The new Accord is bolder and more aggressive than the previous model could ever have dreamed of.
It's an open secret; the previous generation Honda Accord was class-leading stuff. Does the latest generation model respect its stature? We took it in a drive to find out.
Is it possible to improve on a formula as seemingly bulletproof as the Honda Accord, I thought while hoofing the large but nimble sedan out of yet another corner in a twisty section of the lush Zululand countryside.
Perhaps it is. See, Honda has, since 1976 and about 16 million units later, released yet another version of its popular Accord executive sedan. And after eight generations where it is now sold in 140 markets around the world, it remains the Japanese manufacturer's best seller.
Officially, new Accord only goes on sale in South Africa from June 17, but local journalists got the chance to preview the car ahead of its market launch.
Regarded as the "alternative premium", the previous generation Accord was not as popular as some of the more traditional premium offerings - just over 3 ;000 units were here sold since the car's 2003 launch. These are figures that other marques could generate in a few months, but at least Accord owners knew they were on to something special.
Since this car was first shown in production form at last year's Frankfurt Motor Show, Honda was quick to boast that this would be the car to catapult it into the league of the long-standing premium models.
Quality, it said, would be superb. Fit and finish from the top drawer. Drive- and powertrains to die for. All of this was promised. So, moving from a spectacular German show stand to South Africa's gloriously potholed roads, how does the latest generation Accord stand up?
Firstly, the styling. It's bolder and more aggressive than the previous model could ever have dreamed of. Gone are the "excuse me please" lines and curves. This Accord stands out with its bold architecture and sharp lines that could easily have been swathed with the sword of the imaginary Samurai warrior.
Even the light clusters are a bit oriental - the rear housing in particular appears to have been modeled on the same warrior's headgear or something.
And Honda was not being entirely modest about the quality of the interior either. It's plastic, but its really classy plastic, feeling almost leathery to the touch.
Designers could perhaps have been more imaginative with the interior styling. While extremely neat and functional, the facia does recall several elements already seen in the seventh generation model.
But the seats are all-new (electric seats even have memory function) and, lower by about 10 mm with extra bolstering around the shoulder area, are infinitely comfortable for those longer journeys.
And after experiencing the glamorous show stands at the Geneva Motor Show just a few months ago, the sedan did seem to endure the torturous local roads on the 200-km launch route quite well.
Under the bonnet
Two four-cylinder powerplants are offered at launch - an all-new 2.0-litre unit and a revised version of the current 2.4-litre. Both are mated with a six-speed manual gearbox (previously reserved for the 2.4-litre) and a new five-speed automatic gearbox.
We were allowed a go in the 2.0-litre matched with the manual transmission, I would purchase this with the awesome new auto with very slick paddle controls.
Power is slightly up on the latest 2.0-litre delivering 115 ;kW at 6 ;300 r/min and peak torque of 192 ;Nm on tap at 4 ;300 ;r/min.
This engine is now fitted with a single overhead camshaft for better efficiency and cleaner emissions, while the diameter of the intake valves have been increased and valve lift and timing tweaked.
A very capable unit, this engine hauls the car - which tips the scales at close to 1.5 tonne - with great aplomb requiring just a bit of gearlever-churning to top out the steeper sections.
I'd take it with the awesome new auto' though, which we had a chance to experience in the 2.4-litre model.
The new five-speed automatic comes with steering wheel-mounted paddle controls and the innovative "kick down click control" that is said to prevent hunting when left in fully manual mode.
Although it has a straight-gate shift, Sports mode allows changes up or down by using the paddles. You are able to use the paddles in straight auto mode too, gearing down to beat a truck, for instance, but the gearbox will continue to shift for you should you just leave it to its own devices.
The revised 2.4-litre is more powerful than its predecessor 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.
Aiding this, the engine's compression ration has been increased to 11.0:1 and larger diameter valves and revised valve timing has been employed. Valve lift timing has also been optimsed.
This translates to an engine that is extremely tractable and makes for wonderful distance cruising,
Make no mistake, while the Honda Accord is hard to fault, it is not infallible.
On the road
The new electric power steering system has been mapped to be super-light at parking speeds while offering meatier weighing at speed. Parking speeds were no issue, although the steering could perhaps have been a bit heavier, feeling distant on the straights while it tended to get a bit jittery at speed.
Road holding is a marvel. For such a large car it squats and lunges into the quickest corners with zero issues.
New Accord benefits from a revised suspension using a new floating sub-frame at the rear, which benefits NVH properties, and lowers the centre of gravity for reduced roll at the limit.
A turbodiesel engine does not form part of the original line-up, Honda SA's general manager for sales and marketing Graham Eagle confirmed that a "redeveloped" diesel unit would become available with both automatic and manual transmissions from early next year.
Eagle noted that the diesel unit is currently a top-seller in European markets, but that it could not yet be offered in South Africa with an automatic gearbox.
- 2.0 VTEC man - R237 500
- 2.0 VTEC Auto - R250 500
- 2.4 VTEC man - R280 000
- 2.4 VTEC Auto - R293 000