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Honda's Accord - a serious challenge to Big 3
Honda has kept a fairly low profile on the local market since its split in SA from DaimlerChrysler but that all changed this week with the launch on the local market of its seriously stunning 2.4-litre Accord Type-S – a superb competitor for the German Big Three and just a taste of what's to come from the Japanese manufacturer this year.

There's no better place to explore a car's potential than over the sweeping, well-surfaced and almost empty roads around Sabie and White River and through the vast pine forests of Mpumalanga.

I've driven lots of high-performance machinery from BMW and Mercedes-Benz over those passes and, frankly, this 2.4-litre, 140kW Honda Accord is right there with the best of them.

Not, perhaps, on outright speed and acceleration – though the Honda needs to bow to few other cars on either count – but on road-holding and suspension, steering precision and feel and the sheer exhilaration of driving a brilliant car very fast but very safely.
You'll know the feeling: some cars just feel right.
If you're into cars, you'll know the feeling: some cars just feel right, like an extension of yourself, passing information through the steering and the brakes and even through the occasional twitch of the tail and protest from the tyres.

Believe me, the Honda Accord feels very, very right…

Graham Eagle, Honda SA's auto division manager, sees the car as a challenger to Audi's A4, BMW's 3-Series, the C-class Mercedes range and Alfa's 156 and if the sheer quality of this new car isn't enough to convince you, then simply look at the prices.

Audi's A4 2.4 costs R278 500, BMW's 325i is R285 000, Mercedes' C240 is a whopping R310 000 and Alfa's 2.5 V6 156 is R259 000. The Honda? A modest R242 000, including a two-year maintenance plan and a three-year or 100 000km warranty.

Bigger wheels – 17" spoked alloy instead of the standard-issue 16" – is only option on the car.
Bigger wheels are the only option on the new Honda Accord.
Yep, Honda is serious about its choice: one model of Accord only, six-speed manual box only, what you see is what you get and think yourself bloody lucky. And, as if to emphasise the point, all the cars on the launch were the same colour, a very businesslike metallic grey.

However Honda SA promises a second model, the Accord Exclusive with a sport-orientated, five-speed automatic transmission, later this year.

Better still, according to MD Masahiro Matsushita, more high-performance machinery in the form of the Honda S2000 sports car and – less high-tech but certainly more funky – the top-selling Jazz, known as the Fit in other markets with sales figures that simply eclipse other makes.

Matsushita pointed out that, since its divorce from DaimlerChrysler two years ago, Honda SA has been firmly focused on setting up top-notch dealerships – there are 22 right now, 24 is the target – nationwide.

"We wanted to form a solid base in SA, to focus entirely on our re-launch in this country, to bring reliability, enjoyment and technology. Honda SA exists to provide world-class service," he said.

Now, with the arrival of the Accord Type S, the sales staff will be taking off their gloves and, as they say in the trade, sharpening their pencils. So what's under the skin of the new car?

Double-wishbone suspension

There's a 140kW/220Nm i-VTEC motor driving through a new six-speed gearbox that gives gearshifts as sweet as a koeksister yet weighs only 57kg.

Drive is through the front wheels and a five-link, double-wishbone suspension and the whole enchilada is mounted on a sub-frame that, in the event of a crash, will detach itself from the rest of the car while helping to absorb the impact.

The 2.4-litre, double overhead cam, four-cylinder motor has four valves per cylinder with variable valve timing with a clever cam that only uses three valves under normal driving but brings the fourth into play when the driver calls for more urge.

Talking safety, the Accord has already been awarded four stars – top marks – in the European New Car Assessment Programme's crash tests and three stars – also the best – in protection for pedestrians.

The cabin has six crash bags, two front, two hip and two curtain, the last being the largest in the Accord's class and capable of deploying in just 20 milliseconds.

There's also a detachable sub-frame at the rear and the overall set-up gives a ride that, while supple and more than capable of handling anything our deteriorating roads can throw at it, is also superbly satisfying and stable – backed by traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic pressure distribution to each wheel, and 205/55 high-performance tyres.

Benchmarked against the best

Honda says the whole system was thoroughly honed on its own Suzuka racetrack. Whatever, the Accord corners flat and hard and instils a feeling of sheer confidence in any situation. Like I said, some cars just feel right … it's a thoroughbred machine that delivers everything a good driver requires.

It's the first of the seventh generation of Accords, the earlier models designed primarily for the American market and of which more than 400 000 were sold there in 2001. However, Eagle assured me, the version being sold in SA was designed for the more performance-orientated European market and benchmarked against premium German performance sedans.

Matsushita added: "In many ways the Accord signifies a return to Honda’s sports roots. While the brand has always produced highly focused sports cars such as the NSX supercar and S2000 convertible, the Type-S shows that we can do it just as well in a four-door configuration without sacrificing space and comfort.

The car also has probably the best drag co-efficient of any wheels: Honda's Insight has the best at 0.25, the previous Accord attained 0.30 (darned good when around 0.32 is considered more than excellent) but the new Type-S is only 0.26.

That's not only good for performance and fuel economy – Honda claims about 9.4 litres/100km for the car in general use and the tank holds 58 litres – but also for the Accord's total absence of wind noise. The motor is also silent (unless, of course, you want to "press on" in which case the exhaust has a suitably refined but muscular note) and only a gentle rumble from the low-profile tyres seeps into the cabin.

Tiny panel gaps and four slipstream-smoothing plates beneath the car help the low Cd.

Special hinges for the boot

The interior of the Accord is also well up to the standard of the competition (perhaps you could even say the competition's standards are well up to those of the Honda!) with leather upholstery, a superb steering wheel with cruise and audio controls on the horizontal spokes, all the power assistance and accessories you'd expect for the price and a giant boot.

How giant? Well, according to Honda, the average volume for cars in its class is from 320 to 380 litres … the Accord has 450 litres, so bring on the golf clubs. The boot lid has an electric release and the hinges, as against struts on other makes, are shaped to their radius does not change when the lid is opened or closed – no damage to those expensive Louis Vuittons.

The rear seats fold in a 60:40 split.

Though classified as a "compact", the Accord has a big cabin with plenty space for five adults who will be entertained with a top-end sound system and protected by five pre-tensioning, three-point seat belts. The radio unit, by the way, has human-sized controls instead of the terrible miniature buttons and switches favoured by some other manufacturers.

The air-conditioning system has a driver-operated master control, though the front passenger can, after it is set, adjust the temperature to suit.

The cabin is 75mm wider with headroom improved by five millimetres at the front and 15mm at the rear and, unless you are seriously tall, you head just ain't gonna touch the roof lining.

Matsushita, in typically polite Japanese manner, said during his presentation at the Accord's launch that he hoped the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists would include the car among the finalists in the next Car of the Year competition.

You've certainly got my vote, sir.

**NO FRILLS, ALL THRILLS: Bigger alloy wheels are the only option available on the new Honda Accord. Looks good, hey?
 

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