Versus the competiton:
As the second-best-selling car in the U.S., Honda’s Accord promises to be one of the most significant introductions of the 2008 model year. In typical Honda style, the automaker is letting the product do the talking, foregoing a formal auto show introduction before the Accord hits dealerships in September. Honda’s best-selling model gets an extensive redesign that includes all-new styling inside and out, a spacious rear seat for the sedan, more standard safety features and more-powerful engines, including an optional V-6 with advanced fuel-saving technology.
The finished product is a sport-oriented car that is better than its predecessor — a model that was already near the top of its segment. It’s not without some weaknesses, to be sure, but overall, the positive attributes far outweigh the negative ones.
Offered in sedan and coupe body styles, the two Accord styles are now more distinct than ever; they share no body panels or glass. The coupe has a chiseled look that’s highlighted in front by a narrow mesh grille and bulging front fenders. Both have a more upright front end than the previous-generation Accord, which featured a pointy nose.
The sedan, meanwhile, is a bit anonymous from certain angles. It’s as assertive as the coupe when viewed head-on, with a bit of previous-generation Nissan Altima in its grille and headlights, but it loses some presence as you move around to the sides and rear. The rear-quarter of the car has a remarkable resemblance to BMW’s 5 Series, what with the kink in the C-pillar and taillights that wrap around the side of the car. The base LX sedan has standard steel wheels with hubcaps, while the LX-P trim comes with 16-inch alloy rims. If you step up to any of the EX sedans, 17-inch alloy wheels are installed. The base LX-S coupe starts off with 17-inch alloy wheels, but choosing a V-6-powered two-door brings 18-inchers.
The new Honda Accord’s ride quality is an improvement over the outgoing model because it offers softer tuning that should appeal to more family-sedan buyers while still delivering the sporty driving feel the car is known for. Honda has found the sweet spot here, with a driving experience that rivals the sporty characteristics of the Nissan Altima, without the Altima’s stiff ride on rough surfaces, while equaling the Toyota Camry’s ride smoothness, without its floaty, unsure responses on winding roads.
The Honda Accord’s four-wheel independent suspension features a double-wishbone design in front and a new multilink setup in back. On the road, the Accord is taut without being punishing, and the sedan recovers quickly without any extra bobbing after hitting a bump or dip in the road. Even though there’s noticeable body roll on twisty roads, it’s by no means excessive and is counteracted by a sense of stability when driving the car aggressively. The sedan is equally at home on the highway, where the compliant suspension tuning and supportive — though slightly lumpy — leather front bucket seats make for low-fatigue driving.
The Honda Accord can have either of two four-cylinder engines or a new 3.5-liter V-6. When paired with the automatic transmission, the V-6 comes with Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management, a fuel-saving cylinder-deactivation technology that’s in use on versions of the company’s Odyssey minivan. The performance-oriented V-6 coupe with the manual transmission doesn’t get VCM.
VCM has been enhanced in the new Accord, with a new four-cylinder mode in addition to the three- and six-cylinder modes. According to Honda, this new mode allows the Accord V-6 to cruise on four cylinders at highway speeds. Three-cylinder mode, meanwhile, is used for city cruising, while six-cylinder mode is activated when full power is needed.
In both the coupe and sedan, the four-cylinder engines can team with either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. The V-6 sedan is only available with a five-speed automatic, but the V-6 coupe can have a six-speed manual instead of the automatic. I tested four-cylinder- and V-6-powered EX sedans.
| Honda Accord Engines
| 177 @ 6,500
|| 190 @ 7,000
|| 268 @ 6,200
(lbs.-ft. @ rpm)
| 161 @ 4,300
|| 162 @ 4,400
|| 248 @ 5,000
| Required gasoline
| 22/31 (manual)
21/31 (sedan automatic)
21/30 (coupe automatic)
| 22/31 (manual)
21/31 (sedan automatic)
21/30 (coupe automatic)
| 19/29 (sedan automatic)
19/28 (coupe automatic)
17/25 (coupe manual)
While the V-6 makes smooth power, it doesn’t feel as strong as its 268 horsepower rating would suggest. Acceleration in the city and on the highway is acceptable, but you’re left wondering where the last 40 horses are hiding; it doesn’t blow you away with its power the way the Toyota Avalon’s V-6 can. The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly and will quickly kick down a gear or two if necessary.
