Karl Brauer, Editor in Chief
After a recent discussion among Edmund's editors about the merits of two-door coupes versus four-door sedans, it was decided that a coupe's only real purpose is to make a statement about the vehicle's driver. A two-door car says, "Hey, look at me. I've yet to be burdened with baby seats, visiting in-laws or carpools." This, of course, assumes that the driver in question has no spouse, children or neighborhood co-workers. If he does, than a coupe says, "Hey, look at me. I'm a selfish bastard who refuses to grow up and accept my fate."
Whether you fall into category one or two, the important point to remember is that nobody needs a coupe. A four-door sedan will always offer more practicality and functionality than its two-door equivalent, which is probably what leads the majority of coupe buyers away from sedans. These people want to make it clear that the last thing on their minds is utility. At the same time, however, not even coupe buyers want a cramped interior with inefficient ergonomics and a lack of storage space. Remember the important point here is to appear carefree and impractical while still having a convenient place to store your appointment book and morning coffee on your way to work.
Honda's Accord coupe (completely redesigned in '98 and left unchanged for '99) answers the coupe-buyer's call with a healthy mix of pragmatic ergonomics and solid performance wrapped in a stylish shell. Sharing only its headlights, door handles and gauge cluster with the stodgy and unromantic Accord sedan, the coupe projects a crisp and purposeful image while retaining its familial heritage. The EX V6 model comes standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, leather interior with wood trim, and a four-speed automatic transmission. Unlike the Toyota Camry Solara, there is no manual transmission available with the 3.0-liter V6 engine. Within an hour of picking up our bright red coupe, we saw another, almost identical bright red EX V6 model with the dealer-installed rear spoiler, lower body kit and exhaust system. It surprised us that only a few modifications could so drastically improve a car's appearance. If you are already popping for the EX V6 model, and want to maximize your coupe's image, you should consider these Honda-certified add-ons.
As mentioned earlier, even a coupe has to offer more than just unencumbered looks. Honda applied its philosophy of functionality when designing the Accord's interior and came up with a roomy, comfortable and ergonomically correct passenger compartment. Highlighting the coupe's practical side are numerous storage compartments scattered throughout the interior. These include a large glove compartment, spacious center console, convenient dash bin, innovative sunglasses' holder and usable door pockets. With this level of interior storage, you could almost describe the Accord coupe as a two-door minivan (but remember, as a coupe buyer, you'd never want to admit to this). Complementing the coupe's interior storage is a trunk that can swallow 14.1 cubic feet of athletic gear, audio equipment, or baby clothes and diapers (Not that you, as a footloose individual, ever transport baby paraphernalia, right?).
From the driver's seat the Accord offers an excellent view of the road with its wide, sloped windshield and thin A-pillars. The rear view is equally expansive since the coupe's B- and C-pillars are relatively small and the rear window relatively large. The effective (and body-colored) side mirrors further add to visibility, making blind spots almost nonexistent.
Interior controls are thoughtfully laid out with only a few exceptions. For instance, we love the large dials on the radio and climate controls, but wish the temperature and fan-speed dials were more clearly labeled. The steering wheel-mounted radio and cruise-control buttons offer much-appreciated convenience, but the sunroof button is located in the last place you'd look (lower dash, left of steering-wheel column). The cupholder door, which is located in the center console and opens toward the passenger instead of the driver, also had us perplexed. Perhaps it's a leftover cue from the right-hand-drive Accords of Japan? Maybe, but since this Accord coupe is assembled in America, that seems like a stretch.
Overall, however, we have to commend Honda on putting together a simple and straightforward interior that leaves little room for confusion or consternation. The gauges are large and easy to read, the power window, seat and mirror switches have a solid feel, and the automatic shift lever provides a pleasing "snick-snick" when moved between gears. For those automakers who have grown tired of hearing Edmunds lambaste your interior design, please stop by your nearest Honda dealer and take note.
One area where we don't recommend copying Honda is on its choice of leather suppliers. Driving this Accord coupe provided our second opportunity in less than a week to experience Honda's version of cowhide. In both cases the material failed our "pleasing to the touch" test; feeling more like glorified vinyl than true leather. This is particularly surprising since our recently acquired 328i long-term car's interior, which is equipped with BMW's "leatherette" vinyl, feels much softer than this coupe's true leather material. If Honda is trying to control costs, maybe they should follow BMW's lead. We'll take less-expensive and "softer-than-expected" vinyl over "plasticky" leather any day.
Chances are you're probably not buying an Accord coupe just to rub the leather or fiddle with the strangely located sunroof switch. If driving is your primary concern (after appearing young and carefree, of course) than the two-door version of Honda's best-selling car has plenty to offer. The 3.0-liter V6 is probably one of the sweetest powerplants currently available. Honda has managed to provide both low-end torque and the requisite high-end, VTEC rush in one engine. With 200 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque on tap, the V6-equipped coupe gets to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds. What that number doesn't convey is the seamless and refined behavior of this engine that can be appreciated only from behind the steering wheel.
The coupe's suspension and brakes are equally refined, showing adequate dampening and braking abilities in all but the most extreme cases. As a "sporty coupe" we'd like to see a bit less suspension movement when assaulting canyon roads. Also, the brakes displayed a less-appealing Honda-like characteristic when pushed into maximum stopping duty. Specifically, they chatter audibly while producing an excessive amount of ABS brake-pedal pulse. We've seen this same behavior in recent tests of the Acura TL, Honda Odyssey and CR-V, as well. Stopping distances appear unaffected with the car needing a tidy 135 feet to halt from 60 mph. Toyota's Solara coupe posts similar stopping numbers, but with far less drama. Perhaps, as with the leather issue, Honda might want to address this trait at some point.
A few traits we don't normally associate with Hondas made an unwelcome appearance on our test car. The most annoying was the coupe's factory tires that nearly neutralized its cornering ability. We're used to standard equipment tires that are somewhat noisy and squishy, but the MXV4 Michelins wrapped around this coupe's 16-inch alloy wheels were just plain useless in terms of adhesion. Driving with any amount of enthusiasm through tight corners resulted in exorbitant front-end plow as the tires gave up with little warning. The tire problem compounded yet another virtue we don't normally associate with Hondas: slow steering and inadequate power assist. When negotiating quick left-right transitions, it was possible to "over run" the power steering, creating a momentary spike in steering-wheel resistance that required a healthy increase in effort to overcome. This was an uncommon occurrence, but it happened more than once and, when combined with the slow steering ratio and slippery tires, greatly reduced the car's driving pleasure. Since we experienced no tire or steering problems when testing Acura's version of the Accord coupe (a '98 3.0CL) last August, we're not sure if the culprit is brand, model, model-year, or test-vehicle specific.
After one week and several hundred miles with Honda's Accord coupe, it's clear that the company has succeeded in creating something more than a two-door sedan. From a styling, comfort and interior design perspective, the coupe focuses on the driver first, leaving any passengers to fend for themselves and requiring the inevitable "SHOTGUN!" call if there's more than one. At the same time, it offers sufficient roominess and convenience to those coupe buyers who should probably be sedan buyers but refuse to go quietly into that night. Two full-sized adults and a child safety seat will fit in the back, adequately if not completely comfortably. And the trunk can hold plenty of groceries as well as the occasional diaper genie. For the individual needing more room and less performance than his sports car supplies, but who also dreads the thought of owning a sedan, the Accord coupe makes an ideal compromise.
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