By ANN M. JOB
For The Associated Press
(AP) - Honda's 2013 Accord sedan is handsomely restyled and re-engineered to be more fuel efficient and refined than its predecessor, and it offers more technology, including a standard rearview camera that's an option on major competing sedans.
In fact, the new top-level Accord Touring model comes with standard light-emitting diode headlamps similar to the ones on Audis. They are the first LED headlights on an Accord and give the Accord a luxe-tech look.
This top Accord also has a first-ever frontal collision warning system, and some Accords are available with a cloud-based HondaLink system that provides hands-free access to services, audio and information.
Consumer Reports predicts reliability of the five-seat 2013 Accord will be better than average.
Best of all, the new Accord sedan's starting retail prices of $22,470 with four-cylinder engine and manual transmission and $23,270 with continuously variable transmission (CVT) that a driver operates like an automatic are increased just $200 from the 2012 Accord starting prices.
Even without factoring in the new standard equipment, which includes dual-zone, automatic climate control and the 16-inch alloy wheels on base 2013 Accords, the pricing is aggressive for Honda.
The competing Toyota Camry, which has been the top U.S. seller in the segment for years, has a manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $22,850 for a 2012 four-cylinder model with automatic.
Yet, the base Camry doesn't have standard dual-zone, automatic climate control or standard rearview camera, and the base , 16-inch Camry wheels are steel with wheel covers.
Toyota has not officially released details of its 2013 Camry.
Meantime, the 2013 Hyundai Sonata, which doesn't have standard alloy wheels, rearview camera or standard dual-zone, automatic climate control on lower-trim models, has a starting retail price of $21,770 with automatic transmission.
With sales of more than 235,000 in calendar 2011, the Accord is Honda's biggest seller. But following the previous generation Accord that grew big, bland and cheap-feeling, the 2013 version is critical for Honda.
There are both sedan and coupe Accords, with four-cylinder and V-6 gasoline engine offerings. Later in the model year, hybrid Accords are due.
The base, 2.4-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder with Honda's variable valve operation called i-VTEC is new and now is direct injected for sprightly performance.
It helps, too, that the 2013 Accord has been sized down just a bit _ it's 3.5 inches shorter in length than its predecessor, for example _ and thus has lost a few pounds.
Horsepower now is 185 or 189, depending on the Accord model, instead of the 177 from last year's four cylinder. The four cylinder's torque increased noticeably to 181 foot-pounds at 3,900 rpm in the base 2013 Accord from 161 foot-pounds at 4,300 rpm.
Despite the power improvements, the 2013 Accord has better fuel economy ratings, in part because the automatic has been dropped from four cylinder models and replaced by a CVT, which uses a wide power band, rather than pre-set gears, to optimize gasoline mileage.
A 2013 Accord with four cylinder and CVT is rated by the federal government at 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 36 mpg on the highway. This is up from 23/34 mpg from last year's four-cylinder Accord. The 278-horsepower, 3.5-liter, single overhead cam V-6 that was in the test Accord Touring sedan, however, was rated lower at 21/34 mpg and averaged 23.6 mpg in combined city/highway travel. The V-6 uses regular gasoline.
The V-6 now is mated to a six-speed automatic, rather than a five-speed, and it worked with smooth precision in the tester. A driver can shift gears without a clutch pedal for more spirited driving.
The new Accord sedan has graceful lines, but doesn't follow Hyundai's Sonata and Ford's Fusion coupe-like roofline.
As a result, seats can be fitted more upright, allowing the 2013 Accord's rear-seat legroom of 38.5 inches vs. the Sonata's 34.6 inches.
Headroom in front and rear is about on par, and the Accord's trunk space of 15.8 cubic feet is up from last year's 14.7 cubic feet but less than the 16.4 in the Sonata.
The new, front-wheel drive Accord is quieter than the old model, and in the Touring model, rode smoothly and handled curvy mountain roads with poise. Steering is a bit on the light side.
Honda devotees will appreciate the low cowl which, with slimmer-than-some-competitors' metal pillars at the sides of the windshield, gives an airier feel to the front seats.
The middle of the dashboard in the Touring model commanded attention because it had not one, but two, large display screens. The top one handled navigation items.