WHEN THE HONDA ACCORD first hit Australian shores in 1976, it was a trail-blazer for the brand. It was Honda's first crack at the 'young family', 'young professionals' market. And while it was small – about the size of the previous Integra – it was huge by Honda standards of the time.
Before it, the only Hondas Australians had seen were the S600 and S800 sports, with wailing, jewel-like DOHC engines; the first Honda Civic (which was smaller than a Yaris); and curios like the freakishly small Honda Scamp and toy-like Honda Z – running 'crash-box' gears and 360cc and 600cc engines.
Then came the Accord; the first off the ship were hatchbacks, then the four door sedan. Compared to its competition of the time - the Morris Marina (shudder), Cortina (urk), Torana Plus 4 (an abomination) and Renault 12 (nice enough, but slow as) - the Accord was two generations ahead.
Those first Accords were nicely styled, comfortable and kitted to the max. But the real revelation was in how they drove. For style and dynamics, the only thing that bettered that first Accord in its market segment was the VW Golf. And the Golf was then, quite simply, a world-beater.
The Accord won lots of friends, was in part responsible for killing stone dead most on that list above, and put the Honda brand on the map in this country.
Now the Accord, in both its iterations, the Accord Euro and V6, has grown up. It is now as big as a Commodore. Whoever would have thunk it?
For some years now, Honda has managed to set itself a little apart from the 'common rung' of Japanese manufacturers. Thanks to its precision engineering and free-revving engines it has built a special cachet around the bold 'H' logo – a bit more sporting, a bit more involving at the wheel, something of the 'racer's edge' to the handling and dynamics. As though it's the Japanese BMW.
But does it still hold that edge? In a market where nothing is still, and technology is king, is it still a cut above in engineering and dynamics? Let's have a look and find out.
For the week of this test drive, we had the Accord Euro: six-speed manual, 2.4 litre DOHC i-VTEC engine, producing 148kW at 7000rpm and 234Nm at 4400rpm (230Nm for the five-speed auto).
Having earlier this year spent a week in the superb, limousine-like V6, expectations were high for the seemly and stylish Euro. To be sure, the Euro has always been the Accord of choice for those who like a willing steer - the V6 more for pampered executive-types.
At 4740mm long and 1840mm wide, it has closed the gap on its bigger brother, the V6, now matching it in width but just on 20cm shorter (the V6 Accord is 4945mm in overall length). It is, in fact, all-but Commodore-size, inside and out. The VE Commodore, at 4894mm long and width of 1899mm, is just 5.4cm longer and 5.9cm wider than the Euro.
But its lines disguise it. There is an athletic elan to its stance on the road and from behind the wheel. Few would feel they were in a large mid-size car.
The new Euro, while unmistakably 'Honda', leans a little more to current styling conventions than we've come to expect from Honda. However the heavy lines of the front guards - with 'chewing walnuts' puffed cheeks - and the similarly heavy lines over the rear arches, are a little clumsy to these eyes and lack a little of the finesse and delicate understatement of the model it replaces.
Of course, it might be part of a cunning plan: being 'heavier' to the eye, the strong nose and tail give the new Euro a commanding presence in the car-park. It also looks thoroughly modern. And, as one passenger commented, a rusted-on Honda driver, the Euro doesn't have 'the old man look' of the V6. (Not sure that comment from one of the faithful will have Honda leaping for joy.)
The expanded dimensions provide generous shoulder and leg room, and an air of spaciousness inside. The boot is a cavern: deep and flat and easily able to swallow a family's holiday luggage.
Ergonomically, and for fit and finish, it's hard to fault the interior. The seats are deep and supportive, everything nicely at hand, 'comfortable' leather-wrapped steering wheel and, in the manual test car, the smoothest shifting six-speed you'll find this side of a hot knife and a tub of butter.
It's all a little busy however. The graphite-trimmed curves of the dash, sweeping upwards from the console and around into the curves of the doors will not be to everyone's taste. It looks modern enough now, but there is perhaps too much going on and it may quickly tire to the eyes. Few would argue that understated no-nonsense lines endure…
There's another problem. The centrally-placed information screen is totally unreadable in some light; the angle of the scalloping in the dash matches the reverse angle of the sloping clear cover on the screen. Fortunately, the important information is straight ahead of the driver in a clear, nicely-designed instrument binnacle.
