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Honda Accord Type S

t takes more than a pretty face and a few choice extras to make the grade in the fleet and family sector these days. Honda knows it, and has pulled out all the stops to crash the Ford Mondeo's party with the all-new Accord, courtesy of a sharp look and some serious attention to detail. It's already scooped the Japan Car of the Year award, but will it be such a big success in the UK? To find out, we got our hands on the first right-hand-drive version to hit British roads and introduced it to class rivals for the first time.

Initial impressions of the Accord are good. In sporty Type S trim, it has an aggressively raked nose and sharp lines leading to a rather bulbous rear end. It's finished off by smart five-spoke alloy wheels, giving a sense of style that shames blander rivals. Classy wing mirror-mounted indicator repeaters complete the striking look. Move inside and the new family challenger is impressive enough to make Honda's aim to attract buyers from the small executive class seem achievable. The seats are comfortable and supportive, while the dashboard design is unusually attractive. Controls are not overcomplicated, and the quality of fit and finish seems excellent, even on this pre-production example.

We're deep in the heart of company car territory with the Accord, and emissions can make or break a new model. Thanks to Honda's advanced technology, not one of the engines in the range has excessive CO2 levels compared with mainstream rivals. However, the most powerful 2.4-litre Type S variant looks no more than average for the class, with an emissions figure of 214g/km. If you were thinking of swapping from a similarly priced BMW 316i you'd be hit, too, as the slower German model posts a more company car tax-friendly 167g/km.

However, Honda has always been at the forefront of good handling, and this model upholds the standards, feeling driver-oriented from the first turn of the key. If you step from a less focused rival into the new saloon, the Honda's sensitive controls can seem a bit fussy, but a gentle touch is rewarded by a far better driving experience. Feeding power through the front wheels, the newcomer has superb handling balance thanks to the use of double-wishbone suspension front and rear. In addition, the floor- mounted accelerator pedal controlling an electronic drive-by-wire throttle is a joy to use when pressing on.

Not so the steering, though, which could do with more feedback and feels over-assisted. Changing through the six-speed gearbox can be spoilt by the snatchy clutch, too. In the Accord's favour, all models are fitted with ABS, electronic brake distribution and brake assist as standard, while drivers of the Type S also get Vehicle Stability Assist.

The latter version features a range-topping all-aluminium 188bhp 2.4-litre i-VTEC powerplant, which blasts the four-door saloon from 0-60mph in 7.9 seconds and on to a blistering maximum speed of 141mph. The engine begs to be revved, and feels just as quick as the figures suggest. But, more importantly in this sector, it is happy to cruise at motorway speeds. The firm set-up of this sporty model means it can't match Vauxhall's Vectra for overall refinement, but it makes up for it on entertaining B-roads.

At 31.4mpg, fuel consumption is average, but for those after more miles per pound, a 153bhp 2.0-litre unit returning 38.2mpg is also available on lesser trims, and these are joined by a frugal 2.2 diesel next year.

Equipment is generous, with all variants featuring dual air-conditioning. A hi-tech DVD-based sat-nav system is on the options list. The usual front and side airbags are complemented by inflatable side window curtain bags, although no Euro NCAP safety ratings are available yet. As for practicality, the wheelbase remains unchanged from that of the previous model, but overall dimensions have increased. With a 459-litre capacity, the boot is reasonable, but not the biggest in class. It's a similar story for rear passengers, where there's plenty of headroom, yet only adequate leg space.
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