It's really good at everything. by Trish Robb
When you think of the Honda Accord, think of that hard-working guy in the corner of your office whose first name you hardly remember, the one who isn't really brilliant at anything but who succeeds because he can do absolutely everything quite well.
That same kind of versatility is responsible for the Accord's incredible success. The Accord has redefined the family sedan by offering a near-perfect combination of performance and comfort. It's durable, and it's really good at everything. It's big enough to haul the kids to school without everyone feeling cramped, but small enough for commuting and parking convenience.
On weekends, the Accord is like your favorite traveling clothes; it goes anywhere. The trunk is big enough to hold all the soccer or skating gear. It's quiet and comfortable enough on the freeway to make a long weekend trip enjoyable, and stylish enough for even a formal evening on the town.
Every part of the car has been repeatedly refined through five major redesigns, the most recent in 1994. Refined is the key word here; the development of the Accord has definitely been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. But even though 1997 will be the last model year for this generation, there are still several notable improvements.
The result of Honda's continuing efforts is a thoroughly refined mid-size entry that has been one of the top two selling cars in the U.S. since 1989, and has been repeatedly praised in quality studies and car enthusiast magazines.
Take one good look at the Accord and you notice nothing at all out of the ordinary. Pleasant but forgettable, this is not a car that will stand out in a crowd. When the car was redesigned in '94, Honda executives acknowledged that they had been conservative, perhaps too conservative, in updating the Accord's appearance. As newer rivals like the Chrysler Cirrus and Dodge Stratus have been introduced over the past three years, the Accord has definitely come to look a little dated.
Still, it is a well-proportioned and graceful car. The Accord's wraparound headlights and slightly raked roofline give it a modern enough look to save it from dowdiness.
The Accord comes in three different body styles -- sedan, coupe and wagon -- and as many as three different price ranges -- the basic DX, the LX and top-of-the-line EX.
While a good argument can be made that the Accord offers exceptional value, no one would argue that it's cheap. Prices including destination charges begin at $15,495 for a DX with a four-cylinder engine and go all the way up to $25,495 for a V-6-equipped EX.
The most popular Accords are LX models with a four-cylinder engine, air conditioning, AM/FM/cassette radio, automatic transmission, power locks and windows, that are typically about $20,000, which pretty much describes our LX tester.
The Inside Story
The Accord's conservative philosophy carries over to the interior, which is subdued but inviting.
Seeing out of the Accord is easy in all directions, although the rear window seemed a little small to us. The outside rearview mirrors are large enough to give a good view of what's coming up behind you. From the driver's seat you immediately notice that the instrument panel is classic Honda. Easy to read, white-on-black temperature and fuel gauges flank a larger tachometer and speedometer. Two large rotary switches just to the right control the interior fan and temperature, and the air-conditioning control buttons are large and accessible.
Two buttons for the cruise control are comfortably positioned on the steering wheel, and the radio has knobs and buttons that are also easy to use while driving. None of that could be simpler or more convenient.
Two small drawbacks come to mind, though. First, the horn buttons are too small and located on the edges of the wheel, rather than a handier center-punch arrangement. And the cupholders, two plastic indentations tastefully covered by a door, are marginal -- awkward to reach, and too close to the elbows.
The rest of the interior is nicely done. The fabrics and plastics are pleasing to the eye and the touch, with excellent finishing throughout. As for safety, all Accords come with a driver-side and passenger-side airbag, but anti-lock brakes aren't available on DX models and cost $850 extra on LX models.
Seating comfort is well suited for long drives. Bottom cushions are deep enough to support your legs and back cushions are thick and firm enough to support your back. The seats don't have big torso bolsters to keep you from sliding side-to-side in sharp corners, but that's not surprising in a car that doesn't have a lot of sporty pretensions.
Both the front and back seats provide plenty of room: four good-sized adults can be comfortable in this car. While the back isn't as spacious as that of the Cirrus or Stratus, headroom and leg room are still more than adequate.
The back seat folds down to expand the trunk. You can also fold down the rear seat's center arm rest and open a small pass-through door to the trunk that will let long things like skis fit inside the car.
You can get three kids in the back seat, no problem, as long as they aren't tormenting each other. (It could happen.) And the roof is high enough to let you lift a little one into a car seat without killing your back.
Ride and Drive
Under the hood of most Accords you'll find a 2.2-liter single overhead cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine that is about as good as they come.
The 130 horsepower won't take your breathe away. When you step on the gas it will say "Sure, OK," not "Yeah! Let's go!" Honda's philosophy has always been to provide enough to just get the job done. The result is polite power.
It's, smooth, though, and amazingly quiet, producing little vibration from idle to freeway speeds. It's economical too, getting nearly 30 miles per gallon in our road test over city streets and freeways.
The upscale EX comes with a standard 145-horsepower four-cylinder engine. A 170-horsepower 2.7-liter V-6 is available as a $2660 option on both LX and EX models, and it will provide a quicker getaway from stoplights and fast pickup as you come out of a sharp turn. For most Accord buyers, though, these things aren't high priorities.
The 1997 model air conditioning system has been improved for faster cooling. More insulation has been added to successfully reduce engine and road noise, and the redesigned automatic transmission is supposed to shift more smoothly.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all sedans with four-cylinder engines. A four-speed automatic is an $800 option or standard if you take the optional V-6 engine. Although the redesigned automatic is supposed to shift more smoothly, we didn't notice much difference. It seemed to force the 2.2-liter engine in our test car to rev higher before upshifting, creating a little extra noise in the process.
Aside from that very small complaint, we found the Accord effortless to drive and superbly comfortable. The Accord's double wishbone suspension is as sophisticated as any of its competitors. As a result, the Accord is quick and responsive to the wheel. It feels downright nimble as you maneuver into a tight parking space and you feel only a modest amount of body roll on corners.
Compared with a car like the Ford Contour, the Accord's suspension gives a somewhat softer ride, though you can still feel all the bigger potholes. The tradeoff is that it won't consume a winding mountain road quite as quickly.
This is a car designed to make your everyday life a bit easier. It may not be extremely exciting, but it is supremely sensible. Everything about it is designed to make getting where you're going easier and more pleasurable. Life holds enough minor hassles. The Accord's ease and reliability are what have endeared it to millions of American drivers.
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