The Honda Accord V6 Luxury is an odd mix of very good – and quite poor.
On the ‘good’ side of the ledger can be listed the 3.5 litre V6 engine and 5-speed auto transmission, fuel economy, build quality, price and refinement.
On the ‘poor’ side are steering feel and dry road grip.
And in between the extremes are ride quality and boot space.
The Accord V6 is certainly a polarising vehicle: those who value driving dynamics will hate it; those that want a smooth engine and good response (but slow down for every corner) will love it.
The new Accord is the eighth generation of the nameplate. Built in Thailand (as is the case with most of the Hondas sold in Australia), the Accord is available with either a 2.4 litre four cylinder or the rousing 3.5 litre V6. (Note: the ‘Accord’ nameplate is also used on the Accord Euro: a completely different, smaller, car.) The four cylinder Accords start at $29,990, while the V6 is available in two iterations – the base model at $38,490 and the Luxury priced at $46,990. We drove the Luxury.
Built in eight countries and sold in an amazing 160 countries, the Accord is truly a world car. However, it is the North American market that dominates sales, and the car is clearly engineered, styled and designed primarily for that market.
Here in Australia, Honda sees the competitors for the V6 as the large Australian-made family cars – Commodore, Falcon and Aurion. The comparison is valid – the Accord is a big car. In fact, it is longer than any of these competitors although, significantly, it is also narrower than the Commodore and Falcon. With 202kW, the Accord has more power than the other naturally aspirated six cylinders – but with peak torque developed at an amazingly high 5000 rpm, looking at just the maximum power figure is misleading. In V6 Luxury form, the Accord has a mass of 1650kg.
Honda suggests that a buyer of the Accord will typically come from one of three groups: “the growing empty nesters, business executives and younger family buyers of large cars”. This reflects a marketing move away from the previous model that was directed more at older buyers. The company also suggests that the choice of an Accord is likely to be driven by the car’s fuel economy. This is an interesting perspective to take, given that the Aurion actually has a fractionally better government test fuel figure (9.9 litres/100km) than the Accord (10.0). At 10.1 litres/100km, the six cylinder FG Falcon is also near-identical.
But enough of the paper data: what’s the car like to live with?
Well firstly, the engine is a technological powerhouse.
It’s a SOHC-per-bank design that uses cylinder deactivation (termed by Honda ‘Variable Cylinder Management’). This allows the engine to run on three cylinders (the rear bank is shut down), four cylinders (right cylinder of front bank and left cylinder of rear bank shut down), or all six cylinders. The fuel economy advantages of this approach result from the reduced pumping losses – both intake and exhaust valves of the deactivated cylinders are closed and so the engine literally pumps less air through the intake and exhaust system, improving efficiency.
In operation, the cylinder deactivation works seamlessly; the driver can sense that the engine is working on less than its full complement of cylinders only by the illumination of a dashboard ‘Eco’ light. Cylinder deactivation occurs only at light loads.
Other technological highlights of the engine include exhaust manifolds integrated into the cylinder head castings, iVTEC variable valve timing and lift, and magnesium intake manifold and valve covers. The engine mounts are also active.
All Accords come with a 5-speed auto trans that features steering wheel paddles as well as the traditional centre console selector. There is no ‘manual’ option on the console selector although there is a ‘sports’ mode. The steering wheel paddles can be used in either auto or sports modes. The paddles are manually operated to select gears, with the system reverting to fully auto gear selection when it senses by the driving style that manual control is no longer required.
On the road the engine/gearbox combination is breathtaking. As has been the case with Hondas for years, the trans logic is impeccable. It will hold the correct gear when climbing long hills – but immediately up-change when the road flattens. It is quick to select a down-change as needed, and – despite our initial doubts – the paddle system works well, especially when engine braking down hills.
The high rpm at which peak torque is developed is well disguised by the transmission - someone stepping out of a car with a larger engine or one boasting stronger bottom-end grunt won’t feel short-changed.
At idle it’s very difficult to tell that the engine is even running; at the top end, the engine sings to the 6750 rpm redline with a glorious – albeit muted – howl. If you want a demonstration of state-of-the-art engine design excellence, this is it.
