The Accord Coupe is as close as Honda comes to a grown-up sports car, at least until the mid-engine NSX re-appears in 2015. But that will be badged as an Acura and cost Porsche money. Honda photo
There’s something pleasantly old-school about this car, and this is a bit odd since it’s a crispy-new, redesigned (although familiar) model from a maker known for engineering brilliance—that is, Honda. No, we don’t have to crank the engine by hand (a pushbutton does that), but there is a third pedal under the dash and the only switches on the deck around the gearshift lever are for the seat heaters. There are no knobs or buttons labeled “Normal,” “Sport” or “Sport+,” or even “Snow”; there’s no monkeying with the suspension, steering or throttle, nor is there an auxiliary electric motor to call upon. Just push in the clutch, engage first or reverse in the 6-speed gearbox—by hand—and drive off. Want to go faster? Push harder on the pedal on the right.
Oh, my—that’s a 278-horsepower V-6 underfoot, which explains the squealing and tire smoke from, unfortunately, the front wheels. (We’ll get back to this.)
Since fewer than 10 percent of new cars sold in America now have clutch pedals, Honda may have put one on this Accord Coupe just for us motojournalists, who tend to think that car control comes before, oh, answering the phone. Or Honda may be showing off a bit, as if to say, “Yeah, it’s an Accord—but lookit how sporty it is!”
That the Coupe is such a close cousin to a sports car tells us how capable Honda’s popular Accord family sedan is to begin with. Just lose the sedan’s back doors, whack two inches out of its length and steepen the roof line, and we get a car that not only looks athletic, but also can tear up pavement. (It dropped a couple hundred pounds in the surgery too.) Yet even as an agile two-door fastback, the Accord still has usable back seats and a decent trunk. Also an “Econ” mode, which most Coupe owners likely will ignore till they’re on the last teaspoon of fuel en route to a distant gas station.
Only about 10 percent of Accord buyers take the Coupe, but my guess is that a fair number of them opt for the third pedal too. Both the clutch and the gearbox feel eager and nicely mechanical; driving this car makes us think we’re accomplishing something. (Accords are made in Ohio, but the manual transmission is shipped in from Japan.) You say you don’t want a clutch? A 6-speed automatic is available too, for the same price, and it bumps the V-6 Coupe’s MPG rating from 18/28 city/highway to 21/32.
There’s nothing at all old-school about the rest of the Accord Coupe. It has all the latest active and passive safety systems that the feds demand—and this optioned-up, $33,000 EX-L V-6 has a few extra, including lane-departure and front-collision alerts, an adjustable rear-view camera and Honda’s clever LaneWatch: Signal for a right turn and the entire starboard side of the car plus the lane you’re about to veer into appears on the dashboard screen.
Our car also came with a long list of creature comforts as well as digital features (satnav, Bluetooth, Pandora, SMS, USB and AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3), many of them feeding into an acronym: i-MID, Honda’s Intelligent Multi-Information Display, with not one but two computer screens. Blessedly, this is simpler than it sounds; I could dope out all the functions quickly and without resorting to the owner’s manual or voice commands. (Talking to a car makes me feel like an idiot.)
A 4-cylinder, 185-horsepower Accord Coupe starts at about $24,000; with less weight up front, it may be slightly more nimble than the V-6. However, this gets us back to the “unfortunately” comment above: Like the Monday-through-Friday Accord sedan, Accord Coupes too are led around by their front wheels. Honda has done a good job of engineering away torque steer, but 278 ponies is a lot; whip them hard enough, and torque steer and understeer do show up.
If Honda could somehow turn this car around and put the driven wheels at the back, the Accord Coupe would instantly graduate from sporty car to sports car.