In the last few years the Honda Accord has led a rather quiet presence. New competitors such as the Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry and the Mazda6 meant that a model that was once at the head of the pack was overshadowed by the new challengers.
Judging by our drive through the city, the open highway and back country winding roads, not anymore. Not this all new Honda Accord.
Launched to lead
Honda Cars Philippines, Inc. invited the press to the Blue Leaf Filipinas to witness the official launch of the next generation Honda Accord last January 27.
Truth be told, a former executive of the company had indicated to us that the Accord should have been launched around the third quarter of 2013, but due to existing stocks -not to mention the marketing needed for all new model- HCPI chose to hold off their flagship sedan until the time was right.
Looking at it in the metal for the first time, it was clear that the Accord went in a different direction than the rest. The Accord didn't look it upon launch in a dimly lit ballroom, but once you took it out on to the sun, everything changes. The design itself is not what we would call sporty or high-tech like much of the competition did. If anything, the new exec car went back to its roots and dug deep design-wise, as it looks more stately, more dignified, more classy than ever.
Instead of aggressive edges, fancy paint finishes and ultra modern details, the new Accord has a well sculpted body with measured lines, a wide presence and a simple but immaculate paintwork. Funny, the Accord reminds me of a Lexus; yes, that's a compliment.
Inside the cabin, the Accord impresses not because of the amount of tech put in, but by a feel of quality befitting cars twice the price. The leather, the materials, the build quality, the overall feeling of stateliness combine to produce a car that makes you feel you've arrived.
Of course, the Accord is not all about perceptions, and Honda is about to demonstrate what it can really do.
Lead in the city
Our drive started just hours after Honda Cars Philippines took off the wraps atop the Accord. Our route would take us through some of the roughest of Metro Manila's streets; and by 'rough', I don't mean just the actual pavement.
From Blue Leaf Filipinas near Manila Bay, we were to drive along the smooth pavement of Macapagal, bumpy Roxas Boulevard, turn right at the Metropolitan Museum, enter Quiapo, brave the truck-infested street known as A. Bonifacio and hopefully exit onto the North Luzon Expressway unscathed; all on a Monday afternoon. On these busy, pockmarked and chaotic city streets do we get to truly appreciate the improvements made to the all new Honda Accord.
To say the Accord has improved leaps and bounds is an understatement, and I mean that in more ways than one, as it seems the work that went into the Accord go far under the skin. Engineers and marketers can talk all they can about how a new model is better than the old one, but only when you actually ride or drive it do you realize what has actually changed.
Initially I was behind the wheel of the 2.4 liter Earth Dreams-engined Accord, and I zeroed the fuel eco computer to get an idea what kind of economy we were actually doing. As it stood, and with moderate to heavy Manila traffic, the Accord's readouts range north of 7.5 km/l and just under 8.3 km/l. Mind you, we weren't being economical, but of course only a full test can verify these respectable numbers.
The suspension has been significantly optimized for ride comfort, as evidenced by the way the car feels over our rough and cratered streets. The vibrations normally associated with rough concrete is suppressed with ease and, thanks to some clever noise-cancelling electronics and impressive insulation, you can carry a conversation inside with ease or choose to relax while the driver takes care of the wheel work. Also of note is the liquid-filled subframe mounts that absorb much of the rough stuff.
If you do like peace and quiet though, you might want to shut off the sensors around the car that detect everything from trucks to motorcycles; they have a tendency to go a bit mad when someone gets really close.
Lead on the open road
Once out of the city, we found ourselves on the wide open highway. Finally, a chance to stretch the Accord's legs.
This still being the 2.4, what was remarkable is the smooth acceleration from the Earth Dreams inline-4 engine that makes 175 PS. Unlike the U.S. version of the 2.4L Accord, the local version gets a 5-speed automatic and not the continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Like in the city, the Accord's manners on the NLEX is a combination of stability and smoothness. One remarkable bit is the way it rides over the rather degraded state of the SCTEX; particularly over the abrupt drops from the bridges before Subic. Simply put, the revised suspension absorbs the 'jumps' with confidence and without a bounce or a bit of float.
The fuel economy on the highway? A very decent 11.6 kilometers to the liter, and that was achieved on a steady but not-so-frugal cruise.
Lead in the corners
After a night at Anvaya Cove we headed on back, this time via the route that takes us through most of Bataan, particularly through the road that leads us right to the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. This time, I found myself in the driver's seat of the Honda Accord with the 3.5 liter Earth Dreams V6 engine.
Right from the start, the car feels different. You can feel that the engine has plenty of power at your right foot's disposal, as 281 PS is nothing to scoff at. Out of Anvaya's speed controlled roads and onto the twisties, the V6 Accord simply pulls and pulls and pulls, thanks to the response offered by the direct injection system and the 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
In the mountains and with the manual mode activated, the Accord maintains a composure that is rarely felt in large cars. By the seat of my pants, feeling the way the Accord controls its own weight and its tires, I would say it's far better than the local Camry, putting its performance to one that mimics the drive of something like the Mazda6... and with more power.
Turn after turn, tighter and tighter the road gets, the Honda flagship doesn't blink. The performance is always there while the agility from the suspension and the stiff unibody is impressive, to say the least. The active electronic sound suppression also works well to take care of the wind noise from the mirrors and the wipers. Something to note is how external accessories, particularly the window visors on the 3.5L V6 version overpower the noise suppression system.
Out of the twisty stuff and back on the SCTEX from Dinalupihan, the Accord impresses again. The same suspension and NVH manners we loved with the 2.4 are the same on the 3.5, albeit with more power.
The best part, however, is the Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) which can hold the car on a steady cruise while using just 3 or 4 cylinders out of the 6. As it stood, the Accord V6 achieved 12.6 kilometers per liter as per the trip computer. Again, only a full test will reveal what it can do, but these preliminary readouts are a good indicator at what the Earth Dreams is all about.
Back, in top form
The last generation of the Honda Accord found itself in a rather tough spot. While a great driver's car, the previous model didn't have the ride comfort or the rear-focused comfort that owners of this kind of car needed; after all, most midsize sedan (Camry/Accord/Teana/Galant) owners tend to ride in the back, only electing to drive once in a while.
The new Accord makes riding in the back so easy and so comfortable. Rear sunshades ensure privacy and comfort from the hot, tropical sun. The noise suppression is top notch. The legroom is excellent. Honda even fitted a seat control panel for the right-front passenger so that you can easily move it forward for even more legroom in the back as with some variants of the Camry.
Yes, the back seat is where it's at.
Made to impress
When corporate marketing teams talk about an all new model, they usually focus on things like better mileage, more power, more torque, more space, more cupholders or some revolutionary new stitching on the leather. Not this new Accord.
All the improvements over the old model have been made to bring the car in line to what it was supposed to be in the first place: a market leader. The previous model fell a little short of that mark, what with the Camry, the Sonata and the new Mazda6.
Honda went back to the drawing board to engineer a car that delivers what its primary customer base wants out of it: style, refinement, power and comfort; the fact that it's actually quite efficient (thanks to VCM and Earth Dreams) is a great plus.
As impressive as the 2014 Honda Accord is, only a true group test will see which midsize sedan can truly reign supreme. For now and from where I'm sitting -in the back seat of this new exec ride- Honda has delivered an Accord that will find many different ways to impress.