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New Honda Accord: Sleeker with higher MPG

(MoneyWatch) Honda revealed its new 2013 Accord this week, with a sleeker design and new engines with higher gas mileage.

The new Accord debuts into a mid-size sedan class that is more competitive than ever. The 2012 Toyota Camry has regained its title as the best-selling car in the U.S. And Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata are all selling well.

As usual with Honda, the new Accord will have a wide variety of versions and option price levels. The Accord continues a coupe version, even as some competitors have discontinued their coupes. And the 2013 Accord adds a plug-in hybrid version. The Accord sedan will go on sale later this month, the coupe in October and the plug-in hybrid next year.

Here's a closer look at some of the details of the new Accord.

Engines and transmissions
Honda boosts mileage by adding direct injection technology to its new engines. The 2.4-liter, 185 horsepower four-cylinder engine is rated at 27 MPG in city driving and 36 on the highway and 30 in combined driving. Although an 11 percent improvement, that is still second to the new Nissan Altima in this class. The four-cylinder engine comes with either a six-speed manual transmission or a mileage-boosting continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

The other engine choice is a 3.5-liter, 278-horsepower V-6. Honda is sticking with the V-6 even as some competitors have switched to all four-cylinder power plants for their mid-size sedans. The new Accord V-6 is able to boost gas mileage by shutting down three of its cylinders when not needed, as at highway cruising speed. As a result, the highway MPG rating of 34 MPG is not far behind the 36 MPG of the four-cylinder. (The V-6 city rating is 21 vs. 27 for the four-cylinder). The V-6 comes with either a manual transmission or a traditional six-speed automatic.

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The redesigned interior has a more refined look, upgrading the previous cheap-looking plastics. The Accord adds an eight-inch display screen, the largest in this class. The screen gives access to Pandora radio and other smart-phone apps in addition to displaying maps in cars equipped with navigation.

The seats have been redesigned for better comfort. And a one-piece instrument panel helps reduce squeaks and rattles -- one of several steps that Honda executives say reduce the interior noise level.

Safety equipment
Beefed-up body structure should improve passenger protection in a crash, Honda executives say. They expect top crash test ratings for the Accord from the federal government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

In addition, the new Accord offers features aimed at avoiding accidents. All models come with a rear view backup camera. The second-level EX version and higher add a blind spot protection feature called "Lane Watch." A camera mounted into the right exterior mirror shows a wide view of adjacent lanes that comes on the display screen when the turn signal is activated.

The higher-priced EX-L and Touring versions also include forward collision warning, which alerts the driver when the car is closing so fast on the car ahead that a crash seems likely.

Honda loyalists will find a lot to like in the new Accord. The redesign should keep the Accord in the race with the Toyota Camry for top-selling car.

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