The automotive world often is predictable. A new model is introduced with a media campaign that typically includes TV, print and Internet advertising. Increasingly, that includes social media, hoping to get folks a-twitter over the new model. Newspapers, magazines, TV stations and websites review the model.
Then everyone moves on to the next newest-and-greatest vehicle, leaving the just-introduced model to the market's vicissitudes.
This is all by way of introducing today's test car, a 2011 Honda Accord SE (Special Edition), not an all-new model but rather a variation on the present generation of Accords, which happened to be introduced in the summer of 2008 in Boston. An all-new Accord is expected to bow for 2013.
It was during that launch that I had an automotive epiphany of sorts: In driving all the different configurations of Accord I discovered I much preferred the four-cylinder engine.
Since then, the mid-sized sedan market — ruled for a decade or more by the Accord, Altima, and Camry — has seen some formidable newcomers, notably the Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata, both of which we highly recommend. Early reports also are optimistic on the new Mazda 6 and Kia Optima.
Meanwhile, Honda says "Don't forget the Accord." In a marketing approach it has used successfully before, Honda brought out this affordable special edition, an upgraded version of its base LX and LX-Premium. The SE adds a package seemingly perfect for New England — heated front seats, leather seats, a power-lumbar support for the driver, and a leather-trimmed steering wheel.
The base price of our test vehicle was $24,480. Add $750 for destination, then subtract $750 for a special-edition discount, and the final sticker price is that same $24,480.
Seventeen years ago, I bought a new Accord EX coupe for just under $20,000. It didn't have nearly the features of this Accord sedan nor could it achieve the 23 miles per gallon city and 34 mpg highway that this one does. But it did have an early version of VTEC (variable valve timing and lift control) that implanted the idea that a four-cylinder engine could provide power, quickness, economy, and durability.
Honda has tweaked the engine — via improved aerodynamics, reduced engine friction, and different gear ratios — in its now i-VTEC system (i for intelligent). It resulted in an improvement of two mpg city, three mpg highway and two mpg overall. We achieved 29.2 in varied driving including one of those what-am-I-doing-here? Boston commuter traffic jams. Interestingly, Honda has achieved that with the five-speed automatic while others are moving onto six speeds and higher.
However, the mid-sized market isn't just about building a good car. Virtually all the models in this class run well and are reliable. Instead, it's about striking a balance between value and luxury. The base Accord LX starts at $21,180 while an optioned-out EX-L will exceed $36,000.
Our SE didn't have fog lights, dual-zone automatic climate control, an external temperature and compass display, rear-view camera, or power passenger seat. While I miss the temperature display, I really missed two other features — Bluetooth and a USB interface to charge my phone. An auxiliary plug allows you to play an iPod or mp3 player.
On the road the SE was smooth and relatively quiet with plenty of pep. Visibility was excellent, something we appreciated as automakers raise beltlines and install thick, sight-blocking pillars in most new cars.
We drove our latest stretch of bad road — a street that's dug up for water and sewer work in downtown Newburyport — several times. The suspension took it in stride, and the ride overall was relatively refined.
The audio and climate controls have big buttons and are intuitive, though spread in a basically wide and horizontal design that fits in the sweeping-but-not-visually-exciting dashboard design. We found the leather seats to be comfortable and rear legroom accommodating for even taller passengers, reminding us that the Accord has grown to the upper limits of the mid-sized segment. Mrs. G at first missed having a power passenger's seat; however, she also praised the front legroom and the overall riding experience.
Overall, we liked both the concept and execution of this Special Edition.
And the market seems to agree. Through November, the Accord remained the fourth best-selling vehicle in the country, trailing the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, and Toyota Camry.
2011 Honda Accord SE
Price, base/as tested (with destination): $24,480 /$ 24,480.
Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 23 city / 34 highway.
Fuel economy, Globe observed: 29.2
Drivetrain: 2.4-liter I-4, 5-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel-drive.
Body: 5-passenger sedan.
Horsepower: 177 @ 6,500 rpm.
Torque: 161 lb.-ft @ 4,300 rpm.
Overall length: 194.9 in.
Wheelbase: 110.2 in.
Height: 58.1 in.
Width: 72.7 in.
Curb weight: 3,301 lbs.
THE GOOD: Full safety features with limited amounts of expensive electronic options.
THE BAD: No Bluetooth in this model.
THE BOTTOM LINE: We like the Accord four-cylinder configuration as well as anything in this segment.
ALSO CONSIDER: Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, Subaru Legacy.