Singapore, one degree seventeen minutes North. A lush tropical urban paradise that’s neat, clean and normally bathed in brilliant sunshine. But not today. Layer upon layer of dark clouds blot out the sun and the rain is now hissing down. Then, just to make things a bit more exciting, the wind picks up. It feels like I’m standing in a carwash.
The new Accord looks like it has just stepped out of a pool. Rivulets of water run down its muscular flanks and immediately, I see lines and forms not visible at first glance. It’s just so much nicer in the flesh. To begin with, Honda has got the overall balance of the car right again. I say “again” because the earlier generation Accord felt unnecessarily oversized and flabby. But this new one is tight, athletic and lean.
The biggest difference dimensionally is that the nose is more compact. There’s nothing particularly fresh about it, but the manner in which the thick band of chrome gives the grille an air of three dimensionality looks attractive. And I like how the twin ridges on the bonnet smoothly spill over to the wheel arches. The roof also has a nice flow to it when viewed in profile, especially the raked rear windscreen. And I just love how those big 18-inch alloys help it ‘sit’ nicely on the road. The new Accord, however, looks too plain and generic from the rear, the design clearly from Honda’s “offend no one” style sheet.
The new ninth generation Accord is also a bit more compact and is built on a slightly shorter wheelbase. Honda says this has been done to make the new car more agile. Next on the list of big changes over the old car is an increase in chassis rigidity, also done to make the car sharper to drive. Now made of almost 60 percent high-strength steel, the new Accord is a massive 40 percent (on average) stiffer than the earlier car. There’s also an all-new strut-based front suspension, a new aluminium and steel front sub-frame for improved suspension location and a new electric power steering system.
IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT
Since it is still raining stair rods, we head in the direction of Singapore’s Changi airport, in search of faster, traffic-free roads. Sure, the perfectly manicured city streets and disciplined driving are all very well, but I’m keen to see if Honda’s “better to drive” stand holds any water – frankly, it is a claim made by every second new car we test.
Time to climb in and get a move on, but the precision with which the door opens and closes gets my attention. I open and close it a few times, as you would, and am seriously impressed. It’s no Mercedes E-class and lacks some of that car’s ‘weighty’ feel, but the shut-lines are so tight,
the seam between the doors all but disappears when you close it. And I just love the way it ‘clacks’ home. Once seated, I squeeze the starter button and set off.
First impressions: well, it’s definitely a Honda, and I mean that in a nice way. It feels light and effortless to steer through traffic, and despite its XL proportions, the 2.4-litre motor feels reasonably strong. The engine is really smooth and there’s plenty of zing as you spin it harder. This Accord also has something that was missing on the earlier car – a pleasing ‘oneness’ and cohesiveness to how it drives.
As we head out of the city, wipers slapping away the rain, the Accord picks up pace and starts to reveal itself in layers. Cabin insulation feels better right off the bat. The outsides feel a bit more removed and muffled in comparison to the old car and even the suspension feels nice and quiet as we encounter some poor patches of road. Much of the credit for this must go to the now stiffer chassis. Also making a difference is the active noise cancellation system; microphones in the roof pick up noises that are then played back in reverse over the speakers to cancel things like engine noise and road roar. Ride quality also feels improved. Some of the short, sharp movements you expect in a Honda are still there, but they are few and far between. And it sails over some really rough patches we suddenly encounter pretty easily too.
As the roads open out, I begin to use more of the engine’s 173bhp. As with most Honda motors, this engine gets better the faster I wind it. There’s a bit of a dead zone around 2000rpm, but hang on for a bit and the motor gets well and truly into its stride by around 4000rpm, the Accord shooting forward impressively. By 5000rpm, things start to get more manic and by 6000rpm, the engine takes on a harder edge, the spike in power considerable. The best bit, of course, is the free-revving nature of the engine which, rather than slowing down towards the top, accelerates as the tachometer needle climbs up the dial. As ever, using all the revs on a Honda engine is addictive.
