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First drive: Accord Euro strikes a sporting note

Injecting interest: The Honda Accord Euro is one of a number of interesting new arrivals in the medium passenger car segment.

The first of two distinctly different Honda Accords is about to go on sale

5 Jun 2003

HONDA has revealed its master plan to reinvigorate the venerable Accord nameplate, confirming a dual-model strategy that kicks off on June 7.

That's when the Japanese-built Accord Euro sedan goes on sale here, three months ahead of the larger wide-bodied US-developed and Thai-built version, which appears on September 1.

The strategy, first revealed last October, is the plainest admission possible that the decision to abandon the smaller Accord for the US-oriented V6 back in December 1997 at the previous generational changeover backfired.

Not that Honda needed to make any admissions on that score - an examination of a sales chart for the once popular mid-sizer is all the evidence you need. From more than 5000 sales in 1998, it slumped back to 1095 in 2002.

This time round, rather than pick between the two fundamentally different versions of Accord in terms of styling, size and mechanicals that Honda builds around the globe - the smaller, narrower, more sporty version aimed at markets like Japan and Europe and the larger wide-bodied version which is a huger seller in the US - Honda Australia took both.

On the one hand it is trying to recapture the 35 to 50-year-old predominantly male market that bought Accord prior to the last generation appearing, without losing touch with the older, more affluent audience which bought the latest car.

Honda is not going into the exercise half-hearted, with pricing for the well-equipped Accord Euro starting at $34,250 and topping out at $42,800 for the auto version of the Luxury model.

That pitches it into the heart of Mazda6, Subaru Liberty and Holden Vectra territory in the private buyer section of the medium passenger car segment. It also wants some of the prestige action against entry level BMW 3 Series, Benz C-class and the Audi A4.

Unfortunately though for rev-heads, Honda Australia says it will not import the Type R version of Accord Euro. More forgivably, the wagon is also off the agenda.

Honda is not revealing much about its plans for the forthcoming larger version of the Accord at this point, other than to suggest a V6 version would line-up against the likes of the Holden Calais. On size maybe, but on price they're not saying yet.

Grudgingly, company executives admit there will be more than one version of the US Accord, perhaps even a four-cylinder.

Naturally, Honda is happy to reveal all about the Accord Euro, which will come as as two versions, the Accord Euro and Accord Euro Luxury. The differences between the two cars come down to equipment levels rather than mechanicals or the looks, because on those scores they are virtually identical.

The Japan-styled car is 4665mm long, 1760mm wide, 1445mm high and has a 2670mm wheelbase. Honda claims a slippery 0.27 Cd for the shape and greater rigidity than a BMW 3 Series. It estimates the Euro will achieve a four star NCAP off-set frontal and side impact crash test result and gain a three star pedestrian rating.

A 2.4-litre i-VTEC engine that is a close relation to the four-cylinder in the popular CR-V soft-roader is the sole source of power, producing a chunky 140kW at 6800rpm and 223Nm of torque at 4500rpm on premium unleaded fuel.

Honda says these figures make it the most powerful non-turbo four-cylinder sedan on-sale in Australia. It does it cleanly too, meeting Euro IV emissions standards.

Power and torque are transmitted to the front wheels via a drive-by-wire throttle and the choice of six speed manual or five-speed sequential shifting automatic transmission. The auto is a $2000 option. Combined fuel economy is 9.1L/100km for the manual and 9.2L/100km for the auto.

Suspension is via double wishbones mounted on subframes, steering by hydraulically assisted rack and pinion and braking by 300mm discs all-round, including four-channel ABS with EBD.

Added to all that is VSA - or Vehicle Stability Assist - that is Honda's version of stability control, which works in concert with traction control, the ABS and engine management system to correct understeer or oversteer if the car gets out of shape.

In terms of crash safety, Honda estimates the Euro will achieve a four-star NCAP off-set frontal and side impact testing and gain a three-star pedestrian rating.

Which brings us to specifications. Both cars get standard driver and passenger front and side airbags, three-point seatbelts and headrests throughout, six-CD stacker, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, reach and rake steering wheel adjustment, alloy wheels and security alarm.

To this the Luxury model adds curtain airbags, rain sensing wipers, electric sunroof, front foglights, HID headlights with washers, power adjustable and heated front seat and leather trim.

