Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- This car seems alive. The engine crests 6,800 revolutions per minute and the entire frame of the Honda Accord coupe thrums as if awaiting release. My left foot drops onto the clutch and I shift to third.
The car takes a breath, then the process begins anew. The tachometer needle sweeps right. The front wheels scrabble madly on the asphalt, power overcoming grip. The dashboard’s traction control alert blinks rapidly, the car’s electronic mind trying to intervene.
If this Accord really was an animal, it would be a scrappy, jaw-snapping Tasmanian Devil.
Yes, we’re talking about a Honda. An Accord even, that most mild mannered of family cars.
It’s been a long while since I felt this good about a Honda. The company once seemed bullet proof (the quality of the cars certainly was), until a rash of recalls and the release of a new generation of Civic which was rather substandard.
Then there were a bunch of new models that few consumers seemed to want. The Crosstour crossover (and its Acura cousin, the ZDX), the CR-Z sports hybrid and the Insight, which Honda hoped would unseat the Toyota Prius as the go-to hybrid of choice. All are still available and rather unloved.
The Accord got a huge makeover for its 2013 model year. The rejuvenated version helped push sales to more than 330,000 last year, a 40 percent uptick, making it the company’s best-selling car. The vast majority of those were the most proletarian version: a four-door with a four-cylinder engine and an automatic transmission.
Everyone knows that the Accord is for grown-ups. College kids drive Civics, their parents own the Accord. But the secret has always been that if one is mated to the right equipment, it can be buzzingly fun.
So it is with the one I’m testing, a combination of options which make it as rare as a Ferrari. At $33,140, my car has two-doors and a 3.5-liter V-6. And look, it’s a unicorn! A manual transmission.
I’ve always loved a stick in a Honda, but these days they are an utter rarity, with 99 percent of Accord sedans sold as automatics. Only nine percent of the coupes are equipped with three pedals.
Which is a shame, because a Honda i-VTEC engine under full assault (and pushed into the redline by a manual) is as unique and special as the rumble of a 5.0-liter V-8 mated to a Ford Mustang or the wailing keen from a mid-engine Ferrari. A quality and timbre all of its own.
The i-VTEC V-6 doesn’t produce crazy torque (252 pound-feet), and its horsepower, at 278, is modest. Yet there’s an inherent rubber-band elasticity that keeps stretching into the higher rpms until you’re not sure what will snap first, it or you. There’s that moment when I’ve got the coupe at redline and I feel like the entire vehicle is just going to take off and launch into the sky.
That is a feeling which isn’t mild mannered at all. It’s exuberant and free-wheeling. One of my first cars was a manual-equipped Honda Civic and I lived for that feeling. The CR-Z sports coupe, released several years ago, should have delivered that same sensation. As a hybrid, it simply didn’t.
That’s why I’m so thrilled to pilot this Accord. And it still gets 28 miles per gallon on the highway.
The interior has leather and is determinedly better than the previous generation. Still, some details are disappointing. Open up the storage compartment between the driver and passenger and you’ll find a patch of unattached coarse material -- I wouldn’t call it carpet -- sitting at its bottom, covering up raw plastic and several bolts.
If I bought this car for $32,000, that kind of stuff would drive me to distraction. Hyundai and Kia are doing better than that, and so too will Honda if it wants to continue to compete.
The most clever trick? Click the right blinker and a camera mounted on the right side of the vehicle activates, broadcasting potential blind spots onto the navigation screen.
Most consumers prefer the practicality of the sedan, and I get that. The coupe looks cooler, but you lose easy access to the rear seats and some legroom.
So I also drove a $24,180 Accord Sport sedan around the rural roads of Michigan. It had a direct-injected, 2.4-liter four-cylinder. It got good gas mileage (24 city, 34 highway) and fit all of my luggage. Adult, right?
Right. At least until I put spurs to the thing. The Sport model has 189 hp and the smaller engine is still game for a healthy workout. It handles well, too. I spun the car around a series of loops and it gamely followed ever more aggressive cornering.
Honda has a ways to go before it’s back in top form. The latest Accord proves that the blueprint is still there. The company just needs to embrace it.
The 2013 Honda Accord EX-L Coupe At a Glance
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6 with 278 horsepower and 252 pound- feet of torque.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in about 5.8 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 18 city, 28 highway.
Price as tested: $33,140.
Best feature: The buzz-worthy drive.
Worst feature: Some of the finer interior details still
Target buyer: The secret speedster.
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Lili Rosboch on Fashion Week and Lance Esplund on art.
To contact the writer of this column: Jason H. Harper at Jason@JasonHharper.com or follow on Twitter @JasonHarperSpin.
To contact the editor responsible for this column: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.