Home » Something Sensible For A Change: 1991 Honda Accord vs 1998 Ford Escort ZX2

Something Sensible For A Change: 1991 Honda Accord vs 1998 Ford Escort ZX2

Sbsd 6 27 2023
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Good morning! Today on Shitbox Showdown, I’m taking it easy on you all. I know some of our choices have been a bit left-of-center recently, so I’m making up for it by featuring two cars you might actually want. Imagine that! But first, let’s take care of yesterday’s rusty foolishness:

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Mr. Plow wins it by a country mile. Me? I’m on team Rampage; the Comanche never did much for me. If I want a small 4×4 truck from that era, it’s going to be a Nissan. But I always did like the Rampage’s baby-El-Camino vibe.

Anyway, let’s move away from the rust belt and take a look at a couple of ultra-clean West Coast cars. The complete lack of rust on these cars, and millions like them, is part of what makes car culture so great over on this side of the country. Seeing old relics like these that have the time to wear out mechanically instead of rotting away from underneath makes up for the weirdos, the taxes, the wildfires, the looming threat of “The Big One,” and the population doubling every few years. Well, it almost makes up for it. Usually.

Oh, and by the way, I specifically chose two manuals, to take transmission issues out of the decision. Everyone knows stickshifts make better cheap used cars anyway. Let’s take a look.

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1991 Honda Accord LX – $2,300

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.2 liter overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

Location: Lynnwood, WA

Odometer reading: 313,000 miles

Runs/drives? Just fine

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As gearheads, I’m sure you all get asked the same question by your friends when they’re in need of a vehicle: “What car should I buy?”

“Toyota Camry,” is usually my answer.

“But they’re boring! I want something fun.”

“Oh. Then a Honda Accord. With a stick.”

“Really?”

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“Yes, really.”

Rarely do they listen. And thus has the humble four-cylinder manual-transmission Accord remained one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to motoring fun on a budget. Sadly, this dream team of a basic four-banger and a five-speed disappeared from the option sheet some years ago. But the good news is that these things run for-freaking-ever, so you have plenty of used options. Like this one.

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In this fourth-generation Accord, the role of “basic four-banger” is played by a 2.2 liter overhead cam engine. Like most non-performance-oriented Honda engines, it prioritizes economy and refinement over sheer power, but it was no slouch in its day, especially with a manual. This one has over 300,000 miles on it, but still runs just fine. I know our fearless leader had some bad luck with an Accord, but he’s very much in the minority.

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I’m quite fond of Honda interiors from this era; they’re just so clean and purposeful. This one has an aftermarket radio held in by what looks like packing tape, but that appears to be its biggest flaw. One drawback to the early fourth-generation cars is the motorized seat belts. You get used to them, as long as they keep working properly, but I don’t think anybody really likes them.

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And I don’t mean to rub it in, to those of you in saltier places, but just look at how clean this thing is! These Accords are notorious for developing rust-through behind the rear wheels where the quarter panel meets the bumper – not a speck on this one. Hell, even the clearcoat looks decent on it. Someone took care of this car.

1998 Ford Escort ZX2 – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.0 liter dual overhead cam inline 4, five-speed manual, FWD

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Location: Edmonds, WA

Odometer reading: 160,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yes, but needs a new starter (it’s included)

Ford likes to throw the term “World Car” around, and this little car might be the best example of that. It rides on a Japanese-derived Mazda BG chassis, with American-styled body, a European-designed engine under the hood, and the whole thing was put together in Mexico. This thing is from everywhere. And the best thing about this international stew of parts is that it works really well.

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This was the second time Ford tried to make a sporty two-door Escort. The first, the Escort EXP from the 1980s, looked sort of cool, but it drove and performed like, well, a 1980s Escort. The ZX2 did quite a lot better, packing Ford’s two-liter Zetec twin-cam four under the hood, along with the handling goodness of that Mazda chassis. The combination makes for quite a fun car to drive.

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Unfortunately, at the moment, this ZX2 will require a push or a hill before you can enjoy it. The starter conked out, and the seller bought a replacement but didn’t install it. I’m not sure why that was the final straw for this car, but for some reason it was. They replaced lots of other things, and these cars are generally pretty reliable, so if you’re handy with a wrench and have a pair of jack stands, you could take care of the starter issue pretty easily.

