“Hurry up,” the woman at the counter said, “because when you get back they are waiting to take it to the auction.” The odometer read just over forty-nine thousand, eight hundred miles. It would have been temptingly romantic to think of this as a last ride on a trusty horse before it went to the knacker’s, but let’s get real: forty-nine K on an Accord is just getting started. As John Mayer once sang, it might be a quarter-life crisis. Let’s get rolling.
Four years ago, Jonny Lieberman penned a rather enthusiastic paean to a six-speed manual variant of the V-6 previous-gen Accord, but our test example is the far, far more common five-speed automatic, using 244 horsepower to push about 3,300 pounds down the road. For the past four years, this has been nobody’s car, shuffling around between fleet users, loaner trips, and general neglect. The wheels have been curbed, there are scrapes and dings all the way ’round, and the interior shows measurable wear on all the touch points. You wouldn’t treat your Accord this way, unless you hated it.
I couldn’t help but compare the Accord’s condition to the Sonata I rented earlier this year. With similar mileage, the Accord was showing slightly more wear on an interior that, honestly, didn’t seem assembled to quite the same standard. In particular, sun-related fading was evident on the leather in several places. I don’t think it’s particularly fair to a car to let it sit out in the Ohio summer sun for a few years without so much as a dab of Lexol. On the positive side, the plastic-esque leather had less cracking in it than the seats of a few four-thousand-mile Porsches I’ve driven lately.
Upon its introduction, the seventh-generation Accord seemed like a big car, and the 2006 facelift did make it the first “mid-sized” Honda to crack the 190-inch mark. It’s a solid foot longer than the hidden-headlamp Accord sedans that prowled the neighborhood of my youth, and almost three feet longer than a ’77 hatchback. How quickly times change. Compared to the current Malibu, Sonata, or — yes — Accord, this is a low-waisted wisp of a car, with an invisible hood and controls set way down in one’s lap. Visibility is disturbingly good. I fear the Accord that will make the current model feel this small, but from what I’ve read the 2012 or 2013 car will actually be “right-sized” a bit. Good.
On the road, the experience is pure generic Camcord. The transmission is slow to respond and the torque converter has plenty of slip, but the engine’s willingness to rev offsets this a bit. It’s certainly fast enough for most purposes, but I wouldn’t bother to get the V-6. Accords are meant to be four-cylinder cars in the same way that every full-sized American car ever built deserves to burble with a sound of a lightly-muffled vee-eight. The steering is accurate and forthright, and the brakes were up to the rather modest task of freeway cruising set before this particular vehicle.
Having just driven fifty miles in my Town Car, I wasn’t surprised that the Honda seemed loud and rough in comparison, but I was surprised at the refinement gap between this car and the current-gen Accord. Wind noise was high, road noise was everywhere, and the engine sounded positively industrial, even at high revs. You can’t make a car this big this light without cutting something out somewhere, and I suspect thin glass and a low amount of insulation are responsible for the mechanical medley which swings well past susurrus.
It’s easy to see, in retrospect, why General Motors was so confident about the Malibu. It must have seemed that they were bringing a gun to a knife fight, producing a car which was more spacious, quieter, sleeker, and considerably more stylish than the Japanese competition. What a surprise, then, to see that the succeeding Accord became a Japanese Malibu itself, swelling to a point that the Chevrolet looked modestly sized and styled.
Jonny’s review of this automobile painted it, rather improbably, as a Japanese BMW killer. I see things a bit differently. Although my test car was undergoing a bit of a quarter-life crisis, it was produced by a company undergoing a full-fledged mid-life variant of same. This Accord can’t decide if it’s a small car or a large car. It offers a big engine and an automatic transmission but neither perform as buyers in the segment truly expect. It’s long but relatively narrow, spacious where it needs to be but rather insubstantial-feeling, expensive but noisy. It would be best sampled as a manual-transmission four-cylinder, with the outdated-looking LCD center display left on the options rack and the not-quite leather ditched in favor of sensible cloth.
Think of it as a toe dipped in the Rubicon. After this car, Honda would give up on many of the things that made a car feel Honda-like. The low cowl and nervous road feel would disappear. The V-6 would become the engine of choice, the dashboard would swell, the look would change from friendly to deliberately intimidating. Yet in this particular model, there isn’t enough of the old Honda left to charm. Jonny found the Accord to be a revelation, but I can only find a Revelation, namely 3:15:
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
Any classically educated person knows the next verse, right?