Republished: 01/28/2010 (Original Date: 10/19/2010)
James Riswick, Automotive Editor
Describing the Honda Accord has sadly become a lot like describing a refrigerator: "It works, there is a lot of space inside, it doesn't use that much energy and it's likely to last a really long time."
Maybe some folks would like their fridge to have double freezer drawers or a motion-activated touchscreen that can tell you the proper drinking temperature of orange juice, but for most, all they need is simple, spacious, efficient and dependable. That certainly sums up the 2011 Honda Accord as well.
Now, there is obviously nothing wrong with these qualities and in fact, the Honda Accord has become an institution in America because of them, selling 290,056 examples last year to prove it. And yet the Accord used to leave a more lasting impression with us. It was once consistently the most enjoyable sedan to drive, its cabin was once consistently the finest in the class and it was once consistently pretty sharp-looking as well.
Through a combination of Honda's own doing and a number of thoroughly impressive new competitors, the 2011 Honda Accord now falls short in those areas that once made it as much a desirable choice as it was a sensible one.
Thanks to myriad small changes made to its engines, aerodynamics, tires, transmission and other attributes, the 2011 Honda Accord achieves better fuel economy than last year's model and indeed all naturally aspirated four-cylinders in its class (the optional V6 is also now tops). With its 2.4-liter inline-4, the Accord returns an EPA-estimated 23 city/34 highway and 27 combined mpg. This isn't a big advantage over its rivals, but best is still best.
As before, how much power the 2011 Honda Accord's 2.4-liter produces depends on the trim level you choose. The new SE model gets the same lower output as the LX and LX-P trims, with 177 horsepower versus the 190 present in the EX. While this engine makes smoother, more pleasing noises than other four-cylinders (Honda hasn't lost its mojo in this regard), it just doesn't have the guts to get such a big, heavy sedan moving as quickly as do competitor vehicles with more power and/or less weight. It now takes 9.2 seconds to get this 3,290-pound 2011 Honda Accord SE to 60 mph from a standstill, a second longer than the Hyundai Sonata. It's honestly difficult to tell such a difference while puttering around town, but should you need to pass someone on the freeway or charge up a hill, the Accord is bound to feel a bit overwhelmed.
Overwhelmed is a pretty good word to describe the Dunlop tires affixed to the SE's 16-inch alloy wheels. Though they are designed to help fuel economy, grippy they are not, contributing to disappointing handling and below-average braking. In testing, the Accord came to a panic stop from 60 mph in a longish 136 feet, with subsequent test runs resulting in excessive fade and smoking brake pads. This is an unfortunately typical Honda attribute and one to be aware of should you live in hilly terrain.
On the tight roads associated with such hilly terrain (or even around town), the big Accord doesn't feel as big as you'd think, but it still lacks the agile feel of its predecessors, not to mention athletic rivals like the Mazda 6 and Suzuki Kizashi. The Honda's highly tactile steering is a saving grace, however. With its small-diameter wheel and quick ratio, the Accord imparts a communication with the driver that thankfully remains a hallmark.
The Accord's lightweight doors close with a reassuring, well-damped thump. Once situated in the driver seat, your first action is likely to be reaching for the power-adjustable lumbar support. With a lowest lumbar setting similar to the highest of many other car seats, the Accord's chairs can feel like you're sitting against a rolled-up towel unless your spine is shaped to match. If it isn't, we've found you either sit against the Accord's seatback rather than in it, or are forced to sit in an absurdly upright position. One staffer dubbed it the "corrective posture chair." If it fits you, you'll love it, but if it doesn't, this is a deal-breaker.
No such problems exist in the backseat, which is mounted high for good thigh support, yet still provides an abundance of headroom. With legroom also in excess for those of tall stature, we've found the 2011 Honda Accord to have the most welcoming backseat in the midsize class. It is also the easiest in which to install a child seat, be it front-facing or rear-facing.
Visibility from behind the wheel is very good thanks to the cabin's thin pillars, so parking and lane changes are easy. All that glass doesn't help with the Accord's inability to insulate you from road noise, though. There is excessive tire thrum even at lower speeds, and it doesn't take a decibel meter to know that the Accord is louder than its rivals.
While we've frequently criticized the Accord for the ugly and confusing array of buttons that appears on the dash when the Honda navigation system is on the equipment list, the Accord SE features a simplified layout that better differentiates between the climate and audio systems. Each button is enormous and clearly identified in large font — if you can't read these controls, you probably shouldn't be driving. That said, there are still far too many buttons. Some of these buttons (and the large tuning knob with selector button) would probably come in handy for an iPod interface, but you can only get one of those with the EX trim or higher. (This worthwhile feature is standard on the cheapest Hyundai Sonata, as is Bluetooth.)
On paper, the Accord's 14.7-cubic-foot trunk is on the small side for the class, but it has a large opening and is thoughtfully shaped, making it seem usefully larger than its measurement would indicate. A large suitcase and two golf bags fit easily, though especially large items placed at the outermost portions of the trunk may be impeded by the drop-down gooseneck hinges.
Design/Fit and Finish
For 2011, the Honda Accord's styling has been updated to address some of the criticism this latest generation has received. We actually didn't mind the 2010 look, and we'd argue that the Accord's reworked face and tail has actually made things worse. Worst of all are the new red reflectors on the trunk lid. Honda tells us that they are a response to criticism that the sedan's rear end looks plainer than the front. We say it looks as if some special safety regulations for Finland have accidentally been applied to the 2011 Accords.
Inside, the same cabin design continues for 2011. The double-deck dash design still looks half-hearted and unharmonious, while all those buttons create a cluttered appearance. The quality of materials remains worse than the last-generation Accord, and all those buttons not only look cheap but feel cheap when you use them. Even with the new SE trim's heated leather seats, a base-model Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima or Suzuki Kizashi quite simply looks and feels more special than this car.
Who should consider this vehicle
Should you prioritize simple, spacious, fuel-efficient and long-lasting transportation, the 2011 Honda Accord will deliver just as it always has. The SE trim level is a nice way to score leather upholstery and heated seats at a lower price point.
The Accord's competition is now stiffer than it's ever been, however, and you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't check out some of this car's rivals. The Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima are more powerful, have fancier cabins and are better equipped. The Mazda 6 and Suzuki Kizashi offer more athletic handling, and the Ford Fusion boasts tighter cabin quality and more high-tech features.
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