2009 Honda Accord EX-L (Navigation) Review
By Chris Haak
The Honda Accord is a perennial award winner, in comparison tests done by magazines, the Car and Driver Ten Best list, and on the sales charts. Though the Accord hasn’t held the annual “best selling car” title in the US for several years, it’s always near the top of the charts, just a step behind the Toyota Camry and a step ahead of the Nissan Altima. I’m also a big fan of the Honda Accord, as it has continued the Honda tradition of engineering excellence, intelligent packaging, high quality, and above average reliability for decades. In fact, until this past summer, I owned a 2004 Accord EX-L V6 and the car gave me zero problems over five years and 80,000 miles. Since the Accord was all-new for the 2008 model year, I was eager to see if any progress had been made on some of the areas for improvement that I had noticed over time in my 2004 model, and conversely, if any of that car’s goodness had been removed in the name of cost cutting.
My test vehicle was a completely loaded black sedan, including sunroof, heated leather seats, satellite radio, and a navigation system. The only thing that it didn’t have was the new 3.5 liter V6, but since I had just driven a similar 3.7 liter version of the Honda V6, not to mention a few trips around the globe in the 3.0 liter predecessor of the 3.5 liter engine, I was happy to receive the 2.4 liter four cylinder to test. Around the time that I bought my old Accord, I borrowed a 2.4 liter version of the old car for a day or two, so I had a basis for comparison; also, Autosavant has already reviewed a direct competitor to this loaded four cylinder Accord in the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu LTZ four cylinder six speed. And finally, I had family staying at our house for Christmas, and they arrived in a 2007 Nissan Altima 2.5SL, which was coincidentally the same color, with the same equipment levels, as the Accord test vehicle that I was evaluating.
The Accord is not exactly a pretty car, especially in sedan form, where its shape is somewhat Korean-looking in its appearance, with styling cliches visible from nearly every angle, from the C-pillar’s BMW-like Hoffmeister Kink to the slightly overdone character line and chrome decorations. Honda took a lot of criticism for the somewhat anonymous styling of the 2003-2007 model, and responded with a car that made up for its predecessor’s lack of style with a car whose styling is somewhat contrived. That being said, its looks have somewhat grown on me over the past year, and it does have pretty good proportions for a front wheel drive, midsize sedan. For example, I appreciated the car’s width from both a comfort perspective as well as from an appearance standpoint; the GM Epsilon-based cars (G6, Malibu, Aura) all appear to be long and narrow, while the Accord’s extra width makes it look just right.
Opening the door, as I mentioned in my review of the Acura RL, is almost a joy because of the ball bearing-like movement of the doors. Panel gaps were small, and the doors just open and close perfectly. It speaks to the quality of the engineering and the craftsmanship of the car’s assembly; not all of the Accord’s competitors can make such a claim. Once settled into the amply wide, orthopediacally-designed driver’s seat (which is very comfortable for long stints behind the wheel), you notice a lot of plastic around the car’s interior. There is about a five inch wide strip of soft-touch dash plastic around the height that you’d tend to touch the dash, but above and below the soft-touch section is hard, hollow plastic. At least the plastic appeared to have consistent sheen, color, and texture to the softer portions of the dash. There were also aluminum-look accent strips on the dash; those were a welcome addition over the old car’s plastic-only appearance in the zone above the glove box opening.
The center console’s storage lid is nicely padded, and has a more sturdy latch than on the previous model (and hides a 1/8 inch line-in jack inside to connect an MP3 player, though the car is not able to control the player’s functions), but the center console itself (the area between the gearshift and the storage compartment) is made of hard, flat black plastic that didn’t strike me as being particularly premium-feeling. The dashboard’s design has proven to be somewhat controversial, as it’s fairly button-heavy and the center stack – while nicely integrated with fairly large buttons – bulges outward in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of looking at a person’s face when their mouth is full of food. However, the buttons had a nice tactile feel to them. One interesting touch is that the backlighting for the audio controls at night is white, while the climate controls are green. The climate controls flank the audio controls, and while the idea of the different lighting colors is nice in theory, the difference between white and green is not readily apparent. Also, once you become used to the location of primary controls after a day or two in the car, it’s probably not necessary anyway, as they are reasonably easy to use without much thought.
