2003 Honda Accord Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
All-new, the seventh generation of this best-seller is dazzling.
We recently attended the introduction of the 2003 Accord in Hollywood, test driving all the models over the great roads of the Malibu hills. We have seen the future, and it is impressive. Honda might have outdone itself this time.
With more individual sales than any other car for nine out of the last ten years, the Honda Accord is champion of journeyman transportation. But with the new Accord, the champ has not only remade itself, it has re-invented a new self, without un-inventing the old self. There's still an everyday four-cylinder Accord, higher tech and higher quality. But now there's a gorgeous V6 Coupe with a lot more power and a six-speed gearbox, which will blow your notion of Accord off the old road.
The new Honda Accord comes in more than a dozen different combinations of engines, doors, transmissions and trim levels.
The Sedan is available in DX, LX and EX trim. The DX comes with an all-new, double-overhead-cam, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder, 160-horsepower engine (previously a 2.3-liter sohc) and with either a new five-speed manual or new five-speed automatic transmission. LX and EX models come with either the four-cylinder engine or a new 3.0-liter, 240-horsepower, single-overhead-cam V6 with another new five-speed automatic.
The Coupe is available in LX and EX trim, with either the four-cylinder or V6. The manual transmission is standard with the four-cylinder, the automatic optional. The LX V6 comes with its own automatic. The EX Coupe V6, a full-tilt sports sedan, comes with the automatic or a new six-speed manual transmission.
Anti-lock brakes are standard on all models. Upscale options, depending on the model, may include leather power seats, a moonroof, alloy wheels, steering-wheel audio controls, side airbags, side curtain airbags, and a new voice-activated DVD navigation system programmed with some eight million destinations. Say, 'Find nearest Japanese food' to the dashboard, and it will guide you there. Even better, if you know the phone number of a business establishment you're trying to reach, it will take you there.
For the electronically driven, dealers may install an MP3/Windows Media Player, DVD Rear Entertainment System, and hands-free cell phone.
The in-house theme to the new design, an engineering and marketing goal, was 'emotion.' Without losing any of the practicality that has sold millions of Accords, Honda wanted people to buy the new Accord because it moved their spirits as well as their bodies.
Honda stylists attempted to give the Accord the profile of a cheetah. This isn't easy to repeat without raised eyebrows; however its truth may be mostly a measure of what it means to be a mid-size sedan nowadays. And although no one is going to look at the Accord and say, 'Yikes, that looks just like a cheetah!' with a little imagination (and suggestion) you can suspend disbelief.
Although the styling is totally redesigned, the changes are gentle enough that no one will be shocked. The Sedan and Coupe share no sheetmetal whatsoever, although their faces do look alike. They feature a sharpened nose and angular headlamps, reminiscent of an Acura RSX. The corners and sides of both bodies are carefully sculpted with a combination of concave and convex angles, in this attempt to achieve a muscular and agile look, with subtle and unique three-dimensional window glass, also intended to reduce wind noise.
There's been a vast and impressive amount of attention to detail in this redesign, with more new parts than in any of the previous five redesigns. For example, the aerodynamically efficient sideview mirrors are one of the results of the wind tunnel testing.
The drag coefficient is 0.30, a big jump compared to 0.33 in 2002. The length of 189.5 inches is only 0.1 inch longer than the '02 Accord, but the wheelbase has been increased by one inch and width by 1.2 inches. The bottom of the rear bumper has been lowered by one inch, and the sculpted wheelwells have a smaller gap around the tires. The roof has been raised by 0.4 inch, but the car looks lower, thanks in part to a sleeker A pillar. The new roof allows more headroom: 0.4 inch more in the front, 0.8 inch in the rear.
Cheetahs aside, the Coupe is a completely different beast. Its flanks and rear deck are much more shapely, flowing naturally and gracefully from the roofline. Its dimensions are virtually identical to the '02 Coupe, but the high beltline, sweeping door lines, sleek roofline and smooth rear fenders give it striking good looks, especially in red. It yields a very aerodynamic 0.29 drag coefficient (0.32 last year) and makes even the upscale Acura CL look dated (a problem to be solved by a new CL, in the works).
