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First drive: Honda's new Accord has Euro vision
Honda aims high with its next-generation Accord Euro, but should the Germans worry?
12 May 2008
HONDA'S vital new Accord Euro sedan was presented to a selection of the Australian motoring media in Austria last week, with local sales due to commence at the end of June.
Honda Australia director Lindsay Smalley said that local pricing will not be announced until the first week of June, but we can expect a considerable increase over the current entry point of $33,990 based on the experience in the UK (where prices have increased by about 10 per cent).
The Accord Euro has been a huge success for Honda Australia since it pioneered the two-model strategy in 2003, selling the Thai-built four-cylinder model alongside the related but slightly bigger US market Accord, which also comes with a V6 engine.
Honda claims that the Accord Euro dominates the premium medium sedan market over the Mazda6, Subaru Liberty and VW Passat – the cars that Honda lists as its core competitors – although it must be said that taking out hatchback variants heavily disadvantages the Mazda6, which otherwise comfortably outsells the Honda.
Nevertheless, with accumulated sales of 45,000, there is no doubting the strength of the Accord Euro and the influence it has had in improving the brand image of Honda in Australia.
It has also done a job in appealing to younger buyers than the ‘full-size’ Accord, with the average age for Accord Euro buyers being only 46 versus late-50s for the more conservative US model.
In terms of image, Honda wants the all-new model to step up another level and join the likes of the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-class and Audi A4 on the world stage.
Mr Smalley expects the new model to rack up sales of about 800 a month in Australia compared with about 650 for the previous model.
He says the buyer profile will still be heavily skewed towards 35 to 55-year-old professional, educated, monied, married men, but expects the styling of the new model will skew sales even more heavily in favour of males than the superseded model.
The local range will again consist of three models, with Luxury and Luxury Navi models in addition to the better-equipped base Euro.
As well as a bigger body and a boost in power from the carryover 2.4-litre petrol engine, the base Euro gains curtain airbags, a chilled glovebox, rear seat vents and an upgraded sound system with an auxiliary port for iPod use over the outgoing model.
However, some of the advanced electronic systems introduced with great fanfare in Europe will not be available in Australia.
These include a radar-based active cruise control system, a camera-based lane-departure warning system and Honda’s new Collision Mitigation Brake System (CMBS). The latter is a radar-based system that warns the driver and even applies the brakes when it determines that a collision is likely, but does not attempt to completely avoid the accident because Honda does not want to take away all control from the driver.
What we do get are built-in features such as trailer stability assist (which controls the engine and brakes to regain control if snaking should occur while towing and is part of the ABS set-up), the Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure that has been a part of all Hondas since 2004 and motion adaptive electric power steering, which apparently helps to steer the car when understeer or oversteer is detected.
Honda says that this steering input is barely noticeable and control of the steering remains with the driver, but that the supporting steering torque is enough to prompt the driver to act intuitively to regain stability or to shorten braking distances.
The uprated 2.4-litre i-VTEC engine develops 147kW of power at 7000rpm (up from 140kW currently) and 233Nm of torque at 4500rpm (up from 223Nm), thanks to a higher compression ratio, larger valves, revised valve timing and reduced exhaust system pressures.
It is mated to either a five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual gearbox, with a shift indicator light in the centre of the rev counter to advise the driver of the optimum point (in terms of best fuel economy) at which to change gear. Honda claims fuel savings of up to five per cent by following these commands.
Kenzo Suzuki, the executive chief director in charge of large sedans, told us that when the Euro was being conceptualised, consumers were moving heavily SUVs so they went for a solid appearance and made it larger overall. However, you get the feeling that he might have done things differently in retrospect as he added that he doesn’t think the trend to SUVs will last forever.
Whatever the motivation, the result is a more sharp-edged design than the previous model, with muscular wheel-arches front and rear to emphasise the car’s wider track.
Honda claims the wider track, a lowered centre of gravity, an all-new front double wishbone and rear multi-link suspension with variable rate dampers, and greater body rigidity result in more responsive handling and reduced bodyroll.
The new Accord Euro is 50mm longer than the superseded model and sits on a 35mm longer wheelbase. It is 8mm wider than before and 5mm lower.
With the interior, Honda says it is designed to be more driver-focused, with a dashboard that sweeps around the front seats from the centre console to the doors, creating a cockpit-like feel. The extra width of the car has allowed this without intruding on driver or passenger space.
The dash itself features ‘floating’ backlit instruments, with an LCD multi-information display contained within the centre of the speedo, and steering wheel controls to allow the driver to cycle through the display screens.
A new feature is a BMW-style service reminder that presents the driver with either the distance or days remaining to a required service, with an enlarged warning symbol appearing when the due date is imminent.
