Boring reliability was the phrase that came to mind as we drove the 2011 Honda Accord EX-L. But those terms can be virtues in the automotive world. The car's bland looks made it blend in with other midsize sedans on the road, to the point we believed no highway patrol officer would ever notice it. And it felt solid, as if we could get into it, turn the key, and have the engine crank over for 10,000 mornings in a row.
But our car was not a typical Accord. In EX-L trim with a V-6 engine, it was the most expensive Accord available, although expensive for Honda means just topping $30K. Thick leather on the seats and faux wood trim in the cabin brought its appointments into Acura territory. Honda doesn't do options, only trim levels, so our Accord came standard with navigation, Bluetooth phone support, iPod integration, and a seven-speaker audio system.
The luxury appointments of this Accord may bring it close to Acura territory, but the cabin tech keeps it in the Honda bullpen. Seeing the Acura-like interface, a large knob and plenty of buttons dotting the dashboard, we had high hopes for the electronics. But then we got a look at the navigation system's maps. Ugly, jagged letters made up street names. Freeways lacked the red, yellow, or green overlays indicating traffic speeds.
This DVD-based system offers basic route guidance, but not much else. For upcoming turns, it shows decent graphics, but won't read out the names of streets. Its most advanced feature is the Zagat listings for restaurants in its points of interest database.
Another thing we quickly noticed were the dual sets of voice command buttons on the steering wheel, one set for the phone system and one set for navigation, audio, and other car functions. We complained about this sort of button redundancy in Acura models until the problem was fixed, but this Accord showed us we haven't seen the last of it.
Having a separate set of buttons for the Bluetooth phone system's voice command does not make it better, as you can dial only by number, not by name, despite the fact that the car can copy over a phone's contact list, making it available on the LCD.
A USB port in the console let us plug in an iPod cable. We were able to choose music by album, artist, genre, and other categories on the LCD. But we found the interface sluggish as we tried to browse through a music library; it was slow to populate each successive page of music listings. There is no Bluetooth streaming, but the stereo offers satellite radio and a six-disc changer.
We weren't expecting much from the audio system, but it sounded good, thanks to the inclusion of a subwoofer with its six speakers. The 270-watt amp wasn't powerful enough to really kick up a lot of volume, but it did help refine the audio quality. We heard good detail from this system, although no area of its frequency output particularly stood out.
One odd problem we noticed was the hyperactive light sensor, causing the car to adjust the LCD for night driving and turn on the headlights whenever we entered the shadow of a building, or just happened to be driving away from the sun. We eventually set the LCD not to adjust its brightness for day and night.