Under the skin, the new unibody is 27 percent stiffer in torsional rigidity, which Honda boasts makes it stiffer than the BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and A6, and even the Mercedes S-Class. The doors are built using a new and unique method, invented for the Accord that makes them lighter and much stronger than before. You can clearly hear the quality in the sound when you close them. And feel it in the extremely light touch to open the trunk.
A new front subframe, with hydroformed elements (a state-of-the-art method to create complex shapes from high-strength steel), is designed to reduce noise and vibration from the engine and front suspension. It's also designed to slide back a few inches under the passenger compartment in a head-on crash, which better dissipates forces.
There's also a sophisticated new engine mounting system, designed not only reduce vibration and tighten handling, but to complement the subframe's crash behavior. Honda engineers are particularly proud of the fact that the 2003 Accord with side airbags is expected to achieve the industry's five-star crash rating in front, rear and side collisions, along with only the more expensive Volvo S60 and Lexus IS300.
The mission was an interior designer's dream. A whole new shell meant a clean sheet of paper for the interior, and designers were encouraged to utilize every known advancement in ergonomics, comfort, convenience and materials.
'I will sell you this car based on the seat alone!' boasted Charlie Baker, the project leader for the new Accord. But which car? The Sedan and Coupe seats are different, with the Coupe's bolstering providing a more secure fit at the torso, and a lower seating position. If our decision were based on the seat alone, we'd buy the Coupe. Especially in leather, much nicer than the velour, which curiously felt smoother in black-and-gray than brown-and-beige. That was probably in our head. But it definitely looked classier in black.
We did not get enough seat time in any of the models we drove to evaluate comfort after long hours in the saddle, which is the true test of a seat, but we can say that even the Sedan seat has a certain one-with-the-car feel.
The Sedan seat, for the masses, has been widened by 1.7 inches and its backrest made taller. The cushion, springs and new urethane padding are all intended to reduce vibration. The vertical travel in the manual LX seat, with lever operation, has been increased by 1.5 inches, a nice touch for women. The steering wheel has been angled more toward the driver and raised almost an inch. It tilts as before, and now telescopes as well, by 1.5 inches.
The space below the steering wheel and instrument panel was enlarged, and the foot room increased. But in the rear, the new front seats seem to have a mixed effect; there's slightly more knee clearance, but overall leg room has been reduced by 1.1 inches to 36.8 inches. That's 1 inch less than the 2002 Toyota Camry, but 0.4 more than the Nissan Altima and 1.5 inches more than the Volkswagen Passat.
Compared to these cars, the Accord Sedan trunk comes up small, with a volume of 14 cubic feet, although the flat floor will make it very easy to load things. The Camry has 17 cubic feet, Altima 16 and Passat 15. Now you can see the cheetah profile, in those numbers. The Coupe looks more like a cheetah. Its trunk holds 13 cubic feet.
The excellent, clear analog instrumentation is also all new, with large faces and LED illumination, another feature previously found only in higher-priced cars. There's dual-zone climate control on some EX models. The switchgear, primarily three big dials located in the center of the dash, is simple, if not particularly attractive. However the faux carbon fiber trim on one of the models we drove looked nice, while the brushed aluminum on other models wasn't bad either.
The simple big switchgear is a result of the successful search for efficient use of space, with the audio, climate and optional navigation systems integrated into a single unit. The freed space leads to exceptional cabin storage, including a good glovebox, big center console, bin under the audio system that will hold 12 CDs, and door pockets deep and wide enough for a purse.
All three sound systems are upgraded, featuring stuff like two-band compression and five-point parametric equalization, which sounds nice, pun intended. The Premium system includes a six-disc in-dash CD changer, having a 180-watt amplifier with four twin-neodymium speakers with polypropylene cone woofers and soft dome tweeters, which sounds even better. But here's the real-world test: We took the V6 Coupe six-speed on a flat-out blast through the Malibu hills, engine revving to redline, windows wide open, CD celebrating Bob Marley, and even with the exterior noise, max volume on the sound system wasn't necessary for the full effect.
