NEW YORK (AP) -- Even in troubled economic times, the long-running Honda Accord remains the second best-selling car in the United States. And no wonder it stays popular.
The Accord sedan is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine and earned top scores recently in newly revised, tougher crash testing by the federal government. With refreshed styling, the 2011 Accord gets better gasoline mileage than its 2010 predecessor, too.
The new federal government fuel economy estimates of 23 miles per gallon in city driving and 34 mpg on the highway for the 2011 Accord sedan with four-cylinder engine, for example, are the best of all large, 2011-model sedans except for the 2011 Hyundai Sonata with four-cylinder engine.
One of Honda's best-known nameplates, the Accord has a higher starting retail price this model year. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $21,930 for a base, 2011 Accord sedan with 177-horsepower four cylinder and manual transmission. The lowest-priced Accord sedan with automatic has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $22,730.
Accords also are sold as coupes, with a starting retail price of $23,530 with a 190-horsepower four cylinder. The higher-powered, 190-horse four cylinder is offered in the sedan, too, and a 271-horsepower V-6 is available in both the Accord sedan and coupe.
Competitors include the 2011 Hyundai Sonata, which has a starting retail price of $19,195 with 198-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission. The starting retail price is $20,915 with automatic transmission.
Another competitor is the 2011 Toyota Camry, which starts at $19,962 for a base model with 169-horsepower four cylinder and manual transmission. A base Camry with automatic starts at $20,884. But note the Camry is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a mid-size car, not a large car like the Accord. EPA bases the size on interior volume of the auto.
For decades, the Accord and Camry have been rivals bidding to be America's best-selling cars.
In 2010, the Camry beat out the Accord again to claim the top-selling-car crown, but Camry sales declined last year from their 2009 levels, while Accord car sales increased to 282,530.
An additional, recent model -- the Accord Crosstour -- is more of a tall, five-door wagon in the style of today's crossover sport utility vehicles. But it added another 28,000 sales in calendar 2010 on top of the 282,530.
The test Accord, a 2011 SE Special Edition sedan that included luxury appointments like leather-trimmed seats, heated front seats, driver's seat two-way power lumbar and leather-wrapped steering wheel, was roomy, comfortable for both front and back seat passengers and nimble in its handling.
It looked pleasant, too, with new grille, front bumper and trunk lid. But it wasn't as jazzy-looking as the two-door Accord coupe or some newer competing sedans, like the Sonata.
Still, it's difficult not to admire the Accord's base, 2.4-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder with Honda's variable valve system mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. The powerplant delivered smooth, capable power that was surprising for moving the lengthy sedan along without stress.
The 16.2-foot-long Accord sedan is 3 inches longer than the Sonata and 5 inches longer than the Camry. It's wider than these major competitors, too.
But in a sign of Honda's careful attention to weight, the Accord sedan's weight of 3,279 pounds was just about the same as a comparable Sonata's and a bit less than a comparable Camry's. As a result, the test Accord sedan responded readily when I pressed the accelerator pedal, and I merged into traffic without hesitation.
The Accord's 161 foot-pounds of torque at 4,300 rpm isn't exactly sporting, but it comes on steadily and deliberately to power this large sedan nicely on the roads.
I noticed shift points now and then, and I heard the engine under hard acceleration. But the overall power delivery was fine, especially considering that the gasoline gauge didn't move very much. I managed to get more than 23 mpg on the test drive, which involved 70 percent city driving.
The Accord sedan wound through mountain curves with poise that I didn't expect for such a large car. The double wishbone front suspension and rear multi-link suspension didn't mask road imperfections, however, as passengers readily felt road vibrations, even as tires passed over manhole covers. I didn't notice much wind noise, but I heard some road noise in the test car.
It seemed like every day I tried to elevate the driver's seat beyond its already top-height position. After driving taller vehicles, I felt a bit low to the pavement in the Accord and I fussed over having to endure blocking views of the backs of vans and pickup trucks.
The rear seat is nicely accommodating, even for three adults, if needed. There are 37.2 inches of legroom back there, exceeding the 34.6 inches in the back seat of the Sonata. The Accord's 38.5 inches of rear-seat headroom is more than the Camry's.
The Accord sedan's trunk looks roomy, with 14.7 cubic feet of space. There's more space available when rear seatbacks fold down. But the Sonata has a 16.4-cubic-foot trunk and the base Camry offers 15 cubic feet back there.
The test Accord came with many standard safety features, including electronic stability control, antilock brakes, anti-whiplash front head restraints and curtain air bags.
But beyond the leather-appointed interior, there were few extras.
Even the underside of the trunk was bare metal, with no lining or trunk lid handle that I could find.
Last month, Honda announced some 2011 Accords with V-6 engines are the subject of a safety recall. The company said front suspension bolts may not have been tightened properly, which could result in a loss of steering.