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By Jerry Hirsch
Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 9:00 p.m.

Few cars have left a mark on the auto industry as indelible as that of the Honda Accord.

Credited with helping open up the American market for Japanese autos, the “reliable” Accord was once the bestselling car in America before it began losing ground first to Japanese rivals and more recently to resurgent domestic automakers and South Korean upstarts.

This week, shoppers had their first chance to check out a redesigned Accord as Honda begins a comeback push that is crucial to the automaker's recovery from recent missteps in the United States.

After getting panned for last year's redesign of the smaller Civic and letting South Korean rival Hyundai grab a slice of Honda's reputation for fuel economy, the car company needs the new Accord to be a home run.

The 2013 Accord competes against a recently redesigned Toyota Camry, as well as other new-generation cars, including the Nissan Altima, Volkswagen Passat and Chevrolet Malibu. Ford will sell a new Fusion this fall, and waiting in the wings is a new Mazda6. The older but still popular Hyundai Sonata is another important player in the mid-size sedan market, which accounts for 18 percent of auto sales, the largest segment in the industry, according to R.L. Polk & Co.

Honda's previous stumbles have made it vulnerable to once-loyal consumers taking a look at other brands. Honda has seen its share of the U.S. market slide from 11 percent in 2009 to 9 percent last year, according to Autodata Corp.

“Honda learned its lesson,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with auto information company, who has driven the new model. “The interior was very high quality and well appointed. The engines performed extremely well. And most impressive, Honda is packing a lot of content into the price.”

The LX, the base model with an automatic transmission and 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine, starts at $22,480. But Honda expects that most buyers will opt for higher trim levels, such as the middle-grade EX, which has added amenities such as 17-inch alloy wheels, a LaneWatch feature that displays a video image of the passenger-side blind spot when changing lanes, a driver's power seat and electronic entry. It has the same engine and starts at $25,405 for the automatic.

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