- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

It was an exceptionally busy few days on the highway.

My travels took me on a pleasure trip from northern New Jersey to eastern Pennsylvania and back, and then a day later on to northern Connecticut and back in a 400-mile trek that offered only a three-hour midday break.

The workhorse for these journeys was a 2006 Honda Accord EX sedan equipped with a 166-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic transmission.

I had been particularly interested in spending time with this Honda because seven out of 10 customers opt for four-cylinder models over the more powerful and more expensive V-6 Accord.

I was not disappointed.

The engine was surprisingly smooth, well muffled and plenty powerful in all circumstances. The five-speed automatic transmission shifted unobtrusively, dropping easily to whatever gear was needed to supply optimum power. The power steering had a strong on-center feel and offered sufficient feedback from the road. The suspension smoothed out the bumps, but was also taut enough to allow the car to respond crisply to the driver.

Inside, the sedan was quiet and comfortable enough to make several hundred miles of interstate travel almost fatigue free. Equipped with the standard, six-speaker sound system, it even made the rush-hour crawl somewhat bearable.

And, all that time behind the wheel I averaged between 21 and 29 miles per gallon of regular gasoline.

After those long stints behind the wheel, I was reassured that a budget-minded buyer does not have to settle for bare bones. The four-cylinder Accord contains everything required for safe, competent and comfortable travel.

And a buyer need not select the well-equipped $23,250 EX sedan to get all the basic virtues of the car.

For 2006, Honda has revised the four-cylinder lineup, replacing the DX with a VP model that comes with standard air conditioning, cruise control, 120-watt sound system, keyless entry and power windows and door locks. It’s available for $18,225 with a five-speed manual transmission; $19,025 with the automatic.

Now in the fourth year of their anticipated five-year life-cycle, all Accords have undergone a number of revisions and updates to maintain their appeal.

On the exterior, there is a major redesign of the tail and a freshening of the grille and bumper. The new rear, with updated lighting, gives the car a slightly larger, more substantial look, while changes at the front end bring a little more attention to the car.

Updates inside the car include a new steering wheel, revised gauge cluster, new cloth seat fabrics and a maintenance reminder that calculates when routine service is required. Even the ambience has been upgraded, thanks to the addition of light-weight sound-deadening material.

A new safety feature on all Accords is daytime running lights. Accords with V-6 engines get standard stability control.

An improvement in intake and exhaust airflow has resulted in a slight power increase across the board. The V-6 models generate 244 horsepower, up four. The 166 horsepower in four-cylinder models is an increase of six. In addition, electronic throttle controls, which had been available only on V-6 models, are standard on four-cylinder Accords.

To the enthusiast with a need for four doors, the biggest news for 2006 is the availability of a six-speed manual transmission as a same-price alternative to the five-speed automatic on top-of-of-the-line V-6 Accords.

In addition to the short-throw shifter, they have 17-inch wheels, a 180-watt sound system and exclusive carbon fiber interior trim.

Previously, the do-it-yourself six-speed shifter, 17-inch wheels and sound system had been available only on V-6 coupes.

Even the Accord Hybrid sedan, now in only its second year, gets a couple of updates. A power sunroof, a temporary-use spare tire and stability control are now standard. In addition to the exterior changes common to all Accords, the Hybrid gets a new deck-lid spoiler, new chin spoiler, heated side mirrors with turn-signal indicators and an exclusive clear-lens rear taillight design. Perhaps most importantly, the Accord Hybrid has been upgraded by the California Air Resources Board to AT-PZEV for its low level of pollutants.

Honda prices for 2006 range all the way from $18,225 for that VP model to $32,140 for the Accord hybrid sedan with navigation system. Oh, and don’t forget to add the $550 delivery charge.

Those with the money can get silky V-6 power, comfortable leather seating and the bulk of luxury features available on the most expensive sedans. Or they may opt for a manual transmission that puts them in luxury/sports sedan territory.

But, those dealing at the lower end of the price sheet will not be shortchanged. They’ll get everything they need — and more.

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