If I say Honda, what is the first thing that comes into your mind? If you are a petrolhead, it will probably be the Civic Type R. Formula 1 fans will immediately think of Senna and Prost and great on-track battles in the McLaren-Honda in the 1990s. Some will think of souped up Civics or Ballades. Many will think of the numerous examples of the Jazz that are seen outside schools every morning between Toyota Fortuners. People who appreciate value for money might say the Accord.
The company has been through a bit of a lull in recent years. Its production was ravaged by the tsunami that hit Japan and many of its models have lost their prominent place in the market. Now the company is trying to change all that. Honda will return to F1 in 2015, reigniting that famous partnership with McLaren. The new NSX supercar will launch in SA next year too, as will the latest generation of the Civic Type-R, a car which is described as “a race car for the road.” A new version of the legendary S2000 roadster is also being penned. Honda is even forging a new road some 30,000ft up with its Honda Jet which is now on the production line in the US. Designed to be a personal jet to carry two crew and five passengers, the company has great ambitions for this new level of high-end transport.
The company is fighting back. “Our owners are self-assured. They don’t need badges for their ego.” Fighting words if ever I heard them. It was a bold statement by Graham Eagle, marketing boss of Honda SA, at the launch of the new Accord. It has probably always been true, but the company has not been in the forefront of people’s minds in recent years, especially not of those who might be lured by the badge of an Audi, BMW or Mercedes — at least not in the medium premium segment, anyway. There has always been a bit of a split in the market. The word German translates as premium and everything else is often called sub-premium, a category invented to accommodate the likes of the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Peugeot 508, Subaru Legacy, Volkswagen Passat and the Honda Accord.
Like many members of the media, the Motor News team are huge fans of the Accord. It has always had great engines, excellent reliability, good dynamics and high specification, all packaged into something that looked good and was priced competitively. In 2009 it was SA’s car of the year. The Accord is the company’s bestselling car worldwide and is the top selling passenger car in the US among private buyers. The previous generation model came to SA from Europe but the new model adopts the US specification, although it is built in Thailand. Design-wise I have to say I did not find it that inspiring. It looks as though it has been penned to compete with the international Toyota Camry and has a backside that reminds me of the old Hyundai Azera. It is not that the design is bad — in fact, the overall package looks good — but it does not set any new style benchmarks and is a bit middle of the road, at least on the outside.
Inside, Eagle described things as “a little more flamboyant” than the previous Euro spec version and that is immediately evident. Thick soft touch plastics cover the dashboard broken up by matte silver accents and there are two infotainment screens. There are lots of new design items but much of it will feel like home for Honda owners as nothing has really been moved around, just updated to give it more appeal. Some of the fake wood inserts look a bit naff, but rarely does anyone do a good job in this respect. The longer body and longer wheelbase translates into more rear legroom and the rear seats offer that typical luxury. We are not talking S-Class here, but the Accord has always offered its own level of refinement.
Under the bonnet there are three engine options. First is the same 2l that has done duty in the model before, although with a few updates. All models are mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and on the launch route around Gauteng the 2l did the job but had the gearbox shouting a little when you pushed down on the throttle to overtake. This faded in the new 2.4l Vtec which provides maximum power at lower revs than the previous generation. Hard-core fans will wince at the idea of a lower-revving Honda engine, but it translates into lower emissions and consumption figures.
The star, though, is the arrival of a new3.5l V6.Yes I know,we motoring hacks always want more power and big engines but the engine suits the gearbox better. It makes less noise when you push on the accelerator and the gear changes seem less pronounced. You even get paddles on the steering wheel, although I suspect few owners will even notice them. Then there is the tech. The engineers and techies have all been working hard to come up with new solutions that might push the car into the minds of those badge-chasing customers. The kit varies depending on the model and here I should also point out that whichever one takes your fancy, there are no options — none at all. Buyers of German cars will not understand that.
The V6 has a Variable Cylinder Management system that can deactivate two or three cylinders allowing the engine to change its character from a V to a straight. Active Control Engine Mounts (ACM) react to instructions from the engine control unit (ECU) when cylinders are shut down to reduce any vibrations that occur in this situation, offering a smoother and quieter ride. When it comes to providing a quiet ride, there is also active noise cancellation which works the same way as headphones. Microphones monitor the sounds from outside and play reverse sound waves through the speakers to cancel out unwanted noise. Strangely, it did not filter out the wind noise coming from the B-pillar on all three models.
LED headlights are standard on the 2.4 and V6 models and certain versions also include adaptive cruise control and the Honda Collision Mitigation Braking System which operates above 40km/h and will audibly and visually alert the driver if you fail to brake in time before actually applying the brake itself if you really aren’t paying attention. The final piece of tech is something called the Lane Watch Indicator. A camera on the left side mirror transmits its view to the upper info screen in the centre console as soon as you push a button or engage the left turn indicator. This gives you a full view down the left side of the car so you can see a pedestrian, cyclist or other vehicle. It is a great idea and I only wonder why it is not on the right side too to monitor the overtaking blind spot on motorways.
It is a lot of kit and a lot of car. All of this starts at R389,000 for the 2l model with the 2.4 costing R449,000. The V6 is going to be a hard sell though, with a price tag of R549,000. That is real Mercedes C-Class territory and even with all that standard spec, luring the badge conscious away from the three-pointed star is going to be tough.
The Facts: 2014 Honda Accord
Engines: 1997cc 4-cylinder petrol; 2356cc 4-cylinder petrol; 3471cc 6-cylinder petrol
Power: 114kW at 6500r/min (2.0); 132kW at 6200r/min (2.4); 207kW at 6200r/min (3.5)
Torque: 190Nm at 4300r/min (2.0); 225Nm at 4000r/min (2.4); 339Nm at 4900r/min (3.5)
0-100km/h: 200km/h (2.0); 200km/h (2.4); 200km/h (3.5)
Fuel consumption: 7.5l/100km (2.0); 8.1l/100km (2.4); 9.2l/100km (3.5)
Price: 2.0 Elegance (R389 000); 2.4 Executive (R449 000); 3.5 V6 Exclusive (R549 000) (Inclusive of a three-year/100000km warranty and five-year/90000km service plan)