Honda Accord

This is the most stylish Accord ever," proclaimed Dave Marek, Honda's chief designer in the United States, at a press unveiling of the new car last August. Alas, that's not saying much. Over thirty-seven years, eight generations, and some 11 million Accords, there has never been one that is truly stylish. Nice looking, yes. Practical, popular, and highly satisfying to owners, yes. But style? That has never been a principal concern of the company, even when it offered such impressive models as the NSX mid-engine coupe -- an Acura in America but pure Honda everywhere else.

Whatever Honda has done with its mainstream production cars, it has been cautious in its styling approach. Nothing shocking. Nothing that makes waves. This newest Accord is clearly an evolution of the last one -- a bit crisper here, a bit more glass area there, but essentially the same shape. Not bad but not great. It's been a while since the Accord was the best-selling car in the United States, but it's pretty clear that this latest iteration is aimed at taking the midmarket sales crown away from the many (perhaps too many) contenders. Rival Japanese companies Toyota and Nissan want that distinction, as do Chevrolet, Ford, and Volkswagen, not to mention the ferociously ambitious Koreans, Hyundai and Kia.

It's hard to say which pretender is best armed in the conflict, but Honda claims that it has a unique insight to its customers and their desires and requirements. "We know you" is a theme executives were expressing at the Accord's introduction, and if they're right, then this decent-looking but rather anonymous shape is perfect. Except there is no such thing as perfection, as witness the constant amelioration of capabilities of mainstream commodity cars like this. The Accord has all the attributes -- save heritage and reputation -- of the finest luxury sedans of half a century ago, along with additional capabilities and characteristics that were unknown in the past, things we now take for granted even in the meanest economy models. In almost every car we buy we expect assisted steering, power antilock brakes, stability control, standard air-conditioning, stereo sound systems, and other amenities that were once considered luxuries.

So there really isn't much to distinguish this Accord from other vehicles in the category, apart from styling, and here we've been let down by the extremely conservative approach that has been taken. Maybe Honda does "know us," but if that's the case, I'm afraid we've become complacent, content to accept whatever nondescript, consensual appearance all the contenders have deemed suitable for the category. That's too bad, because Honda engineering has traditionally been just a little better, more exciting and more involving than that of its bigger Japanese rivals and well ahead of American manufacturers in matters of low emissions, drivability, and fuel economy. Just imagine what Honda could have done with that engineering mastery combined with more elegant, beautiful, and original styling.

Then again, maybe they really do know us and know we wouldn't like it. Maybe.

FRONT 3/4 VIEW

1 Headlamp surfaces don’t follow the contours of the sheetmetal surface, bulging like blisters to control flow of both luminescence and air.

2 Having the top of the grille unframed by chrome is a nice touch. The leading edge of the hood above the intake is a solid horizontal reference for the eye.

3 Grille surround on only the sides and the bottom continues the visual reference of reflective surfaces inside the lamp clusters, adding to apparent width of the front end.

4 Sharp surface breaks tend to conflict with one another but are presumably intended to give an impression of a longer hood.

5 Indented surface on doors emphasizes the rising wedge shape of the body sides.

6 It takes great confidence in the quality of body assembly to approve a fuel door that must align perfectly with two surfaces.

7 Notice that the rear door is unusually narrow at the bottom, making entrance for adults less easy and graceful than it might be. Kids can scramble in easily.

8 Wedge line on the lower side derives from the very sharp edge low on the front fascia, pretty much dies out in the rear door skin, and is then picked up again in the rear fender.

9 These little tabs in front of the wheels help reduce total drag, even if they seem almost inconsequential. Proof of serious aerodynamics work done on the car.

10 Upper edge of the foglamp alcove is rigorously horizontal, carrying across the lower air intake, which, like the upper, is framed by brightwork on the lower perimeter.

REAR 3/4 VIEW

11 Break between deck surface and rear face of the body is knife-sharp.

12 Chrome trim above the license-plate indent carries the silvery lamp-reflector line across the tail to emphasize width.

13 This sagging surface below the lamps is common to an uncounted number of cars from many countries. It’s an easy, boring solution that shows a lack of imagination.

14 This tapering trim piece gives a much richer impression than would a simple continuation of the same section used for the rear of the side window trim.

15 These two inflection points change the side profile from a flowing sweep to a “constructed” line in four distinct segments, plus the reversed rear-pillar trim. Just a hair awkward, though.

16 Notice the blunt, vertical front end in this view, tapered into the front in plan view. Headlamp-cover bulge is obvious again.

17 Lower edges of the door handles have been carefully aligned with the sharp crease line.

18 There’s a lot of surface changing on the rear fender, a crisp line rising from the side treatment, a turn-out at bottom, an indent above the crease.

19 Hard edge at the bottom of the fender sweeps upward, making a sharp demarcation between side and rear parts of the bumper fascia.

20 Once again the brightwork defines the bottom, not the top, of an opening. Really rather nice.

INTERIOR VIEW

21 Pudgy, leather-covered steering wheel is soft-touch and feels good in the hand.

22 Door trim has contrasting colors, convex and concave sections, but still manages to look a bit cheap.

23 As do the leather-covered seats, bereft of color or much design. But they’re comfortable enough, and the interior is spacious, if not remotely luxurious in feel or visual impression.

24 There are still some signs of consideration for serious drivers, such as a real handbrake rather than an automatic electric parking brake.

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