As I sat there in the Amana-white 2008 Honda Accord EX-L sedan, she looked over at me. I knew what she was thinking. I knew she wanted me.
For Accord-driving women, the message is related but different: "My husband likes girls."
At this point, I could tell you all about the new, eighth-generation Accord (sedan and coupe, four- and six-cylinder engines), giving you the usual technical walk-around. It's bigger inside and out, more powerful and more fuel efficient, more generously equipped with cabin amenities and standard safety gear. The technology on board -- active noise cancellation, hyper-clean emissions control, available voice-activated nav and audiophile sound systems -- is worthy of a car in the next tax bracket. The sedan goes on sale next Wednesday, and the Coupe hits the dealer lots Sept. 20. Pricing is between $20,000 and $30,000. Honda sticks the landing, as usual.
But the Accord is not just any car. This is one of the bestselling import-nameplate cars of all time, the beloved and dead-reliable vehicular helpmate of millions of American families. After nearly three decades on the market, the Accord is an institution, like the Federal Reserve or the missionary position. What you really want to know is, what does it mean?
It means that, if you buy this car, you're probably from a multi-Honda family. It means that at some point in your life, you turned the key of an Accord, it turned right over and you thought, "My God, you can't kill these cars" (one of the biggest factors in Honda buyers' consideration is "DQR" -- durability, quality and reliability). It means that, either by income or temperament, you're solidly middle-class, modest, married. The Accord is automotive Presbyterianism.
It also might mean that you're getting older. The median age of Accord buyers has gradually moved upward (from 41 in 1995 to 50 in 2005) as the car's sales have been carried along by a grateful, aging clientele. That demographic migration is reflected in the car's design and engineering. It's conspicuously quieter, more refined, less demanding and safer, both in the sense of crash tests and in its styling.
What does the Accord mean? It might mean that you're getting broad of beam, Bud. The 2008 Accord sedan is significantly larger than the outgoing model -- 3 inches longer, 2.3 inches more wheelbase and almost an inch taller -- and the interior is gawdamighty huge, a full 120 cubic feet, which puts this midsize car in the Environmental Protection Agency's full-size category. The seats are broad and plush and well separated for more elbowroom, or for massively overburdened hips. It's difficult to reverse engineer the cabin and conclude that it's not designed for America's barons of the buffet.
As for personality, this is how Honda characterizes its target audience: sociable and outgoing, success-driven, intelligent and value savvy. Uh-huh. This meeting of the Pasadena Rotarians will now come to order.
Actually, here is where I think the new Accord comes off its well-oiled tracks a bit. The Accords I've driven in the past have all been pretty fun, light and quick to the helm, a little feisty. Indeed, by Honda's own reckoning, the fun-to-drive factor is a key differentiator between the Accord and the stolid Toyota Camry.
But I must say, the new Accord sedan won't make anyone laugh those roller-coaster laughs. I drove the EX-L with the 3.5-liter V6 engine, which is, granted, an amazing lump of technology. This super-clean motor (PZEV rated with the five-speed automatic) has Honda's Variable Cylinder Management (VCM), which shuts down cylinders during periods of light load, running the car on four and even three cylinders as conditions warrant. That helps the car achieve 19/29, city/highway mileage.
The engine puts out a respectable 268 hp, which ought to be enough to move the 3,616-pound car pretty well; however, something in the computer logic of the drive-by-wire throttle seems amiss. I had to utterly cane this car to get it to go fast, and there just didn't seem to be much in the way of mid-range torque available.
Curiously, the new Accord Coupe, when equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, has an additional variable intake manifold and two intake cam profiles to make the 248 pound-feet of torque more palpable. Maybe that hardware should be generalized to the rest of the Accord V6 line.
Otherwise, the Accord is chapter-and-verse Honda, front-wheel drive with double A-arm front suspension and multi-links in the rear. The ride is well damped and quiet, although the suspension feels fairly lax in high-energy maneuvering. There's considerable body roll, even though the car has a higher roll center and a lower center of gravity than the previous model. Honda talks about its new variable-rate steering for solid on-center feel, but on center, the Accord's steering feel is as numb as a phantom limb. It does have a quick overall rack ratio, however (2.56 turns, lock to lock).
And then there's the styling. You know, styling is subjective and I don't want to pound this well-wrought competent family sedan with a name so many hold dear. . . . Well, maybe I do. Holy cow, this car is ugly. In white, it looks like it was whittled out of a bar of prison soap.
See, that's the genius of it. A guy driving this car is so totally past needing to impress with a sleek, attractive automobile, or even one that's barely presentable. It's counter-programming. The man who owns this car has deep and unquenchable mojo. Women sense that sort of thing.
2008 Honda Accord EX-L V6Base price: $30,000 (est.)
Price, as tested: $30,000 (est.)