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Review and photos by Laurance Yap
It’s been almost a year since I drove a Honda Accord, but in a lot of ways, settling into the 2006 Special Edition’s driver’s seat was like coming home. I’d driven an Accord every day before getting into the car-testing business, and they’ve remained amongst my preferred real-world drives ever since for their careful balance of sensibility and driving fun. Whether in base 4-cylinder form, or as a tricked-out V6 six-speed coupe, the Accord is just a really nice car to behold and to drive.
A large part of the Accord’s innate attraction lies in its simplicity. It’s easy to get in and out of, and it’s easy to get comfortable in. The seat – adjustable for height and rake with a couple of easy-to-reach levers – looks flat but is actually quite supportive, and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, never obscuring the cleanly-designed gauges. Radio and climate controls are dead-simple, controlled by three large knobs for volume, temperature, and fan speed. The display in the middle of the dash is big, with even bigger number displays. Save for the moonroof controls, which are down by your left knee, all of the switches and knobs are exactly where you would expect; there’s very little learning curve with this car.
It’s like that to drive, too. You start it up, select a gear, and move away with little fuss. The engine is smooth and quiet, and the shifter and clutch move with coordinated ease; this is an easy car to drive smoothly. Under way, there’s a faint murmur from the engine to remind you it’s there – and a bit of a snarl when you’re accelerating hard – but the noise is never intrusive.
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The ride has enough road feel that you don’t feel disconnected, but it’s not busy like some sport sedans; the brakes are intuitive to use, with a linear pedal feel. The Accord’s handling is secure rather than aggressive, but you notice that the steering is surprisingly accurate, that body roll is well-controlled, and that you can maintain fairly high speeds around ramps and bends despite the relatively skinny tires.
You get the sense that while the Accord may not be a sporty car, it definitely has a sort of mechanical soul. It moves with a quiet, well-oiled confidence whether you’re driving slow or pushing hard, and the 166-hp engine (up 6-hp from last year) has a surprising turn of speed as you zip past 5000 rpm. At a smaller level, everything from the light switch to the door locks to the volume knob have a consistency of feel that suggests Honda’s really sweated the details. It feels like the automotive incarnation of a nice – if not flashy – Swiss watch, reliable and trusty no matter what you decide to throw in its path.
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Decked out in an impressively anonymous shade of grey, with a gloomy grey interior, my four-cylinder tester was about as discreet as you could get. But then again, flashiness has never been part of this car’s remit. Shoppers looking for glitzy surface treatments or fashionable styling – inside or out – should look elsewhere. However, the Accord’s tight construction tolerances and sense of solidity go some way towards making up for the lack of overt style.
As with the driving experience, it’s the details you notice: the elegantly-sculpted exterior door handles, the subtle creases in the trapezoidal dashboard, the thin fillet of chrome that edges the top of the grille. The Accord’s rear end has been restyled for 2006, replacing the old “flying-wing” rear lamps with triangular ones that look like they’re off a Chevy Impala; it’s debatable whether it’s better-looking or not, especially since the top of the trunk sags visually thanks to the shape of the high-mounted stop light. My SE model at least had a couple of bright bits: a shiny chrome finisher on the exhaust pipe and a nice, if smallish, set of double-spoked alloy wheels.
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Given the attention Honda lavished on so many seemingly small details, the details they’ve flubbed are that much more annoying. The dash display, though very large, is also very dim – the 2005 Accord featured sharp white-on-black markings that were far easier to read than the new ones. The trunk opens on conventional hinges which impinge on the cargo space, and the underside of the trunk lid is an unlined mess of metal spars and wires; there’s no handle with which to close it, meaning your hands get dirty. Some of the switches aren’t backlit at night, and you need the ignition key in order to fold the seat backs down. While the Honda’s cabin remains a comfortable fit for four, other cars in the class now offer more room at similar prices: both the Impala and Nissan’s Altima offer more rear-seat space and more trunk capacity, and both feel a lot wider in the front than the Accord does.
At a time when the Accord’s (mostly-fresher) competitors are offering a range of high-tech options on even lower-end models, its deliberately-simple interior can feel a bit spartan when even the cheapest Mazda6 comes with a faux-aluminum dash and a stereo that looks like it’s out of a high-end audio catalogue. To be fair, by moving up to higher-end models in the Accord line-up, you not only get leather seats, but also a choice of wood grain or metallic trim and the option of a DVD-based navigation system with a terrific voice-recognition system and even the entire Zagat restaurant database. Opt for a top-end Accord V6 with all the toys, though, and you’re looking at a $35,000 car. Opt for the very-cool Hybrid model, with the V6 assisted by an electric motor, and even more toys to play with, and you’re closing in on $37,000.
There’s part of me that thinks that kind of money is a lot for what is essentially a middle-of-the-road family car. On the other hand, the Accord feels like it’s built to last, has an enviable reliability record, and allows you to have most, if not all, of the creature comforts you want without the conspicuousness of a prestige badge.
The good news is that even with 4 cylinders, no fancy trim on the dashboard, a manual transmission and skinny tires ($24,800 will get you into a five-speed Accord DX-G), much of the Accord’s essential goodness remains.
Technical Data: 2006 Honda Accord SE sedan
|Price as tested||$27,710 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger midsize sedan|
|Engine||2.4-litre 4-cyl., DOHC, 16 valves, i-VTEC|
|Horsepower||166 @ 5500 rpm|
|Torque||160 @ 4000 rpm|
|Tires||P205/60R-16 inch all-season|
|Curb weight||1440 kg (3175 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2740 mm (107.8 in.)|
|Length||4854 mm (191.1 in.)|
|Width||1820 mm (71.6 in.)|
|Height||1453 mm (57.2 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||396 litres (14.0 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 9.1 L/100 km (31 mpg Imperial)|
|Hwy: 6.4 L/100 km (44 mpg Imperial)|
|Fuel type||Regular unleaded|
|Warranty||3 yrs/ 60,000 km|
|Powertrain Warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|
|Assembly location||Marysville, Ohio|