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Click to view road test review picture galleryHonda has pitched
  its sharp-suited new
  Accord up-market,
  to challenge the likes
  of the Audi A4, BMW 3
  Series, Lexus IS and
  Mercedes C-Class...”


THE OUTGOING HONDA ACCORD SALOON and Tourer models have long competed for sales with the Volkswagen Passat and top specification Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra models. But when the revised Accord Saloon range goes on sale this June (2008), Honda UK expects their latest offering to compete in the same sector but at the premium end of it against the likes of the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Lexus IS. The new Honda Accord Tourer estate models won't be far behind their saloon stablemates; they join the line-up in September.

The new Accord has sharper styling, improved specification, com-prehensive safety systems and Euro V emission-compliant engines — but the price has increased by an average eight per cent across the range. However, part of this increase could be offset by improved residual values: the best-selling 2.2 i-DTEC ES GT Saloon will retain
43 per cent of its purchase price over the usual 36 month/60,000 mile period — a figure only beaten by the Audi A4 2.0 TDI S Line, which is forecast to return 45 per cent.

However, whereas the outgoing Accord models started at 17,827 for the saloons and 18,377 for the estate models, the new range begins at 19,260 for the ES Saloon and the entry-level ES Tourer estate costs from 20,560.

Honda says the significant price increases have been brought about because of the new car's added size, improved qualities, specification, image and the adoption of the latest Euro V engine technologies; the 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel unit is totally new. All these elements combine, Honda says, to justify their claim that the new Accord is now a 'premium' model.

Honda also admits the new Accord's styling is an evolution of the current model, although it's significantly wider and slightly lower than its predecessor. The new Accord adopts a 'sharp-edged' design with muscular wheel arches to emphasise the car's wider track.

Honda UK expects to sell 10,000 new Accord models in the UK in a full year — an increase over the 8,033 achieved by the previous versions. Sixty per cent of those sales will go to the business/corporate sector against forty per cent at present. It is expected that diesel sales will account for 70 per cent of sales, and 70 per cent of all new Accord sales will be for Saloon models. Adding further to the diesel's appeal, an automatic transmission option will, next year, be offered for the first time on diesel-powered Accord models.

Last year in the UK Honda achieved their highest ever annual sales of 106,000 cars. This year their target is 110,000 units. Last month, the new 08 registration peak selling month, Honda UK achieved their highest ever March sales with 21,862 registrations: an increase of 4.58 per cent. Year-to-date, their UK sales are 32,099 — nearly one per cent up on last year.

So, if bold, muscular good looks, sharp styling lines, sculptured body panels and a wide stance all wrapped around a stiffer body powered by more fuel- and CO2-efficient engines really do add 'value', then per-haps Honda UK can justify the average eight per cent price increase over the outgoing range.

But increasing the price and making the car more visually impressive does not, by itself, guarantee premium status being achieved against the likes of the new Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Saloon prices, as already mentioned, start from 19,260 and the Tourer from 20,560. Those wanting the new 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel engine will pay a steep 1,800 more for this engine over the 2.0-litre petrol unit.

Making its debut in the new Accord, Honda's second-generation diesel engine — the i-DTEC — builds on the recognised refinement of the award-winning i-CTDi unit. Not only is the new diesel more powerful — delivering 148bhp at 4,000rpm — it also offers cleaner emissions and is smoother to drive.

Like its predecessor, the new all-aluminium i-DTEC engine is compact, lightweight, refined and quiet in operation. It employs the latest piezoelectric multi-stage fuel injection technology, more efficient exhaust gas recirculation and a particulate filter for significantly-reduced emissions. Peak torque is now 258lb ft at 2,000rpm.

Second of the three engine options is the 2.0-litre petrol i-VTEC
which serves up 154bhp at 6,300rpm while also improving on its fuel economy.

The third engine option is the 2.4-litre i-VTEC engine. It, too, is more powerful — delivering a respectable 197bhp at 7,000rpm and peak torque of 187lb ft at 4,500rpm.

All three engines are mated to a six-speed manual transmission but both petrol engines have the option of a 5-speed automatic. The automatic gearbox for the i-DTEC engine will not be launched until early 2009.

Manual models feature a Shift Indicator Light which appears in the centre of the rev counter: 'UP' or 'DOWN' graphics are displayed to cue the driver of the optimum point, in terms of best fuel economy, at which to change gear. Honda says tests have demonstrated fuel savings of as much as five per cent when drivers follow these prompts.

