Published on January 12th, 2019 | by Paul Fosse0
Comparing Tesla Model 3 To Honda Accord — From An Engineer’s Perspective
January 12th, 2019 by Paul Fosse
For today’s article, I’m going to go over all the major areas of each car (Driving Dynamics, Interior, Exterior, Safety, Technology, and Costs), but before I do, I’m going to tell you why I bought a Honda Accord in 1998 and why it was my favorite car (until I bought the Tesla Model 3 last year).
It was the fall of 1998 and I was working on a new software engineering contract 30 miles from my home that was going to require a lot of hours in the office. You see, I was working on a system that just couldn’t slip. I was working to install a new Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that was key in allowing the fast growing networking service division of Wall Street’s darling, Lucent Technologies (the company that never missed Wall Street’s earnings expectations, until it did), to run its business in the year 2000.
The demand for software engineers was high in the late 1990s, because there had been a lot of publicity that systems would just stop working on December 31, 1999, since many programmers had used a two-digit year field and when the year rolled over from 1999 to the 2000, the system would fail. The story that everyone tells you is that the hype was overblown and the proof of this is there were no widespread reports of problems in early 2000. As a developer supporting a variety of systems and also friends with many other support engineers, I can tell the you the “real” story. We had over 100 systems and reports that failed in early 2000 due to date issues. Many other companies had many problems too.
So, why didn’t you hear about this on the news (especially when a ton of reporters wanted nothing more than a Y2K disaster story)? There are 2 major reasons for this. The first reason is we have many jobs fail every day and fixing bugs is what developers do every day. I’d say we had about 30% more than usual because of Y2K, but it was manageable. The second reason is because the companies had spent millions (or maybe billions) on ensuring there would be no Y2K problems, and because there was intense media interest in the subject, we were instructed not to mention to anyone outside the company that the failures were caused by Y2K. (I think it is okay to tell you almost 20 years later. You won’t tell anyone, will you?).
But I digress. Before buying a loaded V6 Honda Accord with every option available, I had driven some very nice cars, such as the Lexus GS400 and the top-of-the-line Camry. I had a 10 year old Camry that my father had given me, but it was starting to knock and have other issues. I wanted a nice car with a bit of flash and something that would be able to keep up with other cars on the Howard Franklin bridge across Tampa Bay. My old 4 cylinder Camry really strained at the 75 mph speeds common on this bridge and had trouble passing other cars when I needed to change lanes. With this Y2K job, I was making almost double the money I had received in my previous job (about $140,000 a year) and I felt that I could really afford the Lexus.
The distinctive trait of the Lexus GS400 (and the Honda Accord V6) was strong acceleration from a very smooth engine that had power at every speed. What I remember about both cars is that they did not have a long lag between when you pressed the accelerator and when you received a strong push of power. Some of the cheaper cars I was looking at had good acceleration, but you only got the acceleration after the car downshifted. This meant 3 bad things. The first was a lag from the request for power and the delivery of power. The second was a jerky lurch when the power came. The third was the horrible din of a rough 4 cylinder engine straining to give you everything it has.
The Honda also met my other needs. I had a rear seat a little wider than the Camry that year. This was very important since I had 2 kids and a 3rd on the way. I needed to be able to have room for 2 car seats in the rear and still enough room for my 3rd child. At that time, you didn’t want to put kids in the front seats, because the air bags didn’t shut off. I also was busy with my job, so I didn’t want a flashy but unreliable car like a Jaguar, and Honda had a reputation for reliability. I could afford the Lexus GS400, but got the same thrill from driving the V6 Accord at about half the price. I wasn’t in a job where it was important to impress clients, so it didn’t make sense to spend the extra money just to show people that I had “made it.”
I ended up owning that car for 14 years and almost 170,000 miles. It had very few issues, but at the end it was leaking and burning a lot of oil, the transmission was slipping, the check engine light was always coming on, and you were always being asked to replace oxygen sensors or catalytic converters or a muffler. The car seemed to need about $400 in brake work every year or two. The car had excellent power and it thus went through a lot of tires.
