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2011 Honda Accord SE Sedan Review – European aspirations found in a stalwart Japanese package

Friday December 24th, 2010 at 9:1212 PM
Posted by: the911guy

By Dan Tsuchiya

Pros

  • A very functional sedan – built for the family or for the office
  • Great interior and lots of trunk space
  • Efficient four cylinder engine mated to a well matched transmission

Cons

  • Front seats almost as hard as a park bench
  • Mid-year refresh actually made the rear less attractive
  • Styling does not stand out over the competition

How does a Japanese automaker, or for that matter any automaker, build a car that will appeal to American families or office workers who just don’t have the means to lay out fifty-large for a four door luxury sedan? Well you build a car (or try to) that has the looks and quality of those $50k+ sedans at half the price… in other words you try and emulate. This has been a winning strategy for Toyota and more recently Hyundai, where they chisel the body to emulate a Mercedes, stuff the interior with leather faced seating, shoehorn a diminutive 4 cylinder or barely satisfying 6 cylinder under the hood, and add all the usual bells and whistles, all for under thirty-large.

For the most part, this strategy has worked well and Honda took note by jumping into the fray in 2008 with their redesigned Accord. The next Accord revamp isn’t due until 2013, so for the final two years Honda has come out with a revamped front and back end along with a mid tier SE version which sports leather heated seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power lumbar support, and special badges for only $23,730. But can this car survive the 800 mile family road trip and is this the closest thing to the starter cars coming from Germany?

2011 Honda Accord SE Sedan

Driving Impressions

At first glance, here is a family sedan that is fairly large in size but equipped with relatively narrow wheels and tires, and void of body add-ons that might hint that it is trying to compete with the European sedans of similar size. It’s larger than a C-Class or 3-Series and pretty close to the E-Class or older version of the 5-Series. When you walk up to the car and get ready to jump in, there’s nothing that stands out, so you’ll get into the car having no high expectations.

We took the Accord SE on a road trip from Northern California to Southern California and back, and the Accord still feels more connected to the road than its main rivals, such as the Camry. When driving the Accord in town or on the highway there is a high level of composure, with confidence inspiring handling and good ride quality. Honda has done a great job of giving the driver a better feel for the road than Hyundai or Toyota, and this really helps to engage the driver, whether on short trips or long ones. It all comes together; decent power, impressive handling for a front-wheel drive car, and a surprisingly comfortable ride.

2011 Honda Accord SE Sedan interior

Build

The Honda pedigree shows well in the build quality. Fit and finish is what you would expect from the top Japanese brands, with even door and trunk lid gaps, solid closing doors, no interior squeaks or rattles when going over bumps, and little wind noise at speeds. There is plenty of insulation in the proper places so that road noise and wind noise are suppressed but not fully eliminated. About the only disappointment is near the trunk, where you have the pass through for the center arm rest. The lining around that area looked to be somewhat unfinished, which is not something you’d likely find in any of the European sedans. While we are discussing the trunk, it was the only lid/door that had a cheap or tin-like sound when it closed.

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics

Let’s get this out of the way; the front leather seats are hard. This is mostly due to the padding Honda chooses to use in the seats, which is quite firm, and you feel it the moment you sit down. If you have anything in your back pocket such as a wallet, remove it before you suffer a lack of blood flow to that leg. The other quirk I would like to get out of the way is the steering wheel and its limited adjustability. The steering wheel seems a bit small and it has limited telescope and level adjustments, so much so that it was less than ideal on long drives. I seemed to have my arms fully extended when my legs were properly adjusted for the pedals. The smaller steering wheel also tends to hide the gauges when it is adjusted to the lower position. Hondas have been some of the easiest cars for someone of my stature to fit into, but this one just wasn’t and it was a little perplexing.

2011 Honda Accord sedan has standard front, front side, and side curtain airbags2011 Honda Accord sedan interiorHonda Accord sedan back seats

One other half quirk is the lack of outside temperature reading anywhere on the dash, the screen only shows time and audio settings (does one really need a screen this size for those two functions?). Outside of these two and a half things, the comfort and ergonomics were just fine. Once my wallet was removed, what initially seemed like park bench hard seats turned out to be very supportive and appropriate for the business of driving, although passengers might find the accommodations a bit harsh. My wife kept complaining how it was difficult to sleep in the passenger seat due to the hardness of the seats and the lack of fore/aft adjustments in the headrest. For a car of this size, the back seat, trunk, and headroom are closer to a large sedan than what the mid size category would normally yield. If you need to haul around adult passengers along with some luggage, this is about as good as it gets.

Performance

These days, most people are spoiled by sedans that can do 0-60 in under 6 seconds. They would risk falling asleep if they test drove something like this 177 hp sedan which barely clears 60 in under nine seconds. Southern California is notorious for jack-rabbit starts and a fast car is almost a necessity, but in Northern California this sedan’s acceleration is actually adequate for most needs. On the freeway, the 2.4L performs admirably; it has the capability to climb elevations of over 5000 feet while keeping up at 70-75 mph cruising speeds. The only major shortcoming is accelerating at speed when passing, or getting back up to speed if you happen to slow down a bit (heaven forbid). This is where displacement is going to win, but if you can foresee the road ahead, you should be satisfied with the performance of this naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine.

2.4-liter i-VTEC® 4-cylinder engine with 177 hp

The biggest plus of this engine is the fuel economy, rated at 23 city and 32 hwy, and we averaged 29 overall for the trip. Honda has also done a great job getting the most out of their four-speed automatic. Fourth gear is really long and provides that great mileage on the freeways, while third is great if you want to climb hills or slow down and not show your brake lights. We found them (the gears) perfect for long distance freeway cruising.

Handling

Thankfully Honda has kept their flagship midsize sedan on the European side of the suspension spectrum. By this I mean that in comparison to the Camry, the Accord has a more responsive and firm ride, which yields less body roll in the turns and more feedback when it comes to bumps and dips. Suspension is a matter of taste and some might wish for a softer ride, and hopefully manufacturers will find a way to get active/adjustable suspension in something less than $50k. Until then, I prefer the sharper steering and suspension of the Honda just for the responsiveness, but if you are located out in an area of bad roads, you might be better off with the Accord’s competition.

The Accord cuts through turns with ease and the suspension is up to the task, but the SE unfortunately comes with relatively narrow wheels and tires in comparison to the European cars it is trying to emulate. If Honda would only put on decent wheels and tires and maybe lower the Accord a bit, they would have a Euro-wannabe that was closer to the real thing.

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2 Responses to 2011 Honda Accord SE Sedan Review – European aspirations found in a stalwart Japanese package

  1. Travis says:

    refresh looks worse…

  2. Peter Anastopulos says:

    It’s like buying a used car because the looks are stale.If you want a European car buy the VW CC or the Buick Regal which are much better and can be had for the same price with all the discounting.If you want better mileage the Ford Fusion or Lincoln MKZ Hybrids are awesome and handsome.Honda has done this dangerous act of trying to dumb down the Accord down so it won’t lose biz from it’s very profitable TSX.This strategy has really ruined much of the line along with it’s very poor design department .The only thing is that there is some dude who had a 1984 Honda it was cheap and lasted.This urban myth save Honda but perception is not reality .





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