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New wave: Accord V6 lifts its game

 

Aspirations for the 2008 model are even higher, with talk of selling more than last year’s 665,650 worldwide.

Honda’s outgoing American-inspired V6 Accord was outshone in New Zealand by the outstanding four-cylinder Accord Euro. But the new generation V6 Honda may change that. The V6 has been a sales minnow here, with the Euro outselling it around five to one; but worldwide, it’s the better seller. Aspirations for the 2008 model are even higher, with talk of selling more than last year’s 665,650 worldwide. Since last September, American sales of the new V6 Accord have boomed, and are edging towards the Toyota Camry; with a sales target of 400,000 a year, the Accord V6 might become America’s top-selling car. The New Zealand market V6 Accord is built in Thailand. The $42,000 entry-level version costs $3000 more than its predecessor, but is much better and more refined.
The $60,000 VN Mugen tops the range. Some fancy Honda technology may be making this four-door surprisingly economical. Concrete results have yet to come, but the three-stage variable cylinder management (VCM) is said to reduce consumption by 11 per cent. A Honda New Zealand test from Auckland to Taupo produced a rather good 7.5 litres/100km (37.7mpg). But the ADR fuel result of 10 litres/100km is more representative of what owners could expect. Certainly, a solid 400-plus kilometre drive from Nelson to Christchurch over the Lewis Pass showed the beefy Accord to be quite economical, consuming half a tankful. The better fuel economy may be enough for the V6 Accord to strongly challenge the Ford Falcon, Holden Commodore, Toyota Aurion and Nissan Maxima. Honda marketing manager Graeme Meyer says the V6 isn’t being positioned as a Falcon/Commodore alternative, though the comparisons are inevitable. The Honda looks, feels and is big. At 4945mm it’s longer than a Falcon or Commodore, though the 2800mm wheelbase is 29mm less than the Ford’s and 129mm down on the Holden’s. The new Accord is 115mm longer than the old one, 25mm wider, and has a 60mm longer wheelbase. Overall height increases by 20mm. Despite a larger 70-litre fuel tank (up five litres) and two per cent increase in vehicle volume, the new car is just 100kg heavier. Inside, there’s good rear leg and headroom, and generously supportive front seats.


The new 3.5-litre, 202kW, 24-valve engine packs 14 per cent more power and 18 per cent greater torque than the old 3.0-litre, but the big story is the shutting down of cylinders when they’re not needed. Three-, four- or six-cylinder operation is determined by throttle position, vehicle speed, engine speed, automatic transmission gear selection and driving factors. The five-speed auto (no manual is available) is smooth and responsive and has steering column paddle switches for manual changes. During start-up, acceleration or when under load, all six cylinders operate, cutting back to one bank of three at moderate cruising speeds, light throttle and low engine loads. For moderate acceleration, higher speed cruising and easy work, the engine switches to four cylinders, deactivating opposing cylinders on each bank. A green economy light signifies operation of VCM and though the mechanicals are extremely quiet, you can detect a change in engine note when running on three or four cylinders. It’s more noticeable in the Mugen versions with their different exhaust systems. More apparent during the South Island launch drive was the slightly hesitant progress during slow, light-throttle motoring, but it’s a small price to pay for improved fuel economy. To reduce vibration and engine noise when the motor is running on three or four cylinders, an active control engine mount system reduces vibrations while improving steering feel. VCM automatically closes both intake and exhaust valves of the cylinders that are not used, eliminating pumping losses. The system deactivates cylinders by using the variable valve-timing and lift electronic control (VTC) system to close the intake and exhaust valves. Simultaneously, the powertrain control module cuts fuel to those cylinders. To prevent sparkplug temperature loss and fouling during cylinder re-activation, the sparkplugs continue to fire in inactive cylinders. Open road progress is smooth and relaxed, at just over 2000rpm at 100kph. Pushed the V6 will reach 100kph in barely 7s.


Honda debuts its unit-body frame rail system on the V6 Accord, and torsional rigidity is 20 per cent better. The old Accord’s double-wishbone front suspension has been modified, and at the rear there’s a new compact multi-link design. Ride, surprisingly firm at slow to moderate speeds, smoothes out as pace rises, and the new variable-gear steering has good on-centre feel and a pleasant degree of weighting. You can feel the steering’s increased precision – it’s 2.56 turns lock-to-lock (down from three). Mugen V6s have 18-inch alloy wheels and 225/45 tyres; the others have 17-inch/225/50 rubber.  Honda says Sport and Mugen variants accounted for 35 per cent of Accord volume in the previous generation, and a high take-up on the sportier models is expected again.


For our money, the cheapest V6 Accord looks the best. Move up to the Sport for a discreet rear spoiler, or opt for the Mugen with its ungainly bootlid wing which not only looks out of place but also hinders  rear vision. Standard equipment across the board includes dual-zone climate air conditioning, electric adjustment for the driver’s seat, cruise control, twin exhausts, keyless entry, cruise control and transmission shift paddles. The VL and VN add rain-sensing wipers, heated front seat, high intensity discharge headlights with auto height adjustment and electric sunroof. Leather upholstery comes with the higher-grade models. All V6 Accords have four wheel disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist, vehicle stability assist, electronic stability control and, of course, ABS. Honda NZ says the previous V6 Accord, introduced in 2003, captured 15 per cent of the private market, but didn’t fully meet the market and lacked a premium feel. But the new model impressed us, and has the ability to cause waves in the large car class. 


Auto Trader New Zealand