A LEANER, MEANER AND ER, SQUARER HONDA ACCORD IS COMING OUR WAY. PRESENTING THE FIRST DRIVE
The FCX was tucked away in a corner of the sprawling Tochigi R&D facility of Honda in Japan. The tail-end of a typhoon was lashing away at Tochigi the day we landed there and that meant driving perhaps the most expensive car Honda has ever built, in treacherous conditions.
Well, drive I did – in an arrow-straight track with just two U-turns thrown in. The 2005 Tokyo star and a full runner, the FCX impressed with its eerie ‘whoosh’ and rapid progress. The smaller, lighter fuel stack with more power means Honda is already booking a slot in the fuel-cell powered performance category. Honestly, I was more eager to put additional laps in a Civic Type-R, and yes, sample the all-new Accord which will debut in India by the second quarter of 2008.
If you are wondering about such a long winded preface for a story on the new Accord, well, the design philosophy first seen in the FCX two years ago is faithfully adhered to in the new Accord, hence. Right from the square grille, which lends the front end more pedestrian friendliness, to the stretched out, if not wrap-around, headlamps and the steeply raked windscreen, the new Accord owes a lot to the FCX. And guess what, the mass seller from Honda still does not look half as futuristic as say the last generation Accord or even the City. Mind you, that does not mean that the car does not look good – it looks top dollar from most angles, though my preferred view is from the rear three-quarters. Blending traditional Legend lines to that of a fuel-cell concept could have bordered on sheer catastrophe when it came to the end result, but Honda has managed to save the overall design. More than a hint of Munich be damned. The overall fit and finish of the car is more Acura/Lexus-like than a volume seller and the even, flawless shutlines and metal-to-plastic integration is remarkable.
The new Accord is a taller car overall and that means getting in and out is easier than what it used to be. Once inside, you are not greeted by the funky, layered, digital Disneyland that the Civic has made us
expect in every car. Instead the environs are more traditional with analogue dials and a familiar dashboard.
Since it is the four-cylinder model that will come to India first, I decided to sample it to begin with. As expected, the aluminium four-banger was crisp on the throttle and we pulled into the high speed oval at Tochigi (speeds restricted to 100 kph thanks to the rain). Honestly, there is no point driving a car flat out in a perfectly banked oval – unless you want to leave both hands off the wheel and eat a hamburger or something like that. Apart from that, I didn’t want to upset our Japanese hosts who were rather smartly radar-gunning the progress in the straights. So I drove the Accord in the first lane – not so well-paved, to simulate bad road conditions. There were puddles to wade through and the surface resembled more or less what I encounter on my daily commute back home – during monsoons. Mind you, we were driving US spec, left-hand drive examples and judging the new Accord’s ride quality going by an American example won’t be very complimentary. Or so I thought. While the ride itself was poised, I was surprised by the kind of feedback that was on offer. This car didn’t feel like a soul-less Japanese front-wheel drive sedan meant for Tom, Chavez and Raju to commute and transport their families from San Jose to Frisco. Instead, the language spoken by the suspension setup reminded me of far more expensive stuff that gives birth to lunatics around the world.
The going was getting dodgy as the puddles grew larger and I yanked the steering and entered the slightly banked section of the track. Of course, the 177 bhp motor was effortlessly accelerating into the 120s already and feeling silky smooth while at it. The five-speed automatic gearbox does not wince and whine but there was a fair amount of wind-noise intruding into the cabin. Or maybe it was the typhoon.
The only way to figure out the handling was to attempt some frantic lane change manoeuvres when nobody was watching, but the Accord seemed to dismiss my steering inputs like a busy mother handling a nagging child. A tap on the knuckles and all.
The V6, as expected, was more fun – but that meant I lapped even faster and the drive was over before it started. The 268 bhp i-VTEC unit gnarled around and the chassis seem to cope with the power better than the current Accord. How I wish I could drive this machine on a winding road – but from what I could make out (by doing imaginary slaloms and similarly silly stuff) the new Accord does not buckle under severe directional changes and that sinful i-VTEC unit seemed to be perfectly at home. Now, that is very unlike the current Accord V6, where the powerplant seems to be in its own world and revving away as the chassis tries to play catch-up. So there. My two laps of the Accord was over and I had the important business of driving those stunning Civic Type-Rs. The message from Tochigi to prospective Accord buyers who are holding on to their money back home is simple – the new Accord is certain to set a new benchmark for quality, performance and value. And yes, it is inspired by the future – I mean the FCX. Sure there is big time competition in the form of a new Skoda Superb apart from arch rival Toyota Camry to tackle with – but then, trust us to bring them all together for a group test soon. BSM