Capsule Review: 1990-1993 Honda Accord

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

Old Volvo’s don’t die. They just get increasingly decrepit. But they’re far from alone in my neck of the woods. Cars in North Georgia enjoy a low salt, smooth road diet that can keep even the worst vehicles roadworthy. Hyundai Excel? A dozen here and there. Old AMC Pacer? The weirdo down the the road has one. The paint may be toast, but the body’s intact. An early 1990’s Honda Accord? Well now we’re talking about what I lovingly call ‘a beater leader’. Like Waffle House, Baptist Churches and Kudzu, they’re everywhere.

In 1990 Honda decided to get into the refrigerator market. Seriously. Most of these cars have as much personality as the late Roger Smith. Three box design. Lines that only give out the softest of curves at certain angles. The Honda Accord was/is/will always be a toaster on wheels in much the same way as a Volvo 240. Except this generation marked their first battle in the Taurus dominated midsized world. Soichiro equipped the Japanese virgin in plain-Jane garb… but with some surprisingly well kept secrets underneath.

The first was a 2.2L four banger that made it virtually indestructible. Rev it like a bastard. It won’t care. This engine came from the same company that dominated everything from scooters to sports cycles by this point. Even in a midsized market dominated by V6’s, the Honda four made enough power to make the Accord above average. Acceleration is there when you need it… and most still people didn’t care.

The interior was nice as well. Everything was easily found and extremely simple to operate. With that said though, the Taurus was better by the time it got reskinned in 1991. The Accord’s ride was a bit more involving than the floaty Taurus. But Honda competed in the ‘appliance’ market. The taut ride wasn’t worthy of best in class either.

There were three things that made this vehicle remarkable. The first is that Honda simplified everything. From the design, to the assembly, to the upkeep. Honda offered one model. One engine. Two transmissions (manual or automatic), and surprisingly few assembly parts.

The focus on ‘simplicity’ made the Accord a quality leader. While the Americans were still struggling to offer quality products, Honda had an assembly line in Marysville, OH that simply wouldn’t quit (and never needed to). GM would struggle to sell a few dozen Cavaliers in Japan while Honda would export thousands of Accords to the land of the rising sun. By the time Chrysler was on the brink (again), and Ford was busy ignoring rampant tranny issues with their Taurus, Honda was rapidly becoming a best seller without the help of the domestics all too vital rental car business to inflate annual numbers.

The second landmark achievement for Honda was their five-speed manual. It was simply the best in class. Forget about Luminas and Camrys, not even a Corvette or Camaro handshaker of the day could match it. Shifts are as pure as silk with only the slightest bit of notchiness after many years of use.

Speaking of which, Honda was still blessed with a sporty soul at this point. You can get any body style you wanted with the handshaker. Coupe, sedan, wagon. They all offered that option along with each trim line. Loaded EX’s (cherry vanilla), mid-level LX’s (plain vanilla), and stripper DX’s (cheap ass vanilla) would inevitably offer thousands of teenagers and budget minded folks an escape from the numbness of most family haulers.

Honda’s culture of sport at that time would eventually make many of their cars the equivalent a poor man’s BMW. But not really. The Prelude at the time was an equal to the 318i. The Integra was well on it’s way to becoming a legend in it’s own right. The Accord Coupe? Well, it was better than both on the highway. By offering the handshaker in coupes, sedans and wagons, Honda would offer a welcome escape from a midsized market riddled with slushboxes and V6’s bent on pushrods. On the used car market these cars are still worthy of their premium.

Finally, and it pains to me to even mention this. The 1990-1993 Honda Accord is a far more reliable AND durable vehicle than the Volvo 240 can ever hope to be. It’s lights and switches don’t futz out. The blower motor doesn’t require a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering to remove. And the powertrain offers a comparable level of longevity with about 20% to 30% better fuel economy. The result?

These cars are more common than any other beater on the road. Period. At one major intersection, I saw no fewer than five of them. Drive five miles in any direction, you’re guaranteed to see at least one. Of course, many have paint that’s starting to discombobulate and others have road scars that indicate their eventual expendability with their younger drivers. But they work.