I now realize that EVs will never leak or burn oil, they don’t have a transmission to slip, they don’t have oxygen sensors or catalytic converters or even mufflers. Elon recently tweeted that Tesla’s never need new brake pads. The part that will be similar is tires. Although I’m happy that my tires in my Model 3 are wearing well, I will need a new set before I hit 30,000 miles.
Anyway, that should be enough about my Honda Accord. I just wanted to establish that I’m not a Honda hater. Rather, I have fond memories of my Accord and would not have kept it that long if I disliked the car.
For this review, I’m going to use my this Car and Driver review as the main source for Honda information. I’ve also watched this YouTube video, which assured me there are few differences between the 2018 and 2019 models. Although the Accord has recently moved from using a V6 in its top trim model to a turbo four cylinder, they still value the same things I remember being key to my buying decision 20 years ago, smooth quiet power at all speeds.
Car and Driver also tested the Tesla Model 3 Long Range RWD at about the same time, so we have test results that are easy to compare. Looking at acceleration, at first glance, you would say the cars are very comparable, since the Accord and the Model 3 both go from zero to 100 mph in 13.6 seconds. But this figure misses the huge advantage that electric vehicles have called instant torque. This means that when you press on the accelerator, the car reacts instantly.
Luckily, Car and Driver has the perfect test for that (well, not as good as a test drive, but I digress again). It is called the “Top gear, 30–50 mph.” This tests how fast the car accelerates when you are cruising in top gear at 30 mph and want or need to get up to 50 mph to change lanes. The difference is shocking and dramatic. The Honda takes 3.4 seconds, the Tesla slightly more than half the time at 1.9 seconds.
All other test results are comparable, including braking and road handling as measured on a 300 foot diameter skidpad. This is with the 18 standard wheels. If handling performance is important to you, this 3 minute video from Edmunds explains that the $1,500 upgrade for the 19 inch performance wheels is worth every penny! It drops an insignificant 2 tenths of a second from the zero to 60 time and an equally insignificant 5 feet from the stopping distance (60 to zero), but improving the skidpad rating from .85 to .93 is a game changer. These wheels and tires — in combination with the Model 3’s suspension, extremely low center of gravity due the heavy battery being very low to the ground, and perfect 50/50 weight distribution — mean that many people compare the handling of the Tesla Model 3 to the Porsche Boxster or Cayman.
Although the Honda Accord Touring handles very well in its class, the Model 3 is in a different league if you choose to upgrade to the 19 inch tires and wheels. Many people also prefer the look of the 19 inch wheels, but be aware that the stock aero wheels do give you about 4% better efficiency and range at high speeds. If that is more important to you than handling, I recommend sticking with the stock 18 Aero wheels and tires.
I have to give the win to the Tesla Model 3 in this area, since real-world acceleration and handling are substantially better than even the best Accord you can get. If you don’t drive your car aggressively, you might never notice the difference in handling, but everyone will notice the instant torque of the Model 3 in the first 30 seconds of the test drive. Once you have driven the Model 3 (or other decent performance EV like the Chevy Bolt), it tends to ruin the enjoyment you previously felt driving gas cars. You are just spoiled.
This is going to be short. Both cars have a great interior and ample room for 5. They both have great trunks, and although Tesla has the front trunk that looks cute, I really don’t use it for anything.
The one advantage that the Honda Accord has that I might enjoy (living in Florida) is the ventilated seats. On the other hand, the Model 3 has remote access to the climate control from my phone, so when it is hot (which is a lot of the time in Florida), I tend to pre-cool the car as I am walking up to it. It only takes about 2 minutes to cool the interior, so that works.
The all-glass roof is beautiful, especially from the outside when wet, and it also is great for rear-seat passengers.
