Every year on MotorWeek we test close to 150 new cars and trucks. But only a dozen or so are considered by our staff to be “major events.” And the redesigned 1998 Honda Accord is about as major as it gets. For over a decade, the Accord has been considered a benchmark family design. Now we didn’t make it a benchmark, Accord owners did. They are extremely loyal, and for good reasons. The Honda Accord has proven itself, year in and year out, to be of high quality and practical, yet also entertaining to drive. So that means that the all-new ‘98 Accord has some pretty big tires to fill.
From the first moment we saw the 1998 Honda Accord, and got behind the wheel, we knew this redesign was more of the same, yet different. In fact, by the end of our first hour with the Accord, it was obvious that this 6th generation Honda, both in sedan and coupe form, was the most significant change in the Accord’s 22-year history. And we’d like to thank the kind folks at the Desert Princess Country Club and Resort in Palm Springs for allowing us their expansive background for our test.
Indeed the exterior of the ‘98 Accord looks larger, beefier, more substantial than before. It’s an illusion of course. In reality the Accord sedan is less than a half-inch longer and wider than last year. Perhaps it’s the nearly two inches more height. But mostly it’s in the conservative European styling that blends soft curves with the occasional sharp edge. The chiseled front facia is now a one-piece unit that includes the grille. Narrow seams and multi-reflector headlights contribute to the high-end look, too.
There are more edges and creases, or “character lines,” along the cab-forward body, in the power bulge on the hood, and a small but important one in the mirror housings, and one that runs the length of the car below the glass. 15-inch wheels are standard on most models and do a nice job of filling up the wheel wells.
Around back, the C-pillar flows easily into the rear quarter panels. But here, despite larger taillights, the distinctive styling seems to fade away into bland. Well, this is a Honda, isn’t it? Or at least a Honda Accord Sedan.
While the Accord Coupe shares most components, the chassis is shorter and virtually no exterior parts are shared except the headlights. So, it’s truly its own car, and one with a lot sharper style. The faster windshield, airfoil roof, and upswept trunk make a seriously sweet package. And here the taillights tell the muscular story properly, looking a lot like those on the Acura NSX.
There is less difference in the interior styling between Sedan and Coupe, yet visually it’s even more of a departure from last year than the exteriors. Gone is the common L-shaped dash layout. The new instrument panel flows up towards the windshield, away from the occupants, for a roomier feel. A two-tone color scheme with black center section contributes to an upmarket feel. There is a bit of woodtone used in the EX V-6 and it’s subtle enough to look well thought out.
Despite no increase in wheelbase on the Sedan, there is a 7 cubic foot increase in interior space to 115.8 cubic feet. That means the Accord is larger inside than a Toyota Camry and solidly domestic mid-size.
Indeed the broader front seats in this LX look a lot like a Detroit competitor. As in other Accords, however, the padding is on the firm side but support is excellent. But go for the top-line EX V-6, like this coupe, and you’ll find leather that is as soft as any German import.
Certain Honda trademarks remain like large, clear analog gauges. Ditto the available cruise control pad on the steering wheel. But the black breast-plate center pod houses much larger controls. Ventilation is by way of oversized rotary knobs and a broad keypad. Air conditioning and a pollen filter are standard on all but the DX. The EX V-6 has an automatic climate system for the first time.
Stereo controls are glove size too. A 4-speaker cassette stereo is standard. The EX includes a 6-speaker system with an in-dash CD player. Only here the large buttons seem almost horsey.
Below that is a deep console well. And the glove box is nearly double in size. And, let’s not forget cupholders. They’re standard front and rear and they are substantial.
Sedan rear occupants have gained an impressive 3.6 inches in leg room. The Sedan’s folding rear seatback is one piece, and has the trademark key lockout. We prefer the rear seat on the Coupe which is split for more versatility. Both open into trunks that are larger than last year.
Accord designers have always managed to walk the tightrope between sport sedan handling and a compliant highway ride rather well. That hasn’t changed, although the new Accord has a more substantial feel.
The torque-sensitive power steering is nicely weighted. Front push into corners has moderated but it is still safe, and rear tracking is substantially improved. Much of that, no doubt, due to the all-new 5-link rear suspension that isolates forward motion road bumps from side-to-side cornering forces and thus handles both better. The front double-wishbone suspension has also been redesigned. Chassis torsional stiffness is up 40 percent, while bending strength is up 69 percent.
The ‘98 Accord is also well served in the engine department. The overhead cam, 16-valve, inline-4 has been bored and stroked to 2.3-liters. On the DX, horsepower is now 135 with 145 pound-feet of torque. The LX and EX add VTEC variable valve timing. Horsepower is 150 with torque at 152 pound-feet. Throttle response on both engines is improved.
Now, the V-6 is as new as the car itself, and the first Honda V-6 made in America. It is an all-aluminum 3.0-liter single overhead cam, 24-valve engine shared with the Acura CL 3.0 Coupe. Horsepower is a full 200, with 195 pound-feet of torque. That’s 18 percent more horsepower and torque than last year’s 2.7-liter. So it’s no slouch: 0 to 60 in 8.0 seconds. Our only regret is no manual transmission.
We also regret to say that Honda didn’t make anti-lock brakes standard except on high-line models. Most Accords will use discs front and drums rear. This EX V-6 Coupe has an all-disc ABS system and managed stops from 60 in a neat 120 feet. The pedal is a bit soft, and ABS feedback is moderate.
But no one will fuss about Accord prices. Base stickers remain virtually the same as before at $19,485 for the popular LX sedan. Plus V-6 sedan prices drop nearly a grand to $21,945. That’s the same you’ll pay for the delicious Honda LX V-6 Coupe. Note, too, California drivers, the Accord is the world’s first production car to achieve your Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle status.
No surprise that pricing then leads our list of hits, which also includes the bolder styling, a big jump in interior space, larger controls, fine handling, and flexible powertrains.
Misses are in details like the sedan’s rear lamps, the CD stereo’s bulky controls, no manual for the V-6, and the lack of standard anti-lock brakes on the volume LX sedan.
We often hear that not only do Accord owners consider their car a benchmark design, but so too do competitors. They frequently tell us how they have matched their new car to the Accord. Well, any hunter will tell you that it’s hard to trap a moving target. And, the 1998 Honda Accord is such an excellent example of the American family car, that it may have just moved out of reach for good.
Engine: 3.0-Liter Sohc 24-valve V-6
Torque: 195 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 8.0 Seconds
60-0 MPH: 120 Feet