Curbside Classic: 1996 Honda Accord LX – In Accordance With American Demands

In production for over 40 years now, the Honda Accord ranks high among the world’s most influential, best-selling, and equitable automobile nameplates of all time. Now spanning nine generations, the Accord has been featured numerous times here at CC over the years, however we have yet to receive a non-wagon-specific full-length article on the fifth-generation (1994-1997) North American market Accord. Until now that is.

Creating a worthy follow-up act to the fourth generation Accords’s success was no easy feat for Honda. After all, it was the best-selling Accord yet, and more significantly, the best-selling passenger car in the United States for its first two years (1990 and 1991). The fourth generation Accord was also the roomiest, most powerful, and most luxurious Accord yet, bringing with it numerous advancements and refinements, adding a wagon bodystyle for the first time, and commonly regarded as offering the best handling characteristics of any affordable front-wheel drive family sedan.

But for all its positive virtues, praise, and attention, the 1990-1993 Honda Accord did have several key weaknesses that were critical to its success in the midsize market. While considerably longer and roomier than its third generation predecessor, it quickly became evident that this was not enough, as the Accord still lacked the spaciousness of key rivals such as the Taurus and redesigned 1992 Camry, both of which were still longer and 3-4 inches wider.

Equally detrimental to the Accord were both its lack of an available V6, something becoming more important to consumers as the car kept getting larger, and the fact that its pricing was always on the higher end of the segment.

The latter is something one might make a case of justification for, as the Accord typically offered interiors that were better screwed together and used better materials than most American competitors. However to the value-conscious consumer, size, power, and price are what most loudly spoke to him or her, and based strictly on that criteria, the Accord was smaller, less powerful, and more expensive than many rivals.

For the Accord’s upcoming fifth generation, Honda sought to address these weaknesses, resulting in a move not unlike what Toyota had recently done with the Camry. Rather than continuing with one single Accord for all markets, Honda elected to develop two, very different Accords to better serve the needs and conditions of the different global markets it was sold in.

While the European-targeted “CB” Accord retained similar dimensions to its predecessor, the North American-targeted “CD” Accord was allowed to grow larger, particularly in width, to make it more competitive in the midsize segment.

Both versions of these cars were sold in Japan, with the CB body being sold in 4-door hardtop form as the Ascot Innova (above, left), while the CD body carried on the Accord name. The smaller fourth generation Accord sedan’s role in Japan was now taken over by the CE body Ascot and Rafaga (above, right), which remained in the favorable compact tax bracket.

But back to our featured car, the fifth generation “CD” Honda Accord. Wider (by some three inches) and taller than its predecessor, the 1994 Accord was actually shorter with smaller overhangs than 1993 models, and offered a more spacious cabin, more cavernous trunk, and somewhat brawnier stance.

From a styling standpoint, designers applied much of the same design language the automaker began introducing two model years prior on cars such as the Civic, Prelude, and Domani. This meant a much more fluid shape, with sleek nose, a wedge-shaped silhouette, convex body sides, rakish roofline, and a taut, upright rear-end with integrated spoiler. Though hardly groundbreaking in design, the overall appearance exuded greater sportiness, elegance, and expressiveness when compared to the conservatively-styled car it replaced.

The inside was given a similar makeover, with softer angles, more curves, and greater fluidity in the design and fit of interior components. Unlike concurrent Toyotas and Nissans of Japan’s “Lost Decade”, Honda products seemed less likely to fall victim to noticeable cost-cutting, with interiors boasting the materials of the same high quality or even better than cars that preceded them.

The dash, center stack, and center console flowed seamlessly into one other, offering greater storage and improved ergonomics, with climate and radio controls placed higher on the instrument panel for easier reach and view. Instead of sliding out from the center stack, cup holders were moved to the center console for greater stability and less obstruction of other controls.

Regardless of interior color, upper dash and door panels were of a darker shade, with instrument panel control surrounds in black, providing for some much needed contrast, as compared to the sleep-inducing interiors of most competitors.

Door panels now boasted fully-integrated armrests, upholstered in either cloth or leather-and-vinyl to match seating surfaces, and front map pockets for a smoother appearance. Likewise, the wider center armrest with larger storage compartment was also covered in matching upholstery for a premium feel. Along with solid-feeling, no-nonsense switchgear and controls, the Accord’s interior could be summed up as a model for sophisticated simplicity.

Dual-front airbags were now a standard feature on all Accords, with anti-lock brakes available on all trims (standard on EX; optional on LX and DX). Only the EX models boasted standard four-wheel disc brakes, with lesser trims employing rear drums as standard and rear discs as optional equipment.

As typical of many Honda products but atypical for an affordable family-oriented sedan, wagon or even coupe, the Accord utilized a double-wishbone suspension for both the front and rear, something that gave it superior “sporty” driving dynamics than most of its competitors.

Both four cylinder engines were carryover from the previous generation, though minor revisions gave each of them five additional horsepower. The base F22B2 2.2L found in the DX and LX now made 130 horsepower and 139 lb-ft torque, while the EX’s F22B1 2.2L VTEC (variable valve timing and lift electronic control) now made 145 horsepower and 147 lb-ft torque. Both were of single overhead camshaft design.

The big news, however, was the much-anticipated addition of an available V6, something that did not arrive until the car’s second model year of 1995. Producing a healthy 170 horsepower and 165 lb-ft torque, the non-VTEC C27A4 2.7L V6 originally debuted in the 1988 Legend coupe and sedan, itself an upgraded version of the original C25A (Honda’s first production V6) that premiered with the Legend in 1986.

Rather interestingly, due to the V6’s larger physical size, Honda was required to redesign the engine bay and give V6-equipped cars longer and taller front fenders and hoods, resulting in an increased overall length of nearly three-inches versus four cylinder Accords. The visual difference was indiscernible, though V6 models were prominently distinguished by their unique chrome-surround grille, which along with the existing headlights, created a vaguely reminiscent look of the original Legend’s front end.

1996 updates were minimal, but nonetheless appreciated, especially after only two years on the market. Front and rear fascias were each given a nip/tuck, with new bumpers at each end, new taillights, and all models gaining the V6’s chrome grille. For better or worse, this mid-cycle facelift gave the Accord a slightly softer, less aggressive look. Larger taillights in particular, contributed to this, giving the car greater visual width.

In terms of its sales success, the 1994-1997 Accord fell short of regaining the title of Best Selling Car in America, a title not held since the second year of its previous generation (1991). Ford’s Taurus overtook the Accord in 1992, helped by a redesign and sharp uptick in fleet sales (something which rather unfairly inflated sales figures with regards to “success”), and held this title through 1996, upon which both were overtaken by the Toyota Camry.

Despite this, Accord sales held strong for its fifth generation. Holding steady between the 341K-384K mark and actually seeing its best year of sales in its final 1997 year, the Accord remained the second best-selling passenger car in America (to either the Taurus or Camry) for each of these four years. Although trailing its predecessor by about 90,000 units in total sales, the fifth generation Accord was nonetheless a highly successful, highly acclaimed vehicle.

Honda successfully improved on the previous Accord’s key weaknesses, by giving it more space, an available V6, and adding refinement to all its predecessor’s positive strengths while still keeping costs down. In conclusion, the fifth generation Honda Accord can best be summed up by the Honda principle of  “Every organizational unit must break old habits, even good ones”. Rather than cutting costs and corners, Honda delivered the most advanced, most thoughtfully-designed Accord yet with no noticeable backtracking. And I think that’s something we are all in accord with.

 

Related Reading:

1996 Honda Accord LX wagon