Although the 2008 Accord may well be the most-leaked vehicle in recent automotive history (its interior and exterior were captured by countless spy photographers, in both disguised and undisguised forms), today Honda officially pulled the wraps off of the Accord. And wow, is it an impressive car.
At the risk of sounding like a Honda press release, I'll begin by stating what I am not enamored with the exterior styling of the sedan - which is the model I'd buy if I was in the market for a new car. It is something of a derivative shape, and cribs some styling cues from BMW, the Acura RL, and even the Hyundai Sonata. To my eyes, it doesn't look as bad as some of its critics are trying to portray it. I wouldn't call it ugly, but it's neither beautiful nor unique. It is, however, more interesting than the ho-hum styling of the current model, of which I'm an owner for the past four years. The coupe, on the other hand, has a similar-looking but entirely unique body and has a much sleeker and sportier appearance.
All Accord models have improved fuel economy, safety features, interior room, and horsepower compared to their predecessors. Engine offerings include two 2.4 liter four cylinders (177 horsepower in the base LX and LX-P sedans, 190 horsepower in the EX and EX-L sedans and LX-S and EX coupe) and a new 3.5 liter V6 (268 horsepower in the EX-L V6 sedan and coupe). Five-speed manual transmissions are standard in all four-cylinder models, and five-speed automatic transmissions are standard in all V6 models and optional in all four-cylinder models. There is also a six-speed manual available exclusively in the EX-L V6 6MT coupe. Fuel economy for the V6 has improved from 18 city/26 highway to 19 city/29 highway (by 1 mpg in the city and 3 mpg on the highway) when comparing the new for 2008 EPA ratings, in spite of the car moving from the EPA midsize to large car class, gaining 150 pounds, and 24 horsepower. That's a 5.6% improvement in city mileage and an 11.5% improvement in highway mileage, in a bigger, more powerful car. Much of the thanks goes to Honda's cylinder deactivation, which can run the V6 in three-, four-, or six-cylinder mode depending on need. Most likely, all six cylinders aren't needed for steady-state highway cruising, so some of them are shut down to conserve fuel. Honda also includes Active Noise Control sound cancellation standard on all V-6 models with automatic transmission and on all 190-hp four-cylinder cars to mitigate any vibrations or noises from the four cylinders or the V6 running on three or four cylinders.
Inside, the back seat has more room (according to Honda, nearly as much legroom as the Pilot SUV) and comfort. The dash and instrument panel were redesigned to move the 8" navigation screen up and more into the driver's line of sight. Models without navigation have a multi-display in its place to show HVAC and audio settings. Some have criticized the new Accord's interior as being too button-heavy, but when an interior includes all of the technology that this one does (navigation, Bluetooth, XM Satellite Radio, CD changer, dual zone climate control), it's difficult to control everything without a button. At any rate, the buttons are logically arranged and large so that they can be operated with minimum distraction. The alternative would be excluding the technology (as GM has chosen to do with its 2008 Chevrolet Malibu) or using an iDrive-type interface as BMW, Audi, and Mercedes do (and are oft-criticized). The interior has some premium detailing absent from the old model, such as horizontal trim strips across the dash and door panels and jewel-like gauges, and Honda claims that material quality has been upgraded (and they were already pretty good in most places).
Safety equipment sets the class standard. The Accord comes with six airbags and stability control, active head restraints, four wheel ABS and four wheel disc brakes, all standard.
Final pricing has not been released yet, but I expect it to be in line with the outgoing 2007 model's pricing; that is, between $20,000 and $30,000, which isn't bad considering the amount of safety, technology, and performance that you're getting for the money.
Comparisons between the Accord and its midsize sedan classmates will be inevitable. Objectively, it has basically everything on paper that the class leaders have - it's two horsepower shy of the Altima's 270-horsepower V6, but gets the best V6 fuel economy in its class, in spite of only having a five-speed automatic - and recent Accords have been very good as space efficiency in a smaller package; I expect more of the same from this iteration.
A sidebar to the Accord's launch is that the 2008 Chevy Malibu is put in the unenviable position of having to launch against this car. The Malibu has an optional six-speed automatic, but is down on horsepower and fuel economy (the similar 2008 Saturn Aura gets 17/26 city/highway according to the EPA, which is about 12% less). Now having seen the Malibu's competition, and having seen GM fans already clamoring for the next generation replacement of a car that still has yet to be launched itself, the Malibu's work is more than cut out for it. It would be difficult enough to convince loyal Honda, Toyota, and Nissan buyers to leave their comfort zone and consider a Malibu or Saturn even if those cars were clearly superior to the Accord, but when the Accord is probably already a better car, where's the compelling reason to jump ship? This means that GM will probably have to resort to selling the Malibu on its "value" rather than its features, which is a shame. Unfortunately, the US auto market, and particularly the midsize sedan market, is extremely competitive. While the Malibu is heads and tails better than the 2004-2007 model, it might not be good enough to change peoples' minds when the Honda Accord is also hitting dealers' lots. I hope for GM's sake that I'm wrong.