But everything, and everything - all those minor nit-picks and trifles - are forgiven the moment you turn the key and poke the Accord Euro's nose out into the traffic and onto the highway.
You would have seen the Euro TV commercials – the driver soaring then gliding through rolling foothills along a perfect 'driver's road'. Whoever dreamed up those images, no risk, they spent some quality time at the wheel of the Euro over a winding road.
On the road the Euro is simply a super drive. It feels 'right': it is serenely balanced and quiet, with very little wind and road roar. For a 'biggish' car, it is surprisingly agile and thoroughly predictable when driven enthusiastically.
Like the howling Integra and Civic Type R, the Euro has fabulous chassis balance. With double wishbones front and rear – real suspension - it is neither too compliant nor too firm and heavily damped. It 'talks' what's going on below, neither soft nor hard, but elastic and light on its feet like a sprinter.
On dirt, putting it through a few vigorous runs along one of our favourite 'rally' gravel roads, we failed to find the bump stops; no banging nor crashing, just a nicely-controlled sporting steer. (The Euro can be readily and easily thrown around on the dirt; slide in, set up for exit and nail it out – it's sinfully fun for a 'family chariot'.)
What is also surprisingly is the willing urge under the toe. You could be forgiven for thinking that there's a bigger bent-six working through that delectable six-speed box than merely a robust, free-spinning 'four'. Only the higher-pitched zinging from the front, rather than the thrumming beat of a V6, is the give-away. You'd be very hard-pressed to pick it.
More to the point, when you keep it singing in the sweet spot between 4500rpm and 5500rpm, it emits a brattish rising rasp from under the bonnet.
And because of the way it goes about things, it encourages free use of the huge rev band and the lightning sharp shift. For overtaking, slot it back two, and fire. The gearshift, the precise action and the near-perfect spread of ratios, invites… no, begs to be whipped back and forth through the superbly weighted 'gate'. And you thought only Porsche drivers couldn't keep their hands off their stick.
Sure to add to the appeal for young families is the fuel economy. Despite being bigger and heavier than the model it replaces, the 2008 Euro now averages an abstemious 8.9 l/100km, down from 9.1 l/100km manual transmission and 9.4 l/100km for the auto.
So, that's the Accord Euro. It has come a long way in the three decades since it arrived and is now an entirely satisfying car. Is it a tad large? Yup, possibly: I think I preferred the size of the older model.
That said, for those who really like to drive, but need room for the sprogs, it is probably the best buy in its class at the moment.
- The eager, free-revving four-pot mill
- Super-slick six-speed box
- Superb chassis, double wishbones front and rear
- Involving ‘feel’ at the wheel
- Generous interior space (and boot)
- Value for money
- Heavy-handed styling
- It’s grown, it’s a tad large and a tad heavy
- Unusual concoction of interior curves
- ‘Unreadable’ digital display (in some light)
|Engine:||2.4 litre in-line four|
|Valve system:||DOHC i-VTEC|
|Power:||148kW @ 7000rpm|
|Torque:||234Nm @ 4400rpm (Auto: 230Nm @ 4200rpm)|
|Bore x Stroke:||87mm x 99mm|
|Performance:||0-100km/h: low 9.0s (best we could do)|
|Transmission:||Six-speed manual (five-speed auto, paddle shift and logic control)|
|Front suspension:||Independent double wishbone (front stabiliser bar)|
|Rear suspension:||Independent double wishbone (rear stabiliser bar)|
|Wheels:||17inch alloy (18inch Euro Luxury)|
|Tyre sizes:||225/50R17 98V (235/45R18 98W)|
|Brakes:||Discs, front and rear, ABS, EBD, Emergency Brake Assist (EBA)|
|Kerb Weight:||1525kg (to 1605kg)|
|Prices:|| Euro: $32,990 ($34,990 auto) |
Euro Luxury: $39,990 ($41,990 auto)