- The Washington Times - Friday, December 27, 2002

When you run at the head of the pack, it's a good idea to look over your shoulder. With its completely redesigned 2003 Accord, nobody has taken that advice more to heart than Japan's Honda.
The Accord is the best-selling car in America, with sales of 414,718 in 2001. In 2003, Honda expects to sell at least 400,000 of the new seventh-generation model, which would bump the Accord's cumulative sales to more than 8 million since it first appeared to rave reviews in 1976.
The Accord's sales in 2001 were more than four times that of the Volkswagen Passat, so not many people would consider the German car much of a challenge to the Accord's dominance. But Honda didn't get where it is by underestimating the competition, and its oracles detected a definite appetite among some Accord-class buyers for the taut European handling and feel of the Passat, which has continued to increase in popularity. So rather than waiting around for the Germans to catch up, Honda decided to pre-empt the inevitable argument.
The result is the 2003 Accord, which raises the bar once again for midsize sedans and maintains a formidable presence against worthy competitors such as the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and, of course, the Passat. A former competitor for the top spot, the Ford Taurus, has become an also-ran in danger of extinction.
For openers, Honda completely restyled the Accord to give it a sleeker, more aggressive look, with a long torso and a short rear deck. The inspiration, the designers say, came from the poetry-in-motion cheetah, one of the quickest animals on the planet.
Then they modified the famed double-wishbone suspension system and rack-and-pinion steering to give the Accord more of a European feel. The result is a ride that is stiffer than that of the 2002 model but more akin to that of a sports sedan like the Accord's cousin, the Acura TL Type-S.
The Accord comes in a full range of coupe and sedan models with four and six cylinder engines, ranging from the base four-cylinder DX sedan with a five-speed manual transmission at $16,260 to the top-of-the-line EX V-6 coupe with a five-speed automatic, leather upholstery and a navigation system at $28,360. A comparable Toyota Camry is about $31,000.
As always, each Honda model has its own roster of equipment, with no factory-installed options. So a buyer who wants leather upholstery, for example, must buy an EX model because it's not available on the LX lineup. The few options that are available are dealer-installed.
The test car, a favorite that delivers the best performance value of the bunch, was the midlevel LX V-6 sedan, with a suggested retail price of $23,460.
It has a level of equipment that should satisfy almost everybody, including side air bags, antilock brakes, a stereo system with six speakers and a six-disc in-dash CD changer, filtered air conditioning, a power driver's seat, heated outside mirrors, remote locking with a security system, cruise control, remote audio controls on the steering wheel, and power windows and mirrors.
The major items it lacks are automatic climate control, leather upholstery and alloy wheels. But the styled plastic covers on the steel wheels are reasonably attractive and the durable cloth upholstery is more comfortable over a wide range of temperatures than leather.
The most desirable component, however, is the new drivetrain, which the LX V-6 shares with its more expensive EX siblings. It consists of a new 3-liter V-6 engine that sends a whopping 240 horsepower to the front wheels by way of a five-speed automatic transmission. That's 40 horsepower more than in the 2002 Accord V-6, which had a four-speed automatic.
It gives the Accord the sort of acceleration and athletic moves that you associate with pricier sports sedans. The sporting flair carries over into the passenger compartment, where the front bucket seats have large side bolsters to hold the driver's torso in place during hard cornering. The steering wheel has both tilt and telescope adjustments.
As on more expensive cars, the instruments have daytime lighting, which brightens as the driver enters and starts the car, and fades as he exits. The stereo and climate controls are mounted high in the center of the dash, with large knobs for different functions. But the designers fell down in one regard: There's no knob for radio station selection; you have punch one of those inconvenient buttons.
There's a commodious and comfortable back seat that can accommodate two 6-footers. Though the center seating position is better than in some cars, it's still an uncomfortable perch. The rear seatback folds down, and there's also a pass-through for long objects with the seat up. The trunk has just 14 cubic feet of space, but it's cleverly designed and seems larger.
Overall, about all you have to do to get a snazzy sports sedan at a rock-bottom price is to order an Accord LX V-6 and add a set of alloy wheels.

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