Who's It For: The usual array of practical-minded drivers, possibly starting a family, who are banking on plenty of size and famous Honda reliability.
Best Thing: Large, roomy interior, and enough power to provide balance.
Worst Thing: Button-heavy interior, archaic navigation system and a small trunk.
Snap Judgment: An oldie but still (pretty) goodie.
As much flak as we heaped onto the Honda Civic recently, you'd think it would apply tenfold to the even more dated 2012 Honda Accord, a mainstay in the family car segment. After all, the Civic is brand-new for 2012, while the Accord has been hanging around since 2008. That's four long years, and in the fast-moving currents of the automotive industry, it's close to forever. Surely it'll have been left for dead by a slew of newer competitors, another example of how Honda "lost its way," right?
Nope. Because -- Honda fans, hold onto your hats -- the 2012 Honda Accord is still a comfortable, good-handling, extraordinarily roomy, well-equipped family sedan with the usual combination of milquetoast styling and spacious practicality that's de-rigueur for this segment. What's more, in V-6 guise the Accord manages to be surprisingly quick against smaller-engined competitors like the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and Chevrolet Malibu -- and as always, with as many if not more optional features.
Safety and Technology
We drove a loaded 2012 Honda Accord EX-L V-6 model with navigation, a combination that comes to $32,600, including a $770 destination charge. That's on the high side for this class, but not unreasonable considering that "EX-L with navigation" is Honda-speak for "all the options."
What do you get for this lofty sum? Well, Honda's navigation system, obviously -- as well as dual-zone climate controls; leather upholstery, with power heated front seats and driver's-side memory settings; cruise control; rear vents for backseat passengers; Bluetooth; an auxiliary jack for MP3 players; and XM satellite radio pumped through a 7-speaker, 270-watt Premium Audio System. Basically, enough equipment to shame a three-year old Mercedes-Benz. It's the sort of world we live in now, one where our plain-Jane family sedans come more comprehensively equipped than most entry-level luxury cars.
All Accords come standard with front, side, and side curtain airbags that cover the entire length of the passenger compartment. The Accord also features active front head restraints to protect against whiplash, as well as anti-lock brakes and traction control.
Getting into the Honda Accord hits the nervus olfactorius with a wonderful leather scent, a keen way to make a good first impression. Materials are solid and straightforward, and assembled with obvious care. It's a very comfortable place to be, and the controls feel like they're built to last.
The 2012 Honda Accord is a large car, and it reminds you of every bit of its size, yet it remains manageable to drive, with decent, comfortable handling at any speed. The lovely leather-wrapped steering wheel turns effortlessly at low speeds, and while the suspension is stiffer than what you'll find on other cars in its class, it's still well-composed over bumps and diagonal railroad tracks. Braking is firm and precise, and the five-speed transmission's shifts are virtually invisible. Road noise boomed and reverberated on freeway surfaces, but the Accord's excellent sound system made up for it, somewhat.
That is, if you can make heads or tails of how to operate the radio -- or anything in the center console, for that matter. If you're a big fan of retro automotive design, we've got great news for you: Put down that Volkswagen Beetle or Fiat 500 brochure, and experience the Accord's circa-2002 navigation system. The navigation screen, though big, is low resolution by today's standards. Coupled with the button-frenzied center console, and after a week with the Accord, none of us could change radio stations without having to look at the center stack. However, the Accord's directions were infallible, its placement of the navigation screen is perfect, and it was visible even through the slickest of Ray-Bans. Plus simply saying "95.5 FM" got us the right station. So it's got that going for it.
The rest of the interior is well thought-out. Large, deep cupholders and a sizeable center bin exploit the most out of the center console. There's a velvet-lined bin next to the power outlet that sternly cautions, "NOT AN ASHTRAY." Sorry, smokers. But it fits a smartphone perfectly, and from here it's a quick hookup to USB audio and Bluetooth, which performed slowly, if diligently when we used it.
The Grocery Run
The EPA classifies the Accord as a full-size car, though there's little mistaking this Honda for, say, Lincoln Town Car Diamond Anniversary Edition. As such, room abounds in the backseat both above and below. Five people easily fit in our staff's weekly In-N-Out runs with nary a complaint, even on the way back. The Accord's high roof also makes it easy to adjust a child seat in the rear without fear of cracking your head on the door frame, as you might in some of this car's competition.