Honda’s integration of VCM is exceptional; it’s nearly impossible to tell when the car is running on three, four or six cylinders. An “eco” light in the gauge cluster comes on when the Accord is operating in an especially frugal manner, but its illumination doesn’t necessarily mean the car is running on fewer than six cylinders.
The four-cylinder EX trim level is the high-volume Accord; it’s expected to account for half of all Accord sedan sales. Its 190-hp four-cylinder has more-than-adequate power, though its high-speed passing performance isn’t as strong as the V-6’s. The engine is also notably louder than the V-6, and its automatic isn’t as smooth; upshifts can be a little jerky at times. Still, if it were my money, I’d opt for the four-cylinder because the premium for the less fuel-efficient V-6 isn’t worth the so-so performance.
The Honda Accord has standard antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist. Accords now have disc brakes all around, where the previous generation’s base versions had rear drum brakes. Pedal feel is reasonably linear, but in the V-6 sedan I had to push pretty hard to get adequate stopping power.
The new Honda Accord’s cabin treads ever-closer to the domain of Honda’s luxury brand, Acura, with its use of high-quality materials, good fit and finish and the adoption of an optional knob-based navigation system in place of the car’s previous touch-screen setup. The knob controller is not too hard to get used to, but there will be people who lament the loss of the touch-screen. The EX’s faux aluminum trim has a nice matte finish, but its appearance is not very convincing.
Cloth seating surfaces are standard, but the Honda Accord EXL model has a leather-covered steering wheel and leather seats. The front bucket seats have soft cushioning and are wide enough to accommodate large occupants, but they also have good side bolstering to hold you in place during fast cornering. What’s more, you’re greeted by a rich leather smell that could easily be mistaken for a luxury sedan when you open one of the EX-L’s doors. The cloth seats are firmer than the leather ones, and they proved comfortable during the few hours I sat on them in an EX model.
Backseat passengers enjoy roomy accommodations with good legroom. Like the front ones, the leather rear seats have soft cushioning, and the backrest offers a generous amount of recline. Thanks to a slight increase in passenger volume, the Accord sedan is now considered a full-size car by the Environmental Protection Agency, which tracks such things.
Where the Honda Accord comes up short is in the execution of its folding rear seat. The seat isn’t split like the Altima’s and Camry’s, which means you can’t fold down a portion for extra cargo-carrying room and still carry a passenger in the backseat; you have to choose one or the other. Also, the opening that’s revealed when you fold the backrest down is small because of the intruding bulkhead, which limits the passage’s usefulness. All in all, it looks like the folding feature was added as an afterthought.
The Honda Accord has six airbags, including side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags. Honda’s Vehicle Stability Assist electronic stability system and active front head restraints are standard.
The Accord also features Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering body technology that’s designed to maximize crash-energy dissipation in a front collision with either taller or shorter vehicles.
The Accord received Good overall scores in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s frontal-offset, side-impact and rear crash tests. Those scores — and the fact that the car comes with a stability system — make the Accord one of IIHS’ Top Safety Picks for 2008.
The sedan’s trunk remains unchanged at 14 cubic feet, while the coupe’s cargo area shrinks slightly to 11.9 cubic feet. On four-cylinder Honda Accord sedans, the underside of the trunklid is unfinished — it doesn’t include a handle or any sound-deadening material — which is odd for a car that’s otherwise near the top of the pack where details are concerned.
Additional standard features include air conditioning, cruise control, a CD stereo with an auxiliary input jack for connecting portable music players, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio buttons, and lighted vanity mirrors. Optional electronics include Bluetooth-based cell phone connectivity, XM Satellite Radio and a premium audio system that includes a subwoofer.
Honda’s tag line for the Accord during its media introduction was “The Benchmark. The Standard. The Honda Accord.” That’s a pretty aggressive statement, considering the Accord’s primary competition, but after my experience with it, it’s clear the car remains one of the few family cars that competitors will measure themselves against, and one that consumers will use to measure other family cars. You know what athletes say: It’s not boasting when you can back it up — and the Honda Accord does.