DRIVE TIME


The Accord Gets Comfy

Mark Solheim

Honda spins this growth much the way you'd tell a man he hasn't grown heavy, he's now "husky,"



More than 20 models crowd the midsize, midprice sedan market, but it's essentially a three-way horse race: The Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Toyota Camry account for 50% of sales.

The back story is that the Accord, once prized for its nimble, sporty handling, has been losing sales to the even nimbler and sportier Altima. The Accord also lost ground this year to the redesigned Camry, which kept its soft-riding suspension and no-frills interior but wrapped them in a more contemporary and pleasing package.

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So Honda has taken a gamble with its eighth-generation Accord. The company figures it can win more buyers with a larger, more "refined" Accord. The car essentially has grown to suit baby-boomers' expanding torsos and evolving tastes. Now that the 2008 Accord is in dealer showrooms, the question is, will the gamble pay off?

Baby got back

The sedan's redesigned exterior reflects the Accord's more mature, more sedate feel. The back end is higher and looks thicker and wider. The hood is elongated and taller. The car has grown by 3 inches in length and 1 inch in width. That translates into more interior space, edging the model into the large-sedan class.

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Honda's press office spins this growth much the way you'd tell a man he hasn't grown heavy, he's now "husky." The Accord, it says, has "grown larger to meet the needs of an audience that values hospitality, with 'equal' front and rear seating comfort for four adults."

By Honda's measurements, rear-occupant "knee space" has increased by 3 inches, putting the Accord within striking distance of the Lexus LS 460 and other large luxury sedans. Passengers get 1.5 inches more width, and the front seats are farther apart, allowing for a wider center console. For the young at heart, there's still the coupe. Unlike earlier-generation Accord coupes, which modified the sedan's lines only slightly, the 2008 coupe has unique sheet metal. The raked roofline extends to the rear end for a fresh, sporty look.

Under the skin

Despite the sedan's AARP-ready appearance, it is still a fine performer on the road. The 3.5-liter V6 engine adds 24 horsepower for a total of 268 (equal to Camry's), and acceleration is as quick and smooth as ever. Increased rigidity and a new double-wishbone front suspension keep the handling responsive and the ride refined.

Fuel economy is superb, thanks to Honda's Variable Cylinder Management technology. The latest version allows the V6 engine to operate on three or four cylinders instead of six, resulting in fuel economy of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces up to 190 hp and gets 22 mpg city, 31 highway with the standard five-speed manual.

Safety gets a boost, too. Electronic stability control, which helps avoid skids, is standard across the Accord lineup. Six airbags are also standard, including front side airbags that protect your torso and pelvis individually. Inside, the navigation system no longer uses a touch screen; it is controlled either by voice command or with a dial. A Bluetooth hands-free phone connection is available only with navigation.

The 2008 Accord's sticker is firmly in midprice territory. The sedan starts at $20,995 for the four-cylinder manual LX and $26,595 for the EX V6 (automatic transmission only). The V6 model with navigation and leather costs $30,895. The coupe starts at $22,495 for the four-cylinder version and $28,945 for the V6.




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