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Honda Accord

Forget Kyoto – Honda has a Better Accord

by Jim Bray

Honda’s top-selling Accord has received a rejuvenation for 2003 that’s 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, it’s 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. I’m a little ambivalent about the new body style so far, but I’ve 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 Honda’s 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, Honda’s Executive Engineer for the 2003 Accord: “The Accord has traditionally been thought of as the intelligent choice. I think we’ve successfully added a new, very emotional aspect to the Accord.”

Whether or not they’ve 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 couldn’t really find anything catlike about the Accord’s looks, but its reflexes are another matter - and I wouldn’t 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 didn’t 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 I’ll know better after I’ve 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.

Honda Accord Engine Bay

That horsepower increase is 40 over last year’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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, it’s eminently comfortable and luxurious, and everything seems put together to last.

Let’s get that one small complaint out of the way first. It involves the new Accord’s 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 isn’t a big deal, but it’s there.

That said, if that’s 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.

Accord’s 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 year’s, the wheelbase has been stretched 25mm. The sedan is also 29 mm wider than last year’s. 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.

Honda Accord

Inside, the Accord felt as if Honda had taken my measurements and tailored me a car. I haven’t felt like that in a new car since I bought my 1983 Toyota Supra, and it’s a wonderful feeling. The leather, powered driver’s 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 can’t get comfortable in this cockpit you must have a weird body.

Then again, I’m 5’6” 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 they’re 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.

They’ve 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 stereo’s 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 it’s 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 they’re 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 won’t; 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 that’s one of the great things about the new Accord: despite its sophistication and state-of-the-art technology, it’s 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 isn’t 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 Canadian.



Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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