Car reviews - Honda - Accord
Slick hybrid drivetrain, steering, vision, refinement, rear seat space, huge boot
Room for improvement
Unresolved ride quality, lacks interior class and design savvy, mediocre multimedia, inadequate front passenger seat adjustment
Honda attempts a return to form with new-generation Accord – and largely succeeds
12 Dec 2019
FROM perennial award winner and class benchmark to virtual oblivion after nine generations, the Honda Accord has been through more life stages than a Hollywood soap character.
With the exception of two excellent Accord Euro generations, which were sold alongside the regular models as a sportier, more youthful alternative from 2003 to 2015, the Accord hasn’t been properly on its game for more than two decades.
After the fifth-generation Accord (1993-97), the model transitioned from upmarket Japanese sophisticate to an American-focused sedan built down to a price.
And while the Yanks have loved every minute of it, Australians, for the most part, haven’t.
The outgoing ninth-generation Accord (2013-18) was without doubt the lowest ebb, but Honda Australia is determined to give the Accord another chance.
We’ve bought 250,000 of them since the nameplate launched here in 1977, yet Honda expects to shift just 150 examples of this 10th-generation model over the next 12 months.
Underselling its potential or a fair reflection of its fortunes?
First drive impressions
The most important thing you need to know about the all-new 10th-generation Accord is that it shares almost nothing with the car it replaces – a full clean-sheet design intended to wipe clear any residue of generation nine, which lacked class and had striking flaws in its dynamic performance.
This time the Accord shares more with its Civic and CR-V siblings, thanks to its modern ‘Earth Dreams’ platform and sophisticated suspension design, including a multi-link independent rear end.
And it even goes one better by reviving hybrid propulsion in a mainstream Honda, using a further development of the impressive i-MMD powertrain introduced here in 2015.
It’s quite a handsome car, too, particularly when compared to the nondescript Accord it replaces.
And it nails all the numbers necessary to drive home the fact that this is a genuinely new car.
It’s lighter yet stronger, slightly smaller but considerably roomier, and much more efficient in entry-level
Sharing virtually the same equipment specification (dubbed VTi-LX) as the hybrid model, the petrol Accord features a revised version of the 1.5-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine that debuted in the Civic in 2016.
On paper, the differences aren’t great: an identical 140kW power output as a CR-V but slightly more torque (260Nm).
However, a new cylinder head, a different turbo and variable exhaust-valve timing have given the Accord’s 1.5 turbo a real shot in the arm when it comes to driveability.
Tied exclusively to a revised CVT transmission intended to eradicate the ‘rubber band’ feeling of the same unit in the Civic and CR-V, Honda’s small-capacity turbo has finally discovered the induction sweetness that eludes it in other applications.
With max torque smeared across a vast plateau (1600-5000rpm), its urban driveability is effortless.
And Honda has finally succeeded in eliminating the lag between planting the throttle and waiting for the drivetrain to engage – something that also applies when backing off.
The CVT’s only real bugbear is the artificially stepped ratios that come into play under full-throttle acceleration.
You can feel the performance wilt every time it shifts ‘gears’, proving there isn’t a skerrick of truth in the claim that “this stepped operation also improves acceleration performance incrementally”.
If it did, it would be a first for any CVT with artificial ratios inserted.
The Hybrid is a very slick thing. Featuring a development of the previous model’s Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) hybrid system, it combines a relatively fresh 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle naturally aspirated four-cylinder with a pair of electric motors in the transmission (along with a separate clutch and epicyclic geartrain), and a more compact 48-litre lithium-ion battery (was 71 litres) now beneath the rear seat of the car.
Honda calls this transmission set-up ‘e-CVT’ because it’s effectively a continuously variable unit, but achieves all that without a traditional drive belt. And in reality, it’s very effective in shifting the Accord Hybrid along smoothly, swiftly and decisively.
The petrol engine plays a part here too as it spins sweetly to its ideal rev point (its 107kW power peak at 6200rpm), calmed by a pair of counter-rotating balance shafts in the oil pan for smoothness.
And thanks to the added oomph of its battery set-up, the Accord Hybrid overcomes its 87kg weight penalty over the regular petrol model to produce stronger all-round performance, as its peak outputs of 158kW from 5000-6000rpm and 315Nm from 0-2000rpm would indicate.
The hybrid variant is also the thriftier of the two according to the ADR81 official combined cycle, sipping just 4.3L/100km compared to the petrol’s 6.5L/100km.
Both are tuned to deliver maximum performance on 91-octane regular unleaded.
Where each drivetrain converges is in how they relate to the Accord’s dynamics, with some minor differences.
The Hybrid is perhaps a little more prompt out of corners when left in Drive, and possibly even slightly better balanced, though both feel like they deserve better-quality tyres (Michelin Primacy on the petrol, Yokohama Advan on the Hybrid, both 235/45R18s).
They succumb to tyre howl quite early when pushed.
In terms of general handling behaviour, the Accord is clearly better-honed than a Civic.
Its steering is more consistently weighted and much more progressive when turning in, making it easier to place, if less overtly sporty in its keenness to change direction.
And it’s significantly quieter, especially on coarse country roads.
There’s also a Sport mode (which you can’t engage unless the front wheels are pointing straight!) that adds some useful weight to the steering while perking up the throttle response and the petrol CVT’s keenness to acquire revs.
But the Accord just doesn’t ride properly. It feels unsettled over low-amplitude bumps and will bottom out over larger ones, even though its quietness makes it ride superficially well on fairly smooth surfaces.
There seems to be a lack of compression damping which makes the Accord pogo over imperfections it should effortlessly absorb – something that isn’t present in the Civic.
Indeed, while the smaller Honda might be firmer and louder, it’s definitely better sorted when it comes to the levelness of its ride.
The new Accord doesn’t quite achieve Honda’s hopes on the inside either, though no one is going to argue about its fabulous 570-litre boot, its enormous (and very comfortable) back seat and its impressive all-round vision.
The issue is the derivative nature of its interior design and the lack of expense in its cabin plastics.
There’s nothing wrong with its build quality, or even its consistency of materials, it’s just that it doesn’t feel $50K special. Not when it’s up against the warmth and flair of a Mazda6 or Peugeot 508.
And while the driver’s 12-way electrically adjustable bucket provides plenty of support and a fine view over the Accord’s low cowl and across its chiselled bonnet, the front passenger gets inadequate four-way adjustment and almost no under-thigh support.
So the new Accord isn’t perfect or quite as premium as Honda Australia would like it to be, yet there’s much to like about this 10th-generation model.
It’s massively better than its predecessor, and in many meaningful ways, a worthwhile improvement over its smaller Civic sibling.
But this isn’t a complete return to form for the Accord – more a feisty effort at damage control.
Model release date: 1 December 2019
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