While SUVs and MPVs have taken away much of the D-segment sedan’s glam and dominance, the arena continues to be an important one for carmakers to be in, especially so for Japanese brands because it remains the pinnacle of standard warfare before things move higher into the sub-brand realm. As such, a lot of it is bragging rights to be leader of the pack.

Which is what the Honda Accord happens to be – the ninth-generation made its local debut in 2013, and last September, the facelift arrived in the country to continue the game. Since its debut right into February this year, the refreshed car has been the market leader in the segment, with 2,400 units shifted during the period.

Granted, it’s not a terribly large number in the grand scheme of things, but its annual volume of 5,000 or so units chips in with its contribution to the cause, in this case Honda Malaysia’s bid to achieve sales of 100,000 units in this calendar year. We already know the pre-facelift to be a clean, efficient performer, but what does the facelift bring to the table? We find out with a drive in it on a road trip to Kuantan.

Like with the pre-facelift, three variants of the locally-assembled Accord facelift are available, the range made up of the 2.0 VTi, 2.0 VTi-L and 2.4 VTi-L, priced at RM144,800, RM153,800 and RM172,800 respectively. The refresh doesn’t alter anything mechanically, the changes left to exterior tweaks and some minor revisions to the interior, with additional equipment also finding its way on.

Exterior amendments to the car – which measures in at 4.935 mm long, 1,850 mm wide and 1,465 mm tall – are subtle but add refinement. The new grille – with a large chrome bar linking the headlights – that introduces the automaker’s Solid Wing Face to the car doesn’t have the flow of the Civic, but works well enough.

The rear hasn’t been reworked much, save the introduction of redesigned LED tail lights with triple light guides and a reprofiled valence – which now has a chrome strip running across the width of the unit – being the fresh cues. The facelift also introduces a wider rear number plate garnish.

New headlights – automatic halogen units with LED DRLs for the 2.0 litre variants, and full-LED headlights units on the 2.4 litre – and new slimline LED fog lamps across the model range round off the exterior

Both 2.0 litre and 2.4 litre engines are carried over unchanged from the pre-facelift. The 2.4 litre Earth Dreams Technology twin-cam i-VTEC engine – which replaced the K24 when the car made its debut – continues on with 175 hp at 6,200 rpm and 225 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm.

Likewise, the 2.0 litre SOHC i-VTEC engine, which offers 155 PS at 6,500 rpm and 190 Nm at 4,300 rpm. Both engines are paired with the automaker’s familiar five-speed automatic gearbox, which is starting to feel a bit long in the tooth.

No complaints about its general performance – it hauls the car around in good order, but you can’t but help feel that an extra cog at the very least would improve the range and scope of the presentation by quite a fair bit.

This was certainly the take during the Kuantan drive, which had the car running most of the given two-day course on the highway. Driven sedately and at lower speeds, the ‘box – via the 2.4 VTi-L – remains ably composed, but push it hard and the scale offered by the available gearing complement starts to feel short.

Much of it has to do with response and, to a lesser degree, refinement. This was never that apparent with the old K24, which had a lazy take-up and didn’t expose the transmission, but the 2.4 litre EDT is a far livelier unit, and its racier low-end pull right into the midband exposes the five-speeder’s aging character a fair bit.

Aside from that, the 2.4 litre variant – which made-up virtually all of the fleet on the drive, and so was the only unit trialled – is energetic and willing, effectively a world away from the previous-gen and that languid K24. It lends a lot of vitality to the car from a dynamic point of view.

While we never got to try out the 2.0 litre, word is that it has to be worked harder to get results, and based on the EDT’s workings, the disparity between the 2.0 and 2.4 litre’s behaviour is a thing of the past.

The Accord has always driven well, and the current iteration is no different. Its handling is keen, and reaction to steering input is clean and predictable. The steering itself is light and vague in communication, but the chassis ably masks the sterility of the rack and keeps involvement levels decent.

Ride aspects are very good at speed, and that composure remains constant cruising along, with even long-wave undulations causing very little issue to the car’s poise. The suspension can feel a bit fidgety at low speeds, but though secondary aspects are busier, the Accord doesn’t come across as overly hard riding.

The cabin plays its part – road noise levels are low despite the presence of 18-inchers, which are those from the pre-facelift but now done in a two-tone finish (the 2.0 litre variants ride on 17-inch units, also two-toned), and the seats provide good support and adequate levels of plush over long distances.

No alterations to the layout, but the interior continues to be inviting, with new refinement coming in the form of new trim, with a wood grain and piano black/silver accent combination going on the 2.0 VTi-L and 2.4 VTi-L.

Elsewhere, the instrument panel features a new spindle pattern background to improve appearance, and there’s also a new font for better legibility. The i-MID and infotainment system have also been updated, the 7.7-inch multi-info display and seven-inch touchscreen audio system now coming with with Apple CarPlay compatibility, along with MirrorLink, HDMI and WiFi hotspot functionality.

The level of kit has also been bumped up slightly. All variants now feature push-start ignition with smart entry and six airbags, the last only available on the 2.4 litre model previously. Elsewhere, the Honda LaneWatch blind-spot camera that was also only on the 2.4 before is now found on the 2.0 VTi-L.

As it went well into the evening, the drive also gave the chance to try out the performance of the all-LED headlamps, and the report card on this one scores high marks for illumination aspects and the amount of light spread, with a quick side-by-side against the halogens showing how much better the LED unit’s levels of throw and emission were.

All this adds more shine to an already very solid offering. Nothing has been changed in how the Honda Accord facelift drives and performs, but there hasn’t really been a need to, because it remains a very competent offering in this regard.

A subtle exterior remake and the addition of new kit and features may not sound like much, but it’s more than enough to carry number nine on until the tenth one appears, and the numbers that will assure continued market leadership will attest to that.

You can compare the specifications of all the Accord facelift variants at CarBase.my