Overall performance, however, is similar to that of the current car. While the 2.4 seems familiar if you look at the spec sheet, this is actually a new and improved engine from the Earth Dreams range. Unlike the US-spec car, we in Asia don’t get the direct injection system or the CVT automatic gearbox because both are more expensive. So performance feels similar. Still, the engine is more than up to the task, especially if you are willing to wind it hard and, like the earlier Accord and the one before it, there’s plenty of fun to be had.
What isn’t nice to use is the conventional five-speed automatic gearbox. Yes, if all you want to do is drive in a relaxed manner, this gearbox is alright, I guess. It comes with sporty paddles and will hold on to a gear, so you have greater control when exiting corners. But demand a quick shift and it disappoints. This is especially irritating on open roads like those on the outskirts of Singapore, where you want to unleash all the power of the engine. Problem is, the gap between ratios is a bit too wide, especially in this age of seven- and eight-speed automatics, and to make matters worse, the box itself is a bit dim-witted and slow. And that just saps performance.
The rain has stopped and the roads are now drying out. I backtrack to a picturesque bay we’ve passed a few minutes ago – the route takes me over a small hill that has some really nice corners, a luxury in Singapore. So I put the gearbox in manual and put my foot down. I’m already impressed with the new Accord’s feeling of iron-fisted stability at speed and though I’ve only scratched the surface, the manner in which it turns into corners is pretty impressive too. The road ahead, however, is a bit more challenging. More old school and less uniform in construction, it dips and dives suddenly and corners often tuck in on themselves unexpectedly as well. The full-sized Accord will really have its work cut out.
As I get more comfortable behind the wheel, I give the Accord more stick and expect it to get loose and ‘fall apart’. But, to my surprise, the harder I go, the more confidence the new Accord inspires. The steering is quick, nicely weighted and very precise, and the manner in which the Accord scythes through a series of corners has me really scratching my head. Is it really that good? I perform another U-turn, driving the GPS a bit batty, and go back up the hill with more resolve. And the Accord seems to enjoy the extra pace even more. It’s no BMW 3-series, but there’s still a degree of nimbleness and balance that emerges when you ask it to perform, and that feels really good.
TIME FOR AN UPGRADE
Finally we stop. The light is perfect to take some shots of the cabin, and it seems like a good time to inspect the interiors. Indian car buyers have always loved the space and comfort the Accord provides, and they are unlikely to be disappointed here. Space is huge, despite the shorter wheelbase. There’s just as much legroom, due to more efficient interior packaging, and shoulder and head room are also improved. I climb in the back, where many Accord owners in India will sit, and am immediately comfortable. Thigh and back support is super, the seat has just the right amount of firmness and there’s plenty of space for my legs. What’s also nice is that Honda has improved the quality of the doorpads – it feels much more like a luxury car now.
Also significantly improved is the new, more upmarket dashboard. No, the insides don’t ‘pop’ and make you go all weak in the knees as they do on an Audi, but the luxury car vibe here is real. Wood accents, leather and chrome have been blended in a classy manner and the layered centre console with its twin screens is nicely designed. Yes, there are a few cheap bits, but the insides feel so upmarket in general, it’s a pleasant surprise. And the Accord is well-equipped too. There’s an electrically operated rear sunshade, touchscreen controls, a system that mirrors your phone on the touchscreen (HondaLink), lane departure warning and an Eco driver mode.
Honda’s spacious Accord, at one time, was one of the most popular full-sized executive cars in India. It delivered a lot of car for the money, and Indian customers loved it. Today, that corner of the market has become more luxury oriented. Honda’s answer is this nicer-looking, more luxuriously appointed and better-driving new Accord. Expected here at between Rs 26 and 30 lakh, it is unlikely to fundamentally change the dynamics of the market when launched towards the second half of the year. But if you are looking for a comfortable, nice-to-drive and well-equipped car that also offers an added dose of dependability and bulletproof reliability, this could be it.