The Honda Accord satisfies the principal needs for family car shoppers, but Honda's dropped the ball in a few areas, and competitors are more than catching up.
The second-best-selling sedan in America, the Accord is still worth your consideration, particularly given the 2011 model's improved gas mileage. Just make sure you shop its major competitors -- in particular the new Kia Optima (yes, really) and its Hyundai Sonata cousin.
I drove a four-cylinder Accord SE sedan. The SE trim level is new, slotting between the lower-end LX and LX-P and the higher-end EX and EX-L. A V-6 engine is available on both EX versions. There's also an Accord coupe and an Accord Crosstour wagon; the Crosstour is covered separately on Cars.com.
Typical of a car that's four years into its current generation, the Accord received a few visual updates for 2011: a new grille and narrower front air dam, a couple more creases across the front bumper and new taillight reflectors that span the center of the trunk. I've never been bullish on the current Accord's face -- it seems emotionless, even a bit robotic. The changes don't improve that, and the trunk reflectors add clutter to what was once a clean design. Still, Honda says the car is now a bit more aerodynamic, which helps contribute to a modest increase in its gas mileage.
Sixteen-inch steel wheels and plastic covers come with the LX sedan, with 16- or 17-inch alloy wheels on all other trims. Six-cylinder models add dual exhaust pipes and fog lights -- the latter to good effect, as the front bumpers on four-cylinder models have an oddly sculpted blank space where the lights would otherwise go. The Accord coupe loses about four inches of length compared with the sedan; with slimmer headlights and a reworked tail, it looks somewhat different from the sedan. It's also the only Accord to offer factory 18s, which go on V-6 EX-L models.
Enough oomph, better efficiency
The Accord's four-cylinder makes 177 horsepower in LX, LX-P and SE models. It's tuned for 190 hp in EX and EX-L sedans, and in all four-cylinder Accord coupes. The difference in tuning becomes apparent only when merging onto the highway or pushing the car hard on hilly terrain. Stop-and-go oomph is similar. Both engines are quick enough, although neither is as sprightly as the four-cylinders in the Nissan Altima or the Suzuki Kizashi.
A five-speed manual is standard. The optional five-speed automatic upshifts smoothly and doles out quick downshifts when you need them. I'll take that over an indecisive transmission, regardless of how many gears it has.
A 271-hp V-6 engine is optional. It musters smooth, confident passing power, but when compared with other V-6 family cars, it feels on the weaker side. The V-6 Altima and Camry, in particular, pack more power.
At least Honda's drivetrain is efficient: With a fuel-saving cylinder deactivation system, the V-6 Accord sedan gets an EPA-estimated 24 mpg in combined city/highway gas mileage. That's up 1 mpg over last year's V-6 Accord, and it's better than most six-cylinder family cars. (It bears mentioning that the Sonata and Optima both offer turbocharged four-cylinders with V-6-like acceleration and an impressive 26 mpg.)
The four-cylinder Accord gets a combined 27 mpg. That's up 2 mpg over last year's four-cylinder, and it ties the Optima and Altima for best fuel efficiency among four-cylinder family cars.
All V-6 Accord sedans get an automatic. Performance enthusiasts may prefer the coupe, which pairs the V-6 with an optional six-speed manual. The coupe's drivetrain loses cylinder deactivation -- and its EPA mileage drops to 17/26 mpg -- but it has strong acceleration at any rpm. The clutch is light, and the manual shifter has crisp, short throws, which you wouldn't expect given its tall height. On the whole, the setup does a lot to unlock the engine's potential, and it doesn't require premium gas.
Though its ride is softer than that of preceding generations, the current Accord still rides firmly for a family sedan. The Accord feels more controlled over major bumps than the Nissan Altima -- whose suspension has all the cushioning of a $199 mattress -- but sections of uneven highway still find their way subtly to your backside, and most bumps are met by loud suspension responses. Compounding this is road and wind noise, which are both loud. Quiet and comfy, the Accord is not.
The Sonata and Optima both fare better in that regard, but if a silent cabin and isolating ride are No. 1 concerns in your book, the Chevy Malibu and Toyota Camry remain tops. Conversely, the Accord has always been one of the more engaging family cars to drive. Some may find the steering wheel takes considerable effort to turn at low speeds -- though I've found it lighter in LX and LX-P trims -- but on curvy roads it offers quick precision and little vagueness. At highway speeds, the steering wheel's hefty weight is impressive.
Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard. The pedal delivers a confident, linear sensation that makes it easy to fine-tune your stops.
Two things stand out about the cabin. One, it's big. The Accord's interior volume ranks it in the EPA's full-size category, and it shows. Headroom and legroom up front are abundant; the gearshift sits low, and there's enough room sculpted out around it for your knees to go where they may. Equally impressive is the backseat: There's room to stretch out, and the seat is large enough and high enough for most adults to have ample thigh support. Too many competing backseats have one but not the other.
The second impression is that others have leapfrogged the Accord in quality and seating comfort. Our SE tester had rich leather upholstery, but multiple editors agreed the seats had far too much lumbar support, even with the SE's power lumbar dialed all the way back.
The dashboard's gray trim looks flat and plasticky, particularly compared with silver trim that looks more like real metal in cars from the Sonata to the Altima. The SE has decent leather upholstery, but the doors have embarrassingly cheap molded plastic inserts. EX-L models get proper leather door inserts; why the cost-cutting ogre pried them out of the SE, I don't know. That ogre also replaced proper chrome door handles with wretched silver plastic ones across all trims. The prior-generation Accord had near-Volkswagen levels of cabin quality. Honda needs to find those days again.
A navigation system is optional on EX-L models. It's easy enough to use, but the low-resolution graphics are due for an update. A couple of additional features make the Accord more tech savvy: The nav system now includes a backup camera, and the EX and EX-L sedans, as well as all coupes, include a USB/iPod interface. My test car didn't have it, so I had to make do with the Accord's standard auxiliary MP3 jack.
Trunk volume is 14.7 cubic feet. That's competitive with the segment, but the car's backseat folds in a single piece rather than the 60/40 split most competing backseats offer. The resulting opening is small, and you won't be able to accommodate lengthy cargo and a rear passenger, unless your cargo fits through the narrow pass-through behind the center armrest. The Accord coupe has a folding seat but doesn't get the pass-through, and it drops cargo volume to 11.9 cubic feet.
Safety & features
In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the 2011 Accord earned scored Good in front-, side- and rear-impact tests. In IIHS' roof-strength test, the Accord earned a grade of Acceptable. (In ascending order, IIHS scores are Poor, Marginal, Acceptable and Good.) The Accord also received the top overall score of five stars in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's revamped 2011 side-impact tests, which are more stringent than in past years.
Standard safety features include six airbags, antilock brakes and an electronic stability system. Visit Cars.com for a full list of safety features.
With a starting price over $21,000, the Accord is not particularly cheap. Standard features on the base, stick-shift LX sedan include power windows and locks, cruise control, air conditioning and a CD stereo with an auxiliary jack and steering-wheel audio controls. It's a generous list, but many competitors have similar features for under $20,000, and several offer standard USB/iPod connectivity -- a feature the Accord reserves for higher trims.
Move up the trim levels, and you can get power front seats, heated leather upholstery, a navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control and a moonroof. With navigation, the Accord sedan and coupe both top out around $32,000.
Accord in the market
A roomy cabin and decent gas mileage will earn the Accord a lot of buyers, but the traditional benefits of Honda ownership don't appear to be here in force. To wit: The current Accord gets merely average reliability marks, and its five-year residual values are midpack for the segment.
There are a lot of appealing options out there for family-car shoppers. Until Honda takes another shot at reimagining the Accord, its days as an automatic choice for a huge portion of family-car shoppers could be numbered.
$21,180 -- $29,730
City: 17 -- 23
Highway: 26 -- 34
177-hp, 2.4-liter I-4 (regular gas)
190-hp, 2.4-liter I-4 (regular gas)
271-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 (regular gas)
5-speed automatic w/OD
5-speed automatic w/OD and auto-manual
5-speed manual w/OD
6-speed manual w/OD
New or Notable
* Four-cylinder or V-6
* Sedan or coupe
* Updated exterior styling
* Improved gas mileage
* New SE trim level
* Roomy cabin
* Gas mileage
* Confident handling
* Brake-pedal feel
* Crash-test ratings What We Don't
* Road noise
* Somewhat firm ride
* Backseat doesn't split-fold
* Limited USB/iPod interface availability
* Relatively pricey