Enthusiasts gravitate toward engineering-driven concerns, and in this respect, Honda is one of the greats. This is why it will be little surprise to anyone reading this magazine to learn that the new Accord is another great Honda, one you'd recommend to a complete stranger or your own mom with equal confidence. More safety (and, listen up, General Motors, standard ABS). More ponies (up 7 percent in the four-cylinder to 160 horsepower and up a full 20 percent in V-6 cars to 240 horsepower) and improved emissions. A superior ride and better seats. So what else is new? It's another new Honda.
Not that Audi planners will be waking up in the middle of the night to cold shivers. The Accord is not particularly European in any obvious way, except perhaps for a shape that might be said to echo some mainstream Renaults of recent memory, a high-rumped nod toward the practical, with a raised roofline and slightly elevated seating per the current fashion. Honda says its stylists set out to echo the stance and visual impact of the cheetah. We'll leave it to you to spot the cheetah within.
The new Accord's handling, with its unequal-length control arms at all four wheels, remains sportier than some, a bit more buttoned down than the Camry and the unnaturally, un-necessarily bilious Passat. The horsepower infusion in V-6 models helps the Accord meet the challenge thrown down by the rapid (and more stylish) Altima V-6. But to call it Euro? We don't know. It seems a smidgen more adventurous than its immediate predecessor, but if it is anything Euro, it's a cushy European boulevardier, not a hardcore sport sedan. This holds true across the lineup, albeit to a lesser extent for the top-of-the-line coupe, with its V-6 and the six-speed manual. Nice, creamy, fast but still treading water on the anodyne side of the pool, and most definitely not a BMW.
Redesigned and usefully improved though it is, the interior doesn't feel too Euro, either. Everything works as well as it always has on Hondas of yore. Fit and finish are all you'd expect, and the front seats have been completely redesigned with an obvious eye on the height-adjustment mechanisms and articulation of Volkswagen's rule-breaking Passat. But that's where it ends. The colors are distinctly un-Euro, and the materials remind one of nothing so much as Honda interiors past, fuzzy mouse-fur stuff in Barcalounger shades of brown and gray, materials that once redefined American notions of the "quality" interior.
How many remember that it was the first Accord's pioneering use of this plush pseudo-velvet for seats and door panels in 1976 that set the trend for a generation of cars to come? Yet by now the material is almost a clich. No one, save Volkswagen, has done it much better, but somebody ought to. The comparison Passat we drove may cost more than the Accord--which remains an incredibly good value, with a four-door, four-cylinder manual still going out the door for a hair under $16,000--but the special feel of the interior appointments goes some way to justifying prices for mid-size Volkswagens as much as $5000 higher.
On the road, the Accord is pretty much what you'd have expected. Honda didn't have too far to go to out-sporty the Camry and the Taurus, and so it didn't go too far. Although the chassis feels perfectly capable when pressed, there's little here to strongly tickle the enthusiast's check-writing hand. Unless the enthusiast is a smart shopper first. For the eerie smoothness and technical sophistication of Honda engines continue to entice. And we predict that reliability and resale value--the twin foundations of Honda's good name--will remain on the top shelf.
Here's the short report: America's first- or second-best-selling passenger sedan is new and improved. Like clockwork, Honda has delivered another Accord even better attuned to the masses than its predecessor. It's getting predictable, if not monotonous. But as a marketing strategy, it cannot fail. For, as Yogi once further observed, "If people don't want to come to the ballpark, how are you gonna stop them?"