The Honda Accord has been a Car and Driver favorite for many years. For proof, one needn't look any further than this: It has won our 10Best Cars award 20 times in the past 24 years. That's a record even Formula 1 great Michael Schumacher can't touch. Like Schumacher, the Accord is the benchmark of its class, the one all other mid-size sedans are tested against. Not because it has the best engine, chassis, or styling, but because it brilliantly combines a good engine with a well-balanced chassis and tasteful styling to make something much greater than the sum of its parts. In its most recent comparison test, Honda's entry comfortably bested the Ford Fusion, the Hyundai Sonata, and the bestselling Toyota Camry. But those were V-6–powered sedans, not the four-cylinder models that make up the majority of sales. So we borrowed a Honda Accord SE, equipped with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder and five-speed automatic, to see if the mass-market Accord still hits the mark.
Buying an Accord? We recommend the four-cylinder.
Pocketing keys to a new Accord requires $19,220. That puts you in the Value Package model, a manual-transmission-equipped stripper with 15-inch steel wheels and a minimalist, two-speaker stereo with a CD player. However, even the stripper comes with ABS, six-airbags, power locks and windows, and air conditioning. Our SE test car stickered at $22,220, which includes the $800 five-speed automatic transmission and other goodies such as 16-inch aluminum wheels, rear disc brakes, folding rear seats, and a six-speaker stereo with a CD changer (right). We think the SE is the Accord to buy because it gets you the decent stereo and proper wheels and brakes without the frivolous extras. The next trim level up, the EX, costs almost $2000 more, and getting a V-6 adds another $2000. The extra money, combined with the V-6's worse fuel economy, makes the four-cylinder the better all-around car in our minds.
Inside and out, this car is best described as efficient. The body isn't eye-catching but has clean, neat lines that wrap tightly around the chassis. The interior doesn't evoke much emotion -- it simply works. The driver sits on a well-supported, firm-cushioned seat that perfectly aligns him or her for proper pedal and steering placement. Likewise, all switchgear and controls are exactly where you'd expect them. We appreciate the ample cushioning for elbows -- on the door trim as well as the center console -- a nice touch that is often missing at this price point.
Smooth, efficient power.
Under the hood is Honda's ultra-smooth, DOHC 2.4-liter four-cylinder with variable timing and lift on the intake side only, technology Honda calls i-VTEC. It makes 166 horsepower and 160 pound-feet of torque. Those aren't earth-shattering numbers, but the automatic's wisely selected gear ratios and quick shifts help harness the motor's full potential. That allows for an adequate but not exciting 0-to-60-mph time in the low-eight-second range. That's about average in its class, which includes the Chrysler Sebring, the Toyota Camry, the Nissan Altima, and the Saturn Aura.
Raw performance is one thing, but intrinsically, Honda's motor is best in class. Its racy exhaust note (for a four-cylinder), excellent throttle response, and broad torque band make it the one you want to live with every day. At the pump, the Accord does its best to be miserly, squeezing 24 miles out of a gallon of gas in the city, 34 on the highway. If you opt for the manual, expect 26 in the city.
Overall, the entire driving experience is much like Goldilocks's third bowl of porridge -- just right. Everything feels exactly as it should. The brakes feel firm without being grabby, and the ride is comfortable without leaning too much. The steering is direct and responsive without being too heavy. These are things that make a driver feel confident and comfortable, and that's exactly why the Accord is still our benchmark.