2012 Honda Accord Driving Impressions

Nearly all Honda Accord models are well-balanced cars that are good at just about everything. Just about every car in this class is well balanced, to be sure. Mid-sized sedans are usually crafted as all-things-to-everyone vehicles, intended to appeal to the largest possible chunk of buyers. It's a question of which one gets the balance appropriate for a buyer's taste, and again the Accord settles somewhere near the middle.

We find the Accord nicely mannered, polished, pleasant and steady regardless of model, engine or transmission. It's comfortable, and perfectly predictable, regardless of body style. In general, the Accord comes across as firmer and a bit livelier than the Toyota Camry. It's softer and less edgy than the Nissan Altima.

The Accord has gotten bigger and heavier over the years, and it shows. The Accord sedan feels more like a mid-size luxury car on the road, less like a perfectly sorted, well-finished compact car. That evolution is hardly a bad thing, but it's safe to say that Accord has lost some of the spunk, or perhaps the fun, that launched it to the top of the sales charts decades ago.

Across the many Accord trim levels, the ride-handling balance varies over a narrow but distinguishable range. The softest-riding model is the Accord LX, by virtue of the softest suspension settings and 16-inch tires with a larger sidewall. The LX is also the lightest and best balanced model. Not as mellow as the Camry but gentler than much of the competition, the Accord LX handles bad roads with aplomb and basically goes where it's pointed. Electronic stability control helps get it back in line if it's pointed wrong.

The Accord LX stays relatively flat in the corners. It doesn't nosedive under braking, and it remains stable during left-right transitions on a winding road, or working through city clutter. Steering is light, direct, and makes quick work of a U-turn, though there isn't as much feedback about how hard the front tires are working as some Camrys and all Altima models offer.

Accord EX models have slightly firmer suspension calibrations, but most of what you'll notice comes from the lower profile tires on 17-inch wheels: more noise and vibration from lane divider dots, expansion joints, bridge seams, manhole covers. Apart from slightly quicker response to steering and braking commands, the EX is essentially the same easy-going Accord. Trips of any duration are accommodated comfortably, with a nice compromise between the isolated, creamy Camry and the adrenaline-induced Altima. Enthusiast drivers could live happily with an Accord sedan serving as a spouse's daily commuter, or they could opt for a V6 manual coupe.

The Accord Coupe trades a smidge of ride comfort for greater handling precision. Most of the change comes from larger anti-roll bars and lower weight. Tire specifications mirror those on the sedans.

Honda Motor Company is known as one of the world's fine engine manufacturers, and not one of the engines in the Accord line disappoints. Honda is also known for efficiency, and in that regard, every Accord sedan and coupe gained in fuel efficiency thanks to 2011's revisions. Improvements to vehicle aerodynamics, reductions in engine friction and new transmission gear ratios all contributed to higher mileage ratings. Fuel economy ratings for four-cylinder Accords improved by 2 mpg in the city and 3 mpg on the highway, and about 1 mpg for V6 models.

Fuel economy is an EPA City/Highway rating of 23/34 mpg for any four-cylinder Accord sedan, regardless of engine tune or transmission choice. Accord V6 sedans get an EPA-estimated 20/30 mpg. Four-cylinder coupes rate 22/33 mpg with automatic, 23/32 with manual; V6 coupes rate 19/29 with automatic, 17/26 with manual.

The Accord LX's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine matches Nissan's 2.5-liter for horsepower, if not torque, with less fuss or raucousness. Compared to the 2012 Camry's four-cylinder, the Honda delivers one less horsepower and a bit less torque. But even though the Accord is the heavyweight of the three, its base engine's 177 horsepower is plenty to keep up with the Joneses, whether you choose the manual or automatic. The manual, though, makes for the livelier car.

Accord EX models get the same basic 2.4-liter engine with some minor changes and a higher rev limit, delivering 190 horsepower and besting nearly all the competition with no degradation in fuel economy. With the automatic this engine delivers instant downshifts and response for passing, but it upshifts at full-throttle well before redline. The console-mounted shifter has no manual mode, and the detente between Drive and D3 is soft, so we found ourselves checking the dash indicator to make sure we had selected the most economical choice.

The 5-speed manual requires low clutch effort, and the engine engages smoothly. The shifter offers good action, if not the short, crisp movement of some smaller Hondas we've driven. The manual allows a driver to get the most out of either four-cylinder engine, which will cleanly rev right past the marked redline. That lets a 177-horsepower 2.4 manual keep up with a 190-horsepower 2.4-liter automatic.

Of course, the 190-horsepower 2.4-liter and 5-speed manual are the most entertaining of all four-cylinder models, and this combination will appeal to that segment of the Accord audience that enjoys driving and believes shifting is done with hands and feet, not thumbs. If you don't know whether to choose the 177-horsepower or 190-horsepower version (setting aside trim considerations), ask yourself how often you floor the throttle and run your engine to redline. If the answer lies between never and seldom, then the 177-horsepower four will prove quite satisfactory.

The Accord's optional 3.5-liter V6 is rated 271 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. That's more horsepower than both the Camry and Altima V6 engines (by a nose). The Honda V6 is smooth and quieter than the Altima's, and it has the latest version of Honda's Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) to improve economy.

Like GM and Chrysler systems designed to save gas on big V8s, VCM changes the number of operating cylinders at any given time to save fuel. The Honda V6 can run on six, four or three cylinders, depending on how much power the car needs to do what the driver wants it to do. The system is completely automatic and unnoticeable to the driver except for two things: an Eco light that illuminates on the dash when the system is on, and a slight hunting sensation as it switches back-and-forth between four and three cylinders at certain speeds. You'll need to be paying attention to notice that, however.

Accord coupes offer only the 190-horsepower version of the four-cylinder engine. It, and the V6 in coupes with an automatic, is identical to the engines in the sedan. The V6 used in the coupe with the manual transmission is different. Size and output are the same, but the unique coupe V6 has a different intake system that packs most of the power in the middle of the rpm range, and it eliminates the VCM fuel-saving system. The target buyer isn't springing for the sportiest model to save gas by letting pistons coast along for the ride.

The Accord EX V6 Coupe with manual transmission is the closest successor to Acura's defunct CL Type-S coupe, and it has a character all its own. This is most definitely the raciest car in the Accord line-up. The engine snarls and growls under a heavy foot, the shifter and clutch have more weight behind them, and the 235/45VR18 wheel and tire package adds another level to crispness and handling grip.

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