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Honda Makes Further Refinements To Accord For 2003
 Date: August 01, 2002 09:04
 Submitted by:  ivtec1
 Source: http://www.mississauga.com/mi/wheels/story/488363p-608249c.html
 Credibility Rating: N/A


Honda Makes Further Refinements To Accord For 2003

ROB BEINTEMA
Jul 31, 2002

"Well now, ain't that something," I think out loud.

Here I'd been fueling my precarious state of early morning consciousness with one cup of coffee after another, fighting the snoozies while Honda executive types boasted on and on about new feats of automotive refinement, new content levels, new heights of sophistication and yadda, yadda, yadda. And, jeez, I survive the presentation, get the keys, get the car and after all that, the dang thing doesn't start.

If that don't beat all. Why, you'd think they would be more . . , err, . . wait a minute.

I suddenly notice the tachometer has budged off zero. I stab tentatively at the gas pedal. The needle jumps. I don't really hear anything but, waddya know, the car appears to be running.

Well. I should have known better. Honda Accord didn't get to be one of North America's best-selling and best-loved cars by accident. Even Honda execs will admit that while Civic was the breakthrough product, it was the Accord that gained Honda respectability and recognition as a legitimate player in the automotive market.

Introduced in 1976 and constantly revised through seven generations to this all-new product for 2003, the Accord is Honda's biggest seller, traditionally owning a huge chunk of North America's intermediate size market and racking up more than a third of all Honda sales in Canada.

And while there must have been a temptation to leave well enough alone, that's never been Honda's style, especially in light of new challenges by competitors like the new Toyota Camry, the Volkswagen Passat and the Nissan Altima, to name just a few.

So what has Honda changed, added to or fiddled with for 2003?

Pretty well everything, including:

* New exterior and interior styling
* New standard 160 hp 4-cylinder engine (10 hp increase)
* New optional 240 hp V6 engine (40 hp increase)
* New 5-speed manual transmission
* New 5-speed automatic transmission (replacing 4-speed)
* New 6-speed manual transmission (available on Coupe EX V6)
* New second-generation Traction Control System (TCS) integrated with Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) for V6 models
* Re-engineered, four wheel double wishbone suspension
* Improved fuel economy and lower emissions
* Dual stage front airbags, keyless remote and tilt and telescoping steering wheel now made standard in all models

The new 2003 Honda Accord still comes in two basic configurations - in either 4-door Sedan or 2-door Coupe. Both models come in a variety of trim levels and two engine choices - standard 2.4 L 4-cylinder or optional 3.0 L V6 shifted through the new manual 5-speed gearbox or via a modified version of the Acura CL & TL's 5-speed automatic . The Accord Coupe also adds a sporty new 6-speed manual to it's V6 model selection.

Both cars have undergone significant facelifts to modernize the styling. But while marketing weenies wax on about the "powerful muscular influence of the cheetah" and chief engineer Chet Baker talks of adding "emotion" and details the difficulty of "concave shapes merging into convex curves", hey, much as I admire Chet's enthusiasm, they still both look like Accords to me.

"We did have to strike a balance," Chet admits, "between luring new people into the showroom and keeping the broad customer base who like the car just the way it is."

That's not a bad problem to have. What the stylists and engineers have managed to do, however, is to make the cars smoother, more slippery with better aerodynamics and slightly sharper edges, not very dramatically done in the Sedan but with some S2000 sports car styling influence added to the Coupe.

The Accord Sedan measures about the same length as before but the wheels have been pulled to the corners, stretching the wheelbase by an inch. The new car is also wider and taller with a corresponding increase in interior space, most noticeably in the back seat. Honda has been listening to its customers.

The Accord Coupe, on the other hand, keeps the same wheelbase, although it is also slightly larger in every dimension. And with more emphasis on styling and less worry about plain practicality, the Coupe has actually lost rear seat space and rear headroom in favour of exterior streamlining and stretch-out comfort for front occupants.

The Accord Sedan is now rolling off the assembly line, with the Coupe slated to follow shortly. So while there was a prototype Coupe on hand to poke, prod and pore over, all our test drives were limited to the Sedan production versions.

Which still left us with a wide selection of trim levels and engine choices to check out. One thing all the sedans had in common - being inside the Honda Accord is a very nice place to be. Roomier interior dimensions, new seats, an optimized driving position complemented by the new tilt and telescoping steering wheel, they all bump up the comfort level significantly. Long seat travel meant I actually had to move the seat forward, rare for a tall guy like me. And, yes, I could "sit behind myself", so to speak.

Added touches include large "no-excuse" cupholders, bottle holders in front and rear doors, a sliding centre armrest, cell phone charging and storage in the console, rear outboard headrests and a host of other thoughtful modifications. The Accord takes one interior fashion risk - placing a large volume dial dead centre on the dash, a styling direction I first noted in the new Honda Pilot.

Even the plain-Jane base DX model, while hardly exciting with a monochrome interior, is well laid out with excellent fit and finish, an LED gauge cluster that takes a page from Lexus, an elegant steering wheel with integrated cruise control switches instead of the usual plasticky, strap-on modules, a surprisingly good 4-speaker CD stereo system and with a list of standard equipment that includes air conditioning, power group, 60/40 rear seat and rear heat ducts.

Bumping up a trim level or two adds brushed aluminum highlights, heated leather adjustable power seats, side airbags, moonroof, auto headlights, upgraded 6CD audio system and more bells and whistles, you name it.

Regardless of trim level choice, I was not kidding earlier about the level of refinement, sophistication and about how quiet this car runs. My co-driver and I kept commenting on it, as if we couldn't get over it. At one point, it turned into a little contest, both of us lowering our voices to almost whisper levels and still maintaining a conversation.

Pretty impressive stuff for a car in this price class, benefiting no doubt from the taut, sub-framed and well-isolated chassis, excellent wishbone suspension system, the streamlining to reduce wind and mirror noise and increased levels of insulation to keep road noise and engine noise, vibration and harshness from intruding into the cabin.

With more oomph from the engines and performance enhancements to the steering and braking systems, across-the-board ABS, new all-speed traction control for V6 models and larger wheels and tires on most models, and all the improvements listed above, the 2003 Honda Accord completes a very competent package.

MSRPs for the new Accords will be revealed by September but I think it's safe to bet that pricing will be pretty close to 2002 levels, ranging from the mid $20Ks to the mid $30Ks.

The 2003 Honda Accord Sedan will go on sale this October with the Coupe debuting about a month later. The top-of-the-line V6 6-speed Coupe is due for release by early spring of 2003.

So the Honda faithful will have to hold out for just a little while longer before their patience is rewarded. I think it'll be worth the wait.
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