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Forget the Ferrari-Cobra racing wars. Ignore Louis and Schmeling, Rommel and Montgomery, Feinstein and Huffington, Pepsi and Coke, Capone and Ness, Ralph and Alice.

These were polite pastings softened by a certain honor among rivals; short-term punch-ups with time out for injuries, time off for good behavior, and unlimited bathroom breaks.

But Accord and Taurus. Now there’s a blood-letting made in Purgatory. This feud has been splattering gore over national sales charts since 1986, when Ford’s Taurus entered the American mainstream to challenge the dominance of Honda’s Accord.

Taurus, the street fighter. Accord, sheer elegance in miniature. Ford yelping and snorting like Hulk Hogan at every advance in sales. Honda maintaining a silent dignity. Class easily won those early years, and Accord remained the nation’s best-selling sweetheart until 1992.

Then Ford got sneaky. With Honda dedicated to one-at-a-time retail sales, Ford began marketing the spit out of corporate and rental fleet sales to fatten its figures. And so Taurus became Top Gun.

Last year, Ford’s lead was still solid. More than 360,000 Tauruses were sold versus 330,000 Accords for Honda.

This year–thanks to a pleasantly redesigned, still charming Accord competing against the same old Taurus–Ford is only a fender in front, its lead shrunk to a piddling 2,100 cars.

“The new Accord impresses us,” reported Consumer Guide’s Automobile Book in echoing every critique of the 1994 car. “But we believe it needs a V-6 engine to compete head-on with its top rivals, the Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus. . . .”

Despite its lack of punch, the new Accord just got hotter.

Last month’s sales were a photo-finish with Honda back in first place, ahead by 58 cars, selling 33,287 Accords in October to 33,229 Tauruses for Ford.

This month, at last, Honda adds a V-6 to its Accord line.

Look for no mercy, no further quarter in this war of the four-doors. Expect Accord, this20-year-old ex-champion, this rare buy where owners consistently got more than they paid for, to step back into the fight like George Foreman–with good grace and humor.

Although based remotely on the 2.7-liter V-6 that powered the Acura Legend when Taurus was damp veal, the new engine develops 170 horsepower, or about 15% more power than Taurus.

Despite new pricing that has the Accord V-6 starting at $22,300–compared to $18,000 for Taurus–no domestic car can touch Honda for attention to fit and finish, to optima of mechanical engineering and a mating of all systems for matchless driving smoothness.

That’s the positive news. Now the odd news.

Despite additional cylinders and 25 more horsepower, the V-6 Accord performs only fractionally better than its four-cylinder sibling. See that not as a smack at the new aluminum engine, but belated praise for the efficiency–thanks to the little miracle of variabl e valve timing–that Honda squeezes from a four-banger.

Still, the V-6 Accord is only a wink faster from rest to 60 m.p.h. Top speed–a short jail term over 125 m.p.h.–is virtually the same between Accords. The muscular one costs more and is five miles per gallon thirstier.

Only the most sensitive of seats in the thinnest of pants worn by the most passible of owners will detect differing harmonies of the Accords.

Then why build a V-6? Because–as Shoeless Joe Jackson was never heard to say–if you build it, they will come.

Honda owners had been on their knees, hands clasped, begging for a V-6 for years. They represented tens of thousands of repeat buyers. The competition–Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable, Toyota Camry, Mazda 626, Volkswagen Passat, Chevy Lumina, Nissan Maxima and Chrysler’s Vision, Concorde and Intrepid family–was up to its side mirrors in V-6 engines. With Chrysler’s Cirrus and Ford’s Contour entering stage left. It made perfect mar eting sense to build a V-6.

And the subtle blessings of a six-cylinder engine are that it shudders less, doesn’t work so hard and thus the NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) monster is more easily sedated, which translates to smoother power and a more comfortable ride.

But for those who do not measure a car by micrometers and split seconds between stoplights, the four-cylinder Accord will remain in production.

To prevent the larger, wider engine from bulging all sheet metal fo’ard of the windshield, Honda has redesigned the V-6 Accord’s front end. It now is two inches longer and almost one inch wider, although the wheelbase stays the same.

Everything from the windshield back is unchanged. The interior shows nothing beyond original delights. One note to junior car spotters: The V-6 Accord wears 15-inch wheels and tires and has a chrome trim around the grille. A “V-6” badge on the rear deck is a dead giveaway.

The car comes in two trim levels, and the LX starter is nicely equipped with two air bags, anti-lock brakes, power antenna, air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, remote releases for trunk and fuel flap, and a fold-down rear seat. The flagship EX goes all the way and adds leather seats, power moon roof, power driver’s seat and a six-speaker sound system.

Both models are equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission, electronically controlled for undetectable shifts during routine passage. A coupe remains a maybe for next year–but there are no plans to fit the V-6 with a manual transmission.

Therein a drag, big time.

For with a five-speed, the four-cylinder Accord was an agile whipper snapper capable of playing in any gear like a silken stocker. With an automatic, even the V-6 sags in spots and power takes its time coming when there’s any urgency to applying mid-range acceleration.

But it is a V-6. It is a Honda with all the reliability, handling finesse, high resale value, materiel quality, fun factor and smooth operation the marque implies. It is an Accord that has seldom stirred a discouraging word, once was the nation’s best-selling car and seems headed that way again.

So it will be judged. Accordingly.

1995 Honda Accord EX

Base Price: $17,621, including destination charge.

The Good: Dramatic looks cued by aspects of several fine automobiles. Equipped and priced to match competition. Rear seating roomiest in sport coupe class.

The Bad: Performance not up to aggressive looks of the car, optional engine not up to power of competition. Cheezy interior borrowed from Mitsubishi. Slappy, snappy, reluctant automatic transmission.

The Ugly: Mouse-fur interior.

Cost As tested, $25,417 (Includes destination charges and optional floor mats. Leather seats, two air bags, alloy wheels, air conditioning, automatic transmission, power moon roof, six-speaker sound system and cruise control are standard equipment.)

Engine 2.7-liter, 24-valve, V-6 developing 170 horsepower.

Type Front-engine, front-drive, mid-size sedan.

Performance 0-60 m.p.h., as tested, 9.1 seconds. Top speed, track tested, 129 m.p.h. EPA fuel consumption, city and highway, 19 and 25 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 3,285 pounds.

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