This is the last model year for the current-generation Accord, which began life as a compact but grew to a midsize model in the '90s.
The '02 will give way to a new '03 this fall that promises to be a little bigger and better, with advances in technology such as a more potent engine, plus more amenities to keep attracting those loyal to the brand as well as make people defect from the competition.
But this is now, and time to pay homage to the last of the current breed, the vehicle that claimed the title of best-selling car in the industry for the 2001 calendar year (414,718 units), taking the crown away from Toyota Camry (390,449), which held the honor since 1996.
Though a new version is coming for '03 to succeed the model that's been unchanged for five years, Honda would love to boast a repeat when it comes to top-selling car honors for '02.
So, for '02, Honda has dolled up an Accord LX coupe and sedan and called them SE, or Special Edition, versions to focus attention on the end of this run.
When a model is about to be replaced with the next generation, companies such as General Motors, Ford and Chrysler often come up with a limited edition of the old version. This is designed to help dispose of parts still in the bin for the old model while charging a higher price for the limited edition.
Honda, however, figures what better way to attract buyers to the old version and retain No. 1 status than to load an LX to the rafters, give it the SE designation and glue a sticker to the window that reads about $1,500 less than a loaded-to-the-rafters, top-of-the-line EX.
And what better way to avoid having to offer incentives to clear out inventories of an old model than to simply price the old model right to begin with. Of course, that $1,500 in equipment savings is at the retail level, meaning Honda's actual cost is a fraction of that amount. But it still can boast a $1,500 savings.
We tested the '02 SE sedan. In addition to the usual standard equipment, the SE tacks on power tilt/slide moonroof, power driver's seat, AM/FM stereo with cassette and CD player and six speakers, remote keyless entry, alloy wheels, simulated wood-grain cabin accents and floor mats.
Only two items are missing to keep the sticker down: anti-lock brakes, which you can add for $300, and Honda's 3-liter, 200-horsepower V-6 engine, which you can't add. You have to settle for the 2.3-liter, 150-h.p. 4 with 4-speed automatic.
The 4-cylinder isn't as quick or quiet off the line as the V-6, but the 2.3-liter has ample oomph to get you moving--and to keep you going past the fuel pump with its 23 m.p.g. city/30 m.p.g. highway rating.
Making ABS an option and ruling out a V-6 were designed to allow Honda to offer a low-priced machine aimed at giving Accord a shot at keeping that sales title for another year.
It will be tough to keep the crown. Though the old '02 and any new '03 Accords sold in calendar '02 will count toward the title, for most of the year Honda pits a low-priced, but 5-year-old Accord against a new Toyota Camry and a new Nissan Altima, which won North American Car of the Year honors. Toyota and Nissan hope newness helps lure folks away from oldness at a low price.
But Honda really covets that title, so much so that rather than its normal gameplan to build 25,000 special editions of a last-generation model, it plans to produce 100,000 copies of its '02 Accord SE, or about 25 percent of the total build.
And to ensure it has enough vehicles to sell this fall, when it converts from '02 to the new '03 models, the assembly line will stop producing '02s after the last shift on a Friday and start building '03s with the first shift on Monday to avoid downtime that would reduce supplies.
As for that 02 Accord SE we tested, it's a solid midsize sedan that does what you ask--transport four adults comfortably and their luggage conveniently.
No less. No more. Not a lot of flash, and certainly not a lot of dash with a 4-banger.
You can't really single out one special attribute, one special characteristic, one special feature that sets Accord apart, other than it delivers day in/day out dependability--like an appliance.
When you finally feel the need for cleaner carpets, you hand the old sedan down to the kids for commuting to and from school or sell it to a friend or relative and go shopping for a new one.
Where you have to sacrifice is in accepting that Accord is delivered in a plain wrapper, a conservatively designed machine that blends in, rather than stands out.
And if the Honda logo were removed, it would be difficult to distinguish Accord from other midsize sedans, primarily Japanese makes.
Honda spokesman Andy Boyd bristles when told Accord is too vanilla.
"Maybe you can get a lot of surface excitement from other cars, but that excitement quickly wears off while our styling withstands the test of time. Maybe our styling isn't hot, but it's durable while not being dated," he insisted.
We would argue that the Volkswagen Beetle has a design that's "durable while not being dated," but not Accord.
In addition to the standard equipment noted above, the Accord SE offers air conditioning with micron air filter, power windows and door locks, cruise control, intermittent wipers, fold-down rear seat backs, front and rear cupholders, 15-inch all-season radial tires (though 16-inch would provide more sure-footed and less economy car-like handling), body-colored power outside mirrors, body-colored side moldings, heat-rejecting tinted glass and rear window defroster.
Also, all '02 Accords come with dual-stage, dual-threshold front air bags that regulate the force of bag deployment based on whether you are wearing your safety belts as well as impact severity.
Noteworthy features include a small slide-out tray in the dash for items such as house keys or credit cards, cellphone/coinholder under the center armrest and a larger storage bin under that, a fold-down rear-seat armrest with dual cupholders and a ski pass-through into the trunk, eyeglasses holder in the overhead console and a power plug for the cellphone under the dash.
While a new Accord gives Honda a strong entry in the midsize sedan market that caters to 30-, 40-, 50- or 60-something buyers, it doesn't do much for the coveted youth market that Toyota is going after with formation of a Scion brand offering highly stylized, low-priced offerings.
"That's a concern. Our buyers are aging, but we have a younger buyer than Toyota to begin with," Boyd said. "You'll see us address the youth market with such vehicles as the Model X [sport-utility], but we won't have a Scion division."
And before those 30-, 40-, 50- or 60-somethings ask, while Toyota has a Camry Solara coupe and convertible, Honda will have a coupe and sedan in the Accord lineup for '03, but has no plans for a convertible.