To create a more involving and communicative drive, the Accord development team used the highly-rated BMW 3 Series as a benchmark and Honda says enthusiastic drivers will appreciate the new and larger Accord's greater agility. A lowered centre of gravity, a wider track and the all-new front double wishbone and rear multilink suspension with variable rate dampers, plus greater body rigidity, should mean the Accord more readily reacts to driver input. Handling is sharper and more responsive; body roll is still evident but has been reduced over the previous Accord, and the ride is much softer than the BMW 3 Series.

Speed-sensitive electric power steering is standard on all models and a quicker steering ratio has also been adopted, but the feedback is still muted for enthusiastic drivers who prefer sharper reactions to their input.

Inside, the new Accord has a more driver-focused cabin with a dash-board that extends from the centre console to sweep around the front seats, creating a cockpit-like design. The added width of the car has allowed this without intruding on driver or passenger space, thus maxi-mising comfort levels.

The dash itself features 'floating' backlit instruments with an LCD multi-information display contained within the centre of the speedometer face. Controls positioned on the steering wheel allow the driver to cycle the display through multiple screens of information. A new feature is a service reminder that presents the driver with either the distance or days remaining to a required service, with an enlarged warning symbol appearing when the due date is imminent.

The three-spoke steering wheel follows a similar design to that of recent Honda models, and holds a complete suite of controls — including audio, cruise control and mobile telephone control. It is fully adjustable for reach and rake, with an extra 10 degrees of tilt adjustment compared to the previous Accord.

The new front seats are stylish and more supportive, with larger bol-sters, and they have a new internal structure designed to reduce any transmission of vibration. The rear row of seats offers plenty of width for three adult passengers. Although the wheelarches intrude too far into the estate's limited load carrying width, the Tourer estate models still have a reasonable load area. However, would-be Accord Tourer buyers will like the rear-end styling of the new model: with its wide track and muscular wheelarches, it's very Audi Avant.

Clever storage solutions ensure the Accord is as practical as ever, including two centre console side pockets, a lidded storage area to the side of the steering wheel, large front door pockets able to hold bottles and maps, bottle holders in the rear door panels and a large centre console box.

The Accord's passive safety features include front seatbelt pre-ten-sioners and load limiters, dual-stage front airbags, driver and front passenger side airbags, full-length curtain airbags and Isofix fittings and tether anchor points for secure childseat fixture on all models. There are also active headrests for the front seats.

As well as a host of passive safety features, the new Accord has a comprehensive array of dynamic systems delivering even greater security. Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) is standard across the range and is designed to assist the driver in maintaining control during cornering, acceleration and other sudden manoeuvres by applying braking to the right- or left-hand wheels as necessary and modulating the engine torque output as required.

The new Accord also features an innovative system that utilises both VSA and the car's Electric Power Steering. Called Motion Adaptive
EPS, it detects instability in slippery conditions both during cornering and under braking and automatically initiates steering inputs aimed to prompt the driver to steer in the correct direction.

The 'prompting' input is barely noticeable and control of the steering remains with the driver at all times. But this additional steering torque is enough to persuade the driver to act intuitively and the driver's resulting reaction is enough to regain stability or to shorten braking distances, allowing control to be maintained.

Another important feature of Honda's VSA is Trailer Stability Assist which, by using a combination of reduced engine torque and selective braking, ensures that the vehicle is slowed to a safe and stable speed if snaking should occur while towing.

Honda continues to bring its latest safety technology to more drivers by offering an updated version of ADAS (Advanced Driving Assist System) as an option — and for the first time this will feature CMBS (Collision Mitigation Braking System).

To sum up, not such good news is the significant increase in purchase price, 'comfort' handling, some cheap-looking finishes to interior trim and, in the Tourer's load area, too much wheelarch intrusion. On the plus side there's Honda build quality and technical engineering, new muscular looks, more interior space (including a 460-litre boot), new strong and quiet diesel engine, lower servicing/parts costs and improved residual values.

So, from its new nose to its new tail via its much larger and more impressive muscular body, the latest Honda Accord has moved up in class and quality as well as price. In addition, being a Honda, you know it is well put together. But I'm not totally convinced all the top quality ingredients are going to guarantee it a huge slice of the premium D-segment cake against the entrenched players from Audi, BMW and Mercedes. Nonetheless, it's a worthy effort and one that will benefit Honda-driving customers. — David Miles

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Honda Accord 2.2 i-DTEC ES GT | 21,910
Maximum speed: 134mph | 0-62mph: 9.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 51.6mpg | Power: 148bhp | Torque: 258
lb ft
CO2 148g/km | Insurance group 10E
honda.co.uk

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----------------------------------------------------- Honda Accord 2.2 i-DTEC