With a substantial price increase across the range, can the new Honda Accord justify its existence?
The ninth-generation Honda Accord continues the long tradition of the popular sedan with solid build quality, class-leading safety and in-car technology as well as Honda’s undeniable reputation for reliability and durability.
The Honda Accord has been on sale in Australia since 1977 and in its 36-year history has managed to find more than 100,000 local buyers. Globally, it has been far more successful with over 19 million Accords sold.
Those figures put in perspective the challenges that Honda faced when designing and engineering the new Accord. Just how much can you really change when you have a car with this much history?
The most notable change is the price. The entry model 2.4-litre four-cylinder Honda Accord VTi, which has 129kW of power (4kW less than the previous generation) and 225Nm of torque (3Nm more than before) starts at $31,490, a price rise of $3,300. You’ll need $33,990 for the mid-spec VTi-S and $41,490 for the range-topping VTi-L. All three four-cylinder models still make use of an ageing five-speed automatic transmission.
The 3.5-litre Honda Accord V6L continues, but has now gone up to $51,990, a $4,700 increase. It gains 4kW more power, now at 206kW while maintaining the same torque figure of 339Nm. A six-speed automatic is standard.
Honda argues the price rise is justified through the higher level of standard equipment and additional refinement, which is a valid argument as there have certainly been major improvements over the old car. Nonetheless, in this day and age when most new cars evolve with better looks, more equipment, better safety and improved fuel efficiency – while either going down in price or maintaining a similar position to their predecessor - it’s a hard pill to swallow.
To Honda’s credit, the new Accord has undergone substantial change for the better. Take the new MacPherson strut front suspension, which makes a world of difference on bumpy roads over the old Accord’s double-wishbone setup, as an example. There’s an 8-inch full colour screen in every model which allows for a three-mode reversing camera. There are even two microphones placed in the cabin which detects low-frequency cabin and engine noise and send a cancelling frequency via the audio speakers, making the new Accord’s interior one of the quietest around.
Honda says that the Mazda 6 was the main benchmark when designing the new Accord, with the Volkswagen Passat and Toyota Camry also considered. This may also help explain the pricing, which is now more attuned with its Mazda rival.
Behind the wheel the four-cylinder Accord has more than enough grunt for everyday driving but is hindered by the slow-shifting five-speed automatic. It’s by no means considered lively. The V6, on the other hand, is terrific and makes a delightful sound from its twin exhausts. The six-speed auto is smooth, responsive and well coupled to the engine. It’s a shame it wasn’t fitted to the four-cylinder models.
Driving wise both configurations do a fine job but are better suited to more conservative drivers that prioritise steering comfort over feedback. The power steering system is direct, precise and guides the Accord around corners with ease.
Nonetheless, it’s noticeably lacking finesse in the drivability department and is very much over-assisted. Dynamically, this is not a fun car to drive hard. While the Accord Euro and Mazda 6 can be engaging, the standard Accord is anything but.
Lacking any form of steering feedback or feel, there’s almost a sense that the steering wheel and front wheels have no actual connection. Around Auckland’s twisty countryside, where we came to review the new Accord, the car’s driving dynamics failed to inspire any form of positive emotion. In this area it falls well short of its benchmarked rival, the Mazda 6.
On the plus side, the ride comfort is superb. Be it on the highway or dirt roads, we felt the new Accord’s suspension doing a stellar job of maintaining body control and absorbing the bumps. The stability and traction systems tend to be a little bit too eager to interfere for our liking but better early than too late.
From the outside the new 2013 Honda Accord’s design has simply evolved. Honda’s conservative attitude to car design means there’s no radical styling change and it’s pretty easy to dismiss the new-generation Accord as nothing more than a facelift.
Nonetheless, every single panel has been redone. In fact, the new Accord measures 75mm shorter than the previous car, 25mm of that comes from platform modifications while the rest is achieved via shorter overhangs at both ends.
Its slightly smaller exterior size - interior dimensions remain the same as the previous model with minor improvements to shoulder room - has led Honda Australia to push it for a reclassification in to the medium car category, as oppose to the large car segment where the current Accord sits.
