The Civic and Accord are Honda's two core models. Their continued vitality and success have always been of the utmost importance to Honda. Befittingly, they're also often used to showcase Honda's technological prowness and also to epitomise the true 'Honda DNA'. Both models have generally been fabulously successful; very much loved by Honda fans and respected by others. The Civic is of course Honda's most successful model, and have sold the largest in number. It has a generally tremendously successful history, interrupted only by the 7Gen at the turn of this century.
The Accord too has a rich and hugely successful history though like the Civic, it too went through its bad patches. The most recent one was in the middle of the last decade, during the lifetime of the rather unloved 6th Generation, thanks largely to unspectecular technology and in some countries, also bad packaging. That generation of Accord was quite frankly a bit of a disaster in most of Asia. The 7th Generation Accord which came out at the turn of this century redressed that to a large extent, helped significantly when Honda finally woke up and fitted asian Accords with suitably high tech'ed engines worthy of its status as one of Honda's core model. These are the K-series DOHC i-VTEC and J-Series SOHC V6 engines. While they were still de-tuned to cater for (wrong !) perceptions of Asian buyer's less hard-core expectations, they were still technologically good enough to restore the respect and popularity of the Accord amongst many Honda enthusiasts. So, despite some styling issues (like the 'big-backside' of the original pre-MMC design), the 7Gen Accord started the revival of the Accord name here in Asia. This culminated when sales of the 7Gen Accord started to dominate the so-called 'luxury segment' (what in western countries is termed the 'full-sized' C-segment) in many parts of Asia, frequently outselling all its competitors and most significantly including its arch-rival the Toyota Camry.
The 7G Accord (post-MMC)
The 1995 JDM Honda Inspire
This mismatch has now been addressed with the launch of the new 8Gen Accord. Pioneered in Thailand a few months ago, the 8Gen Accord was launched here in Malaysia last week finally giving me the opportunity to check it up close. It's about time too. The arrival of this new 8Gen Accord should finally heralded the revival of the Accord's market dominance once again.
In Honda's own eyes, the outgoing 7Gen Accord is considered to be a sporty design but one which was crucially lacking in 'premium feeling', i.e. projecting some of the feel and character of (super expensive) premium luxury cars like the BMWs and Mercs. The new 8G Accord is designed to retain this 'sportiness' while addressing this missing luxury aspect.
The 'Asian Accord' is clearly based on the U.S./Canada market Accord design. There are some slightly different styling clues of course, the most visible being the tail-light assembly. In terms of design, this new Accord sports a more squarish front nose design and a flatter lower stance with more aggressive flaring of the fenders and wheel arches when compared with the outgoing 7Gen. As expected, the car has grown in size, the external dimensions now being 4945mm by 1845mm by 1475mm for length, width and size respectively. Compared to the 7Gen, this represents an increase of 115mm (>4inch), 25mm (1 inch) and 20mm (<1 inch) respectively. So the car have grown quite a bit in length though not that much in the other 2 dimensions. It has also gained weight as well, with even the base 2.0l variant now 25kg heavier than the old 2.4 7Gen !
Amongst Honda enthusiasts, it is no secret that many of us have always preferred the JDM Accord design and packaging over the U.S. design/packaging that we have been getting over the last 3 generations. The major difference between the two designs is that they have deviated into two distinct directions : the U.S/Asian design being more luxurious with good sporty feel while the JDM/Euro design emphasizing more on the sportiness and less on the luxury. Most asian enthusiasts are clear about their preference for the JDM design, myself included but Honda on the other hand have persisted in bringing us the U.S. design. Why have Honda taken this route ? It turns out the main compelling factor in Honda's decision to market the more upmarket looking U.S. design here in Asia has to do with the line-up of the majority of the Asian countries. Especially in countries in ASEAN, though generally applicable to most countries in Asia, the Accord actually represents the top 'premium luxury' model in the line-up. This is in direct contrast to Japan for e.g., where models like the Inspire, Vigor and Legend are the top luxury models. So for any country within Asia, the task for being the premium-luxury model falls squarely on the Accord's shoulders. For this task, an overly sporty design is, to be fair, not entirely appropriate. The majority of buyers in this 'premium luxury' segment is not expected to be a hard-core Honda enthusiast in general but more likely to be a senior executive, or a business-person who wants a large and comfortable sedan, though being a Honda buyer, they will also expect a good degree of performance as well. It is because of this constraint that Honda must continue to offer large, luxury-oriented Accords in our part of the world.
