The cars we loved.
Back in the day Honda ads used to say “A Car Ahead” in its Accord advertising. That was very much true with the first through fourth generation of what was Honda’s largest family sedan. By the introduction of the fifth gen car in 1994, the chasers had caught up in some respects and the Accord was not quite the car ahead it had been. Even though it lacked a V6 option at introduction, it still set the benchmark for family sedans in many other respects. The coupe version continued and had become a kind of low-key Japanese Monte Carlo in that it was neither overly sporty nor luxurious (in DX or LX trim). It carried on the tradition of looking remarkably like the sedan and showed how elegant the design was in either body style. There was even a wagon variant, the last time the Accord would be available in that configuration until the Crosstour in 2009. Like all Accords (or Honda’s for that matter) they did everything very well, but nothing excellent.
Extensive Model Options
The Ohio built Accord came in three models in the US, with various special editions to fill in gaps from time to time. There were sport versions called the SiR in Japan with a 190hp of the four cylinder VTEC, but they never found their way to the North American line up. The high revving nature of that engine favoured a manual transmission and more driver input than Honda of America was willing to ask of buyers. To Honda’s credit, manual transmissions were still being offered in a segment where they were fast disappearing.
On the low-end of US models was the DX model. It was usually distinguished by wheel covers and black door handles and side molding. The next up was the popular LX model. Being the middle model meant that it had a fair amount of standard equipment making it the most likely to be seen around town. The DX and LX came with Honda’s 130hp 2.2 L inline four-cylinder engine. A efficient and reliable engine that was a refinement of the previous Accord. It made 130hp. On the high-end of the Accord line was the EX. The EX came with 15’ alloy wheels, moon roof and car color body side molding. It could also be had with leather seats, making it quite the near luxury car. More importantly, the EX came standard with the VTEC enhanced 2.2L four similar to the one in the Prelude. The variable valve timing got 15 more horsepower for a total of 145. All versions of the Accord came with either a slick shifting 5-speed manual or four speed automatic.
From VTEC to V6
First seen in the 1989 Acura Integra, the VTEC system allows engines with multiple cam shaft profiles to be optimized for low and high RPM operations. The immediate benefit of a variable valve system was usually increased power and fuel effiency – sometimes both. Honda was a pioneer in the adoption and eventual widespread use of the technology in the early 90’s. Variable valve timing is common in cars today, but for 1994 it was an exotic race car technology not seen in high volume family cars. VTEC engine application was a natural for the Accord. It was a kind of stop-gap until a V6 was available. While the VTEC equipped Accord was just as powerful as most other competitors V6 applications, the larger V6 engine would provide more low-end grunt. Most of the Accords main competitors had V6 engines options already, putting the Accord at a disadvantage in straight line performance. With a sub 9 second 0 to 60 time, the Accord was never marketed as a sports car, even the coupe was just as civil as the sedan in its driving manners. The Accord placed somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy of family sedan performance. It wasn’t until the introduction of the 2.7 litre V6 from the Legend that the 170hp EX models began to stand out performance wise – but still not sports car like. The VTEC four was still available after 1995, but a new range of V6 EX and LX cars were distinguished by the name EX-V6/LX-V6.
Even with the smaller engines, the Accord performed well. Always competent and predictable with its front wheel drive. The switch to a steering input driven power steering system over the previous car’s speed sensitive system made for heavy numb steering input at low speeds, but the Accords double wishbone front and rear suspension still was a driver favorite. The automotive press often picked the Accord as one of it 10 Best. Car and Driver picked the new 94 Accord as its Car of the Year. Numerous other publications agreed and gave it similar honors through the 90’s. Honda had found the perfect formula that balanced value, refinement and a fun to drive factor in an affordable package.
One of the things that Honda excelled at with the Accord was the interior. It’s fit, finish and attention to detail was still the class leader and it’s ergonomics was the one to copy for most of the 90’s. The exterior received careful consideration also. During this time Accord design was slowly evolving in much the way a BMW or Mercedes would. As a result of this careful evolution, most fifth generation Accords don’t look as dated as other family sedans of the era. It’s safe to say most, because the VTEC coupe in particular was a popular victim of customization. It’s sound and accessible engineering made it ripe for enhancements, often resulting in considerable horsepower boosts. The downside was the usual ground scrapping, big rim super wing look that The Fast and Furious had made so popular. The sedan was not immune, as it’s popularity as a used car also made it a top target for thieves. The following generation of Accord in 1998 would continue Honda’s alternating pattern sporty generation followed by a conservative one.