This morning I rolled out of bed, performed my morning ablutions, downed a bowl of Raisin Bran, dropped my sons off at school and started my stop-and-go commute to work. A never-ending stream of blinking taillights precedes me up and down the interstate through the pre-dawn din. Wannabe comedians inanely chatter and squawk through my radio. Finally my exit arrives: a lightly traveled mile-long arcing two-lane spur that connects interstate to turnpike. In a brief burst of adrenaline energy that widens my bleary eyes, I break away from the gridlock and shoot up the ramp. In third gear I push up to 80 mph as my car confidently hunches down and steers precisely through the sweeping turn. By the time I join the turnpike I coast down and assimilate into the flow of the traffic. These brief thrills make me glad that I opted for a sportier, nimble handling family sedan. But I drive an ’01 Accord. The 2009 Accord LX is no fun at all.
I make this assessment in the context of a four-car comparison, including the Toyota Camry, Mazda Mazda6 Sport, and Nissan Altima 2.5. [NB: domestic comparo to follow.] In these trying times, economy is the word. So I selected economical base model four-door four-banger examples rather than up-optioned V6 variants. In keeping with the family-hauler theme, the only options I insisted on were A/C, power door locks and windows and an automatic transmission, all of which are now standard fare at dealerships.
When it comes to the battle of the bulge, the Accord takes the cake– and eats it. At 194.1” in length and 72.7” in width, the ’09 Accord edges out the new supersized Mazda6 as the biggest of the bunch. This is a distinction that philosophically clashes with Honda’s long standing reputation for minimalist restraint.
Also in conflict: the Accord’s styling. Designers clearly wanted to project solidity and practicality. At the same time, they seemed desperately intent on avoiding pejorative blandness. Throw in a dash of Bavarian me-too-ism and you end up with a bad case of Japanese angst. The new grille takes on the blockier form motif lifted from the new Pilot. Meanwhile, deep but narrow cuts scar the car’s lateral lines.
Yet, the longer I look at the new form, the more it grows on me. Honda fans can take some solace in the fact that the new Accord is much easier on the eyes than arch rival Camry.
A large exterior allows room for a large interior, of which Honda takes full advantage. The Accord gives passengers an extra four cubic feet of space to inhabit. All Accord trim levels get radio controls placed on the steering wheel and an auxiliary audio jack under the center arm rest for your iPod. But the stereo itself fails to impress; it’s the thinnest sounding system amongst this family sedan grouping. It’s a deficit the Accord can ill afford; the Accord does the worst job of our quartet at silencing road noise.
The Accord’s large and easily navigated buttonry arrayed up the dash’s center stack lacks the same qualitative look and feel of prior generation Accords. No, Honda hasn’t fallen to Chrysler levels of cheapness when it comes to component plastics. Not even close. But it’s a disturbing trend.
What looks good on paper doesn’t always translate well in the real world. The Accord LX is a perfect example. Honda claims 177 hp, the most highly horsed sedan of the bunch. A 3,289 lbs., it’s the second-lightest. Yet it drives like it is 500 lbs. heavier than any of the others. Punch the engine at 50 mph and the journey to 80 mph is slow and ponderous. Even the Camry seems to move with greater alacrity. Blame this on the low torque engine, which ties Camry for weakest twist at 161 lb-ft @ 4300 rpms. Peak horsepower doesn’t eek-out until hitting a screaming 6500 rpms.
Unlike the Toyota, however, the Accord manages to keep its composure through high speed cornering. That weighty feeling returns when you stomp on the brakes, though. Hop on the pedal and the rear end bucks upward like a mad brahma. The standard four-wheel disk brakes are much improved over prior LX iterations, but softness still contributes to the illusion of heaviness.
At the end of the day when I drove home I listen to an old Police favorite:
Another working day has ended,
Only the rush hour hell to face,
Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes,
Contestants in a suicidal race,
Daddy grips the wheel and stares alone into the distance…
Any characteristics that the Accord once had that could infuse some excitement into a bleak commute have been engineered away. Comfortable yes. Satisfying no.