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Honda Accord 2.2 i-DTEC EX GT Automatic

Click to view picture galleryThe new Honda Accord range now
  has an automatic transmission
  option to go with its latest second-
  generation 2.2 i-DTEC diesel engine.
  This is the first time Honda has
  ever offered any diesel car with an
  automatic transmission. But does
  it make it a better drive?

THE NEW HONDA ACCORD, both in saloon and Tourer estate forms, arrived in the UK in 2008 with a much bolder styling, a higher interior quality and added specification intended to move the product closer to the premium end of the upper medium sector home of the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

The Honda Accord Saloon and Tourer models sell in the upper medium sector of the new car market — Mondeo land. In addition to the Ford product, this segment is dominated by new models: the Accord itself, the Toyota Avensis, Vauxhall Insignia, Citroen C5 and Renault Laguna. Then there are the older players such as the Lexus IS 220d, Peugeot 407 and VW Passat as well as the three premium German brands.

The range includes 2.0 and 2.4-litre petrol engines and the second generation 2.2-litre, Euro 5-compliant turbodiesel unit. Whilst an automatic transmission was available for petrol powered models, until now the diesel variants were manual transmission only and that left a big hole in their line-up. That gap is now filled with Honda's first ever automatic transmission for a diesel-engined car.

Also new is a much-improved, muscular and sporty body design. Not only does the new Accord feel roomier, but it benefits from the better levels of equipment — targeted at the main type of user, the company car driver.

There are ES and EX specification levels with standard and GT versions of those. The GT is the most popular; Honda feels users like the larger wheels, added sports trim and sports suspension that GT spec offers. Bearing in mind their business customers, and the long hours these users tend to spend behind the wheel, work tools such as Bluetooth connectivity, Navigation packs and the Technology pack are logically featured options. The Technology pack is an Advanced Driver Assist System which includes adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, lane keeping warning assist, HID Xenon headlamps and an automatic headlight height and washer system.

I have just tried the new Honda Accord Saloon in 2.2 i-DTEC EX GT Automatic spec — this top of the range saloon version carries a hefty 27,824 price tag. Bearing in mind company car benefit in kind tax, I would look lower down the price list and go for the ES non-GT version at around 22,400.

I must admit that I'm no great fan of the Honda GT specification: the sports suspension provides a ride which is much too firm; and the road noise is high from the wider tyres and wheels. Also, the front, rear and side skirts of the sports body kit look like add-ons and are not integrated into the bodyshell anywhere near as well as similar items are on the sporty Audi, BMW and Mercedes models.

However, the new automatic gearbox with the 2.2-litre 148bhp turbodiesel engine is an ideal combination. The new electronically-controlled five-speed automatic transmission uses the 258lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm really well. The gear changes are fast and smooth and they make the most of high torque at low speeds.

The auto transmission system also has steering column paddle shifts in addition to the conventional shift selector lever. The new auto makes for a refined and relaxing drive although it does blunt outright acceleration over the manual transmission models. Top speed is 129mph and 0-62mph takes 10.3 seconds against the manual's 136mph and 0-62mph in 9.6 seconds. That said, it's no longer a key consideration — on today's congested roads, comfort and refinement and a less tiring drive have come to be more important than outright speed.

And as for fuel economy? My test car returned a very good 34.7mpg and that was in the recent bitter cold spell which plays havoc with mpg figures. Officially, this car will return 44.1mpg with CO2 figures of 170g/km, giving it a VED Band E rating costing 170. For the record, this is one Band higher than the 148g/km of CO2 (Band C; 120 rating) of manual transmission Accord saloon models.

The availability of an automatic gearbox with a diesel engine is an important addition to the range for business drivers and, later in the car's life, to retail buyers. However, it makes the Accord even more expensive to buy and owners pay higher VED charges. And unless you like a very firm ride, steer clear of GT sports suspension models. In it's favour the Accord automaic is refined and easy and relaxing to drive. — David Miles

Honda Accord 2.2 i-DTEC EX GT Automatic
| 27,824
Maximum speed: 129mph | 0-62mph: 10.3 seconds | Overall test MPG: 34.7mpg
Power: 148bhp | Torque: 258lb ft | CO2 170g/km | Insurance group 11E