- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

The all-new Honda Accord is here. While the seventh-generation model is filled with changes, especially in styling, the tradition of dependability remains timeless and enduring.
It's reasonable to conclude that dependability, quality and durability will be the hallmarks of the 2003 Accord, because for 27 years these characteristics have been the continuing mission of Honda. The automaker says both the sedan and the coupe are heavily defined by dramatic restyling, sharing only their headlights.
This week, my test-drive model is the coupe. Its exterior is like a sleek sheet of slippery ice: not a single ripple on its elegantly shaped 188-inch-long body. It has clean, rounded, swooping lines that portray movement even when standing still.
The body is 27 percent stiffer in rigidity. As a result, when driving on uneven roads and hard cornering I noticed a much more taut feel coming through the driver's seat. This incredible body stiffness equates to improved handling, a feature that is fantastic on smooth roads. However, following an afternoon of driving on typically broken, rough roadways, all this tautness was fatiguing on the driver.
An entry-level Accord coupe starts at $19,300. My tester was the top-of-the-line EX V-6, costing $28,360, including destination charges and Honda's navigation system. For this price, the coupe was equipped with a very powerful and responsive 240-horsepower engine and nearly every safety feature available. The tester had anti-lock brakes, traction control, side-impact air bags, plus curtain air bags to provide head protection for both front and back seat passengers. The three rear seating positions were equipped with three-point seat belts not just a lap belt for the often forgotten middle seat occupant.
Sometimes coupes are criticized for not being "functional." Coupes can be awkward for climbing into the back seats, cramped for hip-, leg- and elbow-room, as well as poor on storage capacity. However, with the Accord, I was able to take home my Christmas tree. With the split-fold rear seats and the wide-mouth trunk, the tree easily slipped into the two-door coupe. Without a struggle, I removed the tree out the passenger's door.
The EX V-6 model had new, larger front seats, with heating controls, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and improved cup holders, ones that actually hold bottle-size beverages. I was disappointed with the inferior quality of Honda's new multifunctional key, which eliminates the need for a remote key fob. The plastic around the key broke, setting off the panic alarm. With the plastic surround broken, I was prohibited access to the car using the fob controls, and had to resort to inserting the key in the door for locking and opening.
Despite the impressive attributes of the cabin versatility and admirable styling, what is under the hood is the best feature. Mated to a new five-speed automatic transmission, the 24-valve, 3-liter V-6 engine gave me a satisfying sports carlike ride. Drivetrain improvements have led to 40 more horsepower over the previous V-6 and a 19 pounds-feet torque increase. The Accord now has 240 horsepower at 6,250 rpm and 212 pounds-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. Fuel economy ratings are 21 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway. The coupe is also available with a 2.4-liter, 150-horsepower, four-cylinder engine equipped with a five-speed manual transmission.
Once again, Honda has built an all-new vehicle that may assure the Accord status as a perennial favorite.


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