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Accord EX-L fires on all (4) cylinders

Sans V-6, top trim level strikes balance between performance, effficiency

The center dashboard stack is confusing with its myriad array of buttons, but the Accord's interior fit and finish are exemplary. (Honda) The center dashboard stack is confusing with its myriad array of buttons, but the Accord's interior fit and finish are exemplary.
By Bill Griffith
April 5, 2008

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Last summer, Honda brought a full array of its all-new 2008 Accords to Boston for the model's national press introduction. There were coupes, sedans, 4-cylinders, and 6-cylinders. With the coupe, it was love at first sight, a feeling confirmed by the first drive.

But that wasn't the case with the sedans, available in all sorts of configurations. We drove them from Boston to Chatham, around the Cape, and back to Boston.

We were left with three lingering impressions:

1. The new Accord sedans are big and roomy (longer, wider, higher than the 2007 models.) If you're thinking competition, sizewise it's more of a competitor for the Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon than for the Camry and Altima. If you haven't noticed, the Civic has grown into a midsize vehicle of its own, and the Fit is Honda's new small car these days.

2. The Accord's V-6 features a variable-cylinder-management system that allows the engine to run on 3, 4, or 6 cylinders, depending on the power needed. It seemed to work OK, but it's a new technology I'd rather leave for the early adopters and see how it fares for a year or so.

3. The 4-cylinder we drove in the LX-trim sedan, which Honda lists at 180 horsepower and 166 pound-feet of torque, seemed a bit small for the task.

Fortunately, we finally found a 2008 Accord that is "just right." The opportunity to drive an EX-L - the top trim level - came in early March. Instead of being powered by the V-6 or small 4, this one had a beefier 4-cylinder putting out 200 horsepower and 170 pound-feet of torque. It does not sound like a big upgrade over the base 4, but it proved to be the combination I'd choose.

With two adults aboard, there was plenty of zip off the line and for merging on highways and passing. Add two or three adults in back, and two things become apparent: the legroom is terrific, and the extra pounds of human cargo immediately affect performance. The car would not downshift while climbing a bigger-than-normal hill with two aboard, but it would with four. What it did manage effortlessly with two aboard, it still accomplished - just not as effortlessly.

That tells me Honda's engineers have the parameters right. And that means a lot in these days of hefty gasoline prices. We averaged 26.2 miles per gallon on a week of driving on regular gasoline. The EPA range is 21 city and 31 highway.

Inside, the EX-L (L is for leather), left little to be desired. Ours came with the only real available option - a navigation system - and standard heated seats, dual-zone climate control, and a premium audio system with an auxiliary plug for an MP3 player. Fit and finish were exemplary, even by Honda standards.

Handling was predictable and capable. The feeling of security is enhanced by standard traction and stability control and a full array of airbags.

We found only two points of contention. The center stack of controls is intimidating to an Accord newcomer. The Honda people say owners are familiar with the system, which is similar to the one used in the previous-generation Accord. The other annoyance was road noise, especially on pothole-damaged streets. But spring is here, and summer not far behind, so things should quiet down soon.


THE BASICS

Base price/as tested: $25,860 / $28,060
Fuel economy: 26.2 miles per gallon in Globe testing

THE EARLY LINE
Honda's Accord has grown up into a roomy full-sized vehicle in its eighth generation.

THE SPECIFICS
Drivetrain: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, 5-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
Seating: 5 passengers
Horsepower: 200
Torque: 170 lb.-ft.
Overall length: 194.1 inches
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Height: 58.1 inches
Width: 72.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,416 lbs.

THE SKINNY
Nice touch: It abounds with quality fit and finish throughout.
Annoyance: The complicated center stack combines controls for navigation, audio, and climate control systems.
Watch for: Sales numbers. Honda has a lot riding on this redesign of its flagship model.

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