We also found that the on-road fuel economy did in fact reflect the engine’s sophistication. Over a wide mix of freeway, urban and hilly secondary roads, the Accord delivered a fuel economy of 10.4 litres/100km.
But let’s abruptly swap to the other side of the ledger: the steering is simply bloody awful.
How long since you’ve driven a car where you can move the steering wheel 20 or 30mm and the car barely deviates from a straight line? Well, you can do it in the Accord! It isn’t lost motion in the linkages: it’s a designed-in variable ratio system where the steering around straight ahead is mind-bogglingly slow. The specs say that there are just 2.56 turns lock to lock – but around centre, the car drives like there are four or five.
And it’s not just the lack of steering response: the steering is so light and lifeless that driving along a country road is a disconcerting exercise in wondering where the car is. In car parks, you can steer with literally just a little finger. The steering makes the Accord feel large and unwieldy: this is a car that simply does not shrink around you.
Navigate the Accord into a corner and the bad news continues: despite having 225/50 Michelin MXV8 tyres, there’s simply miserable grip. Even around urban roundabouts taken at only a slightly sprightly pace, the front tyres wail and slide, the (thankfully standard-across-the-range) stability control having to take action at speeds where other cars would be completely unfussed. Drive the Accord hard and you can wind-on more and more steering lock as the car plough understeers.
If the ride was limousine-like, the lack of handling prowess might be more forgivable. But while the ride is fine over many surfaces, some catch-out the car quite badly. In those situations, the suspension feels to have excessive rebound damping and the impact harshness of the tyres is high. Yes, even with the suggested 32 psi tyre pressures...
None of this is to say the car is unsafe: the stability control system keeps the Accord tracking truly in all but extreme conditions, and on wet roads, the car is very surefooted. However, to suggest that the engine and the suspension/steering come from completely different schools of engineering thought is to massively understate the case. One lot got it right: the other lot got it wrong.
Inside the cabin, the Luxury lives up to its name. A large colour LCD displays navigation, reversing camera or a range of information screens, including a good trip computer.
The driver’s seat is six-way power adjustable and incorporates memories. The 4-way power front passenger seat, however, is not height-adjustable and may be too low for small people. Both front and rear seats are comfortable, although the rear seat back is well reclined and some may not like this – it’s not adjustable. Rear occupants are provided with ventilation via rear-of-console vents. But overall cabin ventilation is only adequate and the cabin drums badly if windows are down.
The MP3-compatible six-stacker CD has a subwoofer and sounds excellent. The system also has a concealed aux input.
The controls work with ease, although certainly familiarity is needed with the numerous pushbuttons located on the centre of the dash. Instruments are clear and the night illumination is very effective.
Interior space is excellent, with plenty of room in all directions in the front. In the rear, knee- and foot-room are generous, although headroom starts getting tight for people over 1.8 metres. Carrying five people, or four adults and a central baby seat, is a greater squeeze than in the Commodore and Falcon – that narrower interior width coming into play. The rear doors open unusually wide and the rear roofline does not descend to the extent that it makes getting in and out of the rear difficult. Front and rear door pockets are provided and those in the front are wide, long and deep – the rears are just wide and deep.
Unlike many new-age cars, the A-pillars (those either side of the windscreen) are sufficiently narrow that they don’t create blind spots.
The Luxury features front, side and curtain airbags. At the time of writing, no independent crash test results were available.
The boot volume is less than the size of the car would lead you to expect, and the small opening prevents large cube-shaped items from being placed in it. The rear seat folds but the resulting opening is tiny – it’s more like a large ski port than what is expected with a folding seat. A full-size alloy spare wheel is provided.
Build quality looks excellent. The doors shut superbly and panel margins (ie the gaps between adjacent panels) are narrow and even. The paint is flawless.
In many respects the Accord is a highly impressive car. It fulfils its luxury role with refinement, quality equipment that in general works well, and a superb engine and transmission. But for anyone interested in a rewarding, involving drive, the car is a disappointment.