What’s there to be said about the Honda Accord that hasn’t been said already? It consistently ranks among the top ten best selling vehicles in America. It was the first import to become the best selling car in America (in 1989). It has been included in Car and Driver’s 10Best list a record 32 times to date — more than any other vehicle. It’s also the eight-best selling automobile nameplate of all time, with over 17.5 million sold globally since its introduction.
Through the present day, the Honda Accord has also managed to transcend the boring appliance image often associated with it prime competitors, including the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima, and still appeal to enthusiasts who need a safe and reliable family sedan and want one that boasts superior driving dynamics, rev-happy engines, and the availability of a manual transmission. So, for a car with such a lengthy and celebrated history, is there a generation of Accord that is the best of the best?
It’s a difficult question to answer, if there is indeed a simple answer. Over the course of its four plus decades, the Accord has changed its image, size, and appeals numerous times over the years, responding to the ever changing market conditions and demands of buyers. And for the most part, every generation Accord has been one of the strongest vehicles in its class, even if some generations lacked a little emotional vigor compared to others.
Comparing a 192.1-inch long 2018 Honda Accord sedan powered by a 252-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 mated to a 10-speed automatic to a 162.4-inch long 1978 Accord hatchback powered by a 79-horsepower carbureted 1.6-liter inline-4 mated to a 2-speed automatic to a 187.6-inch long 2003 Accord Coupe to a 240-horsepower naturally-aspirated fuel-injected 3.0-liter V6 mated to a six-speed manual is like comparing apples to oranges to orangoutangs.
Even going the more subjective route, and naming my own personal favorite generation of the Accord poses a perplexing challenge, as I’ve had numerous first hand experiences, quite possibly more than any other car, with so many different Accords over the years. I also owned a 2010 Acura TSX for four years, which was essentially an eighth generation Japanese/Euro/Oceanic-spec Accord in premium trim, with a different grille and a V6 stuffed under the hood.
I guess if I were to name best Accord, it would be the Accord I find the most perfect: the fourth generation Accord, sold for the 1990-1993 model years, and code named “CB” for its chassis. I come to the conclusion of naming it the most perfect based on a combination of factors. In terms of size, I’d describe it as being “just right”. Smallish-midsize interior volume, without being very large on the outside.
To this day, styling is somewhat timeless. Unquestionably an effort to increase mainstream appeal, styling took a more conservative route than its avant-garde hidden-headlight predecessor, in the process gaining a more expensive look to it that echoed that of the flagship Legend. While still on the smaller side, the 4th generation Accord was significantly larger and more spacious than its predecessor, enabling it to better compete with midsize sedans such as the Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus.
A model of Honda engineering at its finest, the new Accord rode on an all new chassis, designated the CB. Every North American-spec Accord sported the all-new 2.2-liter inline-4, making 125 horsepower with single exhaust or 130 with dual. Featuring all-aluminum construction, four valves per cylinder, multi-point programmed fuel injection, it was the largest engine made available to the Accord yet. Engine vibration was greatly reduced by a second-order balance system, inertia axis engine mounts, and on automatic transmission models, a centrally-located compound engine mount.
The standard transmission was a 5-speed manual with overdrive, featuring gear ratios optimized for improved smoothness. Optional, though more common was an all-new electronically-controlled 4-speed automatic with overdrive, lockup torque converter, and driver-selectable normal and sport modes.
The Accord’s renowned four-wheel double-wishbone was also completely redesigned. Upper and lower arms were lengthened for increased suspension travel, combined with new spring rates and shock absorbers for a smoother and quieter ride. The suspension geometry was altered to minimize camber change, reducing front-end dive when breaking and front-end lift while accelerating, while at the same time allowing for wheels to be more perpendicular to the road surface for better handling. Front stabilizer bars were found in even the base DX trim, while EX models gaining a rear stabilizer bar and a thicker front.
In addition to offering more space for passengers, the CB Accord’s interior benefited from an 18% increase in glass area, redesigned front seats for greater comfort, and enhanced fit and finish. One-piece construction was now used for the entire instrument panel for fewer squeaks and rattles, while the layout of controls was improved for better ergonomics.
Incorporating higher-grade plastics and fabrics, a greater amount of soft-touch and padded surfaces, sturdier switchgear and hardware, and a more aesthetically pleasing design, the 4th generation Accord’s carried an overall more premium look and feel than its predecessor and direct competitors, and one that wouldn’t be out of place in an entry-level Lexus, BMW, and you guessed it, Acura.
Initially offered in three tiered trim levels, DX, LX, and EX, all included items such as standard cloth upholstery, integrated rear headrests, adjustable steering column, height-adjustable front seat belts, remote trunk release, fold-down rear seatbacks, and rear seat heat ducts.
LX models added items including power windows and power locks, air conditioning, cruise control, upgraded Moquette upholstery, and body-colored bumpers, while EX models further added enhancements including a power moonroof with sunshade, adjustable driver’s lumbar support, 15-inch alloy wheels, front chin spoiler, and a 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust increasing output 5-15 horsepower depending on model year.
The range-topping Accord SE sedan was offered for 1991, adding features such as leather upholstery, 4-wheel disc anti-lock brakes, and a higher output of 140 horsepower thanks to a revised 4-into-2-into-1 exhaust system.
The SE was dropped for 1992, but returned in 1993 on coupes and sedans with additional standard features including dual front airbags, premium Bose sound system, special machine-finished 15-inch alloy wheels, body colored exterior trim, and factory wing spoiler on the coupe.
Sedans and coupes were also joined by an Accord wagon for the first time ever in 1991. Offered only in LX and EX trims, the Accord wagon boasted an impressive 64.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down, some 50 cubic feet more than just the trunk capacity of the sedan. Like the Accord coupe, all wagons, even for export to Europe and Japan, were produced in Honda’s Marysville, Ohio plant in the U.S, and proudly displayed it in badging on the steering wheel and C-pillars.
Neither overly premium or spartan, unlike more recent Accords, the 4th generation never made any defiant sporting or luxury claims. It could be sporty in looks and performance, and it could be luxurious in comfort and amenities, but neither in a pretentious, unrealistic manner. It was a model of well-roundedness, emphasizing comfort, convenience, quality, style, performance, handling, practicality, value, and above all, refinement.
Buyers seemed to appreciate all that went into the 4th generation Accord too, as they bought over 1.5 million 1990-1993 models in the U.S. alone. In fact, the Accord was the best-selling car in America for 1990 and 1991, a title first claimed by the 3rd generation Accord in 1989. Only with the advent of the redesigned Camry and Taurus both in 1992, did the Accord lose this crown and see a significant sales drop by its final 1993 model year. An all-new larger Accord would arrive in 1994, though Japan’s weakening economy dictated some noticeable cost-cutting, making it a somewhat less enthusiastic vehicle.
The 1990-1993 Accord was is perfect example of Honda doing what it did best — building an honest-to-goodness car that was stylish, fun-to-drive, reliable, and available in a wide range of flavors offering something for everyone. It was an appealing car in its own right without any fluff, and that’s what makes the fourth generation Accord so perfect.
Photographed: Post Office Square in Boston’s Financial District – April-June 2015