Has Honda lost its bearings? I'm inclined to think so after spending a week behind the wheel of the new Accord V-6. For one thing, more than $22,000 for an Accord V-6 that is not even equipped with leather seats is a large sum of money for a car that is basically a rather plain-looking four-door family sedan. For another, the Accord's V-6 engine offers no tangible improvement in performance over the marvelous VTEC four-cylinder engine in the Accord EX. If that weren't enough, Ford and Chrysler offer better-looking cars of equal quality that come with more equipment and cost less. The fully loaded V-6-powered Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique or Chrysler Cirrus/Dodge Stratus sedans sell for between $2,000 and $4,000 less than the Accord V-6. After driving the Accord V-6, I can't figure out what Honda is trying to accomplish with this car. PERFORMANCE I know more about what is under the hood of the Accord V-6 than probably anyone else who has reviewed the car, because I own a 1991 Sterling SL, which has a nearly identical drivetrain. That's right. The 2.7-liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission in the Accord V-6 dates back to the mid-1980s and the first-generation Acura Legend/Rover Sterling. Although Honda brought out a new engine and transmission for the Acura Legend in 1991, the company never stopped building the 2.7-liter engine. The engine, coupled with the four-speed automatic, continues to be used by Rover for the Sterling 827, a car that was pulled from the U.S. market five years ago. A redesigned version of the Sterling continues to be sold in other countries. Honda says it has improved the 2.7-liter V-6 and that the new version delivers 10 more horsepower than the old engine. Honda also claims to have redesigned the four-speed automatic. I couldn't tell by driving it. The engine's performance feels the same, and the transmission exhibits the same bad habits as the one in my car. In any case, Honda rates the 2.7-liter at 170 horsepower. Although the four-cylinder engine in the Accord EX delivers only 145 horsepower, it's this four-cylinder car that delivers a faster time in getting from 0 to 60 mph. Motor Trend magazine tested both Accords and found the EX model makes the trip in 8.1 seconds, while the Accord V-6 takes 8.8 seconds to reach 60 mph. (The V-6 model weighs 210 pounds more than the Accord EX.) Fuel mileage is better in the EX too. And, of course, the price is more agreeable. The EX sells for more than $1,000 less. It is my contention, then, that the V-6 adds nothing to the Accord. Now, with all that baggage out of the way, let me tell you that the V-6 engine is a smooth charmer - but so is the four-cylinder. The aluminum V-6 is a quiet, nearly vibration-free and strong engine - but so is the four-cylinder. The transmission, however, feels unrefined compared with those in similar cars, such as the Ford Contour and Chevrolet Lumina. Some of the shifts were rough, and the transmission had a tendency to get confused about which gear it should be in when the car was rolling along at between 20 and 30 mph. For instance, if I accelerated quickly at that speed, the transmission would shift roughly into the next lower gear. Other times, it wouldn't shift at all unless the accelerator was floored. The Accord V-6 is not available with a stick shift. HANDLING The Accord V-6 is equipped with a four-wheel independent suspension system that consists of double wishbones, coil springs and stabilizer bars. That's generally a setup that yields a firm and sporting ride. But not in the Accord V-6. I can't remember driving a Honda that handled quite like this. The ride is pillowy soft, and the car sort of wallows around corners. There is nothing sporty about the Accord V-6's road manners. In fact, it's a car you don't feel comfortable driving fast on twisty roads. Itw s on a long trip over smoothly paved roads that I found the Accord V-6 to be at its best. It cruises effortlessly on long, flat and straight roads. Road noise is well muffled, and the Accord V-6 does a nice job of preventing the driver from feeling the effects of small and medium bumps. The power-assisted anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes are capable of slowing the Accord quickly and easily. The power rack-and-pinion steering is tight and precise. FIT AND FINISH Some of the interior pieces, such as the plastic center console and trim around the windshield frame (the A-pillars) struck me as being chintzy-looking for a $22,000 car. The cloth-covered seats, although comfortable, also didn't fit in as part of such an expensive car. For the same or less than the Accord, you can buy Ford, General Motors and Chrysler sedans with leather-trimmed interiors. The Chevrolet Lumina and Monte Carlo, the Ford Contour and Taurus, and the Chrysler Cirrus and Concorde are such cars. Our test car, which was well-built, offered good interior room front and rear, and visibility was excellent. The air conditioner wasn't able to cool the interior of the car quickly. Also, it didn't consistently blow cold air. The rotary controls, however, were easy to reach and use. Another thing the Accord could use: a set of lighted window switches. Dual air bags are standard on the Accord. The trunk is large and easy to load because the tip of the trunk lid extends to the rear bumper. All in all, the Accord V-6 struck me as an incredibly average car with a very high price. When compared with the Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique, Chrysler Cirrus/Dodge Stratus and Chevrolet Lumina, the Accord V-6 finishes last by country mile. The basic Accord with a four-cylinder engine is the far smarter buy. Truett's tip: The Honda Accord V-6 is a major disappointment. It doesn't perform better than the less-expensive VTEC equipped four-cylinder model, and the handling is soft and soggy - just like a 1960s Buick.
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