Over the past couple of months, I've driven at least four of the top-selling mid-size four-door sedans: Ford Fusion Sport, Toyota Camry SE, Nissan Altima S and Honda Accord EX-L.
Despite the prevalence of compact SUVs and the surging popularity of econoboxes, these kinds of cars still represent the heart of the automotive marketplace and many buyers, when they go looking for a new set of wheels, still gravitate towards the five-passenger, four-door sedan.
This segment of the market is ultra-competitive and all four of the vehicles have a lot going for them in terms of value and standard features. But more often than not, what prompts the buyer to sign on the dotted line is the final price tag, and the car with the most bang for the buck usually takes it.
For the past 20 years or so, that has been either the Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. Ford has taken a run at top spot now and then, and the Chevrolet Malibu is definitely a contender these days, but when it comes to numbers, the Accord/Camry lead the pack, and everyone else plays catch-up.
It's easy to see why. These two are attractively styled, comfortable, thrifty, well built and, by reputation at least, as dependable as gravity. And if I had to choose between them, I'd plump for the Accord.
Why? Well, first of all, I think the current generation of Accord is a terrific-looking car. When it made its debut last year, I wasn't that crazy about it, but it's definitely grown on me and, despite it's BMW-ness, strikes me as original, distinctive and contemporary. The Camry is just too jelly-beanish for my tastes. For what it's worth, a close second here is the Malibu.
But beyond that, the Accord still retains that elusive driver-friendliness that it's had almost from the very beginning. I owned a 1989 LX and I still consider it to be one of the most driveable sedans I've ever had. The newest iteration is just as easy to get along with.
My tester this time around was the EX-L, which came with a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine mated to an optional five-speed automatic. It develops 190 horsepower and, really, that's just ducky.
Yes, Honda will gladly sell you a V-6 that'll give you an additional 81 horses to play with, which is nice, but you'll pay for it at the pumps and, anyway, 190 horses in a 1,560-kilogram car is more than enough.
Think about it for a second; not so long ago, this was the kind of power you could expect from a V-8 engine - less sometimes. Back in the 1980s, GM and Ford were churning out full-size sedans with twice as many cylinders and roughly the same horsepower. So, as far as I'm concerned, power is not an issue with this version.
You can also get a five-speed manual transmission with this particular trim level for about $1,200 less, and it works just as well. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Honda's forte is lively, well-engineered, thrifty, four-cylinder engines - and this one is no exception.
Elsewhere, the EX-L is the most sumptuous of the four-cylinder Accords, and my tester had a full roster of convenience features and mod cons. To wit: dual zone climate control, leather interior, power driver's seat, heated front seats and the usual one-touch-down/up power windows and remote locking.
It also came with a special sound-deadening package and this feature was most welcome. If I have one overriding complaint about Honda products, it's that they tend to make a lot of racket on the highway and have weak NVH (noise, vibration, handling) suppression. This model is one of the quieter ones.
Options on my car included a navi system, XM satellite radio and upgraded stereo system. These extras added some $1,800 to the price tag (before taxes and various levies) and, were I contemplating buying this car, I'd give them a pass.
In a nutshell, I think what appeals to me the most about this version of the Accord is the fact that it has all the bases covered in terms of performance and creature comforts, yet doesn't cost an arm and a leg.
It has decent handling, is reasonably quiet on the highway, has a reasonable amount of elbow room (though not the best in this category), is good on gas and I felt like I was behind the wheel of an upscale automobile every time I drove it.
Bonus: it didn't drive me crazy with pointless technical gew-gaws and irritating electronic gadgets that require my full concentration and detract from the business at hand, which is driving the car down the road without hitting things.
And drive it down the road I did. Despite the fact that I also had a more expensive and powerful sports coupe sitting in my driveway during my time with this car, when I needed to go somewhere, the Accord was my ride of choice, nine times out of 10.
2009 HONDA ACCORD EX-L
Type: Mid-size, four-door sedan
Base Price: $30,090; as tested: $33,090
Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/Torque: 190 hp/162 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 9.9 city/6.5 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, Hyundai Sonata, Dodge Avenger, Chrysler Sebring, Volkswagen Passat, Subaru Legacy
- Very driveable
- Easy to get along with interior layout
- Good on gas
- Dynamite styling
- Not as lively as a V-6
- Could still be a little quieter on the highway