Text: Jude P. Morte / Photos: Jude P. Morte | posted July 11, 2005 00:00
An object of pure obsession
And then there are those vehicles that captivate you again and again. The Honda Accord is one of them.
As modern car companies go, Honda is rather unique. See, most automakers base their product line redesigns on a very specific cost-benefit ratio. Essentially, it costs a car company money to redesign a model, but these redesigns (if properly executed) benefit the company with increased sales. Scheduling these model makeovers to maximize the cost-benefit-redesign equation can be the focus of entire accounting teams for some carmakers. But Honda, despite bragging rights to several top sellers, continues to redesign its models every five years or so. The Civic was redesigned in 2001 (and an all-new Civic shall be released by the middle of the year) and an all-new CR-V came along in 2002. Both marques were doing just fine in terms of showroom activity, but Honda reworked them all the same.
But we're getting ahead of this story. Ever since the arrival of the 4G/5G (1994-1997) Honda Accord in the country, many well-to-do Filipinos have considered the Accord as arguably the best faux luxury car (read: executive car) a mass-produce auto manufacturer like Honda has brought to local shores. The 4G/5G (and subsequent models) Accord models have traditionally based its success on solid interior ergonomics, roomy front- and rear-seat accommodations and a comfortable, confident ride. And with the current model Honda Accord comes the most unnecessary redesign of all, at least in terms of fixing what isn't broken. The Honda Accord has essentially owned the "best-selling car in America" title for more than a decade, and despite stiff competition of late, it continues to be the benchmark by which all other four-door sedans are measured.
Let the love begin
For 2003 Honda has suggested a new direction for the Accord. The company tells us the car is now more "passionate" and "emotional." Its styling and demeanor are supposed to capture the spirit of a cheetah. There have even been industry trade stories reporting that Honda used the Volkswagen Passat as inspiration on how to give the company's volume sedan an appealing aura that goes beyond pure logic. Five days spent driving the new Honda Accord confirmed two things: It's still the segment benchmark in terms of ergonomic design, interior roominess and overall ride quality; and it still won't derail compact car intenders.
Our specific model was a Php 1.68M EX model clad in Graphite Pearl, equipped with a three-liter VTEC V6 and five-speed a/t, putting out 240hp@6250 rpm and 212 lbs. ft. of torque@4500 rpm. Despite eight lbs. ft. less than its Camry rival, frequent standing start-acceleration testing showed that the car had strong off-the-line power followed by consistent pull all the way up to its 6,500 rpm shift points (redline is 6,800 rpm). There's gobs of torque, bundles of horsepower and lots of high-end rush, typical of Honda's VTEC variable valve timing equipped engines. Upshifts from the a/t were consistently crisp, and the overall sensation was one of highly refined and wholly adequate performance.
Honda continues to utilize a double-wishbone suspension front and rear on the new Accord, and refinements to suspension geometry at both ends, plus a rise in torsional rigidity of 27 percent, have further improved the car's ride quality. Steering weight, and associated road feel, has risen to near Germanic levels, and confidence under relaxed — or even moderately aggressive — driving conditions is again on par (or even better) with anything in the segment.
Body roll is nicely controlled and the suspension manages to soak up most bumps without feeling overly harsh or too floaty. Push it harder and the tires are the first components to leave the party. The P205/60R Michelin MXV4s simply aren't meant for serious road holding and tended to "wash out" easily on twisty roads. We also noticed a bit more rear-end movement than we'd like (despite the presence of traction control) especially during emergency braking and lane change maneuvers.
Love inside and out
But throwing away Honda's rhetoric about the new Accord's performance (as 95-plus percent of likely buyers will) allows one to see the car's true strengths and weaknesses. For instance, its driver's chair is one of the best seats we've experienced in any market segment. This here Honda Accord features a driver seat with power adjustments for legroom, seat-bottom height and angle and seat back angle, but there's no way to alter lumbar support. You'd think this would be a glaring omission, but the Honda seat engineers spent a great deal of time analyzing how people sit in cars and designed the lower seat back angle to properly orient the driver's torso for maximum comfort. Still, much like its Jazz subcompact brother, the author could never find a decent comfortable position in the Accord and found himself adjusting the driver's seat constantly, especially on long drives.
The rear seating arrangements were similarly top notch, particularly with regards to headroom and toe footroom, with plenty of room under the front seats. The lower rear seat backs aren't quite as supportive as those in the Toyota Camry (though the Camry offers less headroom), but overall the Accord's rear seating accommodations are, once again, equal to or better than anything in the segment.
Interior design and material qualities continue the high-caliber standards established by previous-generation Accords. Upon ingress, one will likely notice the large and crystal-clear gauge cluster. Lexus-like in appearance, the electroluminescent gauges are tied to the interior lights, meaning they come on, minus needles, by simply opening the door. Once the key is inserted, the gauges further brighten, as if to say "ready." Turn the key and all warning lights, plus each gauge needle, illuminate as the engine fires. This same lighting pattern happens in reverse when shutting the Accord down, including a slow fade of the gauge cluster and interior lights after hitting the remote key fob's "lock" button.
If there's an area where the Honda Accord stomps the competition, it has to be in cupholder design. The Accord offers a total of eight, including one in each lower door panel. Seven of these can accommodate one-liter bottles with ease (there are two cupholders in the rear seat's fold-down center armrest, but one of them is too small to house a one-liter bottle). The two primary cupholders, ideally located in the center console, use spring-loaded tabs to secure drinks in the one design point that does indeed smack of BMW-ness. There's also a two-tier center console, complete with a power point in the lower section, and a large center stack bin with a spring-loaded door. The glovebox is also quite large as midsize sedans go.
Functional control layout and high-quality switchgear are both Honda hallmarks, and the new Accord generally sticks with tradition. Whether you're talking about the meaty headlight/turn signal stalk, the button for the electronically folding side mirros or the knobs/buttons for the aircon system, you'll find most controls easy to master. The standard moonroof (and its controls) are fairly easy to find and familiarize, but moonroof area is significantly less than the moonroof of the Ford Explorer or the Ford Lynx RS. Also, the display for the sweet-sounding audio system (which comes with a six-disc CD changer) is also improved this year. It's larger and easier to read, and it uses a circular graphical display, along with numbers, to represent volume, bass, treble, fader and balance levels.
There are quirks though. The author did miss a tuning knob for the radio (he found a "tune" button on the right hand side of the radio) You'll also find a one-touch down and up driver window, but all others require you to hold the button for either direction.
An area the author has yet to discuss is the Honda Accord's new "skin." Normally he doesn't spend much time focusing on aesthetics because, in the end, there is simply no way to qualify or quantify a vehicle's beauty…or lack thereof. However, the author will only say this: There's barely a hint of a bodyline running from the fender to the quarter panel, but the wheels look good on the car, and the overall design looks like it was meant for racing more than boulevard cruising.
Quirks and all, it is obvious that the Accord is a heartstopper, whether at rest or in motion. And if its title of "Philippine Car of the Year" is any indication, the Accord will be like that girl next door who eventually becomes a showbiz icon - captivating perpetually and repeatedly.