers, structural reinforcements, and redesigned steering knuckles. All new components are calibrated against one another towards the goal of improving ride quality and responsiveness. Though the Accord is no pinnacle of covetable steering feel and feedback, the latest car feels lighter at low speeds, heavier at high speeds, and a touch more honed and polished where rough-road ride quality is concerned.
Typical Accord traits remain untouched. Rear-seat legroom is adult-generous, at-hand storage is above average, and the 4-cylinder VTEC engine’s high-revving power curve feels expertly tuned to the programming logic of the CVT transmission. You get a peaky and seamless flow of power to the front wheels during spirited driving, and it’s refined all the while. Typical Accord gripes remain, too: I found myself wishing for less road noise at speed, and the turning circle is on the hefty side, as midsize sedans go.
Ultimately, 2016 sees the award-winning Accord go more upscale and big-time more high-tech. Units are available at dealers now, with pricing from $24,150.