Overview

The combination of low price and superior quality became synonymous with the Honda Accord and made it the best-selling car in America for several years. Currently the second-best seller, the Accord has its sights set on Ford Taurus' No. 1 spot.

According to our test driver, every update and refinement Honda has made to the newest edition of its bread-and-butter car is certain to keep most, if not all, Honda fans in the fold. And our tester should know - he drove a 1988 Honda for years and loved every mile of it. If you're not one of those loyal owners, however, the sticker price of the new Accord might make you pause.

The 1994 Accord EX we tested carried an MSRP of $20,187. That price was for the top-of-the-line, fully equipped version of the basic Accord. It came with air conditioning, an AM/FM stereo, power windows and door locks, dual air bags and a whole lot more as standard. It also boasted a 2.2liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine, absolutely stunning styling updates, many creature comforts and Honda's trademark flawless fit-and-finish.

Unlike prior years, though, our '94 Accord EX didn't necessarily stand head and shoulders above other cars in its size and price range in terms of engineering and manufacturing integrity. We're not implying that Honda has slipped; it's just that a number of other domestic and imported makes have improved.

Walkaround

The impeccable paint application and zero defect level of fit-and-finish on our Accord EX were the only exterior touches that reminded our test driver of his old Honda. Our Accord EX was a genuinely new, contemporary car.

From a near needle-nose front-end configuration that angled back nearly 45 degrees from center, the hood swept upward at a sharp angle to meet an expansive, acutely raked windshield. The modern, slippery profile continued with a gently bubbled roofline and concluded with an upward curvature of the rear fenders and trunk lid. This created a raised rear deck that seemed to beg for a spoiler. Recessed door handles and door-to-door protective side moldings matched the body color perfectly,

A pointed grille with a single centered bar rested beneath the Honda logo on the hood of our Accord. Headlamp assemblies, covered in clear, impact-resistant plastic, angled back about 45 degrees to meet the fenders and wraparound cornering lights. A substantial front bumper assembly, vinyl-covered and paint-matched to the body, curved outward from the fenders to complete the slight needle-nosed look. Amber cornering lights imbedded in the low segment of the bumper, as was a black vinyl air scoop.

The only feature that seemed slightly out of place in this contemporary styling treatment was the huge taillight assembly. Though highly visible, they were a little too squarish and horsey for this subtle, yet striking, vehicle.

Interior Features

Like the exterior, the interior of the Accord EX Sedan bore virtually no resemblance to Hondas of old. Instrumentation was recessed under the dash, shielding it from glare, and contained speedometer and tachometer dials, analog fuel and temperature gauges and a complement of warning lights.

Power window and door lock controls were on the full-length driver's armrest, just in front of a finger recess centered for easy door closure. Cruise control buttons were between the right spokes of the four-spoke tilt steering wheel, which had a broader adjustment ran than other steering wheels we've taken on test drives.

Front and rear seating was uniformly comfortable. All the seats were nicely contoured and were covered with a high-quality textured velour. The driver's bucket seat featured a power height assist, adjustable lumbar support and, like the front passenger's seat, an adjustable headrest.

Rear seats offered fixed headrests and a pull-down center armrest, and they provided a surprising amount of legroom for a car with this size wheelbase.

The layout and design of the center console pleased us. It offered an armrest positioned at just the right height with a covered storage area beneath it, room for a cellular phone and a padded transmission shift lever. The front of the console housed the AM/FM stereo with a CD player and angled slightly toward the dash, making it easier to review and adjust the audio system's controls.

Driving Impressions

Unfortunately, the increased size and sophistication of the Accord EX's 2.2-liter, 16-valve power plant didn't turn the car into a performance machine. The 145 hp it generated, however, did perform satisfactorily in all speed ranges and represents a significant step up from earlier Accords. From a standing start, our test vehicle accelerated briskly to 50 mph. Our test driver deemed highway passing punch to range from adequate to reassuring, even in fifth gear. We all agreed that the car responded well.

Our test car's five-speed manual transmission was silky smooth. Downshifting in passing situations proved to be trigger-quick, and slipping through the gates during low speed cruising was equally precise.

Throughout the test drive, our Accord EX inflicted virtually no wind or road noise upon us until it reached the highest speed ranges - and even then, we found noise to be at a minimum.

The ride was firm but comfortable throughout the tests, which included several passes over bumpy roads. Cornering and other similar maneuvers proved to be flat, stable and surprisingly easy, thanks in part to a new power-steering system that Honda calls "torque-sensitive steering."

We found it was easy and reassuring to bring our Accord EX to a halt. In a near-panic braking exercise from 60-plus mph, the Accord's standard anti-lock braking system brought the car to an abrupt standstill without even a hint of wheel lockup or pedal pu1sation.

Summary

From any vantage point, the Accord EX Sedan constitutes a quantum leap forward from earlier versions of this highly regarded and immensely popular nameplate. it looks more contemporary, and transports driver and passengers more quietly and comfortably. Its larger power plant performance has been significantly improved, while still delivering excellent EPA ratings of 25 city and 31 highway. If anything, we found our Accord EX to be even better engineered and built than its high-quality predecessors.

That's more than enough, we believe, to make the purchase decision automatic for previous Honda owners. For others, it may not be so easy. There are a substantial number of well-built competitors in or near this car's price range that offer a little more room or a larger V6 engine or both. Will the sleek new package and Honda's legendary reputation for quality and reliability be enough to overcome the competition? Only time, and sales reports, will tell.

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