ACCORDS AIMS FOR THE PREMIERSHIP
Not content with mixing it with mainstream mediocrity, the latest Honda Accord has some upmarket ambitions.
This Accord has some serious rear-view mirror presence…
Once again, Honda is trying to break free from the mainstream with its latest Accord. Last time it only partly achieved this aim, but with a bigger, more luxurious model, it stands a better chance, differentiating itself with jaw-dropping technology and fiendishly clever engineering. As before, both saloon and Tourer estate versions are offered.
Perhaps George W Bush was thinking of the Honda Accord when he said "There's an old saying… that says, fool me once, shame on… shame on you. Fool me…. (long pause)…you can't get fooled again." On the other hand, perhaps he wasn’t thinking of very much at all, but after Honda tried to subtly hoodwink us with the last Accord, it’s understandable that we’re a little more skeptical about its latest upmarket aspirations. Here’s how it happened last time. When Honda launched the 2002-generation Accord, it initially only brought the most expensive models to these shores. There were no small engines or value trim levels. At first glance, the Accord started at almost Audi A4 money. Having established this association with the public, the cheaper models crept in, targeting company users. The last Accord wasn’t actually a great deal more upmarket than the Peugeot 407s and Ford Mondeos it traditionally campaigned against. With the latest car, Honda again claims premium status but do we buy it?
The big news with this generation Accord is an all-new diesel engine that Honda calls the i-DTEC. Generating 149bhp at 4,000rpm it’s more refined than the old 138bhp i-CTDi engine and also beats it in terms of emissions and fuel economy. With a peak torque figure of 350Nm, it’s also extremely punchy. Otherwise there are two petrol engines, starting with the 155bhp 2.0-litre i-VTEC with its revised valve lift and timing and better gas flow. Or there’s a 198bhp 2.4-litre i-VTEC unit which has also had a good deal of internal revision to make that power figure without recourse to turbocharging. All engines are mated to six-speed manual gearboxes, while the petrol units have the option of a five-speed auto.
Honda benchmarked the BMW 3 Series in the development of the Accord, but then most manufacturers do. It’s how close they came that matters. The centre of gravity of the latest Accord is lower, the track across the axles is wider, body rigidity is improved and variable rate damping and revised multilink rear suspension also assist agility. A quicker ratio steering rack also features. These are all solid improvements but none are ground breaking. The Accord differentiates itself from the opposition in other ways.
The exterior isn’t going to shock too many customers. Despite being a completely fresh design from the ground up, the latest Accord shares many styling cues with its predecessor. Park the two cars side by side, however, and you’ll see that the latest generation is lower and far wider, has a more aggressive, hunkered down stance, and more pugnacious wheel arches. The V-shaped front grille and sculpted headlamps give the Accord some serious rear-view mirror presence while the Tourer’s rising window line gives it an edgier, more dynamic look.
The cabin has been improved, ridding the Accord of the rather reedy, lightweight feel of older versions. The dashboard extends from the centre console to sweep around the front seats, giving the Accord’s interior some character. The dash features floating backlit instruments with an LCD information screen housed in the middle of the speedometer dial. Honda has spent a big proportion of the budget on the front seats, being at the same time more supportive and better able to dampen vibration. Taking a cue from its expertise in building mini-MPVs, Honda has also endowed the Accord with many clever storage solutions, including a lidded storage area to the side of the steering wheel, two centre console side pockets and a huge box housed under the centre armrest.
Pricing for the saloon starts at around the £20,000 mark for the entry-level ES model but the version that most customers will buy, the ES GT, starts at about £1,000 more – and includes 17-inch alloy wheels, half-leather seats, cruise control, aero kit, sports suspension and climate control. Meanwhile, EX grades come as standard with DVD sat nav, Bluetooth hands free telephone, full leather seats, electric/heated front seats, rear parking camera and a premium 6CD stereo. Continuing Honda’s quest to bring E-sector advanced technology to lower segments, Honda’s hi-tech ADAS Pack is available as an option, adding Collision Mitigation Braking (a first for this D-sector), as well as Lane Keep Assist, Advanced Cruise Control and HID lights. Comparing prices? Well, model for model, you’re looking at a saving of around £2,000 on a comparable Audi A4.
Honda’s ace in the hole with the last Accord was its high-tech equipment and myriad of options that sounded as if they’d just rolled straight off the floor at the Consumer Electronics Show. This version is no different. The Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) and Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) are just a couple of acronyms to get you started. Then there’s that optional ADAS system, at its best when combined with the Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS).
In its run out year, Honda sold 8,500 old Accords in the UK and are looking to build that number to a figure between 12,000 and 14,000 units with the latest car. With prices around £1,000 more expensive, model for model, savings need to be clawed back in other areas. Honda is bullish about residual values, claiming that a bigger, better built car that’s cleaner and more fuel efficient will be a winner on the used market. That may well be the case. In the more immediate future, the Accord is a model citizen. The i-DTEC diesel engine is so clean it meets the US’s stringent ‘EPA Tier II Bin 5’ emissions standards with out requiring special (and expensive) modifications such as the NoX-reducing urea injection system that Mercedes needed to fit to its US-bound Bluetec diesel engines.
I’m tempted to think that having cried wolf once with its premium quality claims, few are likely to believe Honda’s pitch of the latest Accord. Yes, it is a bigger and better built car than its predecessor. It is more physically imposing and the hardware under the bonnets has improved significantly. The same can be said for the Ford Mondeo or the Renault Laguna. Even the Toyota Avensis. With front-wheel drive, the Accord will never gain parity with BMW, Mercedes, Audi or Lexus. On a wholly subjective basis, it’s preferable to an equivalently priced Saab, not as emotionally engaging as an Alfa Romeo 159, but more satisfying than a Volvo S60.
In this respect, not a whole lot has changed. The Accord has inched incrementally upmarket, but at this rate it’ll be a very long time before it’s trading punches with BMW. So what remains? A very good, very technologically dense vehicle that perhaps needs to drop the naked ambition and concentrate on developing its own niche.