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2013 Accord: Honda puts on its game face

((Honda))

New Accord set to regain midsize sales crown

Game on.

With the recent arrival of the 2013 Honda Accord, the battle for the family sedan sales crown is officially engaged.

This is the ninth-generation Accord and industry insiders believe that if it reasserts its old mojo it could dethrone Toyota’s Camry.

The word from here: It does and it might.

I tested a top-of-the-line Accord V-6 Touring ($34,220, including destination). If Honda has suffered lately from a deficit of creature comforts and cabin tech - and it has - the V-6 Touring more than compensates.

But only 15 percent of Accord buyers will take a V-6, let alone a Touring. Will the 85 percent suffer?

Hardly. Even the base four-cylinder LX ($23,370) is stoutly equipped. Dual-zone climate control, 8-inch video display, rearview camera, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Pandora radio - all are part of a lengthy standard-features list.

On EX trim levels ($24,847), Honda debuts a spectacular new “LaneWatch” blind-spot warning system. With the right-turn indicator activated, the video screen displays a live view along the passenger side, alerting the driver to the presence of a bike or car sneaking up in the parking lane.

The EX-L trim ($28,875) adds HondaLink, a smart phone-based connectivity system that enables Internet audio streaming, social media apps and cloud-based content.

No less important than tech in these frugal times is fuel efficiency. The 278-horsepower V-6 employs Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management system and returns EPA numbers of 21 mpg city/34 mpg highway/25 mpg combined.

The 181-hp, 2.4-liter four that powers base models incorporates direct injection and is joined to what is widely considered the industry’s best continuously variable transmission (CVT). It fetches EPA ratings of 27/36/30.

A coupe is due next week and a pair of hybrids - one a plug-in - will come next year.

There’s more than a bit of magic about the new Accord. Although its 3.5 inches shorter, both cabin and cargo capacity grow. Wheelbase shrinks 0.9 inches, but ride quality improves, thanks largely to a whopping 40 percent increase in rigidity.

Honda boldly moves away from its previous wishbone-type front suspension to a more conventional strut setup. No matter; handling is lithe and dynamic, with excellent balance and minimal body lean. Steering is lightly weighted but precise and communicative.

Other new models feature more dramatic styling but I suspect Accord’s evolutionary, classic looks will better stand the test of time.

Inside, an elegantly rendered single-piece dash and high-quality, soft-touch materials rival the category’s best. The control panel bristles with buttons and knobs, but they’re properly sorted by function and easily mastered.

Large, sumptuous and deeply bolstered front seats accommodate plus-size folks. Rear-seat passengers enjoy abundant head- and legroom.

The low cowl and beltline and narrow pillars produce superb sight lines. Enhanced aerodynamics and a pair of noise-cancellation systems trim road and wind noise.

Sales titles are numbers games played for bragging rights. Whether it takes home the crown or not, Accord is a top-tier contender. And, with a battle this good, buyers are the real winners.

2013 Honda Accord V-6 Touring

Vehicle base price: $21,680

Trim level base price: $33,430

As tested: $34,220

Optional equipment: The V-6 Touring is a fully equipped trim; our tester included no options.

EPA ratings: 21 city/34 highway

Regular unleaded fuel specified