The Honda Accord is an easy drive with good manners regardless of model, engine or transmission. It comes across as firmer than most Camry models but smoother and softer than the Altima.
The Accord LX 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine matches Nissan's 2.5-liter for horsepower, if not torque, with a bit less fuss or raucousness. Compared to the Camry’s four-cylinder, the Honda delivers a bit more power and (again) a bit less torque. Since the Accord isn't too heavy, its 177 horsepower is plenty to keep up with the Joneses, whether you choose the manual or automatic. Every Accord compares well against competitors in terms of mileage and emissions, and runs on regular unleaded.
Accord EX models get the same basic 2.4-liter engine with some minor changes and a higher rev limit to bring 190 horsepower, clearly besting the competition (VW's 200-horsepoer Passat 2-liter turbo is the exception) with no degradation in economy or emissions. With the automatic this engine delivers instant downshifts and response for passing, and upshifts at full-throttle well before redline. The console-mounted shifter has no manual mode, and the detent 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 five-speed manual has low clutch effort with smooth engagement, and the shifter offers good action if not the short, crisp movement of the Civic Si. But the manual allows you to get the most out of the engine, which cleanly revs happily right past the marked redline. That lets a 177-horsepower 2.4 manual keep up with a 190-horsepower 2.4 automatic. Of course, the 190-horsepower 2.4-liter and five-speed manual are the most entertaining of the four-cylinder models and 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 will prove quite satisfactory.
In terms of fuel economy, all Accords with four-cylinder engines are EPA-rated 22/31 mpg City/Highway with the manual, 21/31 mpg with the automatic. V6 sedans are rated 19/29 mpg. V6 coupes are rated 19/28 mpg with automatic, 17/25 mpg with the six-speed manual.
The 3.5-liter V6 is rated 271 horsepower and 254 pounds-feet of torque. That’s more horsepower than not only the Camry V6, but also the Altima's Z-car-based engine (if only by a nose). The Honda V6 is smooth and quieter than the Altima's, more than adequate for any purpose, and uses the latest version of Honda's Variable Cylinder Management (VCM).
Like GM and Chrysler systems designed to save gas on big V8s, VCM changes the number of engine cylinders working at any given time and load to save fuel. The previous example switched off three cylinders (half the V6) when they weren't needed, but this new one changes between six, four, and three cylinders for more fuel-stretching choices. The system is completely automatic and unknown to the driver except for two things: The Eco light illuminates on the dash when the system is on, and there's a slight hunting sensation as it switches back-and-forth between four and three cylinders at certain speeds. But you'll need to be paying attention to notice that.
Coupes with the 190-horsepower four-cylinder manual or automatic or the VCM V6 automatic use the same powertrain setups as the sedans. However, the V6 used in the coupe with the manual six-speed transmission is a different engine. While size and output are the roughly the same (it is rated 271 horsepower and 251 pound-feet), it uses a different intake system for stronger midrange and no VCM because its intended buyer isn't springing for the sportiest model to save gas by letting pistons coast along for the ride.
The softest-riding model is the Accord LX by virtue of 16-inch tires with a larger sidewall, and the mildest suspension calibration. It's 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 will help get it back in line if you point it wrong. The Accord LX stays relatively flat in the corners, doesn't nosedive under braking, and makes stable transitions working down a winding road or 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 receive very slightly firmer suspension calibrations, but most of what you'll notice comes from the lower profile tires on 17-inch wheels: lane divider dots, expansion joints, bridge seams, manhole covers and so on. Apart from slightly quicker response to steering and braking, 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. Enthusiasts could live happily with an Accord sedan serving as a spouse's daily commuter, or they could opt for a V6 manual coupe.
In general the coupe models trade a smidge of ride comfort for greater handling precision and grip. Most of the change comes from larger anti-roll bars and lower weight since tire choices mirror sedans.
The closest successor to Acura's defunct CL Type-S coupe, the Accord Coupe with a V6 and manual gearbox has a character all its own. 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 grip.