While I am not totally happy with the situation, I must admit Honda's point of view is clearly the more logical one here. It is a reality that hardcore enthusiasts like us here in Asia must live with. Sadly it also surely mean that cars like the Accord Euro-R will probably continue to evade us for the foreseeable future.
Accord 2.0 VTi
Accord 2.4 VTi-L
Accord 3.5 V6
As with the 7Gen, Honda offers three variants for Asia, again being up to the individual country's office to decide which (or all) variants to adopt for their local line-up. Happily, Honda Malaysia are offering all three variants. These variants are the 2.0 VTi, the 2.4 VTi-L and the 3.5 V6, mainly differentiated by the engine used. The base variant, the Accord 2.0 VTi is now powered by a derivation of the R20A 2.0l SOHC i-VTEC that powers the CR-V. This greatly undersquare engine is designed to deliver ample torque (from utilizing a very long stroke) and of course features the new economy i-VTEC implementation. Compared to the CR-V, the Accord's R20A delivers more power - 156ps vs 150ps - due mainly to a slightly higher CR.
The Accord 2.4 VTi-L is again the mainstay of the line-up. It features an evolution of the K24 DOHC i-VTEC that powered the outgoing 2.4 i-VTEC. Bearing the K24Z1 code now, it offers more power - 180ps vs 170ps of the MMC 7Gen - making it the most powerful 2.4l engine in its class in the Asian market.
The Accord 3.5 V6 is of course the top-of-the-range, premium luxury model, coming with all the bells and whistles Honda feels is meaningful. Engine-wise, it features the J35A 3.5l SOHC V6 i-VTEC engine which is fitted with Honda's latest VCM implementation. Compared to the outgoing Accord 3.0 V6, the new 3.5 V6 features 500cc extra displacment and an impressive 275ps max power.
Externally however, there is very little differentiation between the three variants. One of them is the wheels with the 2.0 VTi having 16inch wheels compared to 17inch for the 2.4 VTi-L and 3.5 V6. The 2.4 VTi-L has the turn signals integrated into the side mirrors while on the 2.0 VTi, the turn signals are on the fenders. From the rear, twin-tailpipes on both sides identify the 3.5 V6 but both the 2.0 VTi and 2.4 VTi-L uses the same tailpipe finisher. Of course if it's the rear we are looking at, the badges will clearly identify the variant (unless the owner decides the de-badge the car); the 2.0 VTi bearing a simple 'i-VTEC' badge, with the 2.4 VTi-L using a 2.4 i-VTEC badge, both badges sitting at the right bottom of the boot/trunk cover. The 3.5 V6 will have this (3.5 V6) badge sitting on the top right of the boot/trunk cover. Other than that, unless one peeks into the interior to check the colour (the 2.0 & 3.5 have beige interior while the 2.4 has black), there really is no other obvious indicator.
All variants are again fitted with a 5AT gearbox now with a new Shift-Hold-Control (SHC) technology. This SHC is an improved GLC (Grades Logic Control) system and in fully automatic mode, comes with enough fuzzy logic intelligence to hold the gears not only for uphill and downhill climbs but also around corners. Finally, Honda has fitted asian Accords with a sequential shifter. The 2.4 VTi-L and 3.5 V6 are now fitted with paddle shifters on the steering wheel just like the Civic 2.0S. About time too.
The suspension system remains the very desireable double-wishbone/multi-link front/rear set-up. Interestingly, the power steering is hydraulics instead of EPS. Additionally, it is also fitted with Honda's Variable Gearing Ratio (VGR) system. This is a new steering setup where the steering ratio is variable depending on amount of turn of the steering wheel. Hood/bonnet now uses dampers like conti cars. The 2.4 and 3.5 also features a upper strut bar which Honda calls a 'tower bar', something quite unusual for a luxury sedan.
Needless to say, brakes are ventilated front and solid rear discs and both front and rear anti-roll bar (or stabilizer in Honda-speak) are equipped on all variants.
