EXPERT REVIEW

Orlando Sentinel's view

Not to speak ill of the luxury Japanese brands — Acura, Lexus and Infiniti — but I’ve long been convinced that unless your heart is set on the prestige those nameplates bring, you would be well-served to look at the higher-end models of the corresponding nonluxury brands.

Meaning what? Meaning that a nice Honda rivals some Acura models. Ditto Toyota and Lexus, Nissan and Infiniti.

Case in point: The Honda Accord coupe. Soon after this current Accord coupe was introduced in 2003, the Acura CL coupe was discontinued. Though the CL was more expensive than the Accord, the standard V-6 model had less power (225 horses, to the Accord’s 240), and parked by the Accord, the Acura looked down- market.

Three years later, the Accord Coupe is aging well. The test model was a top-of-the-line EX, with a 3.0-liter V-6 — now 244 horsepower, instead of the original 240 — and a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission. With a firm suspension and reasonably large tires (P215/50-R17 radials on alloy wheels), handling is excellent for a front-wheel-drive car. At 3,300 pounds, it’s no featherweight, but it’s still light enough to toss around on winding roads.

With this model, which has all the features Honda offers, it’s as nice inside as any Acura. There’s leather upholstery; a power sunroof; a satellite-linked, voice-activated navigation system; and a good stereo with XM satellite radio. It includes side and side-curtain air bags, antilock disc brakes and electronic stability control. There’s nothing left I’d want.

Inside, power bucket seats are supportive and easy to adjust. Instruments and controls are, typically Honda-like, where they belong. The only real criticism is that because it’s a coupe, it has a tight-fitting rear seat that requires a bit of gymnastics for adults to access.

The ride can be abrupt on rough roads but otherwise is fine. The V-6 engine has lots of power but is quiet — almost too quiet for a car with sporting pretensions. Considering that the V-6 runs on regular gas, and is EPA-rated at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, what’s not to like?

Nothing, really, which is sort of the theme of the 2006 Accord Coupe EX; every detail is so nicely attended to that the car feels like more than you’re paying for.

Which is, in this case, $29,950, including shipping. But since the Accord is a few years old now, I’d expect a discount. If you want a less-expensive model, they are just as well done as this one: Base coupes start at slightly more than $20,000; the standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which now has 166 horsepower, is nearly as much fun as the V-6.

At any level, it’s a bargain.

Steven Cole Smith’s TV reports air today on Central Florida News 13.

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