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by: HONDA AMERICA MOTOR COMPANY - Even the least expensive versions of the 2014 Honda Accord are among the best midsize cars.When manufacturers make new cars available for test drives by automotive writers, they are usually the top-of-the-line models, loaded up with every conceivable performance, comfort and entertainment feature. This is great for the writers, of course, but not necessarily best for consumers.

Most buyers do not purchase the most expensive models. For example, they may want the biggest optional engine, but usually settle for one that costs less and delivers better mileage.

Surprisingly, that's one of the models Honda is loaning out to writers these days, a 2014 Accord equipped with the base 2.4-liter inline four cylinder engine instead of the more powerful optional 3.5-liter V6. We've driven V6-powered Accords in the past and found them to be a lot of fun for an affordable family car. But it turns out the base engine is no slouch, either.

On the road, the base 2.4-liter 4 provided surprisingly good performance, especially considering the Accord is one of the larger midsize cars on the market. Acceleration was surprisingly brisk, aided by one of the most response Continuously Variable Transmissions available. And yet we recorded over 30 miles per gallon on many trips, something we'd expect from a compact car.

Our test Accord actually offered three driving modes: Eco, Normal and Sport. Eco, which is activated by a button on the dash, provides the highest mileage. Normal (our term) is what you get when the Eco mode is off. And Sport was available by shifting the transmission past the Drive setting but stopping short of Low.

It was surprisingly hard to distinguish the Eco from the Normal mode. Usually the Eco mode suppresses the throttle response and takes all the fun out of driving. But our test Accord felt about the same either way, even though it showed 1 to 2 miles per gallon better when the Eco mode was on.

The Sport mode was also a surprise — it provided both quicker acceleration and firmer deceleration, similar to a dual clutch automated manual transmission. The Sport mode didn't turn the Accord into a genuine sport sedan, but the change was better than expected.

A six-speed manual transmission is also available for those who want a little more control.

We were a little surprised at our reaction. The V6 engine is significantly more powerful — 278 compared to 185 horsepower — which always translates into more fun. But the base engine was very easy to live with, and also got slightly better mileage.

Of course, our positive impression may have been helped by the all the improvement Honda made to the Accord for 2013. The new version was trimmer on the outside, bigger on the insider, featured improved interior styling and materials, and offered more power and better economy from it's four and six cylinder engines.

But either way you go, the Accord is one of the best midsize cars on the market. Last year's redesigned reversed a gradual slide toward mediocrity. For reasons only known to Honda officials, the Accord had been growing larger on the outside while the interior design and materials had been allowed it slip. It was quickly becoming outclassed by such competitors as the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion and Volkswagen Passat, which offered more contemporary styling, better handling and a wider array of engines.

The changes Honda made to the Accord last year returned it to the fight. It now looks sportier, with a lower air dam and slimmer, shorter body. The dash was redesigned with easier-to-use controls. Our test model — an EX with upgraded navigation system — featured two display screens. The larger upper one showed the maps, rear and right-side camera views, and vehicle information. The smaller lower one handled the entertainment systems. The result was the clean and logical display of all important data when needed or requested, a configuration we suspect will be appear in more vehicles in the future.

In case you missed the reference above, the Accord had the company's right-side rear view camera in the right side mirror. It comes on whenever the right turn signal is hit, offering a view of what's along the right side of the car. It should help drivers avoid collisions with waiting or approaching bicyclists.

Rear seat room was also increased. As a result, it now rivals some full-sized cars in terms of head, leg and shoulder room.

The ride was also decent, a good not-too-soft, not-too-harsh compromise that smooths out the road and holds it own in corners.

For the record, our test Accord had just about every option except the V6, which is a higher trim level than most customers will order. But the base engine is by far the most popular choice and, as we discovered, it's not a bad one.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2014 Accord 4Dr EX-LNAV.

• Manufacturer: Honda.

• Class: Midsize sedan and coupe.

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

• Style: Two and four-door car.

• Engines: 2.4-liter inline 4 (185 hp, 181 ft-lbs); 2.4-liter inline 4 (189 hp, 182 ft-lbs); 3.5-liter V6 (278 hp, 252 ft-lbs); 2.0-liter inline 4 and electric motor (196 hp, 226 ft-lbs).

• Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic; Continuously Variable Transmission.

• Fuel Economy: 24/34/28 (2.4/M); 26/34/29 (2.4/CVT); 18/28/22 (3.5/M); 21/23/26 (3.5/A); 50/45/47 (Hybrid).

• Price: Starting at around $21,000 ($30,835 as tested).

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