The Honda Accord is difficult to beat in terms of overall performance, efficiency and refinement. Accord comes in sedan and coupe body styles. (There's also the high-riding Crosstour hatchback crossover, but it's reviewed separately.) The 2012 Honda Accord is available with a choice of four-cylinder and V6 engines, and manual or automatic transmissions.
Accords are roomy, comfortable and very easy to live with, largely free of niggling annoyances that can make otherwise good cars less appealing. Honda Accord and Toyota Camry have long been the benchmarks for midsize sedans because both do everything well. The Accord has a hint of sportiness that adds appeal.
The four-door Accord sedan competes with the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda 6, and Chevrolet Malibu. The Accord offers roomier front seats than the competition. And the Accord comes off more polished than most, with an emphasis on power, fuel economy and space efficiency.
The stylish Accord Coupe offers a 6-speed manual with the V6, for a rare combination in mid-size cars. It comes with a sporty suspension package and low-profile tires on 18-inch wheels, and goes head to head with the Nissan Altima coupe.
With effectively five trim levels, the Accord can fit a wide range of budgets. There's a no-frills sedan with plastic wheel covers, essential features and a solid stereo; and high-trim models with sumptuous leather, mega-watt sound systems, active noise cancellation and navigation. All variants deliver high engineering standards, excellent finish, good build quality and all the important safety equipment.
The 2012 Accord carries over largely unchanged; a USB port comes standard on all 2012 Accord models. The Accord benefitted from a facelift for 2011, and some new features and efficiencies brought improved fuel mileage ratings. The Accord sedan and coupe were last redesigned for 2008, when they grew in exterior dimensions and offered improved occupant safety.
Some of the Accord's competitors have been redesigned more recently. Others can be more fun to drive. Yet there may be none that match Accord's overall combination of polish, refinement, efficiency and choice. For that reason, the Honda Accord remains a benchmark among mainstream, midsize automobiles.
All Honda Accord models got a mild styling makeover for 2011, and there are no significant changes for 2012. Known in the car business as a mid-cycle facelift, the 2011 changes are about as extensive as any car gets between complete redesigns. They re-emphasize the Accord's conservative, upscale appearance.
The current-generation Accord sedan was introduced as a 2008 model, and it's larger than any before it. Although it competes in the mid-size market segment, the sedan is classified a large car by the federal government, based on interior volume. The Accord is more than four inches longer that the Nissan Altima.
The two-door Accord coupe is smaller than the sedan, both visually and by exterior measurements. Every dimension, save width, is two to four inches shorter than the sedan. The coupe looks lighter, more lithe.
The 2011 styling updates for the sedan and coupe won't be obvious from across a parking lot, but they're noticeable in details at closer range. The sedan's front bumper and grille, wedged between angular, jewel-like light clusters were re-shaped. The effect is a slightly more pronounced snout than before. In back, the lip of the trunk lid and the taillights have been tweaked for a crisper, even more substantial look.
In general, the Accords maintain their contemporary yet notably conservative design, highlighted by a strong character line that slopes down and forward like that of the Acura TL, though the Hondas are much less angular than the Acuras. All Accord variants maintain the Honda hallmarks of narrow windshield pillars and a low cowl that promote good forward visibility. The sedan's rear door pillars have a pronounced kink popularized decades ago by BMW, and the four-door Accord might be mistaken from a distance as a BMW 5 Series or some other European luxury sedan.
Once seated, the Accord driver can see the hood and the top of the fenders where they meet the hood, but the forward edges of the car are not so visible. The swept-back headlight housings minimize protruding corners and ease maneuverability, though it takes some familiarity before the driver is certain exactly where the corners of the car are. Many of the Accord's design elements are a product of auto/pedestrian collision standards. The wiper arm mounts are designed to break away when hit, for example.
The Accord cabin is spacious, light and airy, with a thoughtful layout and plenty of elbow room. Everything you touch feels right for the price. Everything you need seems to be where you want it, and everyone on board will be comfortable.
Accord LX models deliver pleasing design and materials, with a variety of storage areas for modern conveniences like iPods and old-fashioned vices like a bottle of Coke. Stepping up to the Accord SE model adds leather upholstery and heated seats, but the basics like seat design and driver ergonomics are shared by all models.
The leather is high quality and perfectly tailored, and the driver's seat in most models has multiple power adjustments. There's good support for the long haul, but the seats are easy to slide in and out of during around-town errands. EX-L V6 models add a two-position memory for the driver's seat. Accord coupes make use of their longer front door panels by adding a return sweep and pull handle to the armrest trim.
Accord's standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel provides a good range of adjustment and compliments the driver's seat movement, so people of every size can find a good driving position. The shifter is right at hand, and the proper handbrake has short travel. The sunroof button, reading lights and a drop-down glasses holder are located in a mini-console above the rearview mirror.
There's a clear view of what's all around outside the Accord, and of the proven, extra-crisp dial-and-needle gauges inside. Accords equipped with the navigation system now come with a back-up camera, and it's valuable. The information display or navigation screen is inset under a shade at the same height as the gauges, so glare is controlled, and the screen can be viewed with polarized glasses.
