The traditional knock on Hondas - especially Accords - is that they're characterless appliances, overrefined transport modules that recall wheeled versions of Asimo, Honda's own humanoid robot. But in the past few years, it seems that Honda has begun to let out the reins and allow its talented engineers to infuse their designs with something that was heretofore in short supply: personality.
Just look at the new, way-attitudinal Accord coupe. Where Accord styling used to err on the side of apologetic - "Hello, I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm the Accord" - the 2008 Accord coupe, with its raked side glass and chunky, aggressive front end, gets in your face right away with some Samuel L. Jackson swagger. It is not a polite car. And, I say, it's about time.
Viewed in profile, the Accord coupe looks like it has too much front overhang, but from any other angle it looks pretty fantastic, an impression bolstered by the unexpected amount of attention this car garnered. I mean, I know it's a new model, but I didn't expect an Accord to attract so many curious onlookers--and compliments.
Incidentally, Honda introduced the Accord not in Maui or the French Riviera but in Boston, a place with some attitude of its own. This also happens to be my stomping grounds, so in lieu of Honda's organized drive down to Cape Cod, I veered into my own Southie hood, which boasts some of the nastiest roads this side of Baja. Without a bit of exaggeration, there's one stretch of road near my house that's made entirely of patched potholes, a frightening tarmac collage of ragged bumps. The Accord coupe sailed over this mess with only a distant symphony of thuds from the tires and very little motion from the body. This is a solid vehicle. So solid, it seems as if they could cut off the roof and make a very handsome convertible while maintaining a reasonably stiff structure. C'mon, Honda - don't tell me you haven't taken the measure of the Chrysler Sebrings of the world and thought about that one.
The coupe is designed to recruit younger buyers into the Accord fold, and it's aiming at that crowd with a mix of high-tech features and performance that's up to the sprightly Nissan Altima standard. For instance, the Accord coupe offers eighteen-inch wheels, which will never earn it the cover of DUB magazine but are the biggest wheels ever fitted to a production Honda. There's a variable-ratio steering rack that offers nuanced responses just off-center (say, during a lane change) but quickens the ratio near the ends of steering lock, to help you swing into parking spaces a bit quicker. That's the kind of elegant Honda engineering we know and love. Another Accord first that fairly booms Honda's quest for younger customers: an available subwoofer.
But while the subwoofer and the wheels make their case for a Gen Y buyer, the Accord coupe drives like a much more mature car. Thanks to a standard strut-tower brace and reasonably stiff suspension, this car doesn't mind corners, but it's not begging to find the nearest autocross course, either. Instead, refinement is the name of the game, and once you close that surprisingly heavy door and settle behind the three-spoke wheel, you tend to forget the sporty exterior and sink into the soothing embrace of the Accord cocoon.
All tactile sensations are supremely satisfying. BMW and Porsche could learn a thing or two from the Accord's shifter. It's light, yet it snicks definitively into each gear, which is unfortunately a rare combination--most gear levers with such delicate action commensurately lack feel. Also, unlike recent four-cylinder Hondas, the V-6 Accord doesn't artificially hang onto revs between gears--they drop off naturally, and thus the Accord is far easier to drive smoothly than is, say, a Civic Si.
The Accord powertrain hierarchy starts with a 180-hp four-cylinder and works up to a 200-hp engine that assumes the crown of "most powerful Honda Accord four-banger ever sold in the States," but the new 273-hp V-6 is the power champ by a wide margin. Mash the throttle in first gear, and the traction-control light blinks until you're hooked up in second, but the only aural notice of your kinetic drama is a distant growl from the exhaust. If Honda can do active noise cancellation, how about an active exhaust, so that, at 6000 rpm, the V-6 doesn't sound like it's in the next town over?
I guess complaining about overrefinement is missing the point, though. Obviously, Honda knows exactly how to build a raw car--the S2000 is proof of that - but in this case it chose a different direction. What Honda has arrived at should please Accord loyalists while luring new buyers. I suspect that Acura dealers are the only people who will seriously dislike the new Accord--when there's only a 17-hp gap between the everyman Accord and the nearly $50,000 Acura RL, you're beginning to run into a branding problem.
Overall, the Accord coupe brings to mind a recent morning news segment I saw about "glamping," wherein wealthy vacationers travel to the wilderness and stay in tents that look all Oregon Trail and minimalist on the outside but replicate a posh hotel once you step inside the flap. There's a similar schism going on with the Accord - the styling screams that you're roughing it sports car-style, with attendant cabin noise and focus on speed over luxuries, but once you're behind the wheel, it's five-star all the way.