By: Dave Abrahams
Cape Town - The launch of South Africa's third-generation Accord sedan this week marks a major change in direction for Honda's D-segment sedan.
The previous two SA-market Accords were actually the European versions, built on the same platform but with a significantly shorter wheelbase and completely different styling. The top model had a hard-revving 2.4-litre four and it was pitched as a 'sporty sedan'.
But, as Honda SA marketing director Graham Eagle admitted in his launch presentation, without rear-wheel drive, umpteen cylinders and lots and lots of kilowatts, South African buyers don't recognise the sporting credentials of a premium sedan and, with no more rear legroom than its German competitors, it lost out on the family front as well.
So now, for the first time in South Africa, we are getting the full-cream American flavour, with 70mm more wheelbase (all of it between the front and rear seats, more supple suspension (note that we didn't say soft) a bit more chrome, inside and out, than we are used to from this maker and, crucially, a revised engine line-up, each driving the front wheels through either a five or six-speed auto transmission.
There is no manual option, even for the entry-level two-litre variant, which says a lot about where Honda is going with this model.
The understated two-litre four in the Elegance model has been carried over from the previous range, and is rated at the same 114kW and 190Nm, taking the bigger 2014 Accord body from 0-100km/h in a claimed 11.7 seconds and on to 200km/h, at a cost of 7.5 litres per 100km in the combined cycle and 178g/km of CO2.
This quiet, silky-smooth smooth prime mover turned out to be the pick of the litter. As the official numbers suggest, it's no ball of fire, but it's always willing to give of its best, with a laid-back power delivery that never sounds like it's working hard. That's partly due, we suspect, to tall gearing that reduces fuel consumption and gives the Elegance surprisingly long legs; a couple of times on the launch drive we unexpectedly found ourselves cruising on the naughty side of 140 and had to back off smartish.
The all-new 2.4 engine in the Executive variant, by contrast, replaces the previous 7000rpm range-topping overachiever with Earth Dreams technology developed to boost mid-range torque at the expense of top end power. Peak power of 132kW comes in at 6200 revs, max torque of 225Nm at 4000rpm; the Executive hits 100km/h 10.6 seconds after leaving the line, and average fuel consumption is quoted at 8.1 litres per 100km, CO2 emission at 192g/km.
ALL ABOUT HIGH TECH
While we don't doubt that the new 2.4 does exactly what it says on the tin - mid-range acceleration in particular, is impressive - it presents a gruff and growly persona that seems at odds with the new Accord's upscale pretensions.
The flagship 3471cc V6, on the other hand, is all about high tech; its outputs of 207kW at 6200rpm and 339Nm at 4900 are accompanied by splendidly musical feedback from the airbox, using Honda's i-VTec valve technology and variable cylinder management whereby the transverse V6 runs either on all six, the outer four or just the front bank of three cylinders, depending on output requirements.
The conflicting vibration patterns this produces are taken care of by 28-volt active engine mounts and the results are to all intents and purposes seamless; we never spotted the changeovers. The V6 has a six-speed auto 'box with paddle shift and gets up to 100km/h in 7.2 seconds, while averaging 9.2 litres per 100km and 217 g/km of CO2.
The previous model's hydraulic power steering has given way to electrical assistance, which is a little remote - as electric power steering usually is - but pleasantly weighted and accurate enough to steer a tight line through seriously potholed sections of what Sanral dismissively refers to as secondary roads.
Suspension is entrusted to the ubiquitous Macpherson front struts and a sophisticated multilink rear set-up that soaks up bumps and ripples like an Irishman might Guinness, without permitting the Accord to indulge in any unseemly mechanical twerking. I did get the 2.4 to do a mild 'hippy hippy shake' on a downhill sweeper that had some nasty bumps - but I'll admit I was pedalling a little harder than was prudent.
Even then, the restful ambience of life at Chateau Accord was scarcely disturbed. The furniture is neatly trimmed in black leather throughout the range, with centre armrests force and aft, and electrical adjustment and heating for the front seats.
Lateral support (literally) gives way to comfort, with sumptuous rather than firm seat bolsters that also make entrance and exit a painless exercise. There's quite a bit of typically American would-be wood veneer and chrome-coloured plastic trim on the console and centre stack, but it doesn't look out of place on the broadest version yet of Honda's 'layered' fascia layout - the auto aircon controls are flush with the surface while the multi-information colour display above it is deeply inset to reduce glare, creating an unholy temptation to use it as an oddments tray.
Fit and finish are superb, with no hard-plastic surfaces anywhere apparent to the touch; sound level, station choice and cruise control are done from the leather-trimmed steering wheel, while more sophisticated setting are inputted via the as simple and intuitive 'rotate-and-push' controller on the driver's side of the audio system.
Bluetooth, USB and Aux connections are a given, as are six speakers, with remarkably effective sub-woofers added to Executive and Exclusive derivatives. But the most striking thing about the sound level inside the new Accord is the lack of it.
Honda has used an unprecedented variety of sound-deadening materials and additional rubber door seals to keep roads and wind noise out. Interior mikes monitor the frequency and amplitude of what does get in and emit 'white noise' of the same frequency, but 180 degrees out of phase, so that the two cancel each other out.
You can't hear it - in fact you hardly hear anything at all; the new Accord is close to limousine levels of interior hush.
There's plenty of that, including parking sensors at both ends, a rear-view camera, power windows, trailer stability assist and LED daytime running lights. The Executive adds an electric sunroof, keyless entry and starting, and auto headlight dipping and cornering lights, while the Exclusive boasts adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and a tiny camera in the passenger side mirror that shows you (on the centre display) exactly what's coming up on the blind side, as soon as you switch on the left indicator.
2.0 Elegance - R389 000
2.4 Executive - R449 000
3.5 V6 Exclusive - R549 000
These include a three-year or 100 000km warranty and a five-year or 90 000km service plan for four-cylinder models, and a five-year or 100 000km service plan for the V6 - that's because the V6's service intervals are 10 000km, whereas the fours can go 15 000km before they have to go home to mommy.