BOSTON — Thirty-one years ago, Honda Motor Co. introduced the Accord to America: It was a 68-horsepower three-door hatchback that cost less than $4,000.
How things have changed since 1976.
Since then, cars have come and gone (and a few have come back) while the Accord continues to motor along. In fact, the unassuming Accord is the longest continuous running nameplate in the midsize car segment; take that Toyota Camry, the No. 1 selling car in the United States.
Of course, the redesigned 2008 Accord will technically leave the midsize segment — its interior space has increased enough to be classified as a large sedan.
Car buyers, however, don’t stick to segment classifications. They buy cars they like, and most will like the Accord’s improved styling, additional space and better performance.
I certainly did: When I recently drove the new coupe and sedan in Boston, I found both equally impressive. Each boasts an open layout, loads of room and solid performance. The Accord sedan goes on sale Sept. 12, and the coupe arrives Sept. 18.
From the outside, the Accord looks more sophisticated than its predecessor. The new generation has more defining lines, with creases and sharp edges — certainly more dramatic than the previous generation in which every corner was rounded like a toddler-proof toy.
A pronounced cut moving from the rear to the front through the door handles accentuates the Accord’s sportier stance. It’s as if a designer dug a finger in the wet clay model as he walked along it, gouging out some character.
Honda stretched the Accord sedan to 194 inches, three more inches than the 2007 model, and also made it 1 inch wider. It’s the longest car in the midsize segment.
Another line cuts across the bottom of the doors, shaping and sculpting the Accord into a more stylish sedan and coupe.
It has a more aggressive face, with headlights reaching around the corners, a steep windshield and a curvaceous roof line. It’s not the Mach 5, but certainly something Speed Racer and Trixie would gladly take for a Sunday drive with the kids and a monkey.
Elegant and high-tech
The Accord’s interior is comfortable, elegant and loaded with technology.
Drawn on long horizontal lines, the dash curves gracefully around the driver and the front seat.
Engineers and designers say the long flat lines provide a stable, calming experience. That’s overstating it, but the open space is noticeable.
Honda increased the total interior space to 120 cubic feet, which gives it the large sedan proportions.
Compared to its key competitors, such as the Toyota Camry, Saturn Aura and Nissan Altima, the Accord sedan offers more front leg room and remains near the top in most space categories.
The Accord’s styling carries well throughout the vehicle, with sweeping lines connecting the dash to the doors and the front to the roomy back. It’s thoughtfully planned.
There are a plethora of amenities and options available, including the upgraded 270-watt audio system, leather seats, ambient lighting, XM-Satellite radio, and Bluetooth connections for hands-free cell phone use.
The only glitch is the Accord’s center panel. There’s too much stuff and the buttons are a tad small.
While the navigation screen is set deep in the dash and raised higher — making it easy to read — the single knob control took awhile to get used to operating. Worst yet, the knob looks like a dashboard goiter.
Plenty of power
Another nice touch is the work Honda did to its powertrains.
There are four engines available for the Accord family, a pair of inline four-cylinder engines and two V-6s. The base 2.4-liter engine for the LX and LX-P sedan generates 177-horses, while the more powerful I-4 uses a high-flow muffler and other tuning changes to create 190-horses at an ear-busting 7,000-rpm for the LX-S coupe, EX and EX-L models.
Overall, I thought the more powerful I-4, Honda’s best-seller, offered enough power. The less powerful I-4 seemed strained at higher speeds.
The pair of 3.5-liter V-6s offered lots of giddy-up. For the EX and EX-L sedans and coupes, the V-6 pushes 268-horsepower and includes an ingenious variable cylinder management, allowing the car to turn off two or three cylinders while cruising. This gives the car the ability to obtain 29 miles per gallon on the highway, two short of both 2.4-liter engines, which hit 31 mpg on the highway.
The second V-6 only comes on the EX-L coupe and doesn’t include the VCM but does have a variable intake manifold to improve low- and mid-range torque, which peaks at 248-pound-feet. This is also the only vehicle to come with a six-speed manual transmission. The other Accords come with either a five-speed manual or automatic transmissions.
Honda opted not to include sequential shifting with any of its Accord models. And I think if you’re going to shift, you should have a clutch. This is one of the few areas in which competitors will have something the Accord doesn’t.
Ride, handling smooth
With all of the Accords I drove, the ride and handling was excellent. The vehicle’s modified double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension kept the ride smooth and quiet on the highway. The sedan held its own as well as the coupe while I was zipping around Boston’s busy streets or along country roads.
The steering felt sure and firm. Honda lowered the car’s center of gravity by almost an inch and the ride felt well balanced. Body roll on tight turns was minimal.
Improving already-excellent car
It’s a difficult task to redesign a top-selling vehicle. Every change could be one in the wrong direction.
But Honda found ways to improve an already excellent vehicle: It made it bigger, without dramatically increasing its size; it made it more powerful, without hurting its fuel efficiency; and it made it more dramatic looking than ever before.
The new Honda Accord coupe or sedan will continue rolling along.
Better than ever.
2008 Honda Accord
Type: Front-wheel drive sedan or coupe
Models: LX, LX-S, EX, EX-L
Retail price: Not released; expect slightly higher prices than 2007 models, which ranged from $18,700 – $33,000.
2.4-liter: 177-hp, 161-lb-ft, 5-spd manual or automatic
2.4-liter: 190-hp, 162-llb-ft, 5-spd automatic
3.5-liter: 268-hp, 248-lb-ft, 5-spd automatic, with variable cylinder management
3.5-liter: 268-hp, 248-lb-ft, 6-spd manual (coupe only) EPA mileage
2.4-liter (sedan): 24 mpg city / 34 mpg highway
2.4-liter (coupe, automatic): 24 mpg / 33 mpg
3.5-liter (with VCM): 21 mpg / 29 mpg
3.5-liter (no VCM): 18 mpg / 27 mpg
Notes: The 3.5-liter V-6 with valve shutoff almost reaches inline-four cylinder efficiency.
Performance: Good: Well tuned and plenty of power. Ride is quiet, smooth and comfortable. Nearly 30 mpg for six-cylinder impressive.
Exterior: Excellent: Sharper lines along the side add a more dramatic look. More chiseled styling bodes well for the Accord.
Interior: Good: Added room very noticeable in front and back. Seats are comfortable and controls easy to use.
Safety: Excellent. Electronic stability control, front, side and side curtain airbags and active front head restraints are just some of the safety measures in the Accord.
Pros: Excellent all-around vehicle with improved styling and performance.
Cons: No six-speed transmission. Navigation system controls confusing. Base model underpowered.