The attention to detail shows in every corner: coinholders, cellphone cord hooks, grab handles over every door, console lights, power outlets, sunglass holders, sliding armrests for different-sized arms, convenient and versatile access to the trunk from the rear seat, a remote entry that opens or closes.
In the Malibu hills, we got good seat time in both the V6 and four-cylinder, with manual and automatic transmissions. Engines aside, the V6 Coupe is a totally different car than the four-cylinder Sedan. Let's start at the peak: 5000 rpm in the V6 Coupe with a six-speed gearbox.
A grin grows on your face at five grand, as if the corners of your mouth are connected to the tachometer needle. It's the growl that does it. The six-speed features a special resonator in the intake system, put there just for your listening pleasure. 'It took a lot of fussin' around to make that happen,' said Charlie Baker, revealing the extent to which Honda has gone to achieve that 'emotion' factor. You simply don't expect a Honda Accord to give you this kind of high-performance, sport-driving pleasure, but the 2003 V6 Coupe redefines Accord.
The new V6 is the same ideal 60-degree configuration as the old V6, but it's 20 pounds lighter and 1 inch shorter, and uses electronic elements such as drive-by-wire throttle. Its 240 horsepower is an increase of 40, and its 219 foot-pounds of torque is an increase of 19. It delivers an improved fuel mileage of 21/30 mpg with the automatic transmission, on regular fuel. This compares favorably to the four-cylinder; for 3 less miles per gallon, you get 80 more horsepower. There's no scheduled maintenance for 105,000 miles, and even oil changes are required only every 10,000 miles.
The Nissan Altima, which takes premium fuel for its V6, has been selling like crazy, based largely on its hot acceleration, and Baker says the Accord can just about match it. However, he adds with a smile, if you run premium fuel in your Accord you'll get more horsepower, and he's willing to bet it will be an Altima killer. Another pleasing thing about the new Accord V6 is that its torque range is broad. It feels very different from the V6 in the current Acura Type S, whose powerband is narrower and farther up the rev range.
The smooth six-speed gearbox is especially wonderful. It reveals more attention to detail, in the ratios, the synchronizers. It shifts beautifully, and loves aggressive downshifts that would cause many other gearboxes to cry abuse.
The five-speed automatic transmission is just as smooth as the manual, in its own automatic way. The drive-by-wire throttle is programmed to cut the throttle during upshifts, and the timing is perfect. It's not often that the performance of an automatic transmission is so tight that it stands out.
There are also improved brakes, with ABS standard on all models and EBD (electronic brake distribution) on all but the four-cylinder DX and LX. (ABS helps the driver maintain steering control under hard braking; EBD distributes braking force to the tires with the best grip, improving stopping performance.) The brakes stop the big Coupe nicely, and the pedal feel is firm and sensitive. At first it felt too sensitive, but that's easy to adjust to, and we soon liked it. However, we managed to make the brakes fade while using them hard, earlier than we think they should have, given the level of the rest of the car. We ran a twisty uphill five or six miles, repeatedly dabbing the brakes for corners, but because we were in second and third gear most of the way, the speeds weren't high and there were no extended applications of the brakes. We turned around at the top and began to come back down, and almost immediately felt the fade. (Fade occurs when brakes get hot and results in diminished or faded braking performance.)
Not surprisingly, the handling is well balanced, too. In our opinion, it's a better-balanced car than the Acura CL Type-S. We tried to get the Coupe to understeer, and it wasn't easy, which is more than you can say for the CL-S. (Understeer is when the front tires begin to lose grip, causing the car to take a wider path around a corner than intended.) The double-wishbone suspension, front and rear, has been re-engineered mostly to reduce fore and aft body mo.
There are at least two separate Honda Accords, each offering new levels of quality and performance for mid-sized, medium-priced cars. The V6 can be a sports sedan or coupe that looks and performs as well or better than the current upscale Acura TL or CL.
The four-cylinder loses none of what has made the Accord the best-selling car of the last decade, while redefining what it means to be a four-cylinder sedan. Honda may just have outdone itself this time.
Sedan in DX, EX or LX trim; Coupe in EX or LX.
Options As Tested
DVD Navigation system.
Coupe EX V6.
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