Take one LX model, add a few Special Edition niceties and you have the best value in the Accord lineup. My test car included the 166-hp, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine (which your About tester feels is more than adequate in today's environment) matched with an optional 5-speed automatic. The SE adds a 6-disc CD changer, 16-inch alloy wheels, 4-wheel disc brakes and Electronic Brake Distribution, and comes well-equipped at $22,220. EPA estimates: 24 MPG city/34 MPG highway.
First glance: All the car most people need
It is every automobile journalist's dream to test a car on California's Highway 1. The combination of sweeping curves, an occasional hairpin, and spectacular scenery is equalled by few roads. If you need a suitable reminder, think Dustin Hoffman driving an Alfa Romeo in the 1967 film The Graduate as he races to prevent Katherine Ross from marrying a rival suitor. I lived that dream in this test of the Honda Accord SE but enjoyed something few reviewers are likely to experience. During my drive I passed vintage Ferraris, Maseratis, Alfas and incredibly restored classics you may never have known existed.
This was the day of The Tour, when entrants in the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance car show are encouraged to drive their million dollar babies on the road. In such noble company and on such a demanding highway an Accord SE would not be a tester's first choice, and yet it performed handsomely, demonstrating the good road manners and handling that have always distinguished Accords. No neo-luxury car, it came with a 4-cylinder engine and 5-speed auto, manually adjustable seats, power doors/windows/mirrors, air, and little else. In plainer words, all the car most people need.Continued below...
In the Driver's Seat: Familiarity built into its genes
Driving from an unfamiliar airport onto unfamiliar highways in an unfamiliar car can be unnerving. Thanks to the valet at the San Francisco Marriott, it couldn't have been easier. He drew simple instructions on paper and offered advice on avoiding traffic. I navigated to my motel in Seaside (hereafter known as the Worst Western) without once getting lost. The other factor in this achievement, however, belongs to the Honda Accord, a car that has familiarity built into its genes. After a few minor adjustments with seats and mirrors I drove off feeling at ease.
After arriving at my destination I took a few moments to check the things that matter most to families. Climbing in and out of the front? Easy. In and out of the rear? Um, relatively easy. Head and legroom in back? More than ample; this is one sedan where riding in economy is not the equivalent of solitary confinement. No frills, mind you, but ample room to stretch those long limbs. Up front I appreciated the large instruments and intuitive controls, much as did with the very first Accord, a compact 2-door hatch. The current model bears little resemblance but with good sightlines and an airy greenhouse it makes the driver's seat a pleasant place to be.
On the Road: D-what?
Aside from the endless turns of California Highway 1, I was faced with a mix of busy expressway and urban traffic. Well, okay, Monterey isn't exactly Manhattan but the classic car week pumps its visitor quota up by about 1000%, creating a challenge for the humble visitor. Yet it was easy to thread most traffic needles with the Accord, which told me that the average suburbanite won't have difficulties backing into a parking space (you do back in, don't you, knowing it's the safest way to pull out?) or manoeuvering through the lines in the day school pick-up zone.
And since the average suburbanite these days is adept at driving with a certain amount of elan, I'm pleased to report that the Accord is responsive to those who accept that a road is more than a dotted line from A to B. The 4-cylinder engine is powerful enough for most situations thanks, in part, to the extra gear in that 5-speed automatic, although "D-D3-2-1" on the shift quadrant seems odd. If "D" is fourth, where's fifth? Or if "D" is fifth, where's fourth? It certainly had me confused as I shifted up and down for those hairpin curves.
Journey's End: Don't overlook the Accord
In the market's most competitive segment and halfway through its design cycle, the Accord might be overlooked. That would be a mistake for families with fast-growing children. It could also be a miscue for the driver who needs interior space yet still likes to have a little harmless fun at the wheel. (By which I mean driving quickly as opposed to driving fast.) Quite frankly, I never felt like a second-rate citizen because my tester was a more affordable SE; the Accord's a handsome car in any state of trim. And at no time did I feel the need for a V-6, not even when that classic Ferrari threatened to pass. (Just kidding, folks.)
Having said all that, you may think I'm head over heels in love. Not so. While trying to acknowledge the needs of young families (I have two sons with kids thus am not entirely out of touch), if I were young again I'd prefer the Honda Civic. I'd give up a little interior space to obtain better fuel mileage and even more nimble handling. But I'm not young in years, only in mind, and must place myself in the driving shoes of the Accord's potential owners. Versus the competition it has more soul yet retains the Accord's original spirit. What more could you ask of a family sedan?