By Zack Klapman.
Rubber band or stick? The transmission spectrum used to have 2 ends: the automatic, and the manual. A “true car person” is pressured by the Illuminati to prefer the manual, ignoring the convenience an automatic provides (especially in traffic). Now there is a third choice: the CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission).
There’s a few ways to build them (many uses a belt with pulleys that continually change diameter), but what they do is hold an engine at its most efficient RPM. It’s strange at first, seeing a tach stay at 4,000RPM while the car accelerates, but it’s all in the name of MPG.
Manuals usually best autos in MPG, but here the CVT takes the win, the 2013 Honda Accord EX delivering 27/36MPG to the Sport’s 24/34.
And that is just about the only physical difference between these cars. The Sport also gets a little more power (4) and torque (1. Number so small it’s like getting 10 free grains of rice when you buy 5 meals at Panda Express, so I’ll ignore it.
Both cars have interiors so well labeled and spaced a blind elephant could operate the Bluetooth. They both had large center screens for directing phone calls and music, and a backup cam (standard). I love that Honda doesn’t make you buy a NAV system to go with it; finally someone yields to Google maps.
Because the cars are the same, both have interiors as spacious as the Bellagio foyer. The splashes of chrome break up the black, and keep the, uh, “maturely-designed” interior looking modern enough. Credit where due, the quality and look could pass for Acura. Redesigned for 2013, the exteriors aren’t easily distinguished 2012 (it does have 20 more torques, though). Along with the crisp 6-speed manual, the Sport option ($1700) gets you fog lights, 18” wheels, a spoiler and chrome exhaust tips. Jewelry for the 4HP, but it does look better.
As is the case with automatics, due to complexity, the price for the CVT-equipped was $26,165. $24,180 for the lever-controlled Sport.
So we have the same car with one option box variable. Both cars feel light on their feet (relatively, for the market segment), but don’t mistake them for a sport sedan. The CVT takes 7.7s to hit 60MPH, and does it with a monotone note as exciting as a Buddhist sutra chant. The Sport is at least respectably quick, beating the CVT by 1.1 seconds, but it feels equally slow. You have to stare at the speedo to know you’re going anywhere.
If “purists” say an automatic is mindless, a CVT is comatose. Meaning, there is no break in movement while gears change, just seamless motion. But I will give credit where it’s due. The EX’s “rubber band” is efficient, and even does a good job of “downshifting”. You’ll want that on a mountain climb. It’s weird, but if the job is efficient propulsion, it wins.
That seamless, uninterrupted conveyance makes sense in a car like this. A Honda Accord is an appliance. It’s a steering wheel apart from a personal train. Once your brain is used to that monotone acceleration, it’s like driving a one-speed electric golf cart.
But, in the past, a Honda automatic wasn’t the most reliable thing around. They can make a car and engine as lasting as a moon rock, but I’d be hesitant to commit to 200,000 miles with a CVT. And, as an “enthusiast”, I think my brain would turn to mush riding (that’s what it feels like) in the EX.
The Sport is faster, cheaper, and the shifter staves off Alzheimer’s. And don’t forget about those 4 extra horsepower.
(Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Photos provided by Honda.)