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HISTORY ************ Most signs of middle age you can ignore. Grey hairs, wrinkles, the endless aches and pains. All can be denied much of the time. The one thing you can't disregard is that nagging voice in your head. You know the one. It sounds a bit like the late Johnny Cash. And it says "Son, it's time you thought about buying a Honda."
That voice first spake unto me about six years ago. And yea, though I was sore afraid, I resisted for a while. But in July 2001, I found myself wandering the wilderness of a used car supermarket, running my fingers idly along the smooth curves of a 1999 Honda Accord saloon in Senility Silver. (It is also available in Retirement Red and Last of the Summer Burgundy). A few days later I was handing over a cheque for £7,395.
With just under 40,000 miles on the clock, the car had above-average mileage for its two-and-a-half year life. But as an ex-lease car it had a full main dealer service history and one owner - albeit one whose fag end had got too close to the dashboard at least once. It had a few touched-up paintwork marks and some slight interior wear and tear. But otherwise it was in fine nick.
The car was the most basic of the range. It was nevertheless the most pimped-up ride I'd ever owned. Believe it or not, this was my first car to have air-conditioning, power steering, ABS, electric windows (only at the front though), electric mirrors, central locking, fuel injection or a CD player - although the Pioneer one fitted was lousy. It skipped if you went over a crisp packet, and I soon replaced it.
Honda's Swindon factory produced this version of the Accord between 1998 and 2003. It was an evolution from the previous version, rather than the revolution in looks between it and the current Accord. But although its design lacks the granny-worrying brio of the new Civic, it still exuded a stylishness not evident in other Honda models at the time.
ART ****** As someone who takes only a passing interest in cars' performance, I find their aesthetic appeal at least as decisive as the mechanicals. And I still think this version of the Accord stands up well. It predates the current fashion for chunky, tiny-windowed, slab-sided models. It thus has a more sinuous character than many current cars.
For me, this makes it more pleasing to look at than the more angular new Accord. Nice touches like the slight overhang on the boot lid and the angle of the headlamps make it attractive from any quarter. The metallic paint job is excellent. It resists most stone chips, which rarely penetrate to the metal beneath. Even when they do, rust never seems to spread or bubble. I've never been able to buy a touch up kit in the car's exact shade. But to be honest, I've not really needed one.
The upholstery and carpeting is a pensioner-pleasing but practical grey. Even on the driver's seat, the velour shows no signs of wear after its current 82,000 miles, although the carpet is not quite as resilient. The interior plastics are not up to the standard of a BMW, or even a VW or Volvo. Although the dash is pleasingly soft, the covers on the door pillars and around the gearstick are of a slightly inferior hard plastic.
The seats are comfortable and supportive, and I've noticed no back pain, even on long motorway drives. Front and side airbags are standard. For a car of this size, leg room is not fantastic, at the front or back. A tallish driver like me couldn't have Jeremy Clarkson sat behind him - for which I'm mighty grateful. But I would have foregone an inch or two in the admittedly huge boot and the deep fascia for more knee-space.
All dials and controls are clear and fall easily to hand (although there are none of those handy steering wheel volume controls). The glove compartment has an interior light, but is not particularly spacious. And its lock succumbs easily to a scumbag with a screwdriver, as I found to my cost less than a year after buying this car. Its immobiliser and alarm, though, do mean it's likely still to be there when you come back from shopping in Hull, even if the window is broken.
The cabin can be slightly noisy, mainly from the tyres: but the 1.8i petrol engine, even at high speeds, is smooth and refined. At tickover, it is virtually silent. Are you getting bored yet? I know I am. Let's move swiftly on to the facts and figures.
MATHS ********* Hondas are known for their reliability. This was the major factor in my decision to buy one. If a car starts every time and never breaks down, it already wins a place in my heart. And touch wood (if that pointless little strip of walnut veneer-looking stuff on the dashboard is wood), it has never let me down so far.
So the main costs of ownership to date have been down to MOTs, regular (9,000-mile) servicing, and the repairs occasioned by vandalism, my idiocy, and wear-and-tear. In the 42,000 miles I've driven it, I've gone through one and a half sets of tyres, brake pads and discs front and rear, and rear anti-roll bar bushes and linkages - whatever they are.
Apart from the costs of a door mirror kicked off while the car was parked in Liverpool, and a rear light cluster I smashed reversing into a fence post, that's it. My only gripe is with the rate at which it goes through headlamp bulbs. Every few months I have to visit Halfords to fork out £9 and then carry out 15 minutes of car-gynaecology trying to undo the wire clip that holds the bulb in. Never ask me to fit an intra-uterine device.
Fuel economy isn't brilliant by modern standards. In mixed driving, a 50-litre tankful of petrol (they didn't do a diesel version) takes me about 380 miles. I make this about 34.5mpg, slightly more on longer motorway trips. This is better than Honda's official figures of 25.2mpg for urban driving, 40.9 for 'extra urban', and 33.6 for 'mixed' driving.
Main dealer repairs and servicing costs I've always found reasonable. They compare well with small local garages (two sets of discs and pads fitted by the dealer were £215 for example, as against £212 from an independent). So a big-up there to DeVries Honda of Hull. The extra £3 must be for the bowl of sweeties on the service reception desk.
I'm not sure how depreciation compares with other brands. When I bought it at two and a half years old, it was less than half its £15,295 new value. Now, five years later, my model would cost around £2,500 from a dealer or about £1,700 privately. The most you'd pay for this Accord - for a top-of-the range 2003 model - would be around £8,000 from a dealer.
DESIGN TECHNOLOGY ***************************** The mechanics and performance of a car, as I mentioned, rarely trouble me. This is mainly because I've never been able to afford a car that does anything that could be called performance. The Accord was the first car that gave me an inkling that driving could be a pleasure.
The car is rock-steady, even on reckless, tyre-squealing cornering. And I'll never forget the thrill of the first time I put my foot down in second gear and unexpectedly felt it surge forward. This is down to the VTEC engine with its 'variable valve timing'. This comes into play at certain engine speeds. So if you keep your eye on the rev counter and accelerate at the right point, you get massively greater oomph than normal. This makes for impressive overtaking ability - even from my modest 1.8 litre lump (2-litre and 2.2 litre versions are available). It also scares the bejaysus out of unsuspecting passengers, who often soil their tartan car rugs in response.
So I take back all I said about Hondas and pensioners. This is a brilliant car, even in its most cheapskate incarnation. If you pick up a low-mileage, regularly-serviced version for a couple of grand or so, you'll be buying peace of mind and, when you need it, a bit of fun too.
I've owned two Hondas in my driving life and they've both been ridiculously reliable and pleasant. Unrustable, unburstable and impeccably mannered. The only downside is that old Civics invariably fall into the hands of boy racers who fit drainpipe exhausts and fat alloys and fling them around like idiots. Oh to be young again!
CelticSoulSister 26.05.2010 12:11
I'm glad I've never learned to drive. I'd find the whole ballgame of owning & running a car stressful beyond belief. Good review!
kevin121 03.11.2009 23:08
Hope you've had relatively trouble free motoring since writing this, and maybe got to grips with the car gynae now.