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When the 2008 Honda Accord EX-L arrived in our garage, we initially weren't sure we had received the right car. The dark-red sedan was too large to be an Accord. The bodywork had more curves than we had ever seen on an Accord. Looking inside the car, we were sure it must be an Acura. It had leather seats and the same multitude of buttons we had seen in Acura models. But with the Accord label on the trunk lid and the Honda "H" badge on the grille, we had to accept this car as the new Honda Accord.
Honda performed a major upgrade on the Accord for 2008, making it unrecognizable from previous models and treading into Acura territory. The result is a big, comfortable sedan with a full load of electronics in the cabin. A 2.4-liter four cylinder is available, but our car was equipped with the 3.5-liter V-6, giving it plenty of power, reasonable gas mileage, and an excellently low emissions rating. Some things remain the same, however. The mediocre handling and bland five-speed automatic make it unsuitable for driving enthusiasts.
Test the tech: Eco performance
As we began our test-drive period with the 2008 Honda Accord, we noticed a green "Eco" light on the tachometer that would occasionally turn on. We deduced that this light comes on to let drivers know when they are operating the car in such a way as to get the best mileage. We like the idea, but we quickly noticed that the light had draconian standards, as any pressure on the gas of more than half an inch would cause the light to turn off. We couldn't even maintain speed on the freeway--unless we were going downhill--and keep the light on.
As we hadn't had a good challenge in a while, we set up a competition to see which of our staff could keep the light on the longest over a set driving course. Editors Kevin Massy and Wayne Cunningham took the car out to McLaren Park in San Francisco, a rare city space offering a good stretch of road with no stop signs or lights. The chosen course was mostly downhill, which would help keep the light on, although it had a number of turns and three rises, the last being particularly steep and long.
The rules were simple. Each editor would take off from the starting point, with the stopwatch beginning as soon as the Eco light came on. If the Eco light turned off for more than 2 seconds, the run was finished and the resulting time would be recorded. Massy made the first run, choosing to keep the car going slowly to maximize his time on the course. But that strategy failed at the first rise as the car didn't have the momentum to get to the crest. As Massy hit the gas, the Eco light came on, giving him a time of 53.71 seconds.
On Cunningham's first run, he hit the gas hard from the start, getting the car up to 35 mph, then lifted off so the Eco light would come on. The car cruised down the course, taking the corners at a reasonable 25 mph. Coming up to the first rise, Cunningham applied a little throttle, but just before the crest the Eco light turned off. Fortunately for him, the light came back on within the 2 second time limit, so the run continued. The Eco light stayed on through the next portion of the course, which consisted of a light downhill stretch followed by a small rise. Cunningham crested that without a problem, then hit the long uphill. The car went up the first quarter of it, gradually slowing down until Cunningham had to apply the gas, causing the Eco light to turn off. The recorded time for this run was 1:44.04.
For Massy's second run, he got the car up to 40 mph before lifting off. With the Eco light on, he kept his speed up through the corners, causing the tires to sing a bit, and easily made it over the first rise. He kept up his speed through the ensuing downhill portion, then cleared the second rise. With the car maintaining a good amount of its initial speed, it seemed he would get far up the third rise, but the car slowed quickly as it hit this uphill stretch, and no amount of feathering the accelerator would keep the Eco light on. His time for this second run was 1:35.75.
Cunningham tried to improve on his first run, but with his speed just below what Massy had maintained on his second run, he came in at a time of 1:33.66. With a first run time of 1 minute and 44.04 seconds, Cunningham came away the overall winner.
In the cabin
The dashboard of the 2008 Honda Accord experienced the same overhaul as the exterior. Honda sells its Accords with trim levels from LX to the top-of-the-line EX-L, with navigation or without. Our car was an EX-L with navigation, and as such, it gets the big multifunction knob we've seen previously in Acura models, plus a center stack literally covered in buttons. The previous model year Accord had a touch-screen LCD set on top of the stack. With this new model, the LCD loses touch-screen capabilities and gets set deep into the dash, a configuration that protects it from glare.
Unfortunately, the new Accord earns the same complaint we've had about Acuras--there are too many buttons on the stack. The new Accord also brings in Bluetooth cell phone integration, an option previously reserved for the more upscale Acuras. But, although the Bluetooth system works well enough, it suffers from the same lack of integration as we've criticized in Acura models. You access Bluetooth using voice command, through a set of buttons on the steering wheel. But there is also a separate voice-command system to control navigation, the stereo, and other car functions. This other voice-command system has its own set of buttons stacked with the others on the steering wheel. We would like to have these systems integrated so that you would only need one set of buttons.