Honda Australia expects to sell 375 Accord Euros per month, split 50:50 between the two models and 60:40 in favour of the auto. How many wide-bodies does it expect to sell on top that? Not surprisingly, it's not saying.

Honda Accord Euro: $34,250
Honda Accord Euro auto: $36,250
Accord Euro Luxury: $40,800
Accord Euro Luxury auto: $42,800


ALL of a sudden the medium passenger car segment is looking a whole lot more interesting. Mazda6, Holden's new generation Vectra, the forthcoming Subaru Liberty and even the Sportivo version of the four-cylinder Toyota Camry are a cut above the average.

And the Honda Accord Euro is right in there with them, adding an enjoyable alternative to the mix.

There's no doubting the sporting intent of the Euro. The clean-sounding and free-revving four-cylinder is obviously a Honda creation with its singing top-end power and only middling mid-range torque.

While it doesn't feel overwhelming in terms of sheer go (maybe the kerb weight around 1400kg plays a role here also), the all-aluminium engine is just great fun to rev toward 7000rpm time and again, with the mecanical musical accompaniment of four camshafts, 16 valves and twin exhausts.

And the chassis, which retains double wishbones all the way around in defiance of a recent Honda trend toward MacPherson strut and torsion beam suspension, reinforces that sports feel.

It was firm, flat and unflustered on the wet and sometimes windy roads we sampled the car on in south-eastern Queensland this week. No, it's not a ride that would suit everyone, but then that more conservative and plush set-up will be the preserve of the US Accord.

Speaking of boulevarde, the steering, while direct and accurate enough, would be more at home in a cruiser rather than a sports sedan thanks to its lack of feel. A little bit of kickback is okay Honda. Still, the size of the three-spoke tiller was just right and reach and rake adjustment is to be applauded.

The six-speed manual gearbox, a close relation of the unit found in the S2000 roadster, is the preferred gearbox choice if you want to stick with the sports theme. It frees the engine up that little bit more and is a pleasure to use thanks to its short throws and a light but decisive clutch.

The auto is good, the sequential function one of the quickest that we've sampled. And it doesn't change up for you, happy to bounce off the rev limiter as long as you are. Beauty. But it does seem to take the edge off performance. Like we said earlier, torque spread is not this car's strongest point and the six speed does seem to help in this regard.

We weren't so enamoured with the brakes, which felt somewhat wooden and dead when more than middling pressure was applied. But while hardly confidence inspiring they did seem to pull up okay.

Undoubtedly though, the most obvious criticism of Euro is the amount of road noise that penetrates the cabin on rough and coarse chip roads. On smooth surfaces all is serene but as the surface deteriorates a dull roar builds up. It could be the 205/55 R16 tyres, an underbody sound deadening issue or something else altogether. Whatever the issue, we hope it can be rectified.

Staying inside, the front seats are nicely bolstered to keep you in place but the seat cushion could do with a bit more length. The driver is faced by a huge backlit speedo which dominates the instrument pod and dwarfs the tacho - a pity really because that's quite relevant in this car.

The centre console is dominated by a rather complex looking digital display for both which handles both audio and climate control duties. In amongst all the graphics it's noticeable there's no trip computer, a disappointing omission from a car otherwise so well equipped with comfort items.

Move to the back seat and it gets a bit cramped if you're six feet tall or more sitting in behind another fully grown adult. The seating position is pretty upright, but you'll also find your knees caressing the scalloped seatbacks in front of you.

The compensation is an impressive 459 litre boot, complete with 60:40 split-fold to aid versatility. Flip up the industrial carpet on the floor and, disappointingly, you'll discover a space saver rear tyre.

For all its practicality, that big boot is probably the contributor to the Euro's least impressive styling aspect. From the rear and rear three-quarter it looks slabby and narrow, but the car gains in poise and style as you stroll further around the side and to the front.

There are tones of Alfa 156 and Mazda6, neat touches like real door pulls and the now obligatory flattened wheel arch edges and large five-point grille.

In the end, you are left with a car in the Accord Euro that sets out to appeal to a certain group rather than take the scatter-gun approach and try to please everyone. In most regards it hits the target if not the bullseye, but then the pricing is so good it's easy to forgive shortcomings.

The next step in the Honda plan will be the arrival of the wide bodied Accord in September. The challenge then will be to fit the two pieces of the jigsaw neatly together rather than have them beat up on eachother.

A US and Euro Accord in Australia? Sounds like a job for the UN!

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