EXPERT REVIEW

chicagotribune.com's view


It was 31 years and seven generations ago that the Honda Accord landed in the U.S.

The “compact” two-door hatchback was a runt, 3 inches shorter than today’s “mini” Honda Fit and powered by a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder that delivered an anemic 68 horsepower.

Yet its success has been well chronicled. Accord added a sedan in 1979, became the first U.S. built Japanese nameplate in 1982 and toppled Ford Taurus as the No. 1 selling car in the U.S. in 1989, a title it kept through 1991. It’s grown from mini to midsize, high mileage to high content.

Generation VIII arrives for 2008. A little more style, room, power, mileage and road manners than Gen VII. Nothing heart-stopping or jaw-dropping other than a V-6 that operates in 3-, 4- or 6-cylinder mode, but still a complete package that doesn’t require a bunch of price-swelling options.

Though never a fashion trendsetter, VIII at least has a stylish chrome trimmed grille, large jewel like head and tail lamps, and decorative fog lights, dual exhausts and chrome door handles to set V-6 models apart from 4s.

It has grown in size: wheelbase by 2.3 inches, to 110.2 inches; overall length by 3 inches, to 194.1 inches. It’s close in size to a Buick LaCrosse with plenty of room front and rear. Those in back can actually stretch legs rather than wedge their feet under the front seat. Standard cloth seats are wide, well cushioned and supportive for long-distance or aggressive motoring. You can upgrade to leather, though you don’t get $2,000 more width, cushioning or support if you do.

The roof line is almost an inch higher so one size fits all melons. The body is 1.5 inches wider, creating ample space for wide-body occupants.

The coupe is a couple inches shorter than the sedan, yet still has plenty of ample rear-seat leg, head and arm room for adults. Before you ask, Accord product planner Gary Anderson said: “We aren’t seriously looking at a convertible.”

The 2.4-liter, 166-h.p. 4 has been replaced by a 2.4-liter, 177-h.p. version in the LX, a 2.4-liter 190-h.p. 4 in the EX. A 3.3-liter, 268-h.p. V-6 replaces the 3-liter, 244-h.p. V-6 in EX sedan and coupe.

While Toyota offers a gas/electric and the midsize Chevy Malibu sedan rival soon will, the Accord hybrid with 3-liter V-6 that could operate in 3- or 6-cylinder mode has been dropped. But a new 3.3-liter has variable cylinder management (VCM) to run in 3-, 4- or 6-cylinder mode and get 1 m.p.g. more in the city and 3 m.p.g. highway, or 19 m.p.g./29 m.p.g., in the EX sedan.

The Odyssey minivan gets the same V-6, which uses 3 cylinders for low-speed city cruising, 4 in higher-speed highway cruising and all 6 when merging, passing or climbing.

The 177-h.p. 4 in the LX sedan is a bit limp and loud and meant strictly for mileage (22 city/31 highway. The 190-h.p. 4 and automatic in the EX sedan seems to wait until cruising to come to life. It’s for those who want adequate power without spending $2,100 for a V-6. However, the 4-cylinder/automatic noise in hard acceleration would be more tolerable in a compact than a high-volume midsize sedan.

The V-6 EX sedan operates seamlessly without thumps whether moving from 3 to 6 or 6 to 3 cylinders. A green “eco” light in the instrument panel illuminates when in 3 or 4 cylinders, but no gauge shows how many cylinders are working or mileage at the moment. If Honda felt it wise to create the magic to save energy, why not a large gauge to let driver and passengers know?

We lit the “eco” light while accelerating to just under 45 m.p.h. on a long, flat stretch while feathering the gas pedal. But light pedal pressure on an incline made “eco” disappear. The V-6 doesn’t shut off at idle like hybrids do.

The V-6 coupe with 6-speed manual is the thoroughbred. Quick, quiet. Lots of power. Tap the pedal and go. A true fun machine.

All models have stability control and traction control plus anti-lock brakes as standard to minimize the potential to slip, slide or skid. Side-curtain air bags front and rear are standard if you do.

All-season radials differ by model — 16-inch on LX, 17-inch on EX sedan, 18-inch on EX coupe. Suspensions are tuned based on engine. Ride is soft to minimize unexpected jolts in 4-cylinder models, but handling is secondary, so expect wider, sweeping turns. V-6 sedans ride a little firmer, but handling is more precise and steering more accurate. The coupe is the most agile and nimble, a treat for its pinpoint handling on twisting paths.

Gripes: A deep, but not high trunk. The single-piece rear seat back releases to fold flat and expand the cargo hold, but only when you pull the lever in the trunk and walk around to lower the seat from inside the cabin. Wheel wells protrude into the trunk to narrow the opening between trunk and cabin.

Base prices are $20,360 for the LX sedan, $23,060 for the EX sedan, $25,960 for the EX V-6 and $21,860 for the EX coupe. Add $800 to move up to automatic, $2,000 to add leather seats, and $2,200 to add navigation system.

Most test time was in the volume EX with 190-h.p. 4 and automatic, which starts at $23,860 and comes with air conditioning, power moonroof, power windows/locks/mirrors (heated), rear defroster, cruise control and AM/FM radio with CD player standard.

The redesigned midsize Chevy Malibu sedan for 2008 arrives soon to compete with Accord and Camry. Chevy is counting on making a dent in sales, Honda and Toyota are counting on no more than a ding.

– – –

2008 HONDA ACCORD EX SEDAN

– $23,860 Base (Price as tested. Reflects base price. Add $635 for freight.) – Wheelbase: 110.2 inches – Length: 194.1 inches – Engine: 2.4-liter, 190-h.p. 4 – Transmission: 5-speed automatic – Mileage: 21 m.p.g. city/31 m.p.g. highway

Price as tested:

PLUSES

– Redesign with larger dimensions for more cabin room and comfort, especially the back seat. – Better road manners. – V-6 peppier yet runs in 3- or 4-cylinder mode to save fuel. – Loaded with standard equipment at decent price with no need for pricey with options. – Excellent mileage with 4, exceptional ride and handling from V-6.

MINUSES

– No hybrid. – You can release rear seat backs from trunk, but have to lower them from inside the cabin. – Limited cabin access from trunk. – No V-6-4-3 gauge.

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