It can’t be easy updating a good car. Or, for that matter, talking cynical motoring writers into thinking the update is the best thing since turbos were invented. But take it from me, dissing the opposition is not the way to get the news across.
Sure, Honda believes its Accord Euro is the best mid-sized reasonably priced sedan on the market. But saying the likes of Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo aren’t as competent – then insisting the Accord sells better than either by showing us only sedan sales – isn’t an effective brainwash. The result? One recalls just how good the opposition is, then rushes to the sales figures to confirm that indeed, when you take all variants into account the Mazda6 and Ford Mondeo considerably outsell the Accord Euro – with 24.6 percent and 21.5 percent of the market, respectively, to Accord Euro’s 7.6 percent, year-to-date.
Yes, the Accord has been on run-out and yes, Honda’s sales are almost entirely private, not fleet-driven. Agreed, too, that Honda doesn’t chase numbers with the aggression of brands like Toyota. But its wool-pulling exercise fell flat; as we unlocked our mounts and got comfy it was difficult to shrug off the feeling that if this Euro is really an improvement, they wouldn’t have had to criticise the best of the opposition... Ahead of us lay a decent drive, from Nelson to Christchurch via Murchison, Maruia and Hanmer Springs. An easy route to navigate, with stretches of open country, some decent swervery baked dry under the winter sun – and plentiful gravel-strewn shady spots to test the car’s composure.
All Euros have the same 2.4-litre engine, with the same block as before but a host of changes under its skin – a higher compression ratio, lower exhaust system pressures, and revised valve timing among them. There’s the same six-speed manual transmission or a new five-speed auto with steering wheel paddles to change gear. Power rises from 140kW to 148, at 7000rpm; peak torque is virtually identical with 234Nm at 4500rpm, although there’s more on tap at lower revs. Fuel economy has improved, now 8.8 litres/100km for the manual (down from 9.1) and 8.6 litres/100km for the auto (was 9.4). Based on our admittedly mainly open-road test drive, those numbers look achievable.
The engine is slotted into a more rigid body with a wider track and lower centre of gravity. This is a longer, wider, lower Accord Euro with more interior space, though the boot is the same 467 litres. The Accord’s double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension with variable rate dampers have been set up to cope better with extreme bumps, and certainly proved capable on our moderately demanding drive. The brakes are bigger – the same size as the Legend’s – and linked to EBD, ABS, EBA and of course ESC stability control, plus Honda’s Motion Adaptive EPS. PS initiates a weight adjustment in the steering wheel to prompt the driver on where to steer if things go wrong. We couldn’t discover whether this works; we can confirm the car still handles well, the ESP intervening early but unobtrusively.
We appreciated the new, supportively comfortable seats although found the Euro not as quiet as promised, thanks to tyre noise. It does have an impressive array of specification though, including six airbags and dual-zone air con.
Vents in the glovebox and centre console open or close to warm or cool the contents, the L adds heated memory seats, rain sensing wipers, fog lights, an electric sunroof and the parking sensors; and the Satnav model includes the Legend’s i-zone air conditioning that adjusts its response according to which side the sun’s shining. It all increases the weight, of course, but the power increase offsets it.
The wagon? Honda says it’s not a wagon (with all those fleet car connotations) but a Tourer. And the difference is? Search me. Still, it’s a handsome beast though initially it didn’t feel as assured on road, perhaps because of the weight shift to the rear, perhaps because suspension response felt softer. The wagon gets the same basic suspension set-up as the sedan, but the spring rate and diameter of the suspension axis are different. Honda says it wants its cars seen as an alternative to the premium brands.
This Euro is nice, but it hasn’t got there yet – some of the interior materials are lovely to touch for example, but others feel too plasticky. Still, quibbles are few. It takes 95-octane not 91; there’s more tyre noise than expected; the wagon’s boot is actually 61 litres smaller than the sedan’s; and the slightly metallic tone of the engine under full acceleration is an acquired taste. But it is a good car, particularly at the $36,000 opening price.
Is it much better than the opposition? More like different to, and what you prefer will depend on your taste. Like edgy, and the Mazda6 is you. Want diesel, and there’s Mondeo, and some European cars offer credible alternatives at not too dissimilar prices, especially if you want a hatch. Meanwhile Accord Euro and its new, more Americanised face is just one among a suite of good cars that crowd the mid-sized sedan market.