Range of options allows Accord to meet all needs
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT The 2011 Honda Accord is all grown up and considered one of the best midsize cars in the world today.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines the 2011 Honda Accord as a large car. This may surprise those of you who still think of Hondas as small economy cars. And it seems odd because retailers classify Accords as midsize cars. But our test Accord felt like a large car. It looked long on the outside, had a lot of interior room and drive like a big car. But our test car - which was outfitted with the optional 190 horsepower, 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine - was also EPA rated at 23 miles in town and 34 miles on the freeway, which is pretty good these days.

As much as anything, the new Accord shows how far automakers have come in recent years meeting the increasingly higher expectations of new car buyers. Manufacturing and technological advances now make it possible to offer big cars that get better mileage than small ones got just a few years ago - all at a reasonable price. The Accord starts at around $22,000, which is why it remains one of the top-selling cars in the world.

Some Honda TV ads show a bright red Accord coupe kicking up dirt in a sun-drenched desert. In contrast, our test Accord was a light blue sedan that looked like a lot of other cars on the roads these days, including such direct competitors as the Toyota Camry and the larger Ford Taurus. Our test car, which came with a a five-speed automatic transmission, offered decent acceleration but did not exactly encourage high-speed driving.

At the same time, this combination will probably account for a large percent of Accord sales this year, if not the majority. And after a week of driving throughout the metropolitan area, it was easy to see why. The Accord did everything well, even of it did not do any one thing better than every other car in its class. The result is the kind of comfortable, good-handling, semi-stylish family car that used to dominate the American roads, even though it is made by a Japanese manufacturer and not one of the Big Three from Detroit.

Even though our test car was short on luxury features, it had plenty of nice touches that made day-to-day driving easy. The cloth seats were comfortable and supportive, the controls were easy to read and use, the trunk is huge, and there were numerous cup holders and storage compartments. We liked the rear window defroster that also cleared the outside side mirrors and the good sound of the base stereo system.

Buyers interested in better mileage can choose the base 2.4-liter engine, which delivers 177 horsepower. Those who want more performance can opt for a 271-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine. Five-speed and six-speed manual transmissions are also available.

Other upgrades include leather-lined seats, upgraded stereos and the usual array of connectivity and navigation systems. Fully-equipped Accords can cost more than $30,000, which will probably also surprise those of you who remember the original bare-bone Hondas. But that is another reflection of the current state of the auto business. Nowadays, even economy cars are made to appeal to potential buyer looking for more than just good mileage.

Despite its good sales record, the Accord is being challenged today by the all-new Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, both of which are offered with turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines and hybrid drivetrains. Pressure from the South Korean manufacturers are likely to result in big changes to the next generation Accord, which is scheduled to debut in the 2013 model year. But the current Accord is still too good to be written off by anyone interest in value, especially considering everything it does well.

• Model: 2011 Accord.

• Manufacturer: Honda.

• Class: Midsize sedan.

• Layout: Front engine, front-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four door, five-passenger car.

• Powertrain: 2.4-liter inline 4 (177 hp - as tested); 3.5-liter V6 (271 hp).

• Transmissions: Five-speed manual; six-speed manual; five-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 23/34 (as tested).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $21,000 ($25,655 as tested).

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