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First drive: Double trouble Honda Accord

Solidified: Honda's Accord is a solid rather than inspiring drive.

Big new Accord wants to be double trouble for Holden and Ford

29 Aug 2003

HONDA has completed the doubled-up launch of its dramatically expanded Accord range, a move it is confident means double trouble for its rivals and not for it.

Joining the smaller Accord Euro launched two months ago is the … Accord … the wide body replacement for the model sold here since late 1997.

This seventh generation Accord – like its predecessor - arrives from the US via Honda’s assembly plant in Thailand. It is being presented as a pukka alternate choice for prestige and luxury Falcon and Commodore buyers.

The Euro, meanwhile, traces its mechanical heritage roots back to the CD Accord sold in Australia between 1993 and 1997. Although developed primarily for the Japanese and European markets, Euro has proved an instant sales hit in Australia and a credible alternative to the excellent Mazda6.

With its high-revving 140kW i-VTEC 2.4-litre engine and sporting chassis, it is intended to appeal to a younger audience than Accord.

It seems confusing to have two mid-size sedans with different tasks and targets but the same name. But Honda Australia intends to eventually dispense with the Accord part of the Euro’s name, completing a separation it argues is already clear in the buyers’ minds.

"We know the Accord will appeal to a vastly different buyer group than Euro – the large car buyers," said Honda Australia director Lindsay Smalley.

"This just isn’t a gut feel. Our view is based on extensive market research that we have undertaken over the last 18 months." The car that will eventually be the sole Accord is aimed at an older, more comfort and family-oriented target than Euro.

That’s reflected in the lower tune of the 118kW/218Nm four-cylinder 2.4-litre engine found in the VTi base car. More impressive is the 177kW/288Nm outputs of the 3.0-litre V6 shared between two specifications, badged V6 and V6 Luxury.

Both engines are updates from the old model, the V6 boosted a significant 30kW. Both engines are also Euro IV emission level compliant and run on regular unleaded petrol. Honda Australia claims a 9.3L/100km fuel consumption average for the four and 10.6L/100km for the V6.

Both engines are mated to "drive by wire" throttles and slightly different versions of a new five-speed "Grade Logic Control" automatic gearbox, replacing the old four-speed auto.

But refinement and update rather than wholesale change really sums up the Accord. The front-wheel drive platform is a 25mm extended wheelbase version of the previous car and the traditional Honda double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear-end have been retained and updated rather than dispensed with, as has happened in smaller examples of the big H breed.

There is now ABS The body is claimed to be substantially quieter and more aerodynamic than the old car, with a 0.30 Cd compared to the old car’s 0.33. Honda also says torsional rigidity is up 27 per cent.

Compared to the car it replaces, Accord is 30mm longer, 35mm wider and the same height. Compared to the Euro it is 165mm longer, 60mm wider, the same height and has a 70mm longer wheelbase. It is also at least 45kg heavier.

Styling is obviously new, although still quite conservative. That’s quite appropriate for a car that in the US is pitched against the likes of the Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus - and sells in the hundreds of thousands to middle America.

Inside there’s an all-new but familiar look, which even Honda concedes is close to the Euro, with its pronounced five-point vertical centre console and deeply hooded instrument pod with large speedo.

Equipment levels are high and pricing is keen, also as per Euro.

The base model VTi starts at the same $34,250 as the manual Accord Euro, and for that you get front and side airbags, upgraded anti-lock braking now with EBD, three-point seatbelts all-round, 16-inch alloy wheels, dual zone climate control, cruise control, woodgrain, keyless entry, security alarm and six-stack CD sound system.

For $39,990 the V6 is fundamentally specced the same in terms of comfort features, adding only a power height adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. It also adds the same traction control system launched already in Australia Euro and the MDX cross-over.

Head up to $45,240 and the V6 Luxury adds front foglights, eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, electric sunroof, leather interior trim and steering wheel, variable speed intermittent wipers and outside temperature gauge.

While that pricing mixes Accord and Euro in among eachother, it is a heck of a drop from the superceded car, which was priced at $49,100 for the V6-L and $40,900 for the 2.25-litre VTi. How can this be so? A better exchange rate and more Thai content in the cars are the keys.

Honda says the main opposition for the VTi is the Toyota Camry Ativa the V6 lines up against the likes of the Holden Commodore Berlina and Ford Fairmont and the Luxury against Calais and Fairmont Ghia. Naturally, it claims to have a fair pricing and spec advantage over all of them.

Yet Honda is keeping its ambitions modest, aiming to sell 375 Accords per month evenly split between the three models. It stresses it is not after masses of cheap fleet deals, targeting the private buyers/user choosers aged in the 45-60-year-old bracket.

Honda insists those buyers will come in top of those 600 or more Euros it is selling each month, so confident is it that its two Accords occupy such different parts of the market.

PRICING:
Honda Accord VTi auto $34,250
Honda Accord Euro $34,250
Honda Accord Euro auto $36,250
Honda Accord V6 auto $39,990
Honda Accord Euro Luxury $40,800
Honda Accord Euro Luxury auto $42,800
Honda Accord V6 Luxury auto $45,240

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:

YOU’RE not going to be shocked when we tell you that Accord is a solid rather than inspiring drive, with an emphasis on comfort over cutting-edge cornering ability.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s not bad. But if we were to pick an Accord for a fang over a mountain road then the slimmer, sexier Euro would get the nod.

By contrast, for day-to-day commuting, freeway cruise controlling and long-legged holiday kilometres, the Accord’s combination of quietness, firm but supple ride and capable V6 make it the choice.

No surprise there really. Tick the box for Honda’s job description of its two Accords.

We can’t tell you how VTi compares because we did not manage to get behind the wheel of the four-cylinder during the launch drive in southern Queensland.

But one thing we are sure of is that the four shares with the V6 an excellent amount of interior space front and rear and – if the launch cars are any guide – an improved level of fit and finish over the old Accord, which in itself was no disaster.

The interior design is a fundamental upgrade also, much more elegant and upmarket than the old car, which had fussy controls and a gaping box at the bottom of the vertical centre console. The seat travel is also better rear and downward to create more room for taller drivers and the steering column is now reach as well as tilt adjustable.

The outside also has more character with its deep V in the bonnet reminiscent of recent Peugeots such as the 307 and descending wedge line, while those large headlights that wrap back over the fender add a daring touch.

But not too daring. Like we said, the Accord is still essentially a conservative device. The steering is too numb to elicit too much excitement and when pushing on there is a hint of vagueness from the rear-end.

And while the engine is certainly competitive on power with even the Falcon (180kW) and easily eclipses a normally aspirated Commodore (152kW), it is down on both of them in terms of torque peak (Falcon – 380Nm and Commodore 305Nm) and produces it another 1400rpm-1750rpm higher in the rev range.

The end result is that while smooth, quiet and responsive, the Accord does lack that familiar Aussie kick in the guts low-down grunt for ultra-quick passing and hill decimating.

On the flipside the gearbox lacks the noticeable clunk and shunt effect the Aussies still cannot completely eclipse when their four-speed autos kick down. Add a tiptronic style change to the Accord’s auto and we’d be really happy.

What it all comes down to in the end is refinement. This car is definitely an improvement over its predecessor but undoubtedly from the same gene pool.

That fact that it is also cheaper can only help convince potential buyers of its worth. But will they be confused by the co-existence of the Accord Euro? Maybe at first, but a test drive will clear that up pretty quickly.

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