Mildly does it

Honda's all-new Accord has evolved in a very predictable _ if too safe _ manner

There seems to be a trend forming in Honda's latest mainstream products which could have either been the result of market success or staggered development.

The Civic and CR-V launched last year in their latest generations come with mild design evolution, lightly adapted drivetrains yet more effective body packages.

The same is set to happen when the all-new Accord is launched in Thailand on March 11. And the Thai media had a chance to sample the ninth-generation Accord in Japan at Honda's Twin Ring Motegi circuit just north of Tokyo last week.

We weren't allowed to take pictures of the test car (which is a pre-production sample shipped from Honda's Thai factory in Ayutthaya). However, Honda says the Asian version is visually the same as the one sold in the US, hence these pictures from Honda North America.

The car detects moving objects on the side.

The first thing that strikes you is the Accord's aesthetic similarities to the current eighth-gen model. The chromed door frames on the C pillars, for one, look so alike and unimaginative.

You really have to line up the two generations together and spot the differences. And it's when you get into the details that the new Accord starts to look okay, particularly the curvier grille and head and tail lights.

The exterior dimensions also look remarkably similar, but there are differences on paper including a 90mm shorter length and a 25mm smaller wheelbase, plus a 10mm lower height. The only unsurprising gain is the 5mm broader stance for a more dynamic appearance.

However, Honda is keen to point out that the boot remains the same in volume and legroom for rear occupants has increased by 15mm, despite the shrunken exterior dimensions. To the eye, these improvements seem to be justified _ if not utterly outstanding in its class _ as there is no problem in whichever aspect.

A more positive sign in the cabin comes in the guise of more comfortable seats, essential given how the Nissan Teana and Toyota Camry properly pamper their occupants.

Styling has subtly improved.

The fascia has been redesigned in the interests of ergonomics rather than sheer style. The air-con controls, for instance, are now separated from the centralised control button that now operates the audio, sat-nav and other vehicle settings.

Especially new is the steering wheel with all those remote control buttons and gear paddle-shifters. The end result is a dashboard that is easier to use than before, even if it was never a serious issue in the outgoing Accord.

The decision to downsize the Accord's body has, according to Honda, come in the interest of a more agile drive.

In fact, this is the first time in the model's 37-year history the Accord has stopped growing and has actually become smaller _ like the Civic and CR-V as mentioned at the start.

Besides customers' appetite for metal, it's good to see Honda embarking on such a trend because many cars are becoming unnecessarily big. As long as cabin and luggage space remain unaffected, the market should really embrace this strategy.

Keyless entry for convenience.

And making for a nippier handling is a lighter front end and new electric power steering. After driving a couple of laps in the Accord, it's safe to initially suggest that it's an easier car to drive than ever.

True, the preceding model excelled in its class when it came to the driving characteristics, but you can hardly blame Honda for trying to introduce more driving comfort in a segment where buyers tend to place driving fun a second priority.

The steering is absolutely numb in feel, but it is light and direct at low to medium speeds. The more nimble drive is also the result of enhanced shock absorbers and strut front suspension replacing the double wishbone variation. Together with the new electric steering (it was hydraulic before), Honda says the front suspension has contributed to a 15kg reduction in weight.

How the handling is displayed at high speeds remains to be seen, as the track was apparently set up to discover the Accord's new-found level of driving ease.

Honda claims exterior noise suppression to be one key improvement in the Accord. We'll also have to wait for a Thai drive of the Accord to verify this. Michelin has been picked as the OEM supplier for the Thai-built Accord.

On the engine side, the 155hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine remains basically unchanged albeit some light improvements for the sake of economy, which betters from 11.9kpl to 13.1.

There's a new 2.4-litre engine (although displacing the same as before) whose power drops from 180hp to 174hp to improve consumption from 11.5kpl to 12.2kpl, which isn't that remarkable by class standards.

A reason for this could be the decision to retain the old five-speed automatic (Camry has six-speed and Teana CVT) for both engine variants, although both can now run on E85.

That's also exactly what has happened in the Civic and CR-V. You may debate the E85 gasohol agenda, but it offers tax reductions for Honda from now all the way to the new tax structure due in 2016.

The reduction in power in the 2.4 has apparently led to better torque lower down the engine range. On some corners of the track, you can feel the increased grunt at speeds of around 60kph without having to engage into kickdown.

Yes, that's quite a welcome move by Honda to stop the power craze war and settle for better engine tractability at real-world speeds. But if you're after sheer performance sparkle, the Teana still seems to be the better bet.

A new in-class feature is the ability to detect moving objects along the passenger side of the car and visualise them on a monitor on the interior console. Along with sat-nav and curtain airbags, it will only be reserved for higher spec models.

Pricing is set to be competitive for the segment with the 2.0 kicking out at some 1.3 million baht and 2.4 at 1.5 million baht.

Based on initial impressions at the Motegi cicuit, the new Accord seems to be about satisfying its loyal customer base with looks, driving manners and performance all evolving in a very gentle fashion.

But the bait for new buyers should really come in the guise of the pending hybrid model (see sidebar below).

‘The steering is absolutely numb in feel, but it is light and direct at low to medium speeds’

ACCORD HYBRID COMING THIS YEAR

After the 2.0- and 2.4-litre versions of Honda's all-new Accord are launched next Monday, a hybrid variant will follow later this year.

A high-ranking Honda official confirmed last week that a newly developed petrol-electric combination will go into direct contention with the Toyota Camry Hybrid.

A 2.0-litre petrol unit will form the basis of the new hybrid.

Although the hybrid will use a 2.0-litre petrol engine mated to an electric motor, it will have "comparable power" to the Camry, which has a bigger 2.5-litre engine.

Unlike the five-speed automatic gearbox in the Accord 2.0 and 2.4, a stepless CVT auto features in the hybrid model _ just like in the Camry Hybrid.

The hybrid-powered Accord would have prices overlapping with the higher-spec 2.4 at some 1.6-1.8 million baht, but the executive maintained that the three engines will all be available for customers with different requirements in Thailand.

The Accord will become the third mainstream, locally produced Honda to go hybrid after the Civic and Jazz and is the first to match a Toyota in specific model terms.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Richard Leu
Position: Motoring news Editor