Honda Accord - Seventh Wonder

Pretty weird these Japanese car guys. They have a PR department just because everybody has one. They seldom try to please you by offering their test cars. You can interview the bosses for hours and emerge burping out with all the coffee that you had and with nothing more than a few scribbles in your notepad. News coverage? What is that? Product testing? That is for our engineers to do. Scoop? Vanilla or Strawberry? Suggestions? 

Ha, ha, ha. And when you’re miffed beyond recognition, they will toss the key to a car they have built, and for hours you will try your best to find a fault in it. Though, ‘eureka, the seat is stiff!’, is all what you would end up with. Like pretty women, Japanese car makers know how good they are and how much ever you detest their attitude, all it takes is a wink for you to wag your tail. 

Luckily, it took me just ten minutes behind the wheel to come out impressed by the new Accord. It is a sharper, more comfortable, more luxurious, more powerful, more fun to drive car than the Accord it replaces. And the best part is Honda has given it a shocker of a price tag too – Rs 14.7 to 15.7 lakh, depending on where you are buying it from and the trim, which means the new Accord comes at almost the same price as the old one. In essence, don’t bother reading the rest of this story if you are in the market for a D-segment sedan and rush to the nearest Honda showroom instead. Not even God will blame you for making a wrong decision. Still sceptical? Want to know whether it is really better than its competition from Japan, Korea and Europe? Read on.

Wind cheater
I told you I was impressed in the first ten minutes that I drove the new Accord, but for the ten minutes before that, I was outside the car and staring at it. Words such as ‘good’, ‘nice’, and ‘hmm’ come easily but not ‘pretty’ and ‘handsome’. Honda has been building chart-busting Accords for the last 27 years and except for a few European versions, there have not been many Accords that really set any trend in automotive design. Instead, they blend well, appeal to everyone from teenage girls to soccer grandmoms. But the New Accord is just a year old in most markets and that means the lines are contemporary if not really future-proof. A sharp grille and even sharper clear lens headlamps give this American/Thailand spec Accord a bit of European flair but I do get the feeling that the sloping bonnet architecture might look a bit
odd couple of years down the line. The huge, S2000-like air-dam below the front grille, flanked by the auxiliary lights gives the car a bit of aggression. Nice touch that. 

Like in the case of the sixth gen Accord, Honda lost the case somewhat at the rear though. The wrap-around tail-lamps and the raised boot looks all right today, but again might look listless sooner than later. And someone has been a bit too generous with chrome strips for this model. In essence the new Accord does not have the sophisticated looks of the Opel Vectra but nor is it as loud as the Hyundai Sonata. Choosing between the Accord and the Toyota Camry on the looks front is like comparing Rani Mukherji and Preity Zinta – it doesn’t really matter.

Comfort zone
It is on the interior that Honda has taken the game a level or two higher. Gone are the expansive cream coloured innards and in comes a dual tone interior with matt-black and silver instrument console and tan leather upholstery. There is enough plasto-wood to make Greenpeace happy too. The four-spoke steering wheel feels good to hold and comes with hi-fi controls integrated to it. The LED instrument panel features progressive illumination all right, but has too many colours for comfort. 

The centre console features an integrated screen that handles a host of display duties and a 6-CD changer. Also, a brilliant dual-zone automatic climate control that was till now found only in much more expensive cars finds its way to the Accord.Seriously, this Accord interior has more in common with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class than its natural competitors. Remember the interior is meant for four American adults and that means it is more than enough for five average-sized Indians. That said, Honda has not done much to improve the rear leg room and it is only as good as the previous model. The default music system does not allow you to play cassettes but maybe it is just me trying to find a fault. I personally prefer the distinctly European flair of the Mondeo and the Vectra in this league but this feature-rich new Accord somehow reminds me of, oh not again, Mercedes-Benzes. Time to play catch up, Sonatas and Camrys.

Poison i-VTEC
Hondas make me itch for a spirited drive, thanks to the nothing-short-of-brilliant powertrains that they bolt on to their cars. The new Accord gets an all new DOHC, 16 valve, inline four pot motor that comes from the i-VTEC family of Honda engines. It displaces 2354 CC to develop 142 bhp at 5500 rpm and 20 kgm of turning force at 4700 rpm. This powerplant transfers power to the tarmac via either a five-speed manual or a 5-speed electronically controlled automatic gearbox. The Desert Mist metallic Accord that I was about to sample came with the autobox. The ‘i for intelligence’ engine features genuine Formula One derived fuel injection programming and pairs the now legendary VTEC (variable valve timing and lift electronic control) with VTC (variable timing control). All that means, other than the fact that it has more brains than most humans, is that the new Accord is an eminently great car to drive in town and on the highways. 

To begin with, the engine is so silent you have to pinch yourself to believe that it is idling. Slot the gear lever to D and floor the pedal and you will be able to extract a decent wheel-spinning launch that should take you to 60 kph in under six seconds and 100 kph in 10-odd seconds – no, we have not tested the car yet. I got to drive in an upcoming, somewhat deserted expressway stretch and that meant hoisting the speedo all the way to 180 kph before lifting off in horror. The new Accord goes about the process of revving hard as if it is destined to do that and the VTEC bloodline should ensure decent fuel efficiency too. 

I do not know whether it was tyre noise or wind resistance, but there was a distinctly audible whoosh coming into the cabin at three-digit speeds. We had a bunch of enthusiastic test drivers from various auto magazines bent on molesting the virgin motor but she kept on delivering sterling acceleration and high speed runs throughout the day. In a nutshell, amongst the inline four engines available today in D-segment cars, this is the one to beat. While the Vectra and Mondeo motors show more character and the Camry engine has no rivals in silky smooth refinement, it is the i-VTEC that combines both these facets. There is only one word to describe this engine, and that is brilliant. Pray Honda, why bother bringing the 3000 CC V6 motor (come January 2004) while this machine can do the job oh so well?!

Animated suspension
If there was one area where the Accords with American heritage could have received some improvement, it is their ability to go around corners. An all-new double wishbone front and a five-link rear set-up is what Honda has come up with as the solution. The new suspension has made the car a more positive machine around corners and one that lets the driver know what lies beneath the rubber. Lane change manoeuvres at 100 kph plus failed to get this front wheel driver out of shape. I did use the Honda test track to check out the anti-lock braking system (ABS) which comes with the assistance of electronic brake distribution (EBD). The car was perfectly steerable while I was standing on the brakes. Honda, realising their mistake from the past Accord, have given the new Accord tubeless tyres all round. This move, along with a perfectly articulated steering wheel, makes the new Accord a decent handler. The ride quality is not in the league of the Mondeo or the Vectra, but it is on par with what is on offer in the Camry – excellent, if not brilliant.

All the car you need?
The new Accord is a car that I can recommend even before we go through a full-fledged road test. It is an honest automobile that bristles with contemporary technology and is a rare example where concepts such as value-for-money and sterling performance co-exist. Now that I have said all these good things, maybe the Honda PR office would let me have a Signet Silver Accord for a proper, month-long road test. Road Test? Can’t hear you... what?