EXPERT REVIEW

The Miami Herald's view

OK, here are the vital stats:

A lithe, two-door sports coupe with 200-horsepower, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, 16-inch wheels, bucket seats, a slick shape and a price tag of about $22,000.

Oh, by the way, it’s a Honda Accord.

When Honda revamped its four-door Accord sedan last year, making it larger and more sophisticated, it decided that the two-door coupe version should have a little more pizazz.

So it set the designers to work on a coupe that would share the same mechanical bits with the sedan, but on the outside would be more than a sedan minus two doors.

The result is a tight little coupe that nearly qualifies as a sports car.

Handling is very crisp, with excellent steering feel. The brakes haul the 3,100-pound coupe down from 60 mph in commanding fashion. And the three-liter, all-aluminum V-6 is both smooth and powerful.

It’s no Prelude, of course. The Accord still rides more like a family sedan than a performance car, but then again the Accord coupe costs thousands of dollars less and has more rear-seat leg room.

The coupe owes its attributes to the well-planned chassis architecture of the Accord sedan, which is a quantum leap forward from the car it replaced.

The front-wheel-drive setup uses unequal-length control arms and coil springs at the front, combined with variable assist power rack-and-pinion steering.

At the rear, a five-link setup and coil springs help keep the tires planted. The result is a quick, confident feel when the coupe is turned sharply.

The engine, which is related to the three-liter V-6 used in the upscale Acura CL coupe, is among the nicest V-6s on the market. It revs freely to more than 6,000 rpm, and makes its peak 200 horsepower at 5,500 rpm. Maximum torque of 195 foot-pounds comes at 4,700 rpm.

Those numbers might suggest that the V-6 is sluggish at low rpms. That isn’t the case.

Coupled to a four-speed automatic — the only gearbox available with the V-6 — the coupe moves smartly away from stoplights and can go from 0-to-60 mph in about seven seconds.

If you want a manual gearbox, the coupe also comes with a 2.3-liter, 150-horsepower four that’s available with a five-speed or a four-speed automatic. Expect to give up about a second on the 0-to-60 mph performance with the smaller engine.

Fuel mileage for the V-6 is 21 to 28 mpg, while the four delivers 26 to 31 mpg.

On the subject of the coupe’s styling, opinions are varied. My vote is thumbs up. I like the tail treatment and the smooth side profile. Car and Driver magazine wasn’t so impressed. Its editors said the car looked too much like a family sedan.

Inside the Accord coupe, I tend to agree with my colleagues at Car and Driver.

The interior, while well designed in terms of putting all the controls within reach of the driver and making all the gauges big and legible, is somewhat Spartan.

The cloth bucket seats are comfortable and supportive, and an eight-way power adjust or is standard on the driver’s side.

Rear seat room is more than adequate for two adults — though Honda claims three can fit in back. Access is typical for a coupe, meaning it’s hard to look dignified while getting in or getting out.

Overall, the cockpit is as quiet at freeway speeds as cars costing $10,000 more. This is due in part to the outstanding build quality common to Hondas, and the exceptionally rigid chassis.

Honda says it expects to sell as many as 80,000 Accord coupes, which would be about 20 percent of the entire Accord output from the Marysville, Ohio, plant.

It will have to compete with a new crop of medium-priced coupes, as automakers rediscover this segment.

Mercury has its new Cougar, which is based on the Contour and Mystique sedan chassis, and Toyota has the Solara, which is based on the Camry. Then there are longtime competitors such as the Chevrolet Cavalier/Pontiac Sunbird, the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring, and the Mazda MX-6.

In t ms of price, the Accord is toward the upper end of that group, though not the most expensive.

Honda is betting that the pleasant styling and the Honda reputation for reliability will carry the day.

1998 ACCORD LX V-6 COUPE
Base list price: $21,550

Price as tested: $22,024

Options: Floor mats, $65; destination charges

Engine: Single overhead camshaft V-6

Horsepower: 200 @ 5,500 rpm

Transmission: Four-speed automatic

Weight: 3,197 pounds

0-to-60 mph: 7.1 seconds

Mileage: 21-28 mpg

Safety: Dual front air bags, side impact door beams, anti-lock brakes

Competition: Mercury Cougar, Toyota Solara, Chevrolet Cavalier, Pontiac Sunbird, Dodge Avenger, Chrysler Sebring

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