Honda Accord More fun than it looks
Note: This article first appeared in the Spring 99 issue of Used Cars.
Honda is the car company that wasn't supposed to be. Riding the wave of a successful motorcycle manufacturing business, so the legend goes, Honda thought that it should build cars, too. The powers-that-be in Japan at the time, which included powerful government ministries and the other car companies, thought that Honda was doing just fine as a motorcycle manufacturer. Both groups actively discouraged Honda and withheld assistance and cooperation from the fledgling upstart. Honda soldiered on, initially producing some funky and tiny chain driven automobiles. In the late sixties Honda started building real (but still tiny) cars, and fixed their sights on the holy grail of automobile markets -- America.
Honda's first breakthrough car, the Civic, came to these shores at a most opportune time. 1973 saw gas lines, escalating gas prices and a sudden demand for small, cheap and fuel efficient cars. The Civic was an inspired piece of work, arguably the best mini of the time and even more remarkable in that it was produced by such a young company. Honda had struck paydirt.
In 1976 the Accord debuted and Honda had another hit on their hands. The first Accords were not without problems, including frequent blown head gaskets, unit bodies that rusted out from under you and suspect brakes. But Honda took care of their customers and fixed many of them multiple times for free. Detroit had never seen such a thing! And Honda had won a lot of converts.
Since then each redesign has seen it grow (mostly) both in sophistication and size. But it remained a pleasant, responsive, and satisfying car to drive -- even in base form.
In 1979, Honda built a motorcycle plant in Ohio and in late 1982 became the first Japanese manufacturer to produce automobiles on American soil. About three quarters of the Accords sold in the U.S. were (are) built in Ohio, with the balance imported from Japan.
A 5-speed manual transmission was standard fare, with a 4-speed automatic optional across the board. For 1995 things stayed pretty much the same except for the availability of an updated version of the old Acura 2.7 liter V6 making 170hp. Unfortunately, this was mated only to an automatic transmission. 1996 brought slightly redesigned bumpers, parking lights, and a chrome grille for all models. Previously, the chrome accent on the grille appeared only on the V6 equipped cars. The '97 model brought no changes except for the addition of the customary last year Accord "Special Edition" (SE) model that touted such standard equipment as power moonroof, alloys, remote entry, and CD player.
In typical Honda fashion, fit and finish are excellent. All body gaps are straight and true and the paint quality is among the best in the business.
Sit in an Accord and all buttons, switches, levers and pedals are right where you'd expect them to be. They all feel just right, too. After the ridicule Honda endured with the funky dash on the last Prelude, it's doubtful you'll see a daring dash design in a Honda for a while. But at least the mold they've settled on is awfully good.
And of course that low cowl, a Honda trademark, gives great visibility and adds an airy feeling to the cabin.
Front seat occupants are cradled in supportive and firm - but not overly so - seats that are extremely comfortable. You'll sit a little low unless you have an EX or V6 LX with its power seat with up and down adjustment. Even with the low seating position headroom is at a premium for anyone over 5' 11".
The trunk is small, rated at only 13 cubic feet and really more in line with cars a step down in size. It is all usable, however, with a flat floor and gas struts to control the deck lid so there are no conventional hinges to restrict the placement of your stuff. And a fold down rear seat back (not split) increases the versatility of the space available.
The noise level is low at idle and around town. Two examples we looked at had rather rough and clattery idles. As these were the exceptions to the rule, we have to assume that they may have needed some kind of attention. At highway speeds there is noticeable road noise filtering into the cabin. And like most 4-cylinder mills, hard acceleration raises the decibel level noticeably, although at elevated levels Honda's fours sound better than most everyone else's!
The automatic transmission employs "fuzzy logic" to make the right shift at the right time with the proper amount of smoothness. It was mostly successful, but at low speed the gear change between 1st and 2nd was sometimes abrupt. Honda's manual transmission is always at the top of the class. Light to the touch with just the right amount of mechanical feedback.
In government crash tests, Accord received a 4 star rating (very good) for the driver and a 3 star rating (good) for the front passenger. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's 40 mph offset barrier crash test, the Accord received an Acceptable rating.
Through our consumer help-line and conversations with mechanics and owners, we've found that while Honda's are very reliable, their reputation for repair-free, low-cost ownership may be slightly exaggerated. Honda possesses a solid track- record of taking care of owners whose car may be out of warranty. This behavior no doubt overcomes many complaints car buyers have with the "Honda Attitude" at its retailers, and pays off in owner loyalty.
That said, we can report that in talking to owners of '94-'97 models we have seen or heard of nothing but unfailing reliability. All Accords were covered by a 3yr/36 months bumper-to-bumper warranty, so many are still covered.
Parts costs are high, as the accompanying table illustrates. Quotes from Honda dealers were generally much higher than mail-order and parts store chains such as Chief Auto Parts, Pep Boys and NAPA. The premium for going factory was among the highest we've seen.
With a full double-wishbone suspension, the Accord does away with the McPherson struts most other cars have these days, so you'll only be in for shocks at replacement time. The recommended timing belt service is 90,000 miles.
Unfortunately, Honda decided to save a few bucks by not installing a stainless steel exhaust system. Service techs we spoke with say the A-pipe at the front generally lasts a while, but the rest of the system is not particularly robust. You'll notice many Hondas with a new muffler peeking out the back.
Finally, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's 5mph bumper bash into a flat barrier produced $303 worth of damage to the front bumper and $103 to the rear. The pole test upped the numbers to $714 and $476, respectively.
The value equation is a little more difficult to sort out. As with the Toyota Camry, we believe it to be somewhat pricey on the used market. After about four years, the Accord's value begins to fall off at a roughly equivalent rate as the Camry. Since it started a little lower, the absolute dollar drop is less, but still rather high.
We have seen Accord's premium dropping recently and with a large supply of them available, you should be able to bargain hard for a good deal, despite what a dealer may tell you.
With aggressive pricing and lease deals available on the current generation Accord (1998), you might be better off taking a hard look at a new one.
Note: Pricing comes from dealers, wholesale mail-order companies and independent parts stores. Average labor rate computed at $50/hr. Pricing can vary widely - shop around.
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