Build an affordable family car that will run forever, add a pleasant interior and they will come. That used to be a very American formula. Growing up in the 1970s and '80s everyone we knew drove an American-made sedan. There were no SUVs with navigation systems or minivans with DVD players.
Well, Honda took that formula and ran with it. And today the front-wheel-drive Accord is the default family sedan of choice far more often than its domestic competition.
Staying popular requires attention to detail, continuous improvement and a little marketing savvy. The 2011 Honda Accord SE is the company's attempt to wrap all those things into one. It's a minor refresh of last year's model along with a repackaging of a few options to make a leather-lined Accord more affordable. And sure enough, it's a pretty slick package.
What's Special About the Special Edition?
In the simplest terms, the 2011 Honda Accord SE is a four-cylinder LX Premium model with a leather interior. The seats and the steering wheel both get cowhide covering while the driver seat gets 10-way power adjustments. Both front seats are also heated in the SE.
That's it. Nothing more complicated than that. Oh, and the price stays in the very reasonable $24K area. You want more electronic stuff? That requires stepping up to the EX trim level and the costs go up from there.
Since it's a 2011 model, the Accord SE also gets the small round of improvements that Honda gave all Accords this year. There's a new grille, revised bumper design, updated wheels and a new trunk lid. New gearing in the five-speed transmission also bumps the Accord's EPA numbers a bit. Four-cylinder Accords are now rated at 23 city and 34 highway mpg.
The Special Edition Accord has the same 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine as in the Accord base LX and LX-P trims. It produces 177 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 161 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm. It comes standard with a five-speed automatic transmission with no manual override. There is no manual transmission available on the SE trim level either. You will not shift this car yourself, ever.
At our test track the 2011 Honda Accord SE moseyed along from zero to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds (8.9 with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and reached the quarter-mile in 16.7 seconds at 83.5 mph. Its growing nemesis, the Hyundai Sonata, offers more power but also costs a couple thousand dollars more in equivalent Limited trim. Its four-cylinder engine gets it from zero to 60 mph a full second faster, though.
Wringing out a car like the Accord at the test track can seem a little ridiculous. It's not built for fancy footwork, but even the average driver needs to merge onto a freeway now and again. Solid emergency handling is always appreciated, too.
We experimented with traction control turned off and the numbers were no better. No surprise there, given the Accord's meager power. It was a different story through the slalom, though, as the Accord's well-tuned stability control really keeps the car in check. With it off, the Accord gets out of shape pretty quickly.
Steering is light and properly weighted for the car and provides precise feedback to the driver. The leather-wrapped steering wheel, also part of the SE package, is not overly large and feels good in the hand. Our best run through the slalom was made at 62.4 mph, a respectable number. Tires felt like the limiting factor, as they gave up grip well before the chassis was out of sorts.
Braking performance was less impressive. The Accord came to a stop from 60 mph in a lazy 136 feet and each run got progressively worse. Honda is known for its less-than-robust brake systems, and this Accord reaffirms that premise. Around town, pedal feel is good, though, and there's no sense that the car is overworking the system.
A Pleasant Ride
During less aggressive driving, the 2011 Honda Accord is more fun than most family sedans. The front double-wishbone suspension and rear multilink suspension keep the ride from being overly squishy or soft. In other words, it's much firmer than a Toyota Camry. For comparison shoppers, the Hyundai Sonata feels somewhere in between the sporty Accord and cushy Camry.
Everything on this car is engineered for comfort and fuel economy. The same tires that hindered our braking tests give the Accord a feeling of buoyancy and help contribute to its solid MPG numbers. The EPA estimates 23 city and 34 highway, with a combined predicted fuel economy of 27.
These numbers are pretty good for a car of this size. At 194.1 inches long and 72.7 inches wide, the Accord is the largest sedan in this class. It is also the lightest, weighing in at just under 3,300 pounds.
A lack of insulation contributes to its lightness and adds the usual Honda road noise. This can be drowned out with its decent-sounding six-speaker, 160-watt audio system. It has steering-wheel-mounted controls, a CD player and a generic auxiliary input jack but no iPod-specific hookup.
About Those Seats
Special Edition seats are covered in sturdy leather that is soft to the touch but thick and durable. The driver seat has eight-way power controls, and the SE provides two-way power lumbar for the driver. Your less fortunate passenger is stuck with full-on manual controls. With 42.5 inches of front legroom, the Accord is second only to the Hyundai Sonata in this class.
Unfortunately, the front seats are our least favorite part of the 2011 Honda Accord SE. The leather feels and looks nice but the seats themselves are not very comfortable. They lack thigh support and plunk an overeager lumbar section into your lower back. It's not as pronounced as in our long-term Honda Accord Crosstour. Yet we found ourselves searching for a happy driving position by adjusting our seat more upright than we would like.
Two-level seat heaters offer comfort on chilly mornings with a pleasant amount of heat: not too hot, not too subtle. A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel helps with the odd seating position. Adaptive headrests are there to prevent whiplash.
Getting in and out of the rear seat is easy. Once back there you will find a roomy seating area with the same nice leather as up front. Its 37.2 inches of rear legroom is not as much as in the Toyota Camry but 2.6 more inches than a Hyundai Sonata. A soft armrest folds down in the middle and has two cupholders.
Behind the rear armrest you can access the cargo area. You can also flip down the rear seats, although they don't sit perfectly flat. With rear seats up the trunk offers 14.7 cubic feet of luggage space. This is less than a Sonata, Chevy Malibu and Ford Fusion but a tad more than a Camry. The trunk is lighted for nighttime rummaging.
How Special Is It?
Clearly, Honda's idea of special is a little different from that of the average car buyer. This is a marketing maneuver, not a future collectible. Honda brought down the price of a leather-lined four-cylinder model and added some seat heaters for good measure. So it's not special, but the Accord SE is certainly a good combination of features and comfort at a reasonable price point.
The face-lift for 2011 didn't add much to the Accord's repertoire that it didn't have already. It's still the basic, well-appointed family sedan it's always been. Few are likely to notice the styling changes and those who do will find them tasteful enough.
If you want dramatic change you will have to wait a couple more years until the fully redesigned Accord arrives. Until then, the 2011 Honda Accord continues as a well-built, value-packed and under-braked family sedan. Some things never change.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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