by Michelle Krebs
A mid-size pacesetter that's also fun to drive.
For many years now, the Honda Accord has been synonymous with high-quality, reliable transportation that includes a high fun-to-drive index.
That continues to be true for this popular model, which is the best-selling car in America in terms of retail sales and second best overall behind the Ford Taurus, which enjoys a large number of sales to company and daily rental fleets.
The Accord consistently appears on Top 10 lists for magazines. It also wins consistently high scores in various quality surveys, including the J.D. Power Customer Satisfaction Index, a measurement of quality after the first year of ownership.
For 1996, the Accord sports modestly revised front and rear styling touches. More important, the trunk opening has been expanded by nearly five inches for easier loading and unloading.
Also new for 1996, all LX and EX sedan and coupe models feature variable intermittent windshield wipers, and the stereo radio antenna is integrated into the rear window. All LX models now ride on 15-inch tires and new wheels. A six-way power driver's seat has been added to the LX V-6 and EX four-cylinder leather models.
The Accord, which last underwent a major redesign in 1994, is scheduled for a complete makeover for the 1998 model year. In the meantime, it continues to be one of the world's best sellers. Since most Accords are assembled in the U.S., that worldwide popularity has helped Honda to become this country's number one automobile exporter.
The Accord's styling changes over the years have been evolutionary, not revolutionary, although Honda did up the visual ante in the last makeover, putting a little more dash into the design. The cosmetic restraint is largely due to the fact that Honda is onto a winning formula as Accord buyers come back to buy again more frequently than buyers of most other brands.
For 1996, that continues to be true. The most noticeable change in the front is a chrome accent around the grille. The freshened rear styling features new lights and chrome accents as well as wider parking lights for improved visibility and a larger trunk opening.
The Accord is offered in a variety of trim levels and configurations.
The four-cylinder sedans are available as a base DX, a mid-level LX and a top-of-the-line EX, which offers a long list of standard equipment and few standalone options. The coupe and station wagon are offered in base LX or loaded EX versions. For 1995, Honda finally added a V-6 engine option to the Accord lineup. The V-6 models, available only as sedans, are offered as an LX and EX.
The coupe and wagon were designed and engineered in the United States and are built exclusively in Ohio. Most Accord sedans, likewise, are built in Ohio, though some are imported from Japan.
We sampled a number of different models for our evaluation, but our primary focus was on an LX automatic sedan.
The Inside Story
Inside, the Accord features a handsome, comfortable interior that feels instantly familiar to previous Honda owners. The quality of the materials is excellent, and, like the exterior, the fit and finish are outstanding.
There is plenty of leg room in the front and rear. Head room is good in the front, though tall folks might find it lacking in the rear.
Some drivers may wish for a seat height adjuster because the Accord sits low. However, that is a feature only available on the EX model.
The cloth-covered front buckets of the tested model were comfortable and supportive, much improved from past generations of Accords. Like so many mid-size cars, the rear seats technically can accommodate three adults, but the center position is not comfortable for the third person.
Except for the center rear position, all seats have three-point safety belts. Unfortunately, they require a separate locking clip to secure a child safety seat.
The low cowl and thin roof pillars provide good visibility to the front and sides, always a strong suit in Honda designs. Also in typical Honda fashion, the controls and gauges are logical, easy to locate and easy to operate. Our only complaint was the small horn buttons in the steering wheel spokes, which are hard to locate in an emergency, due to the driver airbag. On any vehicle, we prefer to be able to push the steering wheel hub and have the horn blow.
The trunk, now much easier to access thanks to a larger opening, can easily accommodate a few suitcases and a couple of duffel bags. The rear seatback can fold down to expand the trunk even further. However, the locking release is inconveniently placed in the middle of the rear package shelf.
Ride & Drive
The base Accord models come standard with a 2.2-liter, single overhead cam 16-valve, four-cylinder engine coupled with a five-speed manual transmission. The engine is rated 130 horsepower. Also available, on the up-level EX models, is the 145-hp 16-valve, VTEC four cylinder on EX models. In addition, Honda began offering a 2.7-liter V-6 engine in its LX and EX sedans.
These models have a somewhat longer nose and a different grille to accommodate the larger engine, the same V-6 that was used in the original Acura Legend.
The character of the Accord changes subtly depending on the engine and transmission combination, but all are responsive and provide an excellent sense of control.
The four-cylinder models, the most popular being the mid-level LX with the automatic, are refined family cars with somewhat sporty manners. The manual transmission adds a livelier feel. With the base engine, we recommend it be combined with the manual transmission for peppier performance.
In general, the Accord accelerates responsively and smoothly whether equipped with the four-cylinder or the V-6. Honda four-cylinder engines are typically among the best in the business.
Obviously, the V-6 version is faster, smoother and quieter, though somewhat less economical in terms of fuel efficiency and price. We found the V-6, which is only available with the electronically controlled four-speed automatic, created a somewhat different flavor. It's an even sportier sedan.
Optional on all models (and standard on the V-6 versions) is the electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission, which includes a feature called Grade Logic. The logic system provides smoother shifting when climbing or descending hills. Indeed, we found the transmission selected the most appropriate gears for all of the various conditions we drove in.
Thanks to its sophisticated double wishbone suspension, the ride in any of the Accord models is firm but comfortable, with excellent reflexes in emergency maneuvers. That's why Accord owners enjoy driving these cars.
The interior is generally quiet, though some noise is noticeable when the four-cylinder engine is driven hard.
The Accord provides very good road feel, with modest body roll in turns, and the steering is quick and accurate. Honda has always put good handling high on its list of design priorities, and that's what the Accord provides.
Braking is another key element in all-around competence, and the Accord performs well in this regard, too. To keep the base price down, the basic DX models are equipped with front disc and rear drum brakes, and an antilock option isn't offered. However, mid-level and top-of-the-line versions have front and rear disc brakes, and ABS is either optional or standard. ABS is optional on LX models like our primary test car, for example, while V-6-powered Accords and all EX versions have them as standard equipment.
Fuel economy averages nearly 28 miles per gallon for the four-cylinder manual transmission models, about 26 with the automatic and around 21 for the V-6 models.
Accord prices range from a base price of a DX sedan at $15,100 (including the $395 destination fee) to a fully loaded V-6 at $25,100. In the better-equipped models, such as our LX tester, you still pay a bit of a premium for an Accord, but Honda has managed to whittle that premium down considerably over the last couple of years.
And when you've signed the bottom line, you drive home in a car that will provide years of trouble-free driving pleasure.
The Accord has earned a reputation as one of the most consistently reliable cars on the market. You simply can't go wrong with this car.
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© 1996 New Car Test Drive, Inc.