2008 Honda Accord: Can it Be Smart and Savvy Again?
- August 26, 2007
- Honda, New Model Introductions, On The Road: Driving Impressions
- Posted by George Peterson
- 2 Comments
In September 2007, the eighth-generation 2008 Honda Accord sedan and coupe go on sale, bearing a look previewed by the 2007 Detroit show’s Accord Coupe Concept. The standard for premium mid-size sedans has rested with the Accord and Toyota’s Camry for many years, as clearly as the BMW 3-Series is the luxury sport sedan to beat. Last year, the Accord accounted for 354,500 of the 1.3 million cars and trucks Honda sold in the United States. Beyond the volume it brings, Honda’s Accord carries much company history. The Accord was the first car Honda built in the States, starting twenty-five years ago, and the first Japanese product to be built in the USA.
The third-generation, launched for 1986, showed us we could have a smart and savvy midsize sedan instead of a simply boring one. The third-generation Accord had a very low cowl and pop-up headlamps – very sporty for a Mid-Size Car of its day. The following fourth-generation car took Accord in a more elegant, upscale direction. Then, Accord began to struggle a bit.
Along the way, Accord never lost its rational element, but stylish, fun-to-drive elements were watered down. For 2008, Honda looks to revive that image with the eighth-generation Accord and raise the bar against the sporty and stylish Nissan Altima and the finally expressive segment icon Camry.
Honda targets Altima and Camry directly, but competition also includes Saturn Aura, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, and even Chrysler’s Sebring and Dodge Avenger. Chevrolet’s latest Malibu goes on sale later this year with a stronger, more modern exterior and a much-improved interior. In a hotly contested market, Honda is looking to again provide buyers the smart, stylish, fun-to-drive option. Honda also is looking for sales above the 400,000-unit mark, something Accord hasn’t seen since 2001.
We had the chance for a short drive following a presentation of the new bread-and-butter car. Honda has brought another terrific mid-size sedan, but we’re not convinced the bar is raised significantly. We didn’t have a chance to drive the coupe, but the two-door brings style to Accord’s coupe line that hasn’t been seen before. The Accord coupe should hold its own from an image standpoint against coupes in the Nissan Altima and Pontiac G6 ranges.
Most competing brands offer a mid-size and a larger sedan (Avalon, Maxima, Azera, and Taurus), but Honda’s top model is the Accord. The new Accord is bigger, nearly as long as the Maxima overall and with wheelbase and width nearly the size of the Avalon. The new Accord is about five inches longer than Camry and Altima (only an inch between the axles). The larger exterior allowed for interior space large enough for Accord to be classified as a Large Car in EPA ratings, and Accord now may be better able to straddle the line between mid-size and large.
More Style, More Power and More Size
Accord’s planners goals were for an Accord powerful in its styling, package, and driving characteristics and advanced in its safety, interface, and environmental performance. The new Accord offers better fuel economy from more powerful engines; more interior space, moving to the Large Car EPA interior-volume class; and more responsive driving than in the outgoing model. Accord’s style offers a more powerful image, with a larger six-point grille, more muscular shoulders, and flared wheel arches suggesting a wider stance. But it doesn’t speak to Honda’s basic personality, like the latest Civic did at its launch. The six-sided, deep grille and deeper fascia look more aggressive and the bodysides are taller, unlike past Accords with an emphasis on visibility, lots of glass, and man maximum, machine minimum.
New engines bring more power, and Honda dropped the slow-selling Hybrid option this year. Instead of one I4 and one V6, Accord gets two variations of each. The 2.4L DOHC 16v I4 in its base form offers 177HP (compared with last year’s 166HP), but most I4-equipped trim levels get the 2.4L with a high-flow muffler and reprogrammed control unit to deliver 190HP. Both are rated for 21/31 city/highway mpg using 2008 EPA guidelines, the same rating the 166HP 2.4L would have had under the 2008 system. The 190HP gives Honda the most powerful four-cylinder among the competition.
