Although I drive a wide range of test cars throughout the year - everything from turbocharged Porsches to ultra-luxurious prestige Mercedes sedans - one of the models I most look forward to evaluating is the humble Honda Accord.
Why? Several reasons. First of all, this is the car that set the bar for mid-sized sedans, and has been a hit since its introduction in 1979. When you talk about dependable, sensible-shoes, four-door transport, the Accord is usually where the conversation starts.
Along with the Toyota Camry, it's been a front-runner in Canada from the get-go and for other manufacturers, such as General Motors and Hyundai, it's kind of a baseline for their entries into this market - the Malibu and Sonata, to name two. I can't tell you how many new-car launches I've attended where the manufacturer cites the Accord as the one to beat in the mid-size sedan category.
Secondly, people like the Accord and it sells in huge numbers around the world. It's also been the platform for other models within the Honda organization - like the Acura TSX, for example - and Honda has utilized its drivetrain throughout the company's lineup. The current edition of the 2.4-litre four-cylinder found in the base Accord is also used in the CR-V.
Last but not least, I like the Accord. Always have.
I owned a 1989 model and thought it was a terrific little car. I also think the current generation is a good-looking automobile, and I like its handling and thrift (the four-cylinder model, anyway). Most of all, I like the fact that it's driver-friendly and easy to get along with. No idiotic, non-co-operative climate control systems here; no stereo system that requires three separate functions to change channels, no asinine "driver-vehicle interface." Just straightforward, easy-to-manage transport.
If you count the Coupe, the Accord is now available in seven different versions for 2011, including the SE sedan, which replaces the LX. This is the base model, and starts at less than $25,000.
You can actually spend almost as much on a Civic, and while the SE doesn't have all the bells and whistles, it does have the prerequisites. All the usual modcons, such as air conditioning, power door locks, one-touch up/down front power windows and tilt/telescoping steering are here. No power front seats, no leather upholstery, no Navi system, no back-up camera, but if you must have those things, you can move up to the EX-L. The SE does have XM satellite radio as well as steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, so it's not completely proletarian in there, and, at the risk of sounding like an old fart, compared to the cars I grew up with, the SE is positively luxurious.
Power is delivered by the aforementioned 2.4-litre four-cylinder, which, in this configuration, develops 177 horsepower. The EX four-cylinder model puts out 13 hp more than this, but the torque output is about the same for both, and fuel economy is identical. My tester also had the five-speed automatic transmission, a $1,200 option, and this would be my choice, although I've driven the manual as well and it's perfectly acceptable.
The SE also comes with ABS and the transmission has Honda's grade logic system, which automatically chooses gears when decelerating. This is an excellent feature and is used throughout Honda's lineup.
A word about the behind-the-wheel factor: I looked back at some of the stories I've written about the Honda Accord over the years. The one thing that seems to emerge over and over again is how driveable the car is. No matter the vintage, it seems, the view out front, peripheral visibility, ease of entry/exit and overall compatibility are always the car's strong points.
The Accord is a pleasure to drive and easy to get in and out of. Lots of people complain about the Accord's personality - or lack of it. I say, if excellent drivability, decent resale values and top-notch reliability are boring, then all cars should be so dull.
That said, there are a couple of things to gripe about. First of all, the sub-par NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) of all Honda products these days. I don't want to sound like a broken record, but, Honda: deal with this. Your cars are noisy, with all kinds of racket coming up through the floorboard and wheel wells. And the SE may be the worst of all, not having Honda's so-called Active Noise Cancellation feature. In terms of a quiet driving environment, manufacturers such as Hyundai, Ford, and Kia are leaving Honda in the dust when it comes to noise suppression.
Secondly, the SE is a little shy on power: 177 horses is okay, but load this car up with passengers and their luggage, and you've got a bit of a slug on your hands. It'd be nice to have the EX's engine chip in the SE, without having to pay the $2,700 difference between the two.
Nonetheless, no serious, deal-breaking complaints here. If I needed an affordable four-door sedan, I'd buy one of these.
2011 Honda Accord SE
Type: Five-passenger, mid-size sedan
Base Price: $24,790; as tested, $25,990
Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 177 hp/161 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.0 city/5.8 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy, Hyundai Sonata, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Volkswagen Jetta