Making “Car and Driver’s” 10 Best list sixteen times out of twenty opportunities is not an easy task. Only the Honda Accord has accomplished this feat.. Why has the Honda Accord name become almost synonymous with this prestigious list?
In 1985, “Car and Driver” editor Brock Yates remarked on balloting for the 10 Best cars, “A guy could make a pretty fair argument that the 10 Best cars available anywhere are all Hondas!” In 2001, the Honda Accord finally regained its title of best selling car in America. Honda sold approximately 414,718 Accords, according to recent statistics. The Accord previously held this title from 1989 to 1991 until being overtaken by the Ford Taurus and then the Toyota Camry. However, the Accord is on top once again and Honda has sold more than 7.7 million Accords since its 1976 introduction into the North American Market. Being on top in sales requires more than just wishful thinking. How has Honda made this 26-year journey?
In 1976, Honda introduced the first Accord on American soil. Due to the oil crisis in America, more Americans began considering smaller, more economical cars. Honda saw a momentary opportunity and went into immediate action. Honda had already been somewhat successful in sales in the U.S. with the Civic, so they approached the new Accord in the same manner. It was to be a high-quality, fun-to-drive, dependable, and economical car. Honda was right on the mark. The first Accord weighed about 2,000 pounds and featured comfortable seating, logical control and gauge placements, and a high quality transmission. This Accord offered an equipment list that included many more standard features than most cars being sold in the U.S.
In 1982, the second-generation Accord appeared. The Accord grew in size, amenities, and unfortunately price. However, demand was extremely high and Honda easily sold all copies of the Accord that it was capable of producing. Honda also decided to build a plant in Marysville, Ohio to handle the demand for the Accord.
The third-generation Honda Accord appeared in 1986. It was larger, had more amenities, and was costlier. Honda upgraded to a more powerful engine, and developed a double wishbone suspension that allowed the Accord to handle and perform like a sports cars. The Accord began to close the gap between itself and the Toyota Camry in total sales. Edmunds car reviewer John DiPietro said, “those interested in sporty handling went for the Accord, while those who weren’t looking for a poor man’s BMW and who preferred a softer ride choose the Camry.”
In 1990, the Accord was reworked. The fourth-generation Accord was an instant success. It became the number one selling car in America and held that spot until 1992. Honda’s reputation for building reliable, long-lasting cars had been set in stone and sales of over 360,000 confirmed the public’s affection for the Accord.
The fifth-generation Accord came out in 1994. It was improved over the previous model in many ways. It offered more power for all available engines, had increased safety measures, and a refined automatic transmission. However, the visual design of this model was not intriguing to many buyers. Sales quickly slumped and Honda returned to the drawing boards.
The current generation (sixth generation) Honda Accord was introduced in 1998. It was larger than its predecessors, but visually appeared leaner and sleeker. Its design drew from the fourth-generation Accord. With its increased size, the Accord was classified as a midsize car compared to its previous classification as a compact car. Honda introduced a revolutionary, 2.3-liter 4-cylinder VTEC engine. The VTEC technology is patented by Honda and is remarkably economical and extremely powerful. By 2001, this generation Accord became the best selling car in America, and according to statistics will likely hold its title for 2002.
During Car and Driver’s recent review of family sedans under $25,000, the Accord won once again. Nearing the end of its generation, and due for a remodel for the 2003 year, reviewers thought that the Accord would lose ground to its new competitors. However, Honda’s four-year-old design held up against its competition and took the title. Car and Driver writer Patrick Bedard said, “For four years now the Accord has been a smart choice, always rewarding to drive for its poise, its precision, its confident ways… No other maker has the confidence to present machinery so simply.”
Technology has always been a strong point for the Honda Accord. Honda’s VTEC engine technology was new to the automotive field. It relies on two separate camshafts that are individually controlled by the engine management system. One camshaft is designed for smooth idle and maximum fuel efficiency. The other camshaft is designed for maximum power at high rpm. Together, these two camshafts provide diversity to the car. They allow the car to be both high performing and fuel efficient depending on the driver’s right foot. Since its introduction in 1998, many automotive companies including BMW, Toyota, and Mercedes Benz have borrowed the VTEC technology.
Honda has voluntarily made all 2002 Accords LEV, ULEV, or SULEV vehicles. LEV stands for Low-Emission Vehicle. Most Accords are LEV vehicles. However, in California and some northeastern states ULEV (ultra low emission vehicle) are available. Furthermore, in California only, SULEV (super ultra low emission vehicle) are available. The Accord is the first gasoline powered SULEV ever sold in the world. According to California’s Air and Resources Board, ” a SULEV engine emits only 2.3 pounds of ozone-forming hydrocarbons during 100,000 miles of driving, or about the same as spilling one quart of gasoline every 100,000 miles. This is an 86 percent reduction compared to a LEV-rated vehicle.”
Honda has brought the Accord from obscurity to stardom and along with it; it has made a name for itself as the world’s most reliable, dependable cars according to J.D. Power and Associates. The list of accolades for the Accord goes on and on. Intellichoice named the Honda Accord the best overall value from 1998-2001. Consumers Digest awarded the Accord as the Best Buy Family Car from 1998-2000. MotorWeek Magazine named the Accord the Best New Family Sedan in 1998. Car and Driver has named the Accord one the 10 Best Cars in the world 16 out of 20 years. Car and Driver editor Tony Swan said, “Today Honda is the only brand to have appeared on the 10 Best list every year since year one, and the Honda Accord has missed the cut only four times in twenty years.”
From first hand experience with the Honda Accord I can state that the Accord is not eye-catching, but it does its job. The engine is responsive, the transmission precise, and the build quality superb. It tracks straight and effortlessly without ever feeling overworked. Materials and fine details are not overlooked. Every seam is tight and accurate. It resembles the precision and care in which it is assembled. Quality of this nature is hard to find even in cars costing three times as much. Car and Driver’s chief editor Csaba Csere once said, “Nobody watches enviously when you drive by in an Accord, but the quality of it makes you feel so rich you don’t care.”
The new Accord is currently on display at the Detroit Auto Show and its bold new look will certainly turn heads. Honda has led by example and has displayed to other carmakers the correct way to take a model from obscurity to success. Maybe one day GM, Ford, and Chrysler will look at the history of the Accord and use this models success as a benchmark to making their own successful sedan in the future.