The front seats have larger bolsters while a new internal structure is designed to reduce the transmission of vibrations.
A familiar Honda three-spoke multi-function steering wheel is adjustable for both reach and rake, with an extra 10 degrees of tilt adjustment compared to the previous Accord Euro.
The boot holds 467 litres of luggage, which Honda claims is the best in its class, and is more easily accessed, with the lip lowered by 80mm over the previous model.
Located under the boot floor is a full-size 17-inch spare wheel for the base Euro, but Luxury and Luxury Navi models with their 18x8.0-inch alloys make do with a space-saver spare because the bigger wheel will not fit in the boot.
Mr Smalley defends the trend towards eliminating full-size spare wheels, saying that it is no longer an issue with consumers.
Drive impressions:HONDA has long been regarded as having the best engineering of the Japanese car-makers and is therefore well-equipped to achieve what most its compatriots also desire – to be regarded on the same level as the Germans.
With the new Accord Euro, Honda set out to take the final step in reaching a competitive level in the premium segment against the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-class and Audi A4.
Our first experience of the new Honda in Europe shows it to be a worthy advance in many respects over its highly-regarded predecessor, with an impressive feeling of refinement, and it will no doubt continue to make its mark on the Australian prestige medium segment.
However, it does not come close to matching either the styling finesse of the Mercedes or the interior class of the Audi, let alone the dynamic ability of Benz and BMW.
What it does bring to the table is the aforementioned refinement, interior comfort, an excellent ride and just enough dynamic ability to get away with its sporty pretensions, and at a price level that puts it well ahead of the Germans in Australia.
Styling is a subjective issue and some may describe the new Euro as contemporary and masculine, but for me it is heavy-handed, especially around the grille and wheel-arches, which are very slab-sided in the metal. For mine, the conceptually similar but more elegant Mazda6 is vastly better-looking.
Step up to the Euro and the first thing you notice are well-shaped exterior (and interior) door-handles that ooze class. The doors themselves feel very solid and close with a reassuring thud.
The seats have serious bolsters and provide excellent support and comfort over long journeys, although drivers of smaller stature may feel slightly overwhelmed by the shoulder bolsters and the high cockpit-style fascia. Perhaps this really is a car for blokes.
There is certainly nothing subtle about the dash and centre console, with a wide array of buttons, knobs and dials of various style and sizes, all sitting proud rather than flush in the manner of many modern cars, including the excellent new Falcon.
We might not like the trend to multi-function controllers and some of the bland dashboards they have spawned, but the Euro’s very busy treatment hardly seems the antidote. The centre console is dominated by a big sat-nav controller and even the instrument surrounds and steering wheel seem overly ornate.
Rear-seat passengers will have nothing to complain about in terms of leg and headroom while the new multi-link rear suspension is impressively compact and results in a wide and flat boot space with plenty of capacity. Plastic hinge covers are also a nice touch in the boot.
On the road, the latest version of Honda’s highly regarded 2.4-litre i-VTEC four-cylinder petrol engine is smooth and quiet through most of the rev range. It has adequate power, but feels the extra weight of the latest-generation body.
For more lively performance, the smooth new 2.2-litre i-DTEC turbo-diesel is just the ticket, but that will not be coming to Australia for a couple of years.
The six-speed manual gearbox was light and the classy five-speed auto provides clean, crisp changes in both normal and sport modes, with instinctive selections and hold abilities. It even lets you left-foot brake without shutting down in confusion.
Ride comfort in the Euro is very good and clearly comes at the expense of handling, as its levels of grip are hardly Germanic, with tyre squeal arriving even before the inevitable understeer. But the electronic stability control system works very efficiently, with subtle and late intervention.
What has prevented the Japanese companies (and Saab) from seriously challenging BMW and Mercedes dynamically is their commitment to front-wheel drive, which not only compromises handling but also steering – especially as they try to counter the effects of torque-steer.
The Accord Euro features a new electric power steering system that comes with all the expected promotional hype, but the reality is that – while nicely weighted and a pleasure to use pottering around town – it becomes quite dead at speed.
Worse still, accelerating away from a corner or intersection, there is little or no self-centring so you have to pull the wheel back to avoid maintaining your turning arc. Given the choice, we’d rather deal with the torque-steer, but ultimately it supports the theory that you cannot satisfactorily drive and steer with the same wheels.
Tyre noise is difficult to assess on foreign roads and, while there were some quite coarse surfaces that made the tyres roar, the Euro was remarkably quiet on the smoothest surfaces, which suggests that Honda’s engineers were right to brag about impressive NVH levels.
There is much to like about the new Accord Euro - chiefly its refinement and obvious engineering integrity - but it still faces enough challenges in seeing off its Japanese rivals without getting distracted by the Germans.
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