My test vehicle was equipped with Honda’s satellite navigation system. It’s similar to the system in the Acura RL that I tested previously, but lacks the RL’s premium features such as real-time traffic and weather monitoring, Zagat restaurant ratings, and a backup camera. Nevertheless, as I have said before, the system’s controls (all done via a large joystick/knob on the dashboard) are the most intuitive that I’ve used as a joystick, though I personally prefer a touchscreen interface. Also, as with the Acura’s system, I felt that the screen resolution was somewhat poor for a 2009 model year vehicle, with some roads looking pixelated on the screen; having a sharper resolution or more colors would allow the image to appear smoother to viewers. The navigation screen also had the capability to display a dual trip computer, additional climate control information, and additional audio information (there is a separate single-line display that shows each side of the car’s temperature setting, the clock, and one line of radio data; unfortunately, that means that you either need to toggle the “Info” button among title, artist, channel, and genre in XM mode instead of viewing some or all of that information simultaneously as most vehicles allow (though, again, with the navigation screen, it is possible to see all of it on the screen at once).
The Accord’s interior has grown in literally every dimension over the previous model, with the exception of losing 0.1 inches of front legroom (but with back seat legroom growing by 0.4 inches, just move your seat back another 0.1 inches). While the Accord is now technically classified as a large car by the EPA, it’s still right in the heart of the midsize sedan market. The back seat is adequately roomy for two large Britax Marathon car seats (forward facing) and has more headroom than the Acura RL does. Some of the slick storage spaces that the old model had, however, have disappeared or shrunken. For example, the 2003-2007 Accord had large cupholders at the front of both front doors that could hold 20 oz. bottles; those are gone in the 2009 model. The 2003-2007 Accord had a large cubby beneath the HVAC controls at the bottom of the center stack; that is now mostly consumed by the six-disc CD changer that had previously been integrated with the radio head unit, so a storage space that was eight or nine inches tall before is now around two and a half inches tall. There were also some disappointingly obvious cost cutting moves done to the interior; the most blatant was the A- and C-pillar trim, where the old model had cloth-covered pillars that exceeded the quality of those in the far more expensive Cadillac CTS, the new one substitutes hard plastic instead. Even worse, the graining on the plastic doesn’t make a very convincing argument that it’s masquerading as cloth, which Chrysler has been able to do in several of its vehicles that also have hard plastic A-pillar trim.
Being an auto writer, of course I’m a horsepower junkie, but I’m also aware that most Accord and Camry buyers choose the base 2.4 liter four cylinder engines. The four cylinder was upgraded for the new generation, and now puts out a respectable 190 horsepower. Although the car gained weight with its additional size, the additional horsepower keeps the Accord moving smartly in most circumstances. The first few days I had the car, I drove it solo, and kept thinking, “who needs a V6? Really?” Then, using the car to shuttle my family of four on some errands a few days later, I put my foot to the floor when merging onto the expressway, and acceleration was not what I’ve grown accustomed to. The bottom line: for 90% or more of all driving I’d do (and probably a higher proportion for many drivers), the 190 horsepower meets all of my needs. But having the extra 81 horsepower of the optional 3.5 liter V6 in reserve, the V6’s additional smoothness and more pleasant sounds, would probably still move me to opt for the V6. The EPA cites mileage figures of 21 city/30 highway for the four cylinder/five-speed automatic combination that I drove, and 19 city/28 highway for the V6/five-speed automatic combination. My observed fuel economy was about 25 miles per gallon, with about 60% pure highway driving. Aside from the reduced power and smoothness, I observed an odd vibration that occurred consistently between 5500 and 7000 RPMs from the transmission area. My test vehicle was a fairly new one, with under 2,000 miles on the odometer when it arrived, so I’m not sure if that was a unique issue to my tester or an inherent engineering issue with all 2.4 liter Accords. Perhaps it was something as simple as the VTEC system changing its mode at the higher end of the powerband increasing exhaust vibrations. Around town and driving like a normal human being, however, the Accord was buttery smooth.