Lights and wiper controls are stalks on the steering column. Honda's graphics for the variable intermittent wipers are among the simplest: Rather than bars, lines or dots of differing size, the Accord uses one raindrop for long interval and three raindrops for more frequent wiping.
Controls for audio and navigation sit below the navigation screen and center dash vents. On lower-line models, the big round knob controls volume; on others it is the interface through which you work through various menus. Even on fully equipped cars with navigation, the layout is less daunting than the number of buttons first suggests. One row of switches controls audio input (AM, XM, CD, etc.) and another row has six audio presets.
Climate controls are located to the sides of the center stack, so you needn't wait to approve the legal disclaimer on the screen before you can ask for heat or air conditioning. The climate switches were among the improvements made for 2011, with more frequently adjusted fan and temperature control positioned on the left side, closer to the driver, and less-frequently used buttons on the right side.
Convenience features aren't exclusive to high-trim models. The door locks, for example, have multiple functions on all models. With the key inserted, the lock cylinders can raise and lower the windows and open or close the sunroof by turning clockwise for up and counter-clockwise for down. The unlock button on the key fob will lower the power windows and open the moonroof when it's depressed for three seconds and then held. The available navigation system adds convenience with voice activation, which can handle a multitude of chores without a hand ever leaving the steering wheel.
Our complaints about the Accord cabin are minor: We wish there was more differentiation in the appearance of different types of controls (climate and audio, for example) for easier recognition while driving. The lumbar support on all front seats (regardless of power or upholstery) is stout, and several drivers wished for less of it. The front seats have lots of room around them, prompting some slender occupants to note that the door was too far away for a comfortable armrest or leg brace. To some extent, of course, this gripe is a function of a large interior space with room for large people. The width of the Accord translates directly into a wide cabin, especially in front. The center armrest is big enough for two adults to share.
Rear-seat passengers will have few complaints. Seat cushions and backrests carry right out to the door without wheelwell intrusion, and the rear doors offer easy ingress and egress. Six-footers can sit comfortably, even with one in the back seat behind one in the front seat. The center seat is well padded, and as such it loses a bit of headroom to the outer seats. There's nothing particularly fancy in the back of the Accord: adjustable air vents on the back end of the center console, decent cupholders, but no rear reading lamps.
Trunk space in the sedan is a class-average 14.7 cubic feet, in a fairly useful shape, and the contents need not be heaved waist-high to load in. The rear seatbacks fold for more cargo room, and there's a lock on the pass-through behind the armrest on some models. The navigation system's DVD-drive is remote mounted on the upper edge of the trunk, but it's protected by a stout steel band.
Honda's Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) comes standard in all Accord models except the base LX sedan, but we were hard-pressed to notice the noise difference between LX and EX. The Crosstour has an upgrade called Active Sound Control (ASC), which is more sophisticated than ANC, according to Honda. Whereas ANC deals specifically with the elimination of low decibel noise entering the cockpit, ASC has a much broader range, including the elimination of unwanted high frequency noise. We still weren't overwhelmed with the effect.
Vibration and engine buzz are minimal with the four-cylinder engine and negligible on the V6, so all Accords come across as very quiet. With everything off and the windows and roof closed, tire and road noise flow in first, but it's never anything more than background. Bottom line: The Accord is smooth and quiet with or without noise cancellation technology.
Nearly all Honda Accord models are well-balanced cars that are good at just about everything. Just about every car in this class is well balanced, to be sure. Mid-sized sedans are usually crafted as all-things-to-everyone vehicles, intended to appeal to the largest possible chunk of buyers. It's a question of which one gets the balance appropriate for a buyer's taste, and again the Accord settles somewhere near the middle.
We find the Accord nicely mannered, polished, pleasant and steady regardless of model, engine or transmission. It's comfortable, and perfectly predictable, regardless of body style. In general, the Accord comes across as firmer and a bit livelier than the Toyota Camry. It's softer and less edgy than the Nissan Altima.
The Accord has gotten bigger and heavier over the years, and it shows. The Accord sedan feels more like a mid-size luxury car on the road, less like a perfectly sorted, well-finished compact car. That evolution is hardly a bad thing, but it's safe to say that Accord has lost some of the spunk, or perhaps the fun, that launched it to the top of the sales charts decades ago.
Across the many Accord trim levels, the ride-handling balance varies over a narrow but distinguishable range. The softest-riding model is the Accord LX, by virtue of the softest suspension settings and 16-inch tires with a larger sidewall. The LX is also the lightest and best balanced model. Not as mellow as the Camry but gentler than much of the competition, the Accord LX handles bad roads with aplomb and basically goes where it's pointed. Electronic stability control helps get it back in line if it's pointed wrong.
The Accord LX stays relatively flat in the corners. It doesn't nosedive under braking, and it remains stable during left-right transitions on a winding road, or working through city clutter. Steering is light, direct, and makes quick work of a U-turn, though there isn't as much feedback about how hard the front tires are working as some Camrys and all Altima models offer.
