The desire to achieve upward mobility is among the most natural of human past times. Progress is what it's all about after all, isn’t it? It’s the reason you leave your peaceful dorpie for the big city lights, resign your shabby student digs to a "proper" home in the suburbs, and replace drab with fab.
That the usually understated Honda chose to abandon the shallow end of the premium pool and power across to the section usually reserved for the German triumvirate speaks loads for upward mobility. Except that, if you didn't care to look, you would probably barely have noticed the Japanese manufacturer's ballsy move.
The latest Honda Accord does at first not look much different from its precedessor. Honda is, after all, very serious about being understated. (Of course, the Civic hatch is a dramatic departure from this philosophy…)
But even on the surface, this Accord displays more flair than before. A wider track and a lower centre of gravity carry great promise of dynamism, especially since this model sports several changes beneath the metal.
More car than before
With prices starting at around R260 000, new Accord is naturally more expensive than its predecessor, but in Honda's defence, it is a quality product. Materials used throughout the interior - where leather is supple and plastics are soft - convey this.
The black-on-black interior does make one long for some airiness at times (and if you're prone to claustrophobia, it may be best to consider the 2.4 Executive for its standard electric sunroof), but there should not be any doubt about the cabin space on offer. Leg room, for the front occupants in particular, is enviable and there's even some remaining for those confined to the rear bench.
The interior, while not as luxurious as you would expect from its German rivals, is robust and should age very well. We especially enjoyed the matte metallic swathe across the dash, reminiscent of the Subaru Tribeca. Several facia elements are familiar from the previous Accord, too, and as with the exterior, the cabin has a definite evolutionary quality to it. The level of standard equipment is high, even on the 2.0-litre model, which only does without double exhaust outlets, parking sensors, an iPod jack, rain sensing wipers, xenon lights, auto dimming rear view mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors and headlamp washers and a few other minor details.
What has also evolved quite dramatically from its predecessor is its suspension that uses a double wishbone at the front and independent multilink suspension with a floating subframe at the rear which is said to improve rigidity. A new damper system also helps to regulate the car's transition between more athletic duties and smoother performances.
Striking a balance
Driving the Accord is a truly uplifting experience and it responds to prodding with zeal. There is a wonderful balance between ride comfort and handling with the only drawback, perhaps, being a lack of steering feel (through the motion adaptive electric power steering system) at cruising speeds.
We tested both the 2.0- and 2.4-litre models and found the vehicles to be very competent machines. Honda's 2.2-litre turbodiesel, which blew us away in the CR-V SUV and Civic hatchback, was quietly added to the model mix late last year, but we have yet to sample this version.
However, the petrol four cylinders are capable powerplants and in both versions we found the Accord to be very balanced and agile.
The 2.0-litre generates 115 kW at 6 300 r/min and has a peak torque of 192 Nm at 4 300 r/min, which is adequate for most although is not particularly inspiring. It also requires a fair amount of right-pedal-prodding to get going.
The 2.4-litre was the more engaging model with the revised unit producing 148 kW at 7 000 r/min and peak torque of 234 Nm at 4 500 r/min. Honda rates fuel consumption at about 8.8 l/100 km.
Five-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmissions are offered on both models, although the automatic is probably best suited to the easy-going 2.0-litre while the punchy 2.4-litre appears happiest with the manual gearbox.
The automatic gearbox has steering wheel mounted paddle shifts and a "kick down click control" in manual mode when a few extra revs are required.
We imagine, though, that the more flexible turbodiesel plant with all its torque on hand mated to the automatic 'box should make a convincing argument, too.
The level of safety equipment on all Accords is comprehensive and the car comes with a full complement of side, front and curtain airbags, Isofix child seat anchors, ABS, EBD, VSA and trailer stability assist.
For the most part, Honda has, in its quest to progress up the premium ranks, again proven a simple design and concept can be handsome. The accomplished Accord may not be able to topple the top premium models (yet), but it certainly seems at home in their company.
Accord has loads more presence than before. The exterior changes may appear slight, but there's no mistaking this car's bolder stance and sharper lines. We love the angled grille and character-laden front and rear light clusters, too.
The interior may be somewhat fussy for some, but it does a good job conveying the car's solid build quality. Our test units' interiors were quiet and the newly-designed seats supremely comfortable, but there was a sense that the dark interior and shallow greenhouse made the cabin feel a bit claustrophobic.
This car was never meant to be an all-out racer, and it shows in Accord's balance between being an exceptionally comfortable large family sedan and a sporty sedan. Its body is also more rigid than before, and this is evident under cornering. For the most part, whether on B-roads or just in the neighbourhood, Accord is very comfortable.
This Accord is refined, has high equipment levels, is quiet and the seats are really comfortable.
But does it meet Honda's sworn mission statement of beating the German premiums at their own game? It may not beat the pack but if you want a vehicle that is likely to be virtually indestructible from a manufacturer that is consistently at the desirable end of consumer and industry studies, you wouldn't be doing to badly if you gave the Accord another sideways glance.
As before, its retiree stature and understated nature may detract from what is a very good car though.
Interior is typical Honda with large dials and plenty of backlighting. Leather-trimmed steering wheel is evident here, too
Profile shows off sound design principles that contribute to Accord's roomy cabin and large luggage space.