According to the seat of my pants, Honda’s always been pretty good at suspension tuning; the Accord still has double wishbone suspension, while many of its competitors have less-sophisticated (and less-expensive) struts instead. The car recovers quickly after hitting a bump, and manages to keep its composure while still maintaining a comfortable ride. The car’s steering was nicely weighted, and provided good feedback through its delightfully thick, leather wrapped steering wheel. During one fast jaunt on local backroads, the car didn’t seem to mind being hustled, and although the brakes were hot enough that I could smell them when I pulled into my driveway, they never faded and always halted the car when called upon without drama.
As alluded to earlier, I was able to drive a 2007 Altima 2.5SL while having the Accord. I found the Nissan to feel a little more peppy (though it’s down two horsepower, its CVT makes the most of them), but the same CVT that gives the Nissan better seat-of-the-pant performance and fuel economy also leaves the driver with odd sensations and sounds that a conventional five-speed automatic does not. The Nissan’s interior was also completely done in dark charcoal as was the Honda’s, but the Nissan had much more soft-touch materials than did the Accord. The Altima had pushbutton start (not available on the Accord) and XM NavTraffic (also not available on the Accord). Otherwise, the cars felt remarkably similar to me, with the Nissan’s ride feeling slightly firmer. My brother in law noted that that he observed 29.9 miles per gallon driving from Georgia to New York; his car is rated at 23 city/31 highway versus the Accord’s 21/30, so he may have done a little better on that trip than I would have driving the Accord mileage-wise. I’m sure that moving to a six-speed automatic, as Ford and GM have done, and Toyota and Chrysler have partially done (with V6 models of the Camry and Sebring) would help the Accord’s mileage and performance.
I was a little shocked by the pricing of the test vehicle, only because I’m unaccustomed to having a fully-equipped car with a smaller engine. However, when you consider that the Accord’s competitors are all rolling out midsize sedans with MSRPs in the same range, a price of $29,215 including destination charge isn’t beyond the realm of reality. I like the way Honda packages their models, with options packaged by the trim level, but some folks may not want a sunroof, for example, but do want navigation – that’s not possible with Honda. But that simplicity makes it easier to compare deals from dealer to dealer, because chances are, the cars will be identically equipped, and it also keeps Honda’s costs down by decreasing manufacturing complexity. Want an Accord EX-L? OK, what color, and with nav or not? If you don’t want to pay $30,000- for an Accord, a manual transmission LX can be had for $21,575 including destination (add another $800 for an automatic transmission, for a total of $22,375). Most everything is standard in the LX, with the exception of navigation, leather seats, sunroof, dual zone climate control, and the uprated engine (the LX gets a 177-horsepower version instead of the 190-horsepower variant that my tester had). The LX does include all of the same safety equipment, air conditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, six speaker stereo, remote keyless entry, and steering wheel mounted audio controls. Pricing for the line tops out at $31,575 for the EX-L V6 with navigation, which of course adds the fantastic-sounding 271-horsepower 3.5 liter V6.
The 2009 Accord EX-L with navigation is still the benchmark of the midsize sedan class, but its improvements over the previous generation were not as dramatic as the improvements that some of its competitors have shown in the past two years, with cars like the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, and Nissan Altima specifically gaining significant ground. While many of those aforementioned competitors can do a few things better than the Accord – some might be better looking, better performing, have a nicer interior, or be less expensive – I still haven’t seen a car in this class that is so good at so many things as the Accord manages to pull off. There’s a reason that Saturn dealers brought Accords into their showrooms a few years ago so that buyers could compare the Aura to them: the Accord is the class benchmark.
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