by Jim Bray
Hondas top-selling Accord has received a rejuvenation for 2003 thats
destined to keep the car at the top of the charts.
Now, I must admit that the last time I drove a Honda Accord was many many
years ago when I took the first generation of the car out for a test drive.
That Accord was fine; I owned a 76 Civic hatchback in those days and
the Accord was more of the same, just Super Sized a bit.
How times change. While the Civic has evolved in the past quarter century,
its still a basic economy car, though (as then) state-of-the-art. But
the Accord has not only evolved, it has mutated into world class family transportation
that now offers probably ninety per cent of the benefits of its Acura TL Type
S big brother, but for only about seventy-five per cent of the price.
What this means is that the 2003 Accord, at least as personified by the loaded
EX V6 sedan I tested, is a wonderful car. Im a little ambivalent about
the new body style so far, but Ive felt ambivalent about most new Accord
designs since those early days and they usually grow on me over time (kind
of like a fungus, only more pleasant).
The new generation, according to Hondas press materials, was conceived
of this time around not only to be an excellent car, but to hit its owners emotional
switches as well, to add a little passion to the technical efficiency. To quote
Charlie Baker, Hondas Executive Engineer for the 2003 Accord: The
Accord has traditionally been thought of as the intelligent choice. I think
weve successfully added a new, very emotional aspect to the Accord.
Whether or not theyve achieved that goal is something J.D. Powers can
probably answer better than I, but the new styling is definitely less conservative
than before, yet manages to avoid the slab-sided look of some competitors.
Honda says its engineers used the Cheetah as their inspiration because of its
muscular and agile look (despite the fact that cheetahs never prosper).
I couldnt really find anything catlike about the Accords looks,
but its reflexes are another matter - and I wouldnt be surprised that
if you were silly enough to drop the new Accord, roof down, from a height it
would flip over and land on its wheels.
Unfortunately, I didnt have a chance to test this theory
Honda could have chosen the Cheetah for its status as the fastest land animal,
too, because this Accord has the guts beneath its surface to make one think
that zoom zoom may have broader application than merely with Mazda
(though Ill know better after Ive driven the new 6 and the RX-8!).
The V6 version of this cool cat Accord pumps out 240 horsepower @ 6250 rpm
with 211 lb.-ft of torque @ 5000 revs, and this helps turn this family friendly
four door into an exhilarating ride.
That horsepower increase is 40 over last years Accord V6. While they
were at it, Honda made the new four cylinder engine crank out 160 horse @5500
(up ten) with 161 torquey things @ 4500 (up 9 from last year).
I didnt drive the four banger, but those specs seem pretty competitive.
But, boy, did I drive the V6! While time with the car and the time of year
didnt let me take it out on my favorite twisty bits, I did manage enough country
road time to get a good feel for the car and, with one small complaint,
I came away mightily impressed. This car is not only fast, it handles well,
its eminently comfortable and luxurious, and everything seems put together
Lets get that one small complaint out of the way first. It involves
the new Accords steering, which I found a tad sluggish at low speeds.
It was fine once you got going, but when slowly turning a corner it required
more turning of the wheel than I felt it should. Not a lot, and it isnt
a big deal, but its there.
That said, if thats my biggest complaint (and it is), then that means
the Accord is, overall, a tour de force.
The V6 is connected to a nice 5 speed automatic transmission that shifts with
the best I've tried. I'd still rather have a manual transmission, but unfortunately
Honda doesn't offer a stick on the sedan. You can get a six speed manual shift
on the Coupe, and I'd be willing to bet it would be a real hoot to drive.
The sedan came with four wheel disc brakes with ABS and the 16 inch aluminum
alloy wheels are fitted with P205/60 series V rated tires.
But back to the body. The new sedan definitely looks more muscular, with the
most aggressive front end of any Accord to date. The new side window glass
is nearly flush with the body to help reduce wind noise, and it appears to
work because this is a very quiet car inside.
Accords rear end is shorter, almost pony car-like, with
wraparound taillights. The wheels have been moved more to the corners so, while
the entire car is only 3mm longer than last years, the wheelbase has
been stretched 25mm. The sedan is also 29 mm wider than last years. Honda
says body stiffness is up, too, which they say helps provide
taut suspension tuning, enhancing ride and handling for driver confidence,
enjoyment and control.
Okay, I buy it.
Inside, the Accord felt as if Honda had taken my measurements and tailored
me a car. I havent felt like that in a new car since I bought my 1983
Toyota Supra, and its a wonderful feeling. The leather, powered drivers
seat (with bun warmer) adjusts intuitively and holds you in nicely, including
decent side bolsters for cornering. Aiding driver comfort, the new steering
wheel not only tilts, but it telescopes a little as well
a wonderful feature. If you cant get comfortable in this cockpit
you must have a weird body.
Then again, Im 56 and shaped like the Pillsbury Doughboy
But I had plenty of headroom, legroom, elbow room, you name it.
The instrument panel is, in a word, nifty. It reminds me of the cluster from
the original Lexus LS400, with its high tech
electrofluorescent look that comes on in stages. The big central
speedometer is surrounded by the rest of the gauges and theyre all bright
and easily readable at a glance. Honda has also achieved great usability in
the stereo/HVAC display, a single LCD panel that shows all sorts of information,
but arranged logically for quick viewing.
Theyve also innovated with the stereo and heater controls. The Accord
EX V6 has dual zone climate control, and each front seat passenger has his
own twisty knob for the temperature control. Both also have equal access to
the stereos volume control knob, which is larger and mounted between
the temperature controls. It looks strange at first, and takes a bit of getting
used to, but its logical and works really well.
The stereo itself is better than most of the Honda stereos I've tried, though
not quite of audiophile quality. It features AM/FM and a 6 disc CD changer
in the dash. Ease of use is very good.
The driver also has stereo controls and cruise control buttons on the steering
wheel, where theyre integrated right into the wheel itself. I quibbled
a bit with their positioning (I thought they should have been outboard just
a tad), but they all work fine and have good tactile feel.
I could spend many paragraphs outlining all the things Honda has done beneath
the surface to make the new Accord such a wonderful vehicle, stuff like a new
engine mount system, improved suspension geometry - even little things like
classy door handles and doors that close with a lovely
thunk. But I wont; suffice it to say that the Honda people
have done their homework, trained their robots well, and it all combines to
make a beautiful car of which the late Soichiro Honda would undoubtedly have
been very proud.
I can see why they sell so many of them every year.
Honda has always prided itself on making it simple,
and that even used to be their catchphrase. And maybe thats one of the
great things about the new Accord: despite its sophistication and state-of-the-art
technology, its deceptively simple from behind the wheel. Virtually everything
is laid out intelligently, simply, and it all falls nicely to hand or foot
and other than a slight learning curve for things like the stereo/HVAC controls
and display, you can be comfortable in this car virtually from the time your
bum first hits the seat.
And isnt that the way it should be?
As mentioned above, the Accord is also available in Coupe form.
The Accord EX V6 starts at $25,800 US; my Canadian spec tester, which was
fully loaded including a power moon roof, tipped the financial scales at $32,500