OAKBROOK TERRACE, Illinois - Now in its fourth decade on the market, Honda's popular midsize family sedan has been redesigned for the 2008 model year. This is the eighth generation for the Accord sedan, which, according to senior product planner Gary Robinson, occupies a middle ground between the Toyota Camry and the Nissan Altima.
Altimas appeal to younger, sport-minded buyers, Robinson said. In contrast, Toyota's Camry emphasizes a soft ride, attracting an older age group.
When the Accord first debuted in 1976, it rode a minimal 93.7-inch wheelbase and was 3 inches shorter than today's subcompact Fit. Under the hood sat a 68-horsepower CVCC four-cylnder engine - then the state of the art in reduced-emissions technology.
Dimensions have increased with each succeeding generation. So has power output. For 2008, the Accord sedan can have a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that generates 268 horsepower - 24 more than in the prior generation, which used a 3.0-liter V-6. Torque output has grown by 37 pound-feet, now rated at 248. Variable Cylinder Management technology lets the V-6 run on three, four, or all six cylinders.
Honda continues to offer four-cylinder engines, however, rated at up to 190 horsepower (up 24 for 2008). Three trim levels are available: LX four-cylinder, step-up EX four-cylinder, and EX V6. The LX gets a 177-horsepower version of the four-cylinder engine.
Design features for 2008 include a forward-thrusting nose that's described as "much thicker." Robinson promotes the car's "rounded 3-D cabin," adding that the Accord now ranks in the Large Car class for interior space.
Dual-chamber side-impact airbags are standard, along with curtain-type airbags and Vehicle Stability Assist. Seat adjustment is 10 millimeters greater in this generation, and the floor has been lowered by 15 millimeters. Lateral "couple distance" (the distance between shoulders of front occupants) is 40 millimeters wider.
Honda also continues to offer a coupe body style, though lately it's accounted for only 5 percent of Accord sales. Sedan sales began on September 12, followed eight days later by the coupe.
Honda's 190-horsepower four-cylinder engine, as tested in an EX sedan, produces more than adequate performance, with moderate engine blare on hard acceleration. Handling is nothing special, but an Accord imparts confidence with good steering feel. Harsh responses seldom occur, as the Accord delivers a well-controlled ride.
Response is unquestionably stronger with the V-6 and automatic. In that model, performance comes across as considerably more effortless. Front and rear passengers get ample space in each sedan, but tilt-ahead headrests could annoy some occupants.
In a V-6 coupe, the six-speed manual transmission shifts easily enough, but not quite precisely compared to some competitors. Neither is the clutch quite as easy to control as some, which makes the manual-shift coupe less appealing, mechanically. You get loads of power to accelerate, but pay for that performance with a snug cockpit and forget-it back seat.
Surprisingly, the 177-horsepower LX with automatic could be the most enjoyable of all the powertain combinations. Performance is clearly sufficient: milder-mannered, yes, but essentially satisfying. The LX interior is more basic, too. Yet, the 177-hp engine is quieter than a lot of four-cylinders, yielding only slight blare on acceleration. Oddly, it feels more easygoing than the 190-hp version, which seems like it's trying too hard.
The LX's four-speed automatic transmission manages to shift more crisply and easily than the six-speed in upper models. Gear changes are noticeable, but not obtrusive at all. This is the sensible version, with most of the important Accord features. With a four-speed manual gearbox, on the other hand, the LX engine likes to stay revved when letting up on gas, which can annoy.