Honda Accord (1998)
Our biggest surprise about the new Honda Accord was that we liked it better than the Toyota Camry. For years we've preferred the Camry to the Accord. We always found the Camry slightly smoother, more comfortable, and less Spartan inside. But our opinion has flip-flopped. Now, we'd have to say that the Accord seems like more fun and "more car" for the money.
When we drove the base model 1998 Camry a few weeks ago, we found it surprisingly empty inside. And we felt that for a $24,000 stickerprice (a few thousand less in the real world), you should at least get a car that doesn't feel bare inside. By comparison, the Accord felt large and, while hardly plush, certainly comfortable and well appointed. The seats are wider than in previous years, reflecting the fact that Accord buyers are getting older and, therefore, getting what? Wider butts! We think Honda is onto something here!
The 1998 Accord is clearly the best Accord Honda has ever made. It has a new, slightly larger chassis. It's longer, wider, and taller than last year's model. As we said, it feels roomy but not too big. The ride is typically firm for Honda, but they seem to have done a better job than ever in making the car hold the road and corner well, while at the same time absorbing bumps and potholes. The ride is notably good.
And, fortunately, the Accord comes with a slightly more powerful version of the same time-tested, very reliable Honda four-cylinder engine inside, which is as good as any on the market and plenty powerful for this car. (Ray mistakenly thought it was the six-cylinder engine until he opened the hood and peeked.)
Our one complaint, however, was how much you can hear and feel the engine in the Accord. It's no worse than on older Accords, but no better, either, and that was a disappointment because everything else about this car *has*improved. On acceleration around town, there's a fair amount of vibration transmitted through the steering wheel, and you hear the engine more than you should, too.
There are three possible explanations for this: 1) this is intentional, designed to give the car a sportier feel; 2) there was a mechanical problem of some kind with our test car; or 3) our expectations have gotten so high that we expect every car we drive to be as smooth and quiet as a Toyota Camry.
So, if you really prefer smoothness and quiet to road feel, the Camry might still be a better choice for you. The harshness may be perfectly acceptable to most people (and, to be fair, we should mention that Ray didn't even notice it). But when you're pay $20K+ for a car, you'd like the engine noise to remind you more of a Lexus and less of a Dodge Neon. It may be a matter of personal expectations--drive it and see if it bothers you.
Another plus is that Honda finally fixed the "notchy" shifting of their automatic transmissions. Virtually every other manufacturer had figured out over the years that they should retard the timing a little bit during shifting to smooth out the transitions between gears. Now Honda has joined the ranks of carmakers with super smooth automatics. It's about time.
The Accord is available in a four- and a six-cylinder model. Our advice is to stick with the four-cylinder version. It's got more than enough power. If some sleazy sales guy wearing plaid pants named Norm tries to talk you up into the six-cylinder, just so he can buy himself another goldchain--don't do it. We've discovered that the six-cylinder Accord is also a lot harder to work on--the engine is really crammed in tight.
Overall, we were very impressed with the new Accord. It's going to give the Camry a lot of competition. It's fun to drive, comfortable, decently appointed and--if the past is any indicator--more reliable than just about any car on the road. Except maybe the Camry. We definitely wouldn't hesitate to recommend this car. It's one of the best out there.
View cars.com model report on this vehicle.