Honda’s all-new Accord Euro has sharp looks and a classy interior that go with the Euro part of it moniker but a price tag that’s more closely allied to the bargain end of the market.
Honda has made no bones about the fact that this car is meant to maintain its strong sales position for the company and also take on rivals Mazda6, Subaru Liberty and Volkswagen Jetta head-on.
This is a car with a starting price of $32,990 for the six-speed manual that offers a host of standard features including front, side and curtain airbags, active front head restraints, ESP, dual zone air-conditioning, and a host of other convenience and usually luxury features.
The five-speed automatic gearbox adds $2000 to all three models, which include a leather upholstered Luxury at $39,990 and a rather curiously named Luxury Navi that throws in satellite navigation and a reversing camera for $42,990.
At the recent launch of the Honda Accord Euro in Adelaide the assistant project leader on the Accord Euro project, Toshiro Morita, said the benchmark car for the Euro was BMW, because its cars had outstanding features.
He also said the new Accord Euro set out to address criticisms of the previous car by adding more character and making the car both smart and agile.
Honda has sold more than 45,000 Accord Euros in Australia since the model was first introduced in 2003 and the car has helped the company lower the average age of its buyer to 40+ years, in fact most buyers of the Accord Euro are in the 35-50 years-old bracket, married, with a high income and are generally very tech savvy, according to Honda Australia senior director, Lindsay Smalley.
According to Honda the Euro is significantly wider, slightly lower and longer, the styling adopts a more chiselled design, with pronounced muscular wheel-arches that emphasise the car's wider track and gives the Euro a distinctive, strong stance with a solid, planted feel.
It adds that the distinctive nose and more flowing lines deliver a tauter, more athletic shape.
In our opinion none of this is untrue, the only criticism would be that the new design is a little too derivative of the previous car.
That said the new Accord Euro has real presence – especially from the front, where the aggressive headlights and wide stance give a far more muscular appearance than the previous model.
Climb inside, and things look even better. The front seats – upholstered in leather on the Luxury version, fabric on the base model – are supportive and supremely comfortable. We can’t think of a better place to sit on a long journey.
The 2.4-litre engine, which is described as Euro Four compliant but in fact meets the Euro Five standards that do not come into effect for another two years, is more powerful, delivering 148 kilowatts (up from 140kW) at 7000rpm and peak torque of 234Nm (up from 223Nm) at 4400rpm (manual transmission).
Its sporty performance is all the more remarkable given the improved fuel economy - now just 8.9l/100km (down from 9.1l/100km manual transmission and 9.4l/100km automatic transmission).
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The new, slick changing six-speed manual gearbox is a delight to use and the five-speed auto comes with upshift/downshift paddles on the steering wheel to enhance the sporty nature of the drive in the Accord Euro.
Inside the Accord Euro is an improved place to be with a wider and longer all-new chassis providing more cabin width, greater space between the front seats and better legroom and adequate headroom in the rear.
The five-seat nature of this car is limiting when the occupants are all adults and the rear seat passengers would need to be of the very slim type to sit three across, it’s more likely the back seats will comfortably accommodate three children or teenagers than they will adults.
The front seats are truly excellent with high shoulder bolsters and good side padding that hold the driver and passenger firmly in place, even when the Accord Euro is being hustled quickly through the sorts of challenging roads that can be found in the hills around Adelaide.
The excellent roadholding and high levels of grip that the car exhibits are due in part of a new suspension geometry that includes all-new front and rear double wishbone suspension with variable rate dampers and increased body rigidity. There's also 17 inch alloy wheels as standard, with 18 inch alloys fitted to the Luxury and Luxury Navi.
We’re not sure that it has the finesse of a BMW and it certainly falls a little behind the sharpness of the Mazda6 but this Honda has a suppleness in its ride and handling that means it doesn’t bang and crash on sharp undulations, which goes to make it a great cruiser for long-distance trips.
The driver can achieve an excellent position behind the wheel, especially as the body has been lowered five millimetres and the floor 10mm to improve the sportiness of the driving position.
The thick rimmed, leather clad steering wheel faces straight on to a large speedo, tacho and information panel that provide the driver with all the basic information that is needed.
Less satisfying, and somewhat more confusing is the multitude of switches that inhabit the centre console area, especially as more and more car-makers are simplifying these controls into multi function screen based units.
One thing missing from the new Accord Euro line-up is a diesel engine but Honda is promising news on that front by the end of the year and CarAdvice believes that the main sticking point is the availability of the automatic transmission for the all-new 2.2-litre diesel engine that was launched with this car in Europe.
Honda executives have made it clear they are aware of what they perceive to be the painful mistake made by Mazda when it tried to launch the last generation of the Mazda6 Diesel in Australia with a manual only gearbox.
We believe the automatic gearbox will be available with the diesel by the end of 2008 and feel confident to predict that Honda will join the rush to diesel power early next year.
As for the very sharp looking Tourer (wagon) that's a big hit in Europe, well Honda says its not on the radar for the moment, citing "little demand for this sort of sportswagon". Somehow, we suspect its got a little more to do with protecting sales of the Odyssey!
The new Honda Accord Euro may not look like a giant step forward from the previous model but it is a significant development of a car that has already found a strong following with buyers in Australia.