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New Car Test - Honda Accord Euro

How can they do it for this price?

By Julian Edgar, Pix by Honda

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Fair dinkum - the Honda Accord Euro can only be described as a stunner. From its so-sweet but powerful - and yet torquey - 2.4-litre engine, to its surefootedness over roads that can have similar-priced cars squirelling, to its excellent equipment level, you have to wonder how Honda can do it. For this price, anyway.

At $34,250, the Accord Euro represents fantastic value.

After all, what other car in this price range has an in-dash six stacker CD, dual-zone climate control, four airbags - and double wishbone front and rear suspension, and stability control, and a six-speed manual trans, and 140kW? And it's not like Honda has been lavish with the specs but walked away from the detail engineering, either. Nope, the Accord Euro also impresses with its integration of practicality and performance.

But let's start at the beginning - what's this 'Accord Euro' about anyway? The half-baked name came about because Honda Australia decided to sell two different Accords in Australia. The Euro is intended - as the name suggests - to be the sportier, more European version. The other car - dubbed simply 'Accord' - is available with larger engines and is also a bigger car. Honda hopes that sometime down the track the Accord Euro will become simply the Euro... perhaps it should have started sales like that.

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The medium-sized body is graceful and elegant - people tend to look at it with interest as it drives by, attracted by details like the rear vision mirror LED indicators. The aero drag figure isn't available, but with the high rear boot line and smooth upper transitions, it's likely to be very slippery. A glance under the car also shows a variety of aerodynamic attachments, including deflectors ahead of the front wheels and a rear diffuser panel.

The pretty body may weigh a relatively low 1395kg, but on the road the Euro doesn't come across as a light-weight. On the contrary, the body feels stiff and strong, no doubt helped by a variety of reinforcements positioned at critical areas - under the bonnet, braces connecting the towers to the front bulkhead can be easily seen.

And it's also well made. The doors shut with the sound and feel of a car costing much more, the paint is flawless and the panels dead-straight.

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Step inside and the good impressions continue. The upholstery on this base model is velour (although unfortunately the material continues onto the armrests and centre console and is likely to show premature staining and wear in these locations, especially in hot climates) and the steering wheel and gearshift knob leather-bound. In front of the driver are clear instruments - they're normally dark but come to brilliantly-lit life when the ignition key is turned. But in a car where the engine can (if you want it to) thrive on revs, it's a pity that the tacho has been shuffled off centre stage with a huge speedo left to dominate the panel. The controls are clear and operate with good feel, and the steering wheel is height- and reach-adjustable.

The seats are comfortable and have excellent side support, but the height adjustment of the driver's seat is crude - a lever causes the rear of the seat to move up or down but the front stays fixed. You can't change the height without also changing the angle of the base.

There are plentiful storage compartments around the cabin, including a usefully large cubby hole located ahead of the gearshift. A cover folds down over this space, concealing valuables from prying eyes. The glovebox, however, is tiny.

Step into the back seat through the wide-opening rear doors and with the exception of one dimension, even two adults will be quite comfortable. And that dimension? It's foot space - if the driver hasn't got the front seat wound up in height, rear toe room is at a minimum. It's a better story behind the front passenger, simply because that front seat isn't height-adjustable.

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The boot is large and well shaped, while the rear seat folds forward on a 70:30 split. The '30' part folds flat, but the larger section of the rear seat back doesn't flip forward quite as far. This section is also limited in utility because of the sash of the centre seatbelt stays in the way, unless it is unthreaded from its holder. Access into the boot is fairly tight and with the seats folded, the opening into the cabin is far less than full width.

So the story inside is good, without the Accord Euro being one of those amazing where-did-all-this-space-come-from tall cars which are now entering the segment.

The interior equipment generally works well - the sound system is excellent on CDs and competent on radio, while the separate zone climate control is effective (although it can blow distinctly hot and cold when regulating the interior temperature). Controls for both the cruise control and sound system are positioned on the steering wheel; these have a good tactile feel but are not illuminated at night.

And on the road? There, the Accord Euro is superb.

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The 2.4-litre engine uses Honda's I-VTEC, where the lift of the valves alters in one step but the phasing of the inlet cam is steplessly variable. This results in 140kW at 6800 rpm and a peak torque of 223Nm at 4500 rpm. Look at those figures and you could be forgiven for imagining that the Euro driver always needs to keep the engine on the boil - but that ain't so.

This is an engine with a seamless spread of tractable torque - you can literally be in either 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th gears - at the one speed! Pull the clutch out and the car will idle along in 2nd gear without the slightest sign of concern. Change from 1st > 3rd > 6th gears and passengers won't even notice. Be in 6th gear at 1500 rpm and the response is smooth and sweet. Even after a week behind the wheel, such is the tractability of the engine it was possible to be in sixth gear when you thought you were in fourth...

The four-cylinder engine is fitted with a balance shaft and together with a sophisticated engine mounting system (it uses three mounts surrounding the engine's centre of gravity; these mounts are then connected to a subframe which is rubber-mounted to the body), is wonderfully smooth and quiet.

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The Euro can be driven gently, its torque production meaning that short-shifts are easily coped with. Or, if the mood takes you, you can run right to that 7000 rpm redline. Above 6000 rpm the engine develops a new urgency and the Honda becomes deceptively fast: 0-100 km/h comes up in the high-eights and the engine feels like it will keep spinning forever. In fact, could you please raise the rev-cut to 7500 rpm, Mr Honda?

The performance is not at the expense of fuel economy, either. Over a range of driving conditions we recorded 8.5 litres/100 km, a figure we'd expect typical for many owners.

About the only downer in the driveline is a glitch when getting on and off the accelerator. Initially we thought it was a driveline snatch but further into the test we decided that it was associated with the action of the electronic throttle. The slight jerk makes smooth gear changes difficult, and it's noticeable that the cruise control can also be jerky when feeding power back in after descending a hill.

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The handling is excellent. The Euro comes with stability control as standard (a groundbreaking move in this class) and the safety that this system provides is an important bonus. (Stability control automatically brakes individual wheels to guide the car back onto course if it is understeering or oversteering - that is, sliding.) The stability control is subtle and progressive, and comes into action only at high cornering levels. Nearly everyone will leave it switched on all of the time - which is just how it should be.

But if you'd like to be able to throttle-steer the car, press the stability control 'off' button and enjoy a beautifully-balanced car. (Importantly, the throttle-steerability is vastly diminished in the auto trans version of the Euro.) But the manual trans Euro can be sweetly pushed into power-on understeer and then into throttle-off oversteer. The tyres - relatively small 205/55 Michelin Pilot Primacys that can be noisy on some surfaces - don't have enormous outright grip, but the balance and predictability of the chassis makes the Euro capable of very entertaining handling.

And that's over rough or smooth roads.

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The ride may be considered by some on an around-the-block test drive to be a little firm, but throw even potholes and tightly-spaced corrugations at it and the suspension copes with comfortable aplomb. Anyway - with the handling, the engine response and the six-speed trans, any firmness in the ride perfectly fits with the car's character.

In short, from the sophistication of its specification to the way it drives, the Honda is the new standard setter in this class.

Why you would:

  • Silky sooth engine with tractable punch
  • Excellent performance/economy compromise
  • High interior equipment level
  • Excellent handling
  • Except for tyre noise on some surfaces, very good NVH (noise vibration harshness)
  • Excellent value for money

Why you wouldn't:

  • Slight jerkiness when getting on and off the power
  • Climate control air temp varies too much

The Honda Accord Euro was provided for this test by Honda Australia. Fuel consumed during the test was provided by Honda.

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