Both have great controls. The Tesla’s are ultra modern and take some getting used to while the Honda’s are great and require no thinking to use.
Overall, I’ll call this area a draw. I don’t have a strong preference for either interior, since they are both fabulous.
This is going to be even shorter. The exterior styling is very subjective. If you like modern and sporty, you may favor the Tesla. If you prefer to fit into the crowd and don’t like to be noticed, you may favor the Honda. I’ll call it a draw for most people, but I prefer the Tesla. Look at the pictures and judge for yourself.
When you talk about safety these days, you need to talk about it in two ways. First, traditional crash testing is all about your chances of surviving a crash. The second type of safety, which is harder to measure, is all about avoiding an accident in the first place.
I wrote about the Model 3’s results in crash safety a few months ago. In Tesla’s third quarter earnings call, Madan Gopal (Principle Safety Engineer at Tesla) stated that the Model 3 has the lowest probability of injury of any of the 943 vehicles tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Association since 2011! That being said, the Honda Accord has an overall 5 star rating and 5 star ratings in every subcategory also.
Moving on to avoiding accidents, it appears the information that I captured on the NHTSA website is inaccurate. The Accord now includes full Honda Sensing in every Accord, which includes similar safety features to Tesla’s Model 3, including forward collision warning and braking & lane departure warning.
I would give Tesla a slight edge in safety today, but Tesla’s ability to improve the safety of the car with over-the-air updates means that it is likely the Tesla will be significantly safer than it is today in 5 years and significantly safer than cars like the 2019 Honda Accord that don’t have the ability to improve over time.
The Honda Accord Touring is a very modern car with the latest state of the art technology in the engine, entertainment, and safety. It wouldn’t be rated so highly in all the reviews if it wasn’t state of the art. It came out in 2018 (the same year the Model 3 came out). The Model 3 matches most of the Honda’s features, but then adds value in 3 major areas.
Autopilot and The Promise of Full Self Driving
Tesla’s AutoPilot and especially Navigate on Autopilot, which was recently pushed out to owners that have purchased that option, is life changing to many who have tried it. It doesn’t drive for you, since you do need to pay attention and correct the car when it makes mistakes, but I’ve heard it is similar to driving in the passenger seat with a new driver. You have to pay attention, because the driver will makes some mistakes, but it is less stressful than driving yourself, once you learn how the system works.
Whenever someone asks on Facebook or the Tesla Motors Club if it is worth buying Autopilot, it comes back about 10 to 1 that is was a life-changing purchase. It works very well on Interstate highways and on major roads in stop and go traffic. On short trips, the car is so fun to drive, I hate to put in on Autopilot, and it is not really meant for the city yet anyway. On longer trips, I enjoy taking a break.
Tesla vehicles are the only vehicles sold today for which the company claims they will have full self driving capability in a few years without having to buy a new car. Now, let’s be clear: nobody knows for sure if Tesla will be able to deliver on that claim, and that upgrade will cost you between $0 and $12,000, depending on when you bought your car and if you purchased Autopilot and Full Self Driving when you purchased the car.
When I bought my Model 3, I purchased Autopilot for $5,000 and passed on the $3,000 Full Self Driving option. When it comes out, I will upgrade to Full Self Driving for $4,000. Not only does this have the potential to radically change both daily commutes and long trips, but it will greatly impact the resale value of both cars that have it and cars that don’t. Cars that either have self driving or can be easily upgraded to self driving will likely increase in value. Cars that can’t be upgraded to self driving will depreciate more quickly than before. This technology will change the costs of using a ride-hailing service like Uber or Lyft dramatically and many people who own a car to get around will now find it more economical to just call a ride-hailing service. Stanford University futurist Tony Seba describes the vision better than anyone else that I’ve seen.
Integration of Almost Everything
In the Model 3, the car is like a smartphone. In the old days of cell phones and cars, there was a dedicated button for each function you needed to use. When smartphones came on the scene 10 years ago, the phone manufactures reduced the number of buttons to a few key functions, like volume, power, and silence. Everything else was done on the touchscreen.
