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New Car Test - Honda Accord V6 Luxury

It could be so much better.

by Julian Edgar

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The new V6 Honda Accord is an odd one - perhaps best summarised as a simply superb engine that's unhappily looking for a car of equal quality.

The Accord uses a nameplate that has established itself over 26 years as a quality midranger - but this new model has front doors that shut with a clang, panels that can be flexed with the lightest finger pressure, and some glaring equipment omissions. It's the brother of the smaller Euro Accord - and, remember, the Euro is a car that handles with aplomb - but the Accord falls into a heap once you push beyond eight-tenths. It's a car that should have a plush ride to go with its intended market ("buyers for the Accord will come from the 45-60 year age group, mostly university educated," says Honda) but instead the ride can be bouncy and together with the irritatingly hard seats, quite uncomfortable. In as-tested trim, the new Accord has an interior that uses non-breathing leather on the seats and a heat-attracting charcoal finish across the full width of the dashboard - and there are annoyances like needing to use the key to open the ski port through to the boot...why?

But let us tell you about that engine...

The larger model Accord is available both with the 118kW four cylinder from the Euro and with a 3-litre V6, with the top-trim Luxury model tested here coming with the VTEC V6. It develops a whopping 177kW (at 6250 rpm) and a peak torque of 287Nm at a very high 5000 rpm. But as with a lot of recent Honda engines, the revs at which peak torque occurs needn't worry you - the 5-speed auto trans (the only one available with the V6) works very well with the sophisticated engine which has a far broader torque spread than the bare stats would suggest.

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It's worth going into some detail on the engine, for this is one of the sweetest passenger car V6s around. Over the previous Accord engine (also a 3-litre V6) the new engine runs an increased compression ratio (up from 9.4:1 to 10:1) and a new intake manifold and cylinder heads, the latter incorporating cast-in exhaust manifolds. Valve actuation is again by a SOHC per bank but the 12 intake valves have been increased in size. The VTEC system uses variable valve timing as well as lift, but without the horrible two-step power curve that afflicted some VTEC designs of the past. The block is alloy and die-cast, while the crankshaft is forged. As with most current engines, electronic throttle is used.

Amazingly, normal ol' unleaded is the fuel brew of choice.

The engine is a tractable and strong powerhouse - no doubt helped by the light 1525kg kerb weight, the Accord can fling itself down the road, reaching 100 km/h in the mid-high Sevens. Even the economy is fine - we recorded 11.2 litres/100 km in a mix of driving that's probably fairly typical of an urban environment containing some freeways. In all situations the V6 remains smooth and unfussed, with an unburstable feel that makes you think it will last for ever. Over about 4000 rpm it develops a snarl but the note isn't disconcerting... more a reminder of the powerhouse engineering under the bonnet.

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But honestly, the rest of the car is nothing special. Not bad - certainly not bad - but it's hard to find anything above the class average, either. The paper specs don't look like that - double wishbone suspension front and rear, standard stability control, ABS and a 5-speed auto with 'grade logic control'. But somewhere along the way, the philosophy behind the car's detail engineering became confused.

F'rinstance, take the tyres. They're Michelin Energy designs... in a 205/65 size! Have you heard of any other current mid-size car with tyres this small? Oh, you have? OK, then, was it front-wheel drive? It was? All right, did it have 177 kilowatts?

We can't think of another car with so little tyre for so much power - let alone tyres that need to do both turning and torquing duties. (And if you can think of one, let us know!)

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Or take the transmission. Honda has really worked out their trans logic - for years now, we have been singing the praises of their auto transmissions, where it's damn' near impossible to catch the trans in the wrong gear. And the Accord uses another of those beauties. But a newly-released $45K car that doesn't have a tiptronic trans function? Odd. Or a 5-speed trans where it is literally impossible for the driver to select 4th gear? Hmmm...

And the confusion isn't just confined to these things. The Honda Jazz - one of our favourite cars - comes with a fuel consumption readout. Its vastly more expensive brother Accord - yes, even in Luxury spec - has no trip computer at all... not even a bare indication of fuel consumption. The electrics on the seats? Confined only to the driver's side. The rear seat? It folds forward only in its entirety - no 60:40 split for this car. (And even with it folded, access through to the cabin is poor - and to tilt it, you awkwardly need to use the ignition key to unlock the catch.) The boot lid is also very small - with its shallow angle, the rear glass extends a long way towards the rear of the car, and so fitting large items in through the boot opening simply won't be happening. The A-pillars are also very thick - a small driver mounted close to the wheel can lose whole cars and upcoming corners behind them. But at least the body is aerodynamic (cd of 0.30) and an alloy spare wheel - rather than a steelie - is provided under the (stepped) boot floor.

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OK, OK - so the body's not all bad. The rear room is excellent, with a surplus of knee- and foot-room. The rear passengers may miss out on rear-of-console vents, but they do get huge door pockets and a fold-down armrest that contains a drink holder. (But the middle passenger also does without a head restraint...) Front occupants also enjoy dual climate control and a quite competent AM/FM in-dash 6-CD stacker - albeit just the same one you'll find in the much cheaper Accord Euro base model. In front of the driver are excellent backlit instruments and the controls work with a real quality feel. The steering wheel buttons are unfortunately not lit but that's one of the few ergonomic failings - in general, the controls are excellent. The cruise control - actuating of course through the electronic throttle - is smooth and effective.

The occupants are also protected by four airbags and - what Honda says - is very extensive crash optimisation. The company also suggests that torsional rigidity is well up over the previous model, and the car does feel quite stiff on the road. However the normal body stiffness corollary of better handling is sadly missing here. Whip the Accord at a brisk pace around a few urban corners and it feels good - the body sits flat and there is little understeer. And there's the standard stability control to take care of it when it does occur, you think.

But think again.

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Start pushing the car hard (and yes, 45-60 year old university educated peoples, when a child runs out in front of you, that's just what you'll be doing) and the Accord understeers hugely. Like the Honda MDX, in fact. In recent memory it has only been those two cars where around a large roundabout we have been able to literally dial on an extra turn of steering lock as the car scrubs into enormous understeer.

And that's with the stability control left switched on...

Unlike the Euro Accord - vastly unlike the Euro Accord - the V6 has very little balance and very little driver feedback. Chalk and cheese in fact.

So what to make of this car of contrasts?

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We think that with some changes, the Accord V6 Luxury could very competently fill a specific niche. Soften the suspension and seats so that the ride comfort matches the targeted buyer expectations, bolt-on some decently-sized rubber, and put back in the interior the equipment that the evident cost-cutting has excluded. Then pitch the car just-so. For someone after a well-built, well-equipped, middle level luxury car with a brilliant engine, it would be a certainty.

But as it is now... well, we can think of a number of better cars - go drive others in this price bracket and we think you'll agree.

Why you would:

  • Superb, strong and economical engine
  • Good quality controls
  • Excellent room, especially in the back seat

Why you wouldn't:

  • Handling that degenerates rapidly when pushed
  • Hard seats and a hard ride
  • Lacking the equipment expected in this class
  • Poor boot practicality

The Honda was provided for this test by Honda Australia

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