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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.
The map quality on the Accord's navigation system is very poor, with unreadable street names.
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.
Honda stepped up its audio system for the Accord, using a subwoofer to make the sound more dynamic.
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.
Unexpected for such a sedate car as the Honda Accord, the V-6 is a real high point. Although lacking such modern refinements as direct injection, the aluminum block and variable valve timing contribute to a solid driving experience. The output, at 270 horsepower and 256 pound-feet of torque, is moderate for a 3.5-liter V-6, but it almost feels like too much power for the car.
We were pleased with its quick starts, and impressed by the continuous strong acceleration that occurred when we held the gas pedal about halfway down. The engine didn't lose steam, but continued to build up speed to the point where we weren't sure the car could handle it. The steering felt uncomfortably loose and the suspension floaty.
Honda's engine tech is solid, but hasn't advanced much over the last five years.
While the Accord handles everyday driving duties well, its suspension damping bumps and stops excessive body movement so we found it less than impressive as we slung it through the corners of a mountain road. Put in these extremes, at every turn the inside front wheel felt like it was plowing into the pavement.
Around town and on the freeways it proved perfectly comfortable, its cabin and trunk big enough for many different kinds of suburban errands. It steered easily at low speeds, but we didn't care for the amount of play the wheel exhibited at freeway speeds.
Technically, the power train is not particularly advanced, having only a five-speed automatic transmission. Instead of a manual mode, Honda gives the Accord three low ranges. In the second low range we were able to keep the engine in its power band and attack corners, but that is not what Honda intended here.
Honda also still uses hydraulic power steering in the Accord, as opposed to the electric power steering units many other automakers are adopting. An extra gear in the transmission and electric power steering should boost the Accord's EPA numbers of 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. We only achieved 20.2 mpg with the Accord, due to a more aggressive driving style than most people would employ.
The 2011 Honda Accord EX-L's cabin tech balances between good and subpar. We liked the audio quality from the stereo, but found the navigation system's maps poor. The phone system can download a contact list, but uses a separate voice command system, with separate buttons. These elements bring the Accord's cabin tech score to merely average.
Honda is quite conservative with power-train tech, choosing not to use direct injection or other means of improving engine efficiency. Likewise, a five-speed automatic transmission seems primitive by today's standards. Steering and suspension technology are also very conventional.
Design is also a mixed bag. We like the look of the onscreen cabin tech interface, but too many buttons litter the dashboard and steering wheel. The car is immensely practical, with easy access to all seats and a large trunk, but the exterior styling is very bland. This car would be easily lost in a parking lot.
|Model||2011 Honda Accord|
|Power train||3.5-liter V-6, 5-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||20 mpg city/30 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20.2 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible 6-CD changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, satellite radio|
|Audio system||270-watt, 7 speaker system|
|Driver aids||Back-up camera|
|Price as tested||$32,380|