Thanks to the formal roofline and large windows, visibility out of the Accord was excellent. An expansive windshield made judging parking spots easy, while thin pillars allowed a full view when changing lanes. The backup camera fulfilled its duty in eliminating any chance of a parking mishap. Though visibility is already so plentiful, those who don't want to pony up for the $2,200 navigation package with the camera won't miss out on much -- like that parked car behind you.
Trunk space, however, is trumped by other cars such as the Kia Optima and Chevy Malibu: at 14.7 cubic-feet, it lags behind the 15-plus-cubic feet found in those cars. The trunk is also strangely shaped, with strange lumps on both sides and round bulges for the full-size spare tire. Will those extra cubes matter? Maybe not, but the strange shape of the trunk may send some Coca-Cola bottles rolling.
The Weekend Fun
We know that the Accord has all the trappings of family-sedan ennui. But if anyone tells you the Accord V-6 is slow, just take the naysayer for a drive and chirp the front tires as you accelerate from a stoplight. The Accord V-6 is the sleeper of sleepers. The 271-horsepower engine feels like a concession from the Accord's engineers to beleaguered enthusiasts with growing families. Like the perfect crime, nobody will suspect a thing. It even manages a nice burble from its dual exhausts.
If you're going the distance with so much potential speed at hand, the Accord isn't an unpleasant place to be. Fit and finish is impeccable across the car, from the carpet-like headliner to the solid-feeling buttons and tasteful plasti-wood trim that's not fooling anybody, down to the hefty shifter and cupholder lid that closes with a thunk. We did find gripes with the seats, however, which managed to be both lumpy and spongy, but at least the leather enveloping them was sufficiently supple for our discerning posteriors.
On average, we netted about 25 mpg in a mixture of highway and city driving, including a sprint down to San Diego. Otherwise, the EPA rates the Accord's V-6 20 and 30 mpg for city and highway driving, respectively. That's down from 23 and 34 in four-cylinder models, and on par with most other V-6-equipped sedans such as the Toyota Camry, which ekes out one better mpg in city driving.
On the drive to San Diego the Accord performed admirably, with its soft suspension and 3605-pound bulk providing a smooth ride on washboard highways. Interstate 5 was heard, but not felt as the suspension soaked up the bumps, but road noise still filtered through the cabin at a noticeable volume. Still, the Accord didn't seem flustered over winding roads, and could handle crooked pavement and hills without threats of motion sickness or the sound of squealing tires.
There's a reason why the current Honda Accord has been with us for so long. The 2012 Honda Accord remains a comfortable, competent, and quick family sedan that ranks among the top of its class, if not at the very top when it was brand new.
But competency just doesn't cut it anymore. Consumers demand more style inside and out, as well as a more intuitive interior layout and class-leading fuel economy. The 2012 Honda Accord's newer competitors offer this and more, such as six-speed automatic transmissions and smaller turbocharged engines with better fuel economy, and cheaper base prices. The Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima twins offer these and more, and we expect a redesigned Chevrolet Malibu and Toyota Camry to spike the blood pressure levels of a few Honda engineers.
The 2012 Honda Accord remains competent among its peers, but we expect the next generation Accord to be at the top of Honda's car-building game. No pressure, guys. We'll be waiting.
Price as tested: $32,600
EPA City: 20 mpg
EPA Highway: 30 mpg
EPA Combined: 24 mpg
Observed: 25 mpg
Estimated Range: 444 miles
Cost of Ownership: Excellent
"Very comfortable and relaxing. I can see this car in Asia somewhere with lace curtains and a white-gloved chauffeur behind the wheel." Blake Z. Rong
"This car feels like you own the on-ramp with all that power." Jacob Brown
"Navigation startup looks like it was taken from Star Wars credits." Matt Askari
"Dislike: voice command button is blocked by the steering wheel and spoke -- very difficult to see. Do people use the adjacent telephone controls more often or something?" Keith Buglewicz