Honda's Accord continues to be one of the top-selling sedans, losing out to the Ford Taurus last year in a nip and tuck race for most sales.As the current model year winds down, and an all-new 1998 model waits in the wings for a fall introduction, Honda has sweetened the pot by offering a specially equipped Accord LX, dubbed the SE, for special edition, that groups popular equipment together for approximately $1,000 in savings. It has 15-inch alloy wheels, AM/FM stereo with compact disc player, leather-wrapped steering wheel, security system, remote keyless entry, power moonroof and simulated wood trim on the console. Other standard equipment includes an automatic transmission, power windows, power mirrors, cruise control, air conditioning, interval wipers and rear defroster. The SE is available in both coupe and sedan models. It is easy to see why the Accord has remained such a popular car. Its level of refinement is on par with vehicles that cost considerably more. It is quiet and solid, as if it was hewn from a solid hunk of steel. The 2.2-liter engine feels a bit short of power because it only has 130 horses, but it is as smooth as an electric mixer. The double-wishbone suspension gives it athletic handling without degrading the ride. One weak spot is that engine noise is not as well isolated from the passenger cabin as it is in the Toyota Camry. I have heard from folks who have sampled early production models of the 1998 that it is significantly quieter. When the current generation Accord was introduced in 1994, the lack of an optional V6 seemed to be a glaring omission. Even though that was eventually fixed, the larger engine changes the character of the car by making it seem more like a miniature luxury sedan, a role that seems to go beyond the Accord's original concept. The standard four-cylinder actually seems like the best choice when you factor in price, performance and fuel economy. The EX's VTEC engine has 145 horses, which is more like it. I would like to see this engine standard across the board. Let's hope it is for 1998. The automatic transmission, with shifts so smooth you can barely feel them, simplifies city driving but probably knocks the edge off of acceleration. A small price to pay. Either my age is showing or automatic transmissions are getting better (both are true) because I find myself enjoying automatics in small cars more than I used to. Anti-lock brakes are standard on the top-line EX, but optional on the SE. The Accord's 106.9-inch wheelbase is almost two inches less than of the Ford Taurus, and its overall length is 11 inches shorter. Total interior volume is just 5 cubic feet less than the Taurus. In short, even though the Accord is smaller, its interior space does not suffer proportionately. It has fractionally more front-seat head and legroom, for example, but the back seat is more confining. A split-folding rear seat offers hauling flexibil ity because the trunk can be expanded almost like a small station wagon. The inside of our metallic silver test car was tastefully done in oatmeal-colored cloth. The simulated wood trim on the console looked fairly convincing and added a touch of warmth to the cabin. I happen to know a number of young couples who own Accords, and all swear by them because they are trouble-free, economical and just the right size for young families. Price The base price of our test car was $20,400. Destination charges of $395 brought the sticker price to $20,795. Warranty The standard warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles. Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers. Point: By equipping the Accord with a package of popular options, at a reduced price, Honda has sweetened the pot and made it more attractive to those who might otherwise wait for the new model due out in the fall. Counterpoi : The 130-horse, four-cylinder is economical, but a bit more horsepower would be welcome when paired with the automatic transmission. Anti-lock brakes should be standard on a car in this price range. SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 2.2-liter, 4-cyl. TRANSMISSION: automatic WHEELBASE: 106.9 inches CURB WEIGHT: 2,965 lbs. BASE PRICE: $20,400 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $20,795 MPG RATING: 23 city, 30 hwy.
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