It gains a new face and modernised rear end, with the addition of standard LED daytime running lights across the range. Viewed front on, it tends to resemble the Lexus GS while the taillights have a certain BMW 5 Series look to them.
The focus for the new Thai-built Honda Accord has been to offer a more premium-feeling vehicle than before. This is instantly noticeable when you step inside. Though the cabin design is very similar to the previous Accord, interior quality is a level above. It would easily match if not better the Mazda 6 and scare some of its significantly more expensive German rivals.
Be it the soft touch plastics used on the dash and doors, the expensive-feeling dials and instruments or just the overall cabin ambience, it’s fair to say it presents one of the nicest interiors in its segment.
The front seats can do with more side bolstering but are more than adequate for daily drives with good headroom and a fully adjustable steering wheel. There’s great visibility all around with thinner A-pillars (where the side mirrors are located) and a reversing camera standard. Unfortunately the base model misses out on parking sensors.
The rear is certainly able to accommodate two large adults with ease or three when required. Rear legroom is large-car size, in that it compares favorably with vehicles like the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore. Boot capacity is unchanged at 461L.
The confusing bit here is the comparison with the Honda Accord Euro. The Japanese-built Euro is smaller (particularly when comparing rear legroom) and now older. Honda claims the two-Accord strategy will continue as the Euro appeals to younger buyers while the standard Accord captures the more traditional and conservative customers. A new Euro isn’t scheduled for at least 18 months.
This is an interesting comparison, particularly because one of the main selling points of the new Accord is the advanced active safety package. Available on the VTi-L for $3,500 and standard on the V6L, the advanced driver assist system (ADAS) is certainly a big leap forward in active safety technology.
On the surface of it, ADAS includes some well known systems such as lane keep assist, collision mitigation braking system and adaptive cruise control. But it’s when you actually use them that you’ll realize how much further advanced they are compared to their rivals.
For example, when adaptive cruise control (which can follow the speed of the car in front from a pre-set distance) and lane keep assist are both functioning, the new Accord can literally drive itself. One system controls the acceleration and braking while the other ensures the Accord remains in its lane. Unlike other systems, even those found in luxury makes, the lane keep assist doesn’t just warn and pull you back into your lane as you’re about to drift out, it actively keeps you there.
Along Auckland’s main highway we were confidently able to let the Accord do full autonomous driving for 15 seconds at a time, which is the artificial time limit before the lane keep assist system warns you to put your hands back on the wheel and take over (if you don’t, it simply gives up and hands back control anyway).
Theoretically, the car is completely capable of driving itself on highways and most suburban roads using its radar and camera technology. It actively keeps itself absolute-centre inside its lane and also turns with the road. It’s the best system of its kind we’ve used to date.
Ironically, under normal driving conditions the lane keep assist system can be astonishingly annoying. It’s so fixated with keeping the Accord dead-centre inside its lane that any imperfection results in the steering wheel adjusting your input.
It’s nerve-racking to trust it to turn with the road as a semi-trailer is coming the other way, but we suspect that if it wasn’t for the conservative nature of Japanese design culture, autonomous driving would’ve almost been an advertised feature in the new Accord. Alas, Honda says all its active safety systems are designed to supplement and help the driver, but never fully take over.
Other notable features include the high-resolution camera in the left side mirror. Every time you indicate left, a live video stream of the Accord’s left side is shown on the 8-inch colour screen. This 80-degree wide-angle view virtually eliminates the need to shoulder check, or, lets be frank, check at all. You just glance at the screen and away you go. To put it bluntly, it’s brilliant. A feature that we hope other makes would adopt soon.
There in lies the best thing about the new Honda Accord. It’s innovative. Though it may not be a driver’s car, or have the same level of driver engagement as its Japanese rivals, for the first time in so many years Honda can proudly boast that it has a car with advanced and unique technological features. It’s a hint of what Honda use to be, the most innovative Japanese automotive manufacturer, hopefully it’s not a one hit wonder.
For a full specification breakdown including fuel economy figures, click here.