While the 'premium luxury' variant is the Accord 3.5 V6, Honda have always targetted the Accord 2.4 VTi-L as its mainstay offering in Asia. This remains status-quo with this new 8Gen Accord. Towards the end of its life-cycle, the outgoing 7Gen Accord 2.4l was quite handicapped in terms of features, lacking such crucial things like side airbags and HID headlights when compared to its arch-rival the Toyota Camry, and in fact deficient when compared to even Honda's own Civic 2.0S. The new 2.4l Accord has addressed that imbalance and is now suitably equipped with as many features as Honda can fit in within the designated price range. Some noteworthy new features that is packaged with the new Accord includes what Honda terms as 'heat-absorbing glass'. The glass is now impregnated with heat absorbing pigments helping to prevent too much heat from penetrating into the cabin on a hot day. The glass is also 'water dispersing', meaning water will now run off the surface especially during rain, much like if Rain-X has been applied.
Interior-wise, the 2.0l and 3.5l features biege coloured interior, the 2.0 being fabric and 3.5l being leather. The 2.4l features black leather interior. Other important improvements includes rear air-cond vent for the dual zone climate control, standard for all 3 variants. The front seats are 8-way powered for the driver's seat and 4-way powered for the passenger, both with powered lumbar (lower back) support, for the 2.4 and 3.5l with the 3.5 also featuring memory for the driver's seat.
Both 2.4 and 3.5l are now using HIDs with auto-leveling and auto headlight on/off. Uniquely, all 3 variants now features a foldable rear seat which helps tremendously when there is a need to carry long items. Obviously Honda understands everyone will have that occasional need to carry bulky items or that some Accord owners might well be DIY fans. However, the rear seat rest folds down in 1 piece only.
The audio is a 6-CD changer unit, MP3 and WMA enabled with USB input. It is equipped with 6 speakers and the 2.4 and 3.5l additionally features a socket for plugging in an aftermarket subwoofer unit. While there is no logo, one of my Honda insiders told me the audio is a PANASONIC unit. Steering wheel based audio control is now standard for all 3 variants, though cruise control only comes with the 2.4 and 3.5.
In terms of the all important safety features, dual front airbags are standard for all variants. The 2.4 adds side airbags with OPDS (Occupant Detection) and the 3.5l further adds side curtain airbag (for the windows area) as well. All 3 variants features ABS, EBD and BA while the 2.4l and 3.5l adds VSA as well. The chassis is of course based on Honda's G-CON principle and features their new ACE body structure for superior protection of driver and passengers in the event of a collision. A good new feature is the active headrest which will now move forward to support the neck and prevent whiplash in a rear-end collision.
Honda targets the new 8G Accord at the executive, those who have been working for some years and have moved up in the corporate ladder, and of course also the business person, someone who is running his or her own business and thus needs a large luxury oriented sedan. Honda sees their Accord customer as someone who has a discerning taste and thus, appreciates technology and features for their worthiness, and not just features for features sake (i.e. those that thinks the more features, the better the car, irregardless if the features are actually useful or meaningful or not). It is also expected that they put a premium on the driving feel, i.e. a degree of sportiness is expected of the car.
The Accord 2.0 VTi is positioned as the entry level model. One of the Honda Malaysia product planners coined the phrase 'my 1st Accord' to indicate that they hope the new 2.0 VTi is attractive enough in technology, packaging and pricing to encourage new ownership along with existing owners who are upgrading from smaller models like the Civic. The local price of RM 141.8k (~USD 45.7k, 1USD = RM3.1) is clearly targetted to make it (relatively) affordable. This is competitive with the arch rival Toyota Camry 2.0l. Also significantly, it's priced way below the 150k price level which is an important turnover point for income tax benefit for capital allowance for business/company cars (the amount of capital allowance alloweable is halved once the car costs over RM150k).
