EXECUTIVE CARS, ACCORDING TO HONDA

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Honda20140211GLITTER, grub and drink-filled glasses are fine, but still nothing beats a long drive when introducing a new car.

The point is not lost on Honda Cars Phils. Inc. (HCPI) as it did just that—glitzy unveil gig and all plus a road trip—to mark the arrival of the latest Honda Accord in the country. The company, at a Pasay City events venue, first dispensed with the usual toasts and product presentations and photo ops that accompany new-model launches, then went straight to herding the invited media folk to a route briefing, and on to proving the Accord’s sweet pudding through some driving.

The itinerary? Simple. Plunge deep into Manila’s midday traffic. Take NLEX and SCTEX. Enter Subic. Proceed to a beach/golfing resort in Bataan. Spend the night there. The next day, shun the Subic route and trace the serpentine back roads of Bataan. Cross SCTEX to Clark. Head back to Bonifacio Global City via NLEX and the kilometers-long parking lot that is Edsa.

Clearly, this was real-world driving as real-world driving gets.

Nine generations
HCPI brought in two variants of the ninth-generation Accord—the 2.4S (priced at P1.720 million) and the 3.5 SV (P2.097 million). Both are billed as having benefitted from “improved Honda DNA of durability, quality and reliability.” HCPI said the new model retains the nameplate’s “winning combination of smart packaging and sophisticated styling,” and that its “already impressive fuel economy, fun-to-drive performance, comfortable ride and cabin quietness,” plus advanced safety features, have led to a value-for-money vehicle. Well, in its class, at least.


But then consider, too; the Accord pioneered the Japanese carmakers’ foray into the premium midsize segment when it first came out in 1976. It marked Japanese cars’ move up-market as the model took on the established brands from the US and Europe. And it relied on the very qualities enumerated above—excellent quality and value—in its journey toward the top of the sales chart.

“With the launch of the all-new Accord, we aim to present nothing but a sedan that excels in all areas that customers expect from this segment—from exterior to interior,” said HCPI President and General Manager Tatsuya Natsume at the car’s intro.

The new Accord, lighter than the previous model, bucks the trend by also actually getting smaller (but Honda said the car’s cabin and luggage space have grown). It is fitted with plenty of executive-car trappings, which count the now-requisite LED daytime running lights and brake lights, as well as LED dual projector headlights; fog lamps; power-folding side mirrors with turn signals; power-adjustable leather seats (the 3.5 SV adds a two-position memory function); Honda’s intelligent multi-information display; an eight-inch touch-screen panel that integrates audio and Bluetooth controls; and a smart key with push-start button system. Of course, there’s leather on almost all surfaces in the cabin, and those not covered with hide are trimmed with inoffensive plastic and tasteful metal-like pieces. Paddle shifters are standard on both variants.

The 2.4 S gets a four-cylinder, i-VTEC with DOHC, 2.4-liter engine that spins out 173hp (at 6,200rpm) and 226Nm (4,000rpm) of torque. The top-spec 3.5 SV boasts a V6, 3.5-liter SOHC engine fitted with i-VTEC, which makes 277hp (4,200rpm) and 339Nm (at a higher 4,900rpm). Like in the previous Accord, the new car’s V6 is equipped with Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management system, which cuts off combustion in the three cylinders in light-load conditions—highway cruising for instance. But the system has been upgraded, switching to three-cylinder mode immediately, bypassing the four-cylinder mode completely.

The 2.4-liter engine bolts to a five-speed automatic transmission while the 3.5-liter mill mates with a six-speed auto unit. Both power plants are carryovers from the previous Accord.

To live up to its fuel-efficiency/clean emissions promise, Honda opted for electric power steering assist and kitted both Accord variants with its Econ Mode system, which dials back engine and gearbox response, as well as air-conditioning levels. An eco-driving “coaching” meter helps in the effort.

Honda paid special attention to reducing what were already low noise, vibration and harshness levels of the old Accord. The new car’s structure was beefed up, cutting vibration, and was lavished with sound proofing insulation. Honda also added an “active” noise and sound control system