Honda Accord SE — A solid choice

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The challenge for manufacturers of popular mid-sized segment sedans is how to keep them fresh in the last year or two of a typical five-year cycle against all-new products especially from competitors who are on a different schedule. Just such a challenge faces Honda and its popular Accord, a perennial best seller in the U.S.

The Accord was at the top of its game as an all new 2008 model when it entered showrooms in the fall of 2007. In an effort to keep it fresh, Honda for 2011 has revised the front and rear styling — areas that cried out for attention — tweaked the switchgear, increased fuel mileage, and developed a new SE (Special Edition) trim level that Honda hopes brings the right mix of equipment for the least amount of cash.

We spent some time in the Special Edition (SE), which is powered by the base 4-cylinder engine and carries a bottom line of $24,480. If the SE doesn’t suit, you can still get the 2011 face-lifted Accord in numerous trim levels ranging from around 22 grand up through $32,000, and with three engine choices as well as a full range of amenities dictated by taste and pocketbook.

Hondas for years have been solid choices regardless of model. They are as reliable as the best of the competition and they have strong resale value; usually offer a good dealer experience for the most part, feature excellent gas mileage, and provide a comfortable drive.

For most people those are exactly the things they most covet in a vehicle. And so it is with Honda’s sales leader, the Accord. The problem for Honda is not so much its current mid-sized offering as it is with the competition which has strengthened considerably this decade making every manufacturer struggle to keep up in the huge and profitable segment.

Accord recognizes that gas mileage is at the forefront, and with such new offerings as the Ford Fusion (33 mpg) and hybrid (41 mpg), the Hyundai Sonata (35 mpg), the Chevrolet Malibu (33 mpg) and the Toyota Camry (33 mpg) and hybrid (35 mpg).

In an effort to keep up, Honda has managed to squeeze more miles out of a gallon of gas regardless of engine configuration. The most fuel efficient is the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder with 177-horsepower. It is now rated at a competitive 34 mpg highway and 23 mpg city. That’s a rather significant improvement from 2010 when the same engine was rated at 31/21. Likewise, the V-6 goes from 19/29 to 20/30.

Honda has pulled a few magic tricks out of its engineering bag to gain the mileage increases including reducing internal engine friction, revising the automatic transmission gear ratios, and improving aerodynamics.

While we have written about several Accord models over the past four or five years we discovered this time around that we were remiss in not giving the smaller engine more credit. We were won over by its decent performance in all areas. It has ample power available to quickly get up to speed on 70 mph freeways, and there is enough urgency to tackle on-ramps and safely pass pesky slow traffic on a two-lane stretch.

The engine’s performance — it has been measured in a solid 9.1 seconds from 0-to-60 — together with its stellar gas mileage and its lower purchase price make it very acceptable in our opinion.

We admit most buyers don’t care if they are driving a five-speed auto or a six-speed, but Honda is probably the only mainstream automaker holding on to the five-gear transmission. Others have moved to the six-speed and had Honda really wanted to tweak the numbers, it probably could have squeezed another mile to the gallon out of the base engine while adding just a bit to performance by moving to the six-speed.
This is one of several areas where the bean counters trumped the engineers.

We like the new styling tweaks, which makes more of a positive statement than anything else. We are not fans of the bulky front end look of many of the current Honda and Acura models, and a new grille goes at least part way in smoothing out the Accord’s styling although the profile with large ponderous overhangs remains the same.

The SE It comes with a fair amount of popular equipment although we were perplexed that a few features that are considered standard in vehicles over 20 grand have been omitted from the SE edition. They include a satellite-ready radio and an outside temperature reading. Here’s the thing — even Honda's much less expensive Civic has for years included an outside temperature reading available simply by pressing the odometer switch. And a satellite-ready radio is now available in virtually every vehicle sold in America.

Since Accord has no stand alone options you will have to move up to the EX-L ($28,105 including destination) to get those features.

This is not to say that there aren’t some fairly impressive features on the SE including leather power and heated seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, steering-wheel mounted cruise and audio controls, and a full range of safety features.

The Accord remains an impressive vehicle with a luxury-quiet interior and vast stretch-out room in back for passengers. Bordering on full-sized status, the Accord perhaps is the most comfortable of the popular mid-sized entries for four people and their cargo. The trunk will swallow 14 cubic feet of stuff.

We were pleased with the sedan’s non-navigation-equipped dashboard layout. The climate control buttons stretching across the center console are clear and easily useable at a quick glance. Likewise, the audio controls are relatively intuitive after you’ve used them one time.

Although the Accord has aged perhaps faster than what is considered normal — and we have issues with the styling — and it may not be the most snazzy or high tech as some of the newer vehicles in its class but it has a lot of things going for it not the least of which are top notch ride and handling, comfort, reliability and trade-in value. That’s solid!


Base price: $21,930; as driven, $24,480
Engine: 2.4-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 177 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 161 foot-pounds @ 4,300 rpm
Drive: front-wheel
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Length: 194.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,301 pounds
Luggage capacity: 14.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 34 mpg highway, 23 mpg city
0-60: 9.1 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata

The Good:
• Excellent fuel economy
• Large, quiet cabin
• Great reliability
• Excellent resale value

The Bad:
• Outdated 5-speed automatic transmission

The Ugly:
• Some common standard features not available except on high-end models