An outstanding world car from Marysville, Ohio.

The Accord is one of the best-selling car lines in America. No surprise there.

But it is surprising that the Accord wagon doesn't contribute very much to this ongoing success story. It's surprising to Honda, which had somewhat higher expectations for this trim mid-size wagon. And surprising to us.

Never mind. Coupe, sedan or wagon, an Accord is an exceptional automobile -- cleverly engineered, thoughtfully designed and beautifully assembled.

The assembly, incidentally, takes place right here in the United States at Honda's manufacturing facility in Marysville, Ohio. It's interesting to note that Marysville has become the worldwide source of Accord wagons and coupes. Which tells you something about Honda's confidence in its Ohio workforce.

Walkaround

Completely redesigned for '94, the Accord family is now in its fifth generation. Though the wagon has only been in the lineup since '91, it benefits from 18 years of ongoing development and refinement.

The Accord's 1994 makeover was arguably the most sweeping in the car's long history. Beyond the quietly stylish exterior, it included a redesigned interior plus extensive chassis stiffening.

Obviously, the wagon doesn't have the same clean, wedge-shaped look as the sedan and coupe. But the look is thoroughly contemporary. The rounded rear contours and molded-in taillights make it look like something other than an Accord sedan with an extra section grafted on.

With flush-mounted glass and cleaner lines, all the Accords have improved aerodynamic efficiency, which pays off in reduced wind noise and quieter all-around operation. The Toyota Camry wagon may still hold a slight edge in this department, but it would take a very keen ear to pick up the difference.

The Accord Wagon is a little smaller than its principal competition -- the Camry, Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable wagons. The Accord's more compact design and sophisticated suspension combine to provide better handling, but for larger family purposes one of the bigger mid-size wagons might be a better bet.

Unlike the sedan lineup, there are only two Accord wagon models: LX and EX. The LX is the middle grade in Honda's model designations and it includes as standard equipment most of the comfort and convenience features that make driving more pleasurable.

The EX version, of course, adds more -- a power moonroof and standard anti-lock brakes (ABS), for example -- and offers the option of leather upholstery.

The standard powertrain for the Accord LX wagon is a 130-hp 2.2-liter four-cylinder with a five-speed manual transmission. The EX editions get a more powerful VTEC version of this same engine.

Honda's smooth-shifting four-speed automatic is an extra-cost option for both models.

Although our LX test wagon had the base engine and manual transmission, a word on Honda's VTEC and Grade Logic automatic transmission is in order here.

The VTEC engine extracts an extra measure of performance from the 2.2-liter engine by automatically shifting over to a second set of camshaft lobes at higher engine speeds. The effect is similar to the extra power provided by a turbocharger, without the turbocharger drawbacks in durability and operation.

Grade Logic is programmed into the computer interface between the engine and automatic transmission. When the computer sees that you've got your foot off the gas pedal but the car isn't slowing down -- a condition you might encounter when descending a steep hill, for example -- it automatically shifts down one gear so that you don't have to ride the brake all the way to the bottom.

The Inside Story

Few carmakers can match Honda's expertise in control layout, and it's hard to think of any that exceed it. If you visit a Honda showroom, try this experiment. Sit down in an Accord, close your eyes and then reach out to where you think a particular control should be located. Chances are it'll be right at your fingertips.

Besides the presence of dual airbags, another nice feature of the Accord dashboard is its smooth surface. Although most passenger-car dashboards have an organic, flowing appearance these days, many of them have a fussy, patchwork look -- lots of smaller pieces assembled to produce the whole.

The Accord dashboard, in contrast, seems to be one big molding, a subtle reinforcement of this car's excellent quality.

The wagon is equipped with bucket seats up front and a split bench in the rear. The front seats are well shaped, with relatively firm padding that seems to get more comfortable the longer you drive.

There's not quite as much lateral support as you might find in seats from other manufacturers, but Honda doesn't expect Accord Wagon buyers to be attacking back roads or mountain switchbacks. This is a family act.

Front-seat legroom is plentiful and headroom is very good throughout, but we found the wagon's rear seat to be a little restrictive for adults.

Access to the cargo area through the wide rear hatch opening is excellent. The lift-over is low, and there's a security cover for valuables.

Ride & Drive

Although the Accord engineering team saw the wagon's basic purpose as refined family transportation, this car is far from boring.

Its power steering system, which varies steering effort according to road speed -- low effort for low speed, higher effort and increased road feel at freeway speeds -- is unusually precise for a family wagon. And even though it can't be confused with, say, a BMW sport wagon, the Accord's handling responses are crisp and prompt.

Our test car had ABS as one of its few options, and as a result braking performance was very good. We'd prefer to see ABS included as standard equipment right across the line, but we'd recommend it regardless of price.

Honda chose ride comfort over sporty handling in tuning the Accord's suspension, and we endorse the priority. Our test car was smooth with no hint of mushiness. The overall feel was faintly European, and it enhanced our sense of control.

We also liked the Accord's large window area that gave us a good view of what was going on, particularly up front. This, too, is a Honda trademark.

The Accord's standard 2.2-liter engine doesn't deliver neck-snapping performance, but we think it might surprise some. With the five-speed manual transmission -- clean gear engagements, easy shifts -- our tester moved along respectably, with effortless freeway manners.

Hitching the standard engine to the four-speed automatic transmission diminishes performance, of course, but not as much as you might expect.

This is an exceptionally smooth engine, free from vibration at all speeds. It may be the best four-cylinder in the business.

If you want V-6 power, you'll have to shop elsewhere. A V-6 engine option won't be available in the wagon for another year.

Final Word

The Accord Wagon does have some limitations. It's not as roomy as its key competition, its price range is on the high side and the absence of a V-6 engine option is a turnoff for some.

But you do get what you pay for, and then some. This is a refined, sophisticated automobile by any measure -- quiet, comfortable and thoroughly competent. Inside and out, it's a festival of good design, and its quality is virtually flawless.

The best index to this quality story is how well Accords hold their resale value. That's easy to quantify: they're tops.

When someone says their next car is going to be an Accord, we always say, "Good choice."

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© 1995 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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