Honda’s European-spec Accord has never really succeeded. It’s always been a humdrum family saloon with a mainstream badge, but with premium pretensions. So what to do with the new Accord? Give it a radical remake like the Civic and attract a fashion-conscious crowd? Or up the price, the kit count, and give it same-again looks? It’s the latter that Honda has gone for, but with Ford’s Mondeo offering quality to match the Germans, and a brilliant driving experience, is this a step too far for Honda and the Accord?
So how is Honda expecting the Accord to beat the BMW 3-series?
To meet its goals Honda engineers benchmarked BMW for ride, handling and engines, Lexus for technology and Audi for quality and consistency. Sounds familiar to us.
Taking on the German attitude of styling evolution, rather than the usual Japanese approach of revolution, at first glance the new Accord’s proportions are almost too familiar. But it is significantly wider and slightly lower than its predecessor, and the subtleties of the changes become more obvious as you look at it: creases heading in seemingly conflicting directions, while the long front lights and wide grille create a sharp look.
The key engine, to appeal to the corporate market Honda is so desperate to break into, is the new 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel, using the latest piezoelectric multi-stage fuel injection technology, more efficient exhaust gas recirculation and a particulate filter for reduced emissions.
Power (147bhp) and torque (258lb ft) have been increased, while there will be a much needed higher power version later. You can’t go up against the premium boys without power and performance.
What other engines does the Accord offer if I don't want derv power?
Two other petrol engines complete the line-up, in the form of 153bhp 2.0-litre i-VTEC and a 196bhp 2.4-litre. All three engines are matched to a six-speed manual transmission, while both petrol engines have the option of a five-speed automatic.
Prices have been ambitiously increased: with the current Accord starting at around £16,500 and the new model at £19,250, this represents a significant risk.
But at prices on par with the premium market, the Accord offers standard levels of equipment that you can only get from ticking expensive options boxes on BMWs.
The key grade of diesel saloon will be the ES GT, starting at £20,100 which includes 17-inch alloy wheels, half-leather seats, cruise control, aero kit, sports suspension and climate control. EX grades start from £22,250 and come as standard with DVD sat nav, Bluetooth, full leather seats, electric/heated front seats, rear parking camera and a 6-CD stereo.
This sort of thing really matters to your average company car driver. If you’re going to spend 20,000 miles a year in a car, every little comfort helps.
Drive like a 3-series? Built like an A4? With Lexus gizmos? Sounds like a tall order...
To try and emulate the handling of a 3-series, the Accord gets all-new front double wishbone and rear multilink suspension with variable rate dampers. It's front-wheel drive rather than rear-wheel drive, though.
And you have to say it handles OK. Nothing spectacular, and it doesn’t have the precise feel of a 3-series through the controls. But ride quality is good, softening out the sharpest ridges, while through corners it feels what it is: a wide, flat-handling car rather than a nippy one.
So just what is the Honda Accord then?
What the new Accord turns out to be is a superb cruiser. The new diesel engine is very refined – most of the time. It’s a bit clattery at lower revs, but smoothes out above 2000rpm. Once at a steady cruise it lapses impressively into near-silence, with your only companions some tyre and wind noise and, seemingly, R2-D2 in the back.
That’s because of the Active Cruise Control which squawks at every passing car. As one passes into your radar zone: beep. As one passes out: beep. As the car brakes: beep. Speeds up? You guessed it.
R2-D2’s arousal increases even when you stop. If in a certain order you leave your seatlbelt undone, the key in the ignition and the door open, the collection of long, slow, fast and shrill, digital exhortations are climactic. Why does everything have to beep at you? It undoes a lot of the Accord's natural refinement.
So it drives decently enough – more like an Audi than a Beemer. Is it built like an Audi too?
Perceived quality is an area where the Germans excel. Even if a car has more internal problems than Britney Spears it will feel as dense and full of single-minded certainty as a Daniel Day-Lewis performance.
The interior of the Accord almost reaches those heady heights. The materials on the dash are high quality, with tactile plastics and tight finishes, even on the pre-production car we had.
If you’ve been to Japan and had your buttocks heated by the toilet seat, while adjusting the cleansing spray for both power and direction fore and aft you’ll know you were never going to get clarity of controls in the Accord like Audi’s MMI system, because the Japanese like to over-complicate simplicity.
Everything works perfectly well, but there are buttons on top of buttons. The sat-nav has a prominent control knob, but it looks nicked off an early '90s hi-fi. But eventually you get the hang of it, and because it’s a Honda, everything works perfectly.
The cabin is a good place to be - it's very spacious and extremely comfortable. The seats are exceptional. Apparently, Honda spent so much money on them that there wasn’t enough cash left to make the spare wheel well round – it had to be a cheaper square shape.
Honda has produced a good car that's better in every regard than the old Accord. Spend enough time with it, and the newcomer even looks sufficiently different from the outgoing model. That said, it doesn’t quite deliver BMW handling or Audi quality. But was it ever likely to?
What it will do is offer an approximation of both, plus chuck in a load of extra kit for your money and a badge, that while not in their designer league, offers a bit more cachet than the volume fodder it is trying to distance itself from.
Those in spartan low-end BMWs and Audis really should take a look at the new Honda Accord first, rather than going for the default option.