Parents don’t have to worry about their kids being stranded somewhere between civilization and Deliverance. Budget minded folks don’t have to worry about getting constant repair bills that require selling or junking. These cars last. Ten years from now I’m willing to bet that folks still look at this Accord in the same way we now look at a 1980’s Mercedes. Just another car on the road.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on Jul 09, 2010

    I have had a few of these cars, and in my enthusiastic exhuberance I have killed 2 of the 3. They are incredible cars though, and while a solid low mileage version is getting harder and harder to find, the good examples still on the road show why Honda dominated in the early-mid 90s (ESPECIALLY compared to its American competition). They have a strong enthusiast following as well due to their plug-n-play interchangeability with same year and following Preludes. My 1st and 3rd cars both had various engine parts from the 2.3 DOHC Prelude that really opened up the top end, and my 2nd one had what was speculated to be a built DOHC VTEC Prelude engine that really had some kick (enough to impress my friend who owned an S2000 at the time. We determined through controlled lab testing that his car was marginally faster though). The solid build quality combined with the space age suspension, BMW quality shift linkage and family car practicalities make this a hidden gem for cheap gear heads in search of the one car solution. I know several gearheads with an almost unhealthy obsession with these cars (a friend of mine has whittled down his collection from about 6 to 3; a pristine '93 SE coupe that serves daily driver duty, a built turbocharged sedan and his brother's Fast N Furious heap)... they're just that good. Being in NYC though, with the rust and these cars current popularity amongst the poor and young, it grows damn near impossible to find a good example. Hell my 1st car outright died (oil pump failure a few months after an impact with a huge pothole) and my 3rd one has a rod knock (3rd engine replacement in a year). Still though, the East will rise again in my future garage, as soon as I'm out of the rust belt with a space to work on them. In short, I love these cars.

  • Stereorobb Stereorobb on Jun 19, 2019

    "Ten years from now I’m willing to bet that folks still look at this Accord in the same way we now look at a 1980’s Mercedes. Just another car on the road." its been ten years. these are still going strong but the numbers are finally dwindling. early examples will be able to sport antique tags here in florida next year. the ones i do still see are pretty clapped but still going strong. the automotive landscape was very different then it is today. 80s mercedes and lexus ls400s used to be constant and common sights here as well but have all vanished mostly.

  • Stephen My "mid-level" limited edition Tonino Lambo Ferraccio Junior watch has performed flawlessly with attractive understated style for nearly 20 years. Their cars are not so much to my taste-- my Acura NSX is just fine. Not sure why you have such condescension towards these excellent timepieces. They are attractive without unnecessary flamboyance, keep perfect time and are extremely reliable. They are also very reasonably priced.
  • Dana You don’t need park, you set auto hold (button on the console). Every BMW answers to ‘Hey, BMW’, but you can set your own personal wake word in iDrive. It takes less than 5 minutes to figure that that out, btw. The audio stays on which is handy for Teams meetings. Once your phone is out of range, the audio is stopped on the car. You can always press down on the audio volume wheel which will mute it, if it bothers you. I found all the controls very intuitive.
  • ToolGuy Not sure if I've ever said this, or if you were listening:• Learn to drive, people.Also, learn which vehicles to take home with you and which ones to walk away from. You are an adult now, think for yourself. (Those ads are lying to you. Your friendly neighborhood automotive dealer, also lying to you. Politicians? Lying to you. Oh yeah, learn how to vote lol.)Addendum for the weak-minded who think I am advocating some 'driver training' program: Learning is not something you do in school once for all time. Learning how to drive is not something that someone does for you. It is a continuous process driven by YOU. Learn how to learn how to drive, and learn to drive. Keep on learning how to drive. (You -- over there -- especially you, you kind of suck at driving. LOL.)Example: Do you know where your tires are? When you are 4 hours into a 6 hour interstate journey and change lanes, do you run over the raised center line retroreflective bumpers, or do you steer between them?
  • Mike Bradley Advertising, movies and TV, manufacturing, and car culture have all made speeding and crashing the ultimate tests of manhood. Throw in the political craziness and you've got a perfect soup of destruction and costs.
  • Lou_BC Jay Leno had said that EV's would be good since they could allow the continued existence of ICE cars for enthusiasts. That sentiment makes sense. Many buyers see vehicles as a necessary appliance.