Honda Accord: America's Next No. 1?

Editor's Rating:

The Good: Reliability, good looks, roomier rear seats, more powerful engine options

The Bad: Not much

The Bottom Line: Likely to challenge the Toyota Camry as America's No. 1 car

Up Front

Is the new Honda (HMC) Accord poised to become the most popular car on the market (, 8/28/07)? Archrival Toyota's (TM) Camry—America's perennial top-seller—got a lot of bad press recently when Consumer Reports magazine removed the V6-powered version of the Camry from its recommended list.

Early signs show the Accord is gaining ground. Camry sales increased 6%, to 398,868 (including the hybrid version), during the first 10 months of the year, but Camry sales were down slightly, to 33,728, in October.

Meanwhile, through October, annual U.S. sales of the Accord increased 9.7%, to 332,813 (even though the slow-selling Accord hybrid is being phased out). Honda hopes to sell more than 400,000 Accords next year, and things are going so well that the Accord has overtaken the Toyota Corolla to become the nation's No. 2-selling car so far this year. Plus, the new, '08 Accord has been giving sales a big boost since hitting showrooms in mid-September: Accord sales were up by nearly one-third, to 31,179, in October.

Obviously one month's sales don't make a trend, and the Camry's quality problems are probably overblown. But I believe the Accord will challenge the Toyota for the No. 1 spot in 2008. I recently spent a week test-driving a V6-powered 2008 Accord sedan. It's a very impressive vehicle.

Inside and out, the new Accord looks a lot more like a BMW than the economy model it started out as when it first hit the U.S. market back in 1976. It doesn't drive like a BMW, of course—it has the solid, competent driving characteristics you'd expect from an Accord. But the sedan is surprisingly quick and sporty, and there's a two-door coupe version available with a six-speed manual transmission for hard-core driving enthusiasts.

The eighth-generation Accord sedan is about 1 in. taller and wider and 3 in. longer than the previous Accord. Trim levels start with the basic LX model, and get progressively fancier and more expensive as you move up to the LX-P, EX, and EX-L versions. Even the base models come standard with keyless entry, full-power accessories, cruise control, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, and a six-speaker CD system with an auxiliary jack. I test-drove the leather-upholstered EX-L, which was like an entry-level luxury car.

There are three choices of engine in the new Accord sedan: a gasoline-sipping 2.4-liter, 177-hp four-banger, which also comes in a 190-hp "high output" version, and a powerful 3.5-liter, 268-hp V6. With the four-cylinder engines, the Accord sedan can be had with either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission.

The V6 version of the sedan comes only with a five-speed automatic, but it also has a more sophisticated engine system than in the previous Accord that ekes out extra mileage. The new system allows the engine to run on three, four, or six cylinders, depending on how much power is needed.

With an automatic transmission and either of the four-cylinder engines, the Accord sedan is rated to get 21 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway; with the V6, the rating drops to 19 city/29 highway. In a stretch of 193 miles of mixed driving, I got 23.3 mpg in my V6-powered test car.

A basic LX model starts at $21,000 with the smallest engine and a stick shift (add $1,000 to get the LX-P with the more powerful four-cylinder engine and some extra gear). A midrange EX with a sunroof, automatic transmission, and the more powerful of the two four-cylinder engines starts at $24,495.

A top-of-the-line EX-L with leather upholstery, premium stereo, V6 engine, navigation system, and automatic transmission goes for $30,895. Other than a navigation system on the EX-L, there are no options on any of the new Accords.

All versions of the new Accord come standard with traction and stability control, antilock brakes, and front, side, and cabin-length side-curtain air bags.

The '08 hasn't been crash-test rated, but the '07 Accord earned five-star ratings for passenger and driver safety and four stars for side-impact and rollover protection.

Behind the Wheel

The Accord's basic four-cylinder engine is mainly for those on a tight budget. But both of the other two power plants provide considerable pep. The 190-hp, high-output four-cylinder engine has more oomph than those in the Camry (158 hp) and Nissan (NSANY) Altima sedans (175 hp). And the Accord's new V6 just about exactly matches the power of the most powerful engines in the Camry and Nissan Altima (, 11/5/07).

The V6-powered Accord is a hair slower than a comparable Camry. I clocked it at around seven seconds accelerating from 0 to 60 mph, about a half-second slower than the Camry (which weighs slightly less). An Accord with the high-output four-banger engine is slower, but both are quick enough to be fun to drive.

The Accord's exterior styling has evolved to a more refined line, and I find it beautiful. Both the C-pillar and the rear end are reminiscent of the BMW 3 Series (, 3/12/07)>. The engine is mounted sideways, so the front end is stubby. The rear end is relatively short, too, but the trunk has the same 14 cubic feet of space, as in the previous Accord.

The changes in the Accord's interior are far less daring than the ones Honda made when it redesigned the Civic (, 7/7/06). The Civic's dashboard and center console have a sci-fi feel to them, while in the new Accord they are distinctive but more conservative. The dash is sculpted into three tiers, and it curves across the cabin in front of the driver. In the middle, the navigation-system screen is surrounded by a mass of knobs and buttons. It's intimidating at first, but I found the combination of touch-screen commands and buttons and knobs relatively easy to master. The navigation system includes Zagat restaurant ratings for many major cities.

The EX-L's cabin is sumptuous, with beautiful light-wood trim on the doors and dash and leather trim on the seats and steering wheel. Much of the new Accord sedan's extra length has been devoted to increasing rear-seat legroom, which is now more than adequate for average-size adults. I'm 5 foot 10; with the driver's seat set for my height, I had several inches of knee space in the back seat.

The rear seats can be folded down for expanded luggage space, and there's a pass-through to accommodate skis and other long objects when the rear seats are up.

About all I can find to criticize in the new Accord is the way some of the features are packaged. A backup camera isn't available, and you have to pay extra for an EX model to get satellite radio. Satellite radio and a navigation system should be options on the base models.

Buy It or Bag It?

If you want an '08 Accord, you'll have to pay a premium to get one. The average selling price is $25,276 for the sedan and $27,035 for the coupe, according to the Power Information Network. That compares with $23,489 for the '08 Altima, $22,126 for the Camry, $20,543 for the Ford (F) Fusion (, 2/8/07) and $19,291 for the Pontiac G6 (, 8/16/06).

My guess is that Toyota will soon resolve whatever quality problems the Camry has, and it remains the most logical alternative model. But the Nissan Altima is coming on strong. Altima sales were up 26.1%, to 231,800 in the first 10 months of the year, and up 41.9%, to 21,778 during the month of October. Among domestic models, an alternative that's just hitting the market is General Motors' (GM) new Chevy Malibu (, 11/7/07). I haven't driven it yet, but it is stylish and looks to be well-made, inside and out.

Be sure to check out the new Accord before buying a competing model, though. You may decide it is well worth a little extra money.

Click here to see more of the 2008 Honda Accord sedan.

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