As a set of keys whizzes overhead in a bank-teller-style vacuum tube, Rob May stoops to pick up a stray scrap of paper marring the floor of the otherwise spotless Honda factory in Marysville, Ohio. It's the kind of effort you make in the hopes that the plant manager will happen to notice. The thing is, Rob May is the plant manager.
Over the next two hours, May narrates a tour of the plant, all the while chatting with line workers and periodically pausing to nab those stray scraps of paper. He's worked here for twenty-eight years, starting out on the line and making his way up the ranks. Now 120 cars come off the assembly line here each hour, raw steel going in one end of the factory and Accords and Acura TLs driving out the other. It all looks impossibly complex, and it is.
Did you ever ponder the door of a Honda Accord? It's stamped, mounted on the car, painted, and removed from the body. Then it's sent down a separate line where the guts are installed -- windows, switches, interior skin -- and then eventually it rejoins its same car, which in the meantime has experienced its own transformation. That's just a door. So it's all the more astounding when Mays and I walk under an electronic board tallying productivity, and the figure for today's downtime reads ".6". Six-tenths of what? "Six-tenths of a minute," he replies.
Everything here happens fast. I grab a seat in a fresh-baked Accord for a shakedown run on the test track outside, and within a minute we've checked steering, brakes, cruise control, suspension, and maybe a few other parameters I'm not even aware of. The driver steers toward a closed garage door that leads back inside, approaching it with a good head of steam. WrraPPPP! The door flies open and we're back inside. Even the garage doors waste no time.
I'd like to spend all day here bothering these friendly Ohioans and watching robot welders spraying sparks, but in twenty-four hours I've got to be three states away. And outside in the parking lot, there's a San Marino red example of Marysville handiwork waiting to take me there.
The new Accord is, in general, very good to drive -- hence its well-earned 2013 All-Star award -- but a V-6 manual coupe is on another level. I know it's front-wheel drive, but the soul of the NSX is in there, I tell you. If you've got 500 miles to dispatch in a single shot, this is a fine way to do it. If those 500 miles include a climb through the brooding mountains and twisty hollers of West Virginia, so much the better.
Or so I thought. When you look at a map of West Virginia, great swaths are covered in unbroken green, mile upon mile of forest wilderness. On paper, it looks like a recipe for a great drive. And it probably is. When it's not snowing.
Of course, it is snowing.
At a tollbooth on I-77, photographer A. J. Mueller gestures to the greasy precipitation coating the road and calls over to the cashier, "Is this normal?" She shoots back, "This is West Virginia." I reply, "This is April!" I like to communicate by yelling facts.
And the fact is, we're in trouble. Somewhere near Princeton, West Virginia, traffic slows to a stop. It takes an hour to cover the two miles to the Princeton exit, but at least now we can find a hotel and call it a night. Which is the exact idea that occurred to the several thousand other motorists who exited ahead of us. The highway is closed, and there are no hotel rooms here or within the next fifty miles. We're right on the edge of one of those great big green spots on the map, hemmed in by weather and topography. There's a distinct chance we'll spend the night in Château d'Accord, parked on the shoulder in some West Virginia forest, listening to the plaintive cries of chupacabra and flying monkeys.
So we press on, all the way to North Carolina. We arrive in the wee hours of the morning, but the upshot is that we've almost reached our destination: the Charlotte AutoFair, where I'm scheduled to attend an Elvis competition. While dressed as Elvis. If I get really caught up in this, I might eat a fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich and shoot a De Tomaso Pantera.
This spring's Charlotte AutoFair includes, in no particular order: cars, 90-mph racing lawn tractors, Elvises, a swap meet, people pushing shopping carts that have racing slicks for wheels, the world's biggest TV (200 feet across), Rascal scooters for rent (screw walkin'), and more cars. I am not lying when I say I enjoy the Charlotte AutoFair more than the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. And there are probably about as many Hondas in either place.
This isn't a Honda crowd. By the time I park next to the Elvis stage on the infield of Charlotte Motor Speedway, the only other Japanese-brand car I've seen is a NASCAR Toyota Camry, and I don't think that counts. I don my Elvis gear and mill about with my fellow Elvi, most of whom look quite convincing. One Elvis repeatedly uses the Accord's side glass as a mirror, combing his coif. A European guy approaches me and asks for a photo, and we stand in front of the Honda as I Elvis-sneer. Just a car built in Ohio and a guy from New England who's dressed as a guy from Mississippi for a contest in North Carolina. What's more American than that?
When I was about thirteen, I got a ride in a new Accord owned by some family friends. Coming from my Subaru-heavy background, that car struck me as impossibly luxurious -- silent, tight, resplendent in tan leather. I thought, "If you can afford this, you've got yourself a damn nice way to get around." Sure, I had no perspective, but this new Accord has me agreeing with my thirteen-year-old self. Whether you're talking about a V-6 or a four-banger, coupe or sedan, the Accord feels like it aspires to standards that should apply to more expensive machinery. Nobody told the Accord that it's a mass-market conveyance, rolling out of Marysville at a rate of 1900 per day.
In the past twenty-four hours, I've toured the factory, driven 500 miles, and worn an Elvis jumpsuit. It's time to go home. I climb back behind the wheel, one more Accord hitting the highway. -- Ezra Dyer, photography by A. J. Mueller
Price: $22,470/$24,140/$30,860/$31,140 (2.4L sedan/2.4L coupe/3.5L sedan/3.5L coupe)
Engines: 2.4L I-4, 185-189 hp, 181-182 lb-ft; 3.5L V-6, 278 hp, 252 lb-ft
EPA mileage: 24-27/34-36 mpg, 18-21/28-34 mpg (2.4L, 3.5L)