That is exactly what Tesla is doing with the Model 3. The Silicon Valley company is moving 95% of the functions to the touchscreen and just keeping a few major controls like the steering wheel, 2 multi-function wheels on the steering wheel, the horn, the brake pedal, the accelerator, window controls, turn signals, the gear shift stalk, overhead lights, and hazard lights. This is why the Model 3 is called the iPhone of cars.
All Tesla vehicles sold today get free updated software for the life of the vehicle. Even the first 2012 Model S still gets new updates every few weeks. You don’t have to go to the dealer to get these updates — they are automatically downloaded to your car and you specify when to install them (the car can not be driven for the 45 minutes most software updates take to apply). Updates frequently add new features or correct minor issues. They have improved safety, made the car work better in cold weather, vastly improved Autopilot, added fun Easter eggs and so much more!
Overall, the Tesla technology is years ahead of Honda’s, so I’m giving it a win in the category, but before buying a Tesla, you have to answer if you are ready for the future or not. Not everyone is ready for it. Were you one of the first to get a smartphone in your circle of friends? If you were, you will want a Tesla. If you are still using a flip phone, it might not be the car for you.
For costs, I used the Edmunds TCO calculator to find the estimated 5 year costs of the Honda Accord Touring. From previous articles, I had costs for a low-end Accord and the Tesla Model 3. I adjusted the Model 3 estimate to take into account the $2,000 price drop and the $3,750 reduction in the potential federal tax credit.
You can see the major differences between the Accord and the Tesla are depreciation and financing, fuel, maintenance, and the tax credit.
The reason depreciation and financing are higher for the Tesla is the cash price is higher. If full self driving is delivered as promised in the next 5 years, I’m confident that the Tesla will not depreciate at the the predicted rate, but I used a rate that is more conservative to be … conservative.
The Tesla makes back most of the increased cost of the vehicle in fuel savings because the Accord Touring gets and EPA-estimated 26 mpg, little improved over the 21 mpg my Accord V6 was rated at 20 years ago. The Model 3 is rated at 123 MPGe, so it is almost 5 times as efficient.
Maintenance costs are reduced on the Tesla, since oil, oil filter, engine air filter, transmission fluid, and spark plugs don’t exist in the car. There is also some worry about the reliability of small turbo engines.
The tax credit makes the predicted 5 year costs of the Model 3 less than the Honda Accord Touring.
The warranty is also much better on the Tesla. The bumper to bumper warranty is 3 years and 36,000 miles on the Honda and 4 years and 50,000 miles on the Model 3. The drivetrain warranty is 5 years and 60,000 miles on the Honda and 8 years and 100,000 miles on the Tesla. Extending the Honda warranty to match the Tesla warranty would cost over $2,000 in my experience. On the other hand, Tesla charges $1,500 to $2,500 if you want a color other than black, whereas Honda doesn’t charge extra for colors. So, overall, I’ll call this a draw.
So, by my scoring, Tesla won the driving dynamics, safety, and technology areas and approximately tied in the areas of interior, exterior, and costs. Is that the reason that Honda sedan sales have dropped as Tesla Model 3 sales have jumped?
Each person has different requirements for their car, and if your main criteria for buying a car is how long it takes to fill it up on a 500 mile road trip, the Honda Accord is going to come out on top, since to stop at a Supercharger on a long trip might take an extra few minutes. But if you value sporty driving, safety, and having the latest technology, its likely you will prefer the Tesla Model 3.
Let me know in the comments what you think! I might do a comparison with the Camry next, but let me know what other cars you would like to see compared.
You can use my Tesla referral link to get up to 9 months free Supercharging (6 months if you have test driven a car with Tesla) on a Model S, Model X, or Model 3. Here’s the code: https://ts.la/paul92237