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The rest of the car is in good condition. As inexpensive fun cars, these tend to get used up and abused; this is the cleanest one I’ve seen for this cheap for a while. And at only 160,000 miles, it should have plenty of life left.

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Well, there they are. My hope is that after many cries of “ugh, neither” over the past few days, these two will give you something to honestly think about. Either one would make a good cheap runabout. Do you want a legendary reputation with more miles, but less excitement, or do you want something a little thrashier and possibly more fragile, but a hoot to drive?

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
2 months ago

Tough one here, had a previous generation Accord bought practically new, Honda really made nice cars then. Airy greenhouse, just the right size, quality feel to the controls, they just felt right. That said, I would probably go with the Escort, the Honda would probably still be a better daily driver, but I always thought the ZX2s looked like a lot of fun.

There is a near showroom perfect ZX2 one that somebody who shares my parking garage drives to work everyday. I just kind of stare open mouthed at it, just not the kind of car that usually gets the care needed to be preserved like that.

ScottyB
ScottyB
2 months ago

Even for a Honda, 300,000 miles is really pushing the envelope of how many miles are left. The ZX2 is probably played out at 160K though. Also, why did the owner take pictures of the ZX2 with the wipers erect? Think of the children!

And you guys have really corrupted me, I am constantly identifying every vehicle I see as either too nice or a great Shitbox Showdown candidate.

Last edited 2 months ago by ScottyB
Jason Masters
Jason Masters
2 months ago

that honda, all day, every day. an accord doesn’t make it to 300k looking like that unless someone really cared. if they cared enough to keep it looking fresh, there’s a very good chance its been meticulously maintained. it would not surprise me to find that an encyclopedia sized service history comes with it. whoever buys that, as long as they are half as good as the previous owner at keeping up on it, is going to have that car for a very long time.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
2 months ago

Love those Hondas! (Should be winning)

Iwannadrive637
Iwannadrive637
2 months ago

I can’t ignore the miles and the ZX2 looks like a fun runabout.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
2 months ago

The ZX2 deserves more respect as basically a Mazda 323 coupe.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
2 months ago

Funny test the Honda is 7 years older, twice the miles, only $200 cheaper. The obvious answer is Honda. It is in better condition, better used parts availability, and something never mentioned here a reliable manual beater for $2300 that is dead dependable DD leaves a lot of money for project carS. Yes cars. And yeah that other POS is a Ford, parts from all over at 170,000 as reliable as the United Nations

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
2 months ago

I am going to apologize in advance for deliberately going all caps here.

THIS GENERATION WAS PEAK ACCORD, AND PROBABLY PEAK HONDA.

The goofy styling stuff that inched its way in after needs to expunged and bring us back to solid ergonomic (especially interiors) that Honda had mastered. They could lead the market if they studied their own history from this period. Sadly, it’s probably not possible to get back to the great low cowl visibility of this era. :SIGH:

Last edited 2 months ago by Andy Individual
FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
2 months ago

Two excellent and compelling options today.

One of my best friends adored his ZX2, and even with the autobox, unfortunately, it was a fun, nimble little beastie, and unstoppable in the snow. Sadly, a Liberty rear-ended it, and that was that.

Another close friend owned a string of CB7s (and one hand-me-down CB9) that generally outperformed expectations, especially given what he paid for ’em. Manuals, automatics, LXes, EXes – all good cars, and all, as Mark mentioned, a lot crustier around the rear quarters. I loved the low hoodline, superb visibility, and the crisp-by-my-standards Honda shifter in his last manual EX sedan.

Since I have no plans to leave New England, and whichever choice I make would have to face our winters (and specifically, our road salt), it’s the Ford, but only just. I grew up with a couple of other Zetec-powered Fords (Contour/Mystique) as well, so it’d feel closer to home in that regard, too. Also, the worst thing about a ’90-91 Accord (like many other cars of that era) was the ‘motor mouse’ belts, though somehow I don’t think they’d deter me if this was an early-’90s Escort GT with the Mazda BP.

