Honda dropped off its top-of-the-line Accord EX at the CNET garage today, so my colleague, Kevin Massy, and I headed down for our first-impressions cruise. After hunting around the garage for a few minutes, the attendant kindly pointed it out; the body style on the new Accord doesn't exactly announce itself. Oh, and it looks like a modern car with its slashy headlights, and the way the hood rises up over the fenders is distinct. But the car's basic blandness is only marred by the strangely angular drop-off at the back of the cabin.
Bland has its advantages, as I can't imagine a highway-patrol officer giving this car a second glance--or even noticing it at all as you steam by at 85mph. And this car has no trouble attaining that kind of speed. This high-end Accord has a strong 3.0-liter V-6, which gave the tires a nice-sounding chirp as we tried some fast launches from the traffic lights on Howard Street. On this sunny day, we decided that the car deserved the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop for our pictures, so we drove out toward Ocean Beach and the Cliff House.
Kevin took the wheel on the way out, so I popped in our test MP3 disc for the stereo check. The display showed that track 1 was playing, but we heard nothing. I switched through AM, FM, and the included XM Satellite Radio, and that all sounded OK, but we got nothing from the CD. Kevin pointed out that there was no MP3 logo on the stereo trim, and a look through the manual showed that an MP3-compatible disc player is optional (for $544). Likewise, the car lacked an auxiliary input (not even an option) or an iPod link (a $214 option). Cranking up music from XM's BPM channel revealed really pedestrian audio quality. The 180-watt stereo system has only six speakers: two on the rear deck, two tweeters on the dash, and two mids in the driver and passenger doors. There's no subwoofer, although Honda lists a rear speaker as a $49 option on its Web site.
After a turn up 11th Street on to Mission, I got Kevin to push the voice-command button in the steering wheel. This car came with the satellite navigation system with voice command, the same system we've previously raved about in the. Kevin hadn't used the Honda voice-command system before, but in no time at all, he had an address out in the Sunset district entered. The car routed us on to Market Street, over 17th, then out to Lincoln, which I--as a local--knew was really the best way to get us out there. This nav system knew what it was doing and didn't make a fuss when we got off course.
After a few photos on a cliff overlooking the ocean, I got behind the wheel to have a little fun. This Accord EX came with the same six-speed manual transmission we enjoyed so much in the, and it's a good fit with the more torquey V-6. Even with an electronic throttle and traction control, I could still spit gravel coming out of the parking lot. Holding gears up to 6,000rpm (redline is at 7,000) made the gear shifts a lot more noticeable--the Accord EX makes really smooth shifts around 3,500rpm. On the freeway, it's possible to use sixth gear but only if you're over the speed limit. Sixth gear is barely happy at 80mph--at 65mph, the engine is hardly above an idle. During the photo shoot, I also noticed the ULEV-II sticker on the car, a pretty good achievement for an engine that produces 244 horsepower.
On the freeway, it occurred to me that beyond the nav system, the interior was as bland as the exterior. The seats aren't uncomfortable, nor are they noticeably comfortable. The interior trim is just there, like off-white paint in a living room. The back seating area is equally mundane, although the stereo sounds even worse there, with all the audio coming from right behind you. Strangely, the Web site shows an optional ceiling-mounted DVD entertainment system for $1,859. This cabin isn't particularly large, so I imagine the drop-down screen on that system will render the center rearview mirror useless.
So what have we got? The 2006 Honda Accord continues its tradition of being a practical, unassuming car. The six-speed manual in our EX edition is the only thing that reminds you of the driving experience. The stereo is subpar, and the lack of MP3 compatibility suggests this car is aimed at a demographic that doesn't burn its own discs. The nav system is very good and, with its directory of businesses, will make running suburban errands effortless. Bluetooth isn't offered--Honda reserves that for its Acura brand. The engine provides very adequate power and gets reasonable fuel economy of an EPA-tested 21mpg in the city and 30mpg on the highway. Given Honda's reputation for quality, this Accord is a solid value at just less than $30,000, particularly if you don't want your car to be noticed.