As mentioned, the Accord 2.4 VTi-L is the core variant which Honda depends upon to reestablish the Accord's reputation and to regain the market dominance back from the Camry. Due to its generous options and features, it has now broken the 170k price point, at RM 171.8k (~USD 55.4k)
The Accord 3.5 V6 is the premium luxury model. Actually Honda has never really focussed on the old 3.0l V6 model because they have always felt that the Malaysian buyer is too heavily biased towards continental choices for premium luxury cars that costs way over 200k, or even that we are not willing to pay a lot of money for a high quality sporty Honda model. In a way this is exemplified by their cautiousness in launching performance oriented model. For e.g. way back 4 years ago, believe it or not, some Honda Malaysia people had reservations launching the Jazz VTEC (eventhough it can hardly be considered a sports-car) simply because they had doubts Malaysian customers will be willing to pay RM100k for one, especially since for RM10k more, they can get the D17A Civic. It was the same when the ET1 Civic 2.0 i-VTEC became available. In both cases, they were more shocked than surprised at the relatively large amount of sales both supposedly 'pricey' but 'sporty' models received. More recently, there was quite a bit of fear within Honda Malaysia when they launched the FD2 Civic Type R because they had serious reservations whether Malaysians are willing to pay RM 200k for 'just a Civic'. Of course they had seriously underestimated Honda fanatics (which is why seen in this context, Honda Malaysia's current people are indeed very brave and adventurous with their FD2 Civic Type-R launch).
So the old 3.0l V6 Accord had always been a sort of an 'after-thought'. It was there to say that Honda do have an offering in the premium luxury segment but never really focussed on. In a way other japanese manufacturers are even worse, with Toyota and Nissan both ditching their 3.0l V6 variants early on and never really coming back. But Honda this round has decided to give the premium luxury variant a go, with suitable emphasis on the new 3.5l V6. The launch and subsequent marketing campaign like road-shows, etc, features lots of promotional material on the new VCM and other important technological features in the J35A. But priced at RM 249.8k (~USD 80.6k), Honda Malaysia is correct in that there will be numerous comments from non-Honda fanatics that they will prefer a BMW or a Merc for that price. I suppose such buyers will never be converted. For Honda fans, the only real problem with the 3.5l is cost of ownership - not of buying the car, but of maintaining it as Malaysia imposes hefty road tax on large engines. And more importantly that while it is the 3.5 V6, it is still not an Euro-R.
As TOVA readers will know, being part of TOV, I have already seen photos of the new Accord since last year when we covered its launch for the U.S. and Canada. However, I did not attend the Tokyo or Bangkok Motor Show, so this launch is actually the first time I am seeing the new Asian Accord live. To be frank, I have never really warmed up to the looks of this new Accord from the photos we published on TOV and I did make my feelings known not only to many TOVA readers and personal friends, but also some friends at Honda product marketing as well. My Honda friends however have always patiently told me I cannot judge the new Accord from just the photos but I should reserve my judgement of its looks for when I get to see it live.
I am happy to say that they have been proven right and I have been proven wrong. Having finally seen the car live, I find the new Accord really do look great in the flesh. I admit a degree of scepticism during the short technical overview for the Accord at the launch. The LPL said the new design emphasizes a sporty and solid look for the new Accord, highlighting the solid nose (which I had actually felt was too clumsy from just looking at the photos) and the tapering tailend to give the impression of a solid and sporty car. So I was thinking they do not know what sporty looks like. That was before they unvieled the car of course. After the unveiling and getting to see it up close and now also having had the chance to get my paws all over the new Accord at the media drive event, I must agree that I have to swallow my words, and to gladly to do so at that. The new Accord really do look -and drives- marvelously sporty and solidly.
Most importantly, Honda have also suitably upgraded the technology in the new Accord to back up the sporty look. The new K24Z do represent one of the more powerful engines in its market segment, beating all its immediate competitors in terms of outright power. Even the 2.0l boasts impressive specs, despite some people again questioning its SOHC configuration. The J35A of course is a technological tour-de-force.
At the time of this article, I have already test-driven both the 2.0l and the 2.4l at Honda Malaysia's media drive event. To jump the gun, I can say that I have been very impressed by both units. And I expect to be even more impressed when I get the drive the 3.5l later (it was not available for test-drive at the event). I am reasonably familiar with a powerful FWD car and so I am eager to see how Honda has addressed the issue of traction and other problems with almost 280ps on an FF.
In the meantime, after this quick launch review, my feature on the new 8Gen Accord will continue shortly with a technical overview of the Accord as a whole, derived from the technical presentation by the Accord LPL. Look forward to that over the next week.