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Quick Spins: 2013 Honda Accord lineup

The 2013 Honda Accord is all-new.

I’m sorry if that’s a painfully obvious way to start this report, but it actually might not be that obvious at first glance.

The updated Accord has such a strong family resemblance to the one it replaces that I’m embarrassed to admit I mistook one of the old ones for it at the press preview in New York, only catching myself when I sat down.

That’s not to say it isn’t vastly improved. The 2013 Accord is completely reengineered with cleaner bodywork, crisper lines and finer details. But the eerie similarity can’t be ignored, (or maybe it can?)

Of course when a new Beetle or Mini Cooper or 911 sneaks onto the scene no one blinks an eye if it’s a lookalike. As one of the best-selling cars in America for over three decades, maybe it’s high time that the Accord deserves the same sort of iconic reverence and the associated pass.

The 2013 Accord lineup is comprised of five – relatively -- distinct models: sedan and coupe with four-cylinder engines; sedan and coupe with six-cylinder engines; and Honda’s first plug-in hybrid.

They all share an impressive interior that’s a step or two above last year’s model, and features a soft-touch one piece dash and chrome silver trim that comes across as Honda’s take on a VW cabin -- these are good things.

It’s also slightly larger inside, despite the fact that the car has shrunk three inches in length. The Accord was already one of the more spacious midsize cars -- the government considers it full-size -- and that tradition continues here.

New electronic features available across the model range include a standard 8-inch monitor for infotainment functions, Pandora integration, and a new cloud-connected service called HondaLink that hooks up to your iPhone or Android to offer a collection of apps like Twitter, Yelp and Slacker.

The most original electronic addition, however, is an optional blind-spot camera mounted on the passenger sideview mirror that sends a wide angle view to the screen in the center of the dashboard whenever you hit your turn signal. It’s useful and extremely cool, but doesn’t actively alert you to the presence of a car alongside yours, you literally have to see it for yourself. The driver’s side has no warning system at all, making do with a sideview mirror that is curved at the outer edge to offer a slightly wider field of vision. Separate monitors that do use lights and sounds to warn of impending frontal collisions and lane departure are also on offer.

Aside from that, what you’ve got is a very straightforward take on the midsize formula. To see how it adds up, I took a few of the top models for a spin.

Accord Sedan

If Honda’s top priority was customer retention, things are looking good for the Accord. My mom owns a 2010 model and first impressions are that there’s nothing about the new one that should keep her from flipping it into a 2013 when her lease is up.

The interior is a gem. Bucket seats don’t get much more comfortable than these -- regardless if they are upholstered in cloth or leather -- and the large windows buck the low-roofline trend and offer great visibility. The Accord’s trunk is bigger than before and has a very flat floor, a wide opening and low liftover height. This is Family Car 101 kind of stuff and Honda has aced it. Not everybody does.

The base car has a starting price of $22,470 and new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection connected to a six-speed manual transmission. But since no one will actually buy that one I tried out the version with the automatic, which uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT,) a first for Accord, and starts at $23,270.

The motor delivers 185 hp and 189 lb-ft of torque, while the infinitely variable gearing of the CVT aims to maximize both its performance and fuel economy potential. As the bread and butter model, the power is spot-on for the class and the engine sewing machine smooth in true Honda fashion.

As far as CVTs go, this one’s a winner, with a nicely linear response to throttle inputs and less of the sensation that the car is trying to catch up with the engine that some of these units tend to exhibit. Fuel economy is short of the current best in class Nissan Altima’s 38 mpg highway, but on the high side for the segment at 36 mpg highway, 26 mpg city.

Perhaps more interesting is the that the optional 278 hp 3.5-liter V6 manages squeezes 34 highway miles out of every gallon when equipped with a 6-speed automatic transmission. It’s only available in the higher trim level Accords, the cheapest being $30,860, but it’s something to think about if you really can’t afford a Civic Si as your second car for fun weekend drives.

In either configuration, the Accord’s ride quality is simply exceptional, the cabin hush quiet, thanks in part to a standard electronic noise cancellation system, and did I mention those seats?

The only deviation from the Accord norm is the steering, which now uses electric assist and feels ever so less disconnected and lighter than the hydraulic unit you might remember. Car enthusiasts will bemoan this, my mom will probably prefer it.

Accord Coupe

As of now, the two-door Accord is the midsize sedan-based coupes on the market. It’s been a long time since they’ve been a big seller for any brand, but Honda kept it around in because the Accord’s chief engineer wanted one. Apparently it’s good to be the Large Project Leader.

Four and six-cylinder models are available, but the unique set up is the V6 matched to a six-speed manual transmission, which you can’t get in the sedan. Unlike many automakers, Honda builds its own transmissions and the world would be a much better place if it sold them to some of the others. There’s no slop in the stick, at all. It has short, direct throws and never misses a gear. I did find the clutch pedal to be a little on the springy side compared to, say, the Acura ILX 6-speed I recently tested, but I am picking very small nits.

That said, the V6 puts a lot of power through the front wheels and, with the hammer all the way down, the very evident torque steer can make things a little squiggly. This would be less of a problem if the engine and exhaust didn’t sound so darn good, specially tuned to match the coupe’s sporty image. Smooth pedal application is advised when the kids are on board -- there is plenty of room for them.

Accord Plug-In Hybrid

Honda has a checkered history with hybrids, but is going (and plugging) all-in with this one. The example I drove was a pre-production model that wasn’t fully dialed in, but all the major bits and pieces are in place.

It works on a similar principle to the Chevrolet Volt, offering an all-electric range of 10-15 miles of all-electric range after which a small gasoline engine runs to turn a generator for longer trips.

Honda’s take on this concept combines a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with two electric motors in place of a transmission. One motor generates electricity for the 6.7 kWh battery pack (less than half the capacity of the Volt’s,) the other provides drive, so even when the engine is running it’s still an electric car.

Well, almost. Just like their colleagues over at Chevrolet, Honda’s engineers figured out a way to get a little more efficiency out of the system. Between 40 and 80 mph a single gear directly connects the four-cylinder to the axles for a little extra push. Also, even with a full charge, the gasoline engine appears to kick in when you floor the throttle at higher speeds, rather than staying on the sidelines until the battery is depleted, as in the Volt.

It’s a pretty seamless system, with the same, very smooth power delivery exhibited by almost all electric cars – including Honda’s Fit EV. The electric motor on the prototype I drove did have a slightly annoying high-pitched whine, but I expect that’ll be ironed out by the time the car goes on sale early next year.

Aside from the drivetrain, the main differences are a slightly sparkly but environmentally-friendly cloth upholstery, a large intrusion into the trunk where the battery is housed, a very bold front fascia and Cuisinart blade-look aerodynamic wheel covers.

The big questions that remain are just how much will it cost and what its EPA fuel economy rating will be. No word from Honda on either point, but with all of the technology packed into it, a price in the high $30G range is likely.