Edit: My former-ZX2-owning friend now has a ’97 Civic, and my serial-Accord-owning friend’s over his head with a Neon SRT-4 drag car. Make of that what you will.

Last edited 2 months ago by FuzzyPlushroom
Tim Cougar
Tim Cougar
2 months ago

It’s a family affair for me. My second-favorite cousin had a ZX2, and I grew up with and learned to drive in a 1990 Accord coupe.

Nostalgia wins here. I can’t not vote for the Accord; our coupe may be the finest car I’ve ever known. It stayed in the family until it met with an unfortunate Rendezvous. And by that I mean an accident with an ugly Buick SUV.

Christopher Scott
Christopher Scott
2 months ago

Hmmm. My answer to this one depends on what I want the car for. Having experience in multiple 4th-gen Accords exactly like this, and a 3rd-gen as well, I know that the Honda is a superior car in nearly every way. So even with the mileage, if I’m looking at it for actual transportation purposes, it’s the Honda.

However, at this time in my life, I’m not likely to be looking for a ’90s ride as actual daily transportation. I’d be looking for them as conversation pieces at Cars and Coffee and going for max Radwood cred.

The fact is, here in the southeast (and out west too, I’m sure), a 4th-gen Accord is something you see on a pretty regular basis. People are still dailying these things. They’re just not an uncommon sight. A ZX2 isn’t exactly a unicorn either, I see them tooling around here in NC pretty regularly, but it’s not nearly as common as the Accord.

So for my purposes, it’s got to be the Ford. By virtue of its being a fraction as good a car as the Honda is, it sold in a fraction of the numbers and survived to 2023 in even smaller fractions. So now it’s the more interesting one.

If we were talking about a 3rd-generation Accord, that would be my choice, because popups.

Last edited 2 months ago by Christopher Scott
Farty McSprinkles
Farty McSprinkles
2 months ago

Anyone here who voted for the Ford has never owned a economy Ford product from the 90s. I would rather walk, because I would end up doing it anyway when it broke down. They make your drunk brother in law look reliable in comparison.

JDE
JDE
2 months ago

SO Hyundai Scoupe for you then.

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
2 months ago
Reply to  JDE

Hey! That’s cruel and unusual and degrading punishment!

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
2 months ago

I’ve owned Civics, Escorts, Focii and currently have a Fit. I voted for the Escort ZX2.

The Escorts of the 1990s are actually quite reliable as they have a lot of Mazda in them. And in the case of the ZX2, it has a 2L Ford-of-Europe designed Zetec engine which was also a good engine.

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
2 months ago

Found On Road Dead or Fix Or Repair Daily. My 1974 Ford Maverick makes me look back fondly to my 1974 4 door Plymouth Valiant.

Cyko9
Cyko9
2 months ago

I can’t believe I voted for a ’90s Ford, but it’s the more interesting choice in this face-off. Quality isn’t the best, but I’d actually drive it for a while. The Accord is a decent car, but I’d probably look elsewhere for dull & reliable.

Cheats McCheats
Cheats McCheats
2 months ago

I went Honda. The wear on the brake and clutch pedal for the ZX2 looks like it is a lot more than 160,000 miles.

Flat6Fever
Flat6Fever
2 months ago

I would expect brake and clutch pedals to be totally shot after 30 years and 160,000 miles, especially on a Ford.

Last edited 2 months ago by Flat6Fever
Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
2 months ago
Reply to  Flat6Fever

Id expect them to be replaced?

Meet Dave Jensen
Meet Dave Jensen
2 months ago

Or under done maintaining boy racer.

John Beef
John Beef
2 months ago

My mom drove a ’90 Accord with a stick and I learned to drive in that car, so nostalgic Accord all the way for me.

Those seat belts, though! I do remember the tensioners would sometimes lock up from the sudden jolt of the seatbelt moving. Sometimes you’d turn off the car and open the door just to have the tensioner lock up and prevent the belt from moving away, trapping the driver. The only way to get out of the trap was to close the door, turn the key to ON so the seatbelt would go back to driving position, the turn the key off and open the door again and hope the tensioner would grant you access to leave the car. If it happened a second time, the usual response was to unhook the seat belt from the moving mechanism and curse under your breath.

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