2005 Honda Accord EX V6

Much more than a mobile appliance

The true mark of success in the sedan business is not the total number of vehicles produced or even sold, but the total sold to retail customers-folks who walk into a dealership and buy a car because it's what they want. While many domestic sedans begin their lives by trundling out the factory door and heading straight into an airport rental fleet, only in small numbers do Honda Accords end up schlepping around weary business travelers. Accords are sold in large numbers to people who want to buy them, and with good reason.

The charmingly and fantastically popular Accord is thoroughly proficient at being an exemplary four-door sedan. It gets accused of being an appliance, like a refrigerator. Refrigerators should be so good.

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The Accord's exterior style has often been described as less than thrilling, but it's clean in the concept and refined in the details. The 16-inch wheels of the V6 and EX models help fill out the wheel wells and solidify the visual stance. It would be difficult to imagine a more user-friendly interior than the Accord's-Honda practically invented the concept. Not only the placement of the controls and various functions, but the way they operate, feel, and touch, indicate every factor has been thoroughly considered. All this makes it easier and less tiring to drive the car, and even long trips are accomplished in a kind of quiet, easy, and smooth serenity.

As with the odd idea that an Accord might be a performance car, there's also the notion of it being a handling car. But, again-contrary to conventional wisdom-the Accord's level of ride and handling is precise, smooth and responsive. Steering feel is accurate and easy, with just the correct amount of feedback, and it's straight and relentlessly stable at higher highway speeds as well as nimble and easy to park around town.

There are three trim levels: The four-cylinder DX starts at a little over $16,000. The LX adds a lot of luxury and convenience, and the choice of a four-cylinder or V6 engine, at just under $20,000. An EX V6-which is to say, loaded as it can get-with navigation is under $29,000.

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For this review we drove an EX V6 model, which is the top of the line and includes everything as standard equipment. There are dealer installed accessories available, but no "options," as such. The four-cylinder Accord has 160 horsepower, but the V6 makes 240 and delivers remarkable performance that's accompanied by a creamy smoothness and response that's crisp as a new morning. Conventional wisdom may not consider a Honda Accord as a high-performance car, but with 240 horsepower that's exactly what it is. Step on the gas and the Accord V6 will leave drivers of many well-known sedans with big-time performance reputations with a diminishing view of its taillights. It's EPA rated at 21 mpg City, 30 mpg Highway. And, to top it all off, it meets ULEV emissions standards, which means that in some places in the country, what comes out the tailpipe is cleaner than what goes into the engine.

There are two transmission choices, a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic; the automatic is the obvious choice and it works in perfect harmony with the engine. The Accord's suspension includes the sophistication of upper and lower control arms front and rear-no struts here. The DX, and four-cylinder LX, have disc brakes in front and drums in the rear, but all the others stop with four-wheel discs.

It's worth mentioning the Accord's safety features. As standard equipment, all Accords have anti-lock brakes, dual-stage front airbags, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. Beyond that, the Federal Government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Accord a five-star rating in the frontal-crash test, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named it a Best Pick after it received a top rating in the offset frontal crash test.

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For comparison, we also drove the Accord Hybrid, which offers the environmental benefits of a hybrid powertrain, better fuel economy and even more performance. The Accord Hybrid cranks out 255 horsepower and truly outstanding acceleration, and matches that with fuel economy numbers of 29 mpg City, 37 mpg Highway. Without the navigation system the price is just a little over $30,000, and with navigation it's a little above $32,000. Still, with all the wonder of the Hybrid, the non-Hybrid EX V6 is slightly more pleasant around town due to an operational characteristic of the Hybrid: As the Hybrid rolls to a stop the engine shuts off; release the brake pedal and the engine starts up again. The start-up is instantaneous, but there's a slight motion, which some may not notice, some may, as the driveline takes up the varying inputs.

The Accord EX V6 is loaded with features, has impeccable fit and finish, and sets the standard for user-friendliness and ergonomics. It also cranks out 240 silky and eager horsepower, handles with precision and response, arrives with a great record of reliability and customer satisfaction, meets ULEV emissions standards and costs well under thirty grand. If there's a better all-around sedan value out there, it's going to have beat the Accord. (www.honda.com)

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