Test Drive: Sweet new Accord does Honda proud

•Refined. The 177-hp base engine is a tad coarse when spurred, but mainly the drivetrains drive, rather than calling attention to themselves. Suspensions on all models were clunk- and thump-free. They simply dealt with road irregularities with casual competence, whether the challenge was a gravel shoulder, a hole in the asphalt, uneven paving or rough surfaces.

•Smart. Uncommon attention to details ensures Accord is not just a good family sedan. Examples:

Filters on the liquid-crystal display (LCD) readouts make them — finally — legible rather than invisible to people who wear polarized sunglasses. Cut glare, too.

Slender windshield pillars give the driver a better, safer vista, even as rivals seem to be making their pillars fatter and more visually intrusive. Honda says it's made the skinny pillars at least as strong as wider ones.

Two-tier cubby in the cabinet between the console and dashboard is well-designed to hold phones or other items that otherwise would occupy the cup holder. Many automakers waste that space or arrange it poorly. Seems trivial but makes quite a difference in how pleasant a car is to use in everyday life.

On the other hand, Honda is still kind of backward about certain features. No backup camera at any price, nor automatic on-off headlights.

To get a simple trip computer to track your fuel economy or tell you how many miles you have to find a fuel station before you run dry, well, you have to get the pricey navigation system in the pricey EX-L (the EX model with leather upholstery).

Want XM satellite radio? Likewise get the EX-L.

Sometimes car-company decisions make you want to scream.

But if you accept that the marketplace is the final judge of an automaker's wisdom, you have had to concede over the years that Honda is among the gifted-and-talented group.

The latest Accord feels so good to drive and generally is so nicely furnished that Honda's standing is in no jeopardy.

2008 Honda Accord

What is it? Redesign of the third-best-selling car in America (behind Toyota's Camry and Corolla) and Honda's best-selling vehicle. Four-door, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan available in three models, LX, EX and EX V-6. Longer, wider than the previous Accord, it now squeaks into the full-size category from midsize. Manufactured mainly at Marysville, Ohio, though about 20% will come from Saitama, Japan, all of them four-cylinder sedans with automatic transmissions.

How soon? Sedan goes on sale Sept. 12. A coupe model (to be reviewed in a future Test Drive) goes on sale Sept. 20. Honda, unusual among automakers, has precise on-sale dates.

How much? $20,000 to $30,000; about the same as the previous model, though the new one has more room, more power, more features, Honda says. Specific prices will be announced closer to on-sale date.

Who'll buy? Biggest group is the relative geezers — 45 to dead — who favor practicality and reliability. But to keep the car's image youthful, thus more appealing, Honda mainly will market to Accord's secondary group of buyers — 20 to 44 — who, Honda says, demand a car that's stylish and fun.

How many? At least 400,000 a year, including 50,000 coupes.

What's the drivetrain? LX: 2.4 liter four-cylinder rated 177 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, 161 pounds-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm.

EX: 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated 190 hp at 7,000 rpm, 162 lbs.-ft. at 4,400.

EX V-6: 3.5-liter V-6 rated 268 hp at 6,000 rpm, 248 lbs.-ft. at 5,000.

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