Accord EX models have slightly firmer suspension calibrations, but most of what you'll notice comes from the lower profile tires on 17-inch wheels: more noise and vibration from lane divider dots, expansion joints, bridge seams, manhole covers. Apart from slightly quicker response to steering and braking commands, the EX is essentially the same easy-going Accord. Trips of any duration are accommodated comfortably, with a nice compromise between the isolated, creamy Camry and the adrenaline-induced Altima. Enthusiast drivers could live happily with an Accord sedan serving as a spouse's daily commuter, or they could opt for a V6 manual coupe.
The Accord Coupe trades a smidge of ride comfort for greater handling precision. Most of the change comes from larger anti-roll bars and lower weight. Tire specifications mirror those on the sedans.
Honda Motor Company is known as one of the world's fine engine manufacturers, and not one of the engines in the Accord line disappoints. Honda is also known for efficiency, and in that regard, every Accord sedan and coupe gained in fuel efficiency thanks to 2011's revisions. Improvements to vehicle aerodynamics, reductions in engine friction and new transmission gear ratios all contributed to higher mileage ratings. Fuel economy ratings for four-cylinder Accords improved by 2 mpg in the city and 3 mpg on the highway, and about 1 mpg for V6 models.
Fuel economy is an EPA City/Highway rating of 23/34 mpg for any four-cylinder Accord sedan, regardless of engine tune or transmission choice. Accord V6 sedans get an EPA-estimated 20/30 mpg. Four-cylinder coupes rate 22/33 mpg with automatic, 23/32 with manual; V6 coupes rate 19/29 with automatic, 17/26 with manual.
The Accord LX's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine matches Nissan's 2.5-liter for horsepower, if not torque, with less fuss or raucousness. Compared to the 2012 Camry's four-cylinder, the Honda delivers one less horsepower and a bit less torque. But even though the Accord is the heavyweight of the three, its base engine's 177 horsepower is plenty to keep up with the Joneses, whether you choose the manual or automatic. The manual, though, makes for the livelier car.
Accord EX models get the same basic 2.4-liter engine with some minor changes and a higher rev limit, delivering 190 horsepower and besting nearly all the competition with no degradation in fuel economy. With the automatic this engine delivers instant downshifts and response for passing, but it upshifts at full-throttle well before redline. The console-mounted shifter has no manual mode, and the detente between Drive and D3 is soft, so we found ourselves checking the dash indicator to make sure we had selected the most economical choice.
The 5-speed manual requires low clutch effort, and the engine engages smoothly. The shifter offers good action, if not the short, crisp movement of some smaller Hondas we've driven. The manual allows a driver to get the most out of either four-cylinder engine, which will cleanly rev right past the marked redline. That lets a 177-horsepower 2.4 manual keep up with a 190-horsepower 2.4-liter automatic.
Of course, the 190-horsepower 2.4-liter and 5-speed manual are the most entertaining of all four-cylinder models, and this combination will appeal to that segment of the Accord audience that enjoys driving and believes shifting is done with hands and feet, not thumbs. If you don't know whether to choose the 177-horsepower or 190-horsepower version (setting aside trim considerations), ask yourself how often you floor the throttle and run your engine to redline. If the answer lies between never and seldom, then the 177-horsepower four will prove quite satisfactory.
The Accord's optional 3.5-liter V6 is rated 271 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. That's more horsepower than both the Camry and Altima V6 engines (by a nose). The Honda V6 is smooth and quieter than the Altima's, and it has the latest version of Honda's Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) to improve economy.
Like GM and Chrysler systems designed to save gas on big V8s, VCM changes the number of operating cylinders at any given time to save fuel. The Honda V6 can run on six, four or three cylinders, depending on how much power the car needs to do what the driver wants it to do. The system is completely automatic and unnoticeable to the driver except for two things: an Eco light that illuminates on the dash when the system is on, and a slight hunting sensation as it switches back-and-forth between four and three cylinders at certain speeds. You'll need to be paying attention to notice that, however.
Accord coupes offer only the 190-horsepower version of the four-cylinder engine. It, and the V6 in coupes with an automatic, is identical to the engines in the sedan. The V6 used in the coupe with the manual transmission is different. Size and output are the same, but the unique coupe V6 has a different intake system that packs most of the power in the middle of the rpm range, and it eliminates the VCM fuel-saving system. The target buyer isn't springing for the sportiest model to save gas by letting pistons coast along for the ride.
The Accord EX V6 Coupe with manual transmission is the closest successor to Acura's defunct CL Type-S coupe, and it has a character all its own. This is most definitely the raciest car in the Accord line-up. The engine snarls and growls under a heavy foot, the shifter and clutch have more weight behind them, and the 235/45VR18 wheel and tire package adds another level to crispness and handling grip.
The Honda Accord is big on efficiency, whether that means getting the most power and range from a gallon of gas, delivering the most interior space for the exterior dimensions or providing the smoothest, quietest ride and highest level of crash protection with the least weight. Accord offers a range of four- and six-cylinder engines Every Accord is easy to operate, well-engineered and well-mannered. Moving four people comfortably or enjoying the long way home, any Accord is up to the task.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale filed this report from Santa Monica, California. J.P. Vettraino contributed from Detroit, and John F. Katz from south-central Pennsylvania.