First Drive: 2008 Honda Accord Sedan

2008 Honda Accord Sedan First Drive

2008 Honda Accord Sedan

(2.4L 4-cyl. 5-speed Manual)

New Look! Same Great Taste!

We admit that after a day of driving the redesigned 2008 Honda Accord, our reporter's notebook was completely blank.

It's not that there's nothing to say about how the 2008 Accord drives. It's that the Accord drives as brilliantly as it always has. In the rising tide of class sophistication, the Accord has maintained its position among competitors. It's smoother than the sometimes coarse Nissan Altima. And it's more alert in its responses than the cushy, isolated Toyota Camry.

And it has been a recipe for success. For more than 20 years the Honda Accord has defined the modern American middle-of-the-road sedan.

Trouble is there's a flipside to all that sensible, middle-of-the-road low-fat goodness and sales success. The Accord has always been bland and ubiquitous.

Not anymore.

All Fancy-Like
Take a look. The 2008 Accord sedan doesn't really look like an Accord sedan. It's, it's...well, it isn't as bland as it used to be. Actually, much like its Accord coupe brother, it's kinda cool-looking.

Gone is the sloping front end that Honda believed made the Accord look like a grown-up economy car. It is replaced by a tall, proud nose that the automaker says makes the car look more upscale. A new six-pointed grille is surrounded by thick chrome trim as if to advertise its new prominence. There is a sharp gouge dug into the flank, rising from the front fender, through the doors and to the tail. It's a dead ringer for the one on the Acura TL. The C-pillar is now more substantial-looking and vaguely BMW-like.

If the collective opinion of a random smattering of Chowderheads is to be taken as gospel then Honda has succeeded. We sampled the car in Boston and every passerby thought the car looked much more expensive than a Honda Accord. It is, no matter your aesthetic sensibilities, categorically not insipid.

Just like a Town Car
Honda is eager to mention that the 2008 Accord is now one of the few midsize sedans that's actually a large car. And by "large" Honda is referring to the EPA's classification, which is judged by adding the cubic volume of the interior and the cubic volume of the trunk. If the resulting number is 120 cubic feet or more, then the car in question is a "large" car.

Assuming you don't order the moonroof, which Honda says steals 5 cubic feet from the interior, the Accord squeaks in with exactly 120 cubes.

Does this really matter? Well, yes. If the fascination with big SUVs and full-size pickups proved anything, it is that bigger is still better in the minds of many consumers. And surely the folks who get stuck in the backseat will appreciate the extra legroom the enlarged Accord brings. The 2008 Accord's 2.3-inch longer wheelbase (to 110.2 inches) and 1-inch-taller body yield noticeable, if not dramatic improvements in all measures of interior roominess. Overall the car is 3.2 inches longer.

It's still no Chrysler 300, but neither will your head be brushing the headliner. And Honda notes that it added more space between the driver and passenger and widened the center console to give a more expansive feeling to the interior. Personally, we felt we had become estranged from our co-driver, but only by 40 millimeters.

Strips of Toffee
And the interior ambience is a long, long way from where the Accord started back in 1976. It is, predictably, much closer in aura to a current Acura.

That's certainly true of the high-end EX-L V6 model that we spent the most time in, with its 270-watt stereo, navigation system and butter-colored leather separated from the mocha latte dash by strips of toffee. It's delicious.

Our ears also measured a slight reduction in tire hum and bump-thuds (a term we just coined) over the previous Accord. More sound-deadening material was part of the solution. But so were myriad changes to stiffen key parts of the body, including the floor panel, front wheel housings and upper suspension mounts.

One thing Honda has never had any trouble with is building smooth motors. This remains the case. But Honda has thrown itself a curveball for 2008 by using a variable cylinder management (VCM) system on all V6-powered sedans. The VCM system can run the optional new 3.5-liter V6 on six, four or three cylinders, depending on driving conditions. Six is for uphill climbs and accelerating. Four-cylinder operation is for expressway driving. And the Accord becomes a three-banger for relaxed city cruising/coasting.

To quell the inevitable vibrations while the engine was running on three or four cylinders, Honda uses active engine mounts and active noise control system. It's a similar system the company used for the ill-fated Accord Hybrid, a model for which there will be no replacement going forward. That we never heard or felt any additional raucousness when the engine was running on fewer than six cylinders is as high praise as we can offer.

It also brings a 4-mile-per-gallon increase in highway fuel economy. Tested by the EPA's new, stricter standard, the V6 with the five-speed automatic (the only transmission available in V6-powered sedans) should get 19 mpg city and 29 mpg highway.

The new V6 is a half-liter larger than the motor it replaces to fortify it in the midsize-sedan horsepower war. At 268 hp at 6,200 rpm and 248 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm, the new Honda V6 is essentially the equal of the V6s of its two main rivals, the Toyota Camry (268 hp) and Nissan Altima (270 hp). And it's smoother than either.

Still, the updated 190-hp 2.4-liter four in the EX trimline is more than enough engine to get the job done, particularly when bolted to the five-speed manual transmission. It delivers better fuel economy than the V6 (22/31) and, allied with the new Accord's bigger 18.5-gallon fuel tank, could provide more than 500 miles of driving between fill-ups.

The LX model Accord comes with a 177-hp version of the same four-cylinder but without the EX power train's high-flow muffler and more aggressive power train control module tuning.

The Accord might be quieter, larger and more powerful, but it retains its lithe feel, even if it is no lighter than a Camry. It handles with understated competence. Honda has managed to mount the engine and gas tank lower in this generation Accord and raised the roll center of the front and rear suspensions, yielding good roll control without firming up the ride.

The steering system feels friction-free and accurate as we've come to expect and now incorporates a variable gear ratio.With big steering inputs, as in parking lots, the system delivers a faster ratio for better maneuverability. And for the first time in the model's history, all Accords come standard with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic stability control.

Dual-chamber front-side airbags, front and rear curtain side airbags and active front head restraints designed to reduce whiplash in rear-end collisions are also standard across the board.

Even when you're not crashing, the new Accord is a pleasant place to be, with a good level of standard equipment. Even the budget-minded LX comes with steering wheel-mounted audio controls and cruise control along with the expected power features. And you can load up an Accord to full-luxury status if that is your want with Bluetooth, a navigation system with voice recognition and automatic headlights.

Pricing hasn't been finalized, but Honda says some models will see no price increase while others will cost only between $200 and $500 more than the equivalent '07s. So figure that an LX will start around $21,000 and an EX V6 will begin at just a smidge over $30,000. The 2008 Accord goes on sale September 12.

All's Still Well
The sun rose today. The earth is still spinning around the sun at a comfortable 67,000 mph. Britney Spears is still acting out. There is no need to panic. The Honda Accord is still a Honda Accord. And if Honda sells as many of the 2008s as it has of every previous model over the last two decades, even the new styling will become familiar — maybe even bland, eventually.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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