The 3.5L SOHC 24v V6 is offered with or without (six-speed manual coupe only) Honda’s newest generation Variable Cylinder Management system. The 3.5L was introduced in Odyssey offering 255HP, but here 268HP with or without VCM. Accord’s VCM operates on three, four, or six cylinders where Odyssey’s system only on six or three. In low-speed city driving, the engine uses three cylinders. While highway cruising, it can operate on four cylinders. At high speeds and under acceleration it uses all six cylinders. Under new EPA guidelines, the VCM V6 is rated at 19/29 city/highway, while the 2007 Accord and its 3.0L V6 would have been rated at 18/26. (With the six-speed manual and no VCM, the estimated EPA rating is 17/25.)
Both the V6 and 190HP offers usable performance, but Honda’s engineers have tuned Accord such the low-end acceleration does not give much feedback. Steering is stable even under heavy throttle, but acceleration is undramatic. The sedan doesn’t feel as quick as it can be, whether the 190HP I4 or the 268HP V6.
Honda has done well with the VCM V6 fuel economy. Taking 12,000 highway miles as a base, the VCM V6 would use another 26.7 gallons of gas annually. Assuming $3.00 a gallon, a little higher than today’s prices for regular fuel, that’s a cost another $80 annually ($1.54 weekly) over either the 177HP or 190HP I4 engines. It doesn’t seem from our desk too much a penalty nearly 80HP.
New Chassis and Suspension Offer Better, Safer Ride
The 2008 Accord offers a more supple and quieter ride than the prior generation though, based on our limited drive, not significantly more involving. Honda’s goal was a more direct and linear relationship between driver input and vehicle response, and improvements included a new high-rigidity variable gear ratio steering column, a new engine mounting system, and a new double wishbone front and multilink rear suspension. Moving the engine and fuel tank down means a lower center of gravity, changes in the suspensions give better grip and response, NVH improvements include a floating rear subframe and increased floor panel rigidity, and changes to the underbody improve aerodynamics.
Honda expects to maintain its high safety ratings and brings a host of improvements in this direction. Along with hood and fender elements to reduce pedestrian impact injury are an active head restraint system, dual-chamber side airbags for optimal torso and pelvis protection, and an increased use of high-tensile steel for better crash energy dispersion throughout the body and away from the occupants.
Interior Keeps Honda Feel, Easier to Use
The new interior brings an eight-inch navigation screen, when ordered, or the digital center display level with the gauges and in line with the driver’s sight; Honda calls this the information-related zone. Standard features include cruise control and steering wheel mounted controls, with these controls roughly in line with the HVAC and audio controls in the center stack, keeping the convenience feature controls in the same zone. Though Accord keeps a wave line feel along the lower edge of the dashboard like the previous Accord, the changed HVAC locations mean cooled or heated air goes to the passengers instead of directly on the driver’s hands. The navigation screen is nicely in the driver’s line of sight, but placed deep in the upper dash to reduce glare. We have no doubt that this placement reduces glare, but not as effectively as some systems.
This year Accord makes Bluetooth and an auxiliary jack for MP3 players available. HVAC and audio buttons and knobs are larger and easy to use, but in the cars without the navigation system some of the buttons look oddly large, big to fill up the space consistently. Looking at an interior equipped with navigation makes the layout more balanced.
The interiors are offered in ivory, gray, or black for the sedan and ivory or black for the coupe. The best-looking color combination is found in the EX-L setup, with ivory and wood trim. When the coupe is ordered with leather, it gets attractive gunmetal gray accents. The coupe also takes a three-spoke steering wheel versus the sedan’s four-spoke unit.
Similar to other Honda models, options are tied to trim levels. With the Accord, priced from about $20,000 to $30,000, the 177HP I4 moves the base LX, which can be ordered with a premium package. The standard EX with its 190HP I4 is at the heart of the Accord range and due to take 40 to 50% of sales. It adds standard equipment over the EX, including seventeen-inch wheels and sport suspension tuning, and can be ordered with a Leather package. The EX-V6 adds chrome door handles, foglights, and dual exhaust over the base EX equipment and can also be ordered with a Leather package. The Leather package is a must for ordering up the DVD navigation (which includes Bluetooth connectivity).
Honda has much hope riding on the Accord, especially as they’ve indicated an ability to increase sales by about 50,000 units annually compared with recent Accord history. There is potential here for that success, but fierce competition makes 400,000-unit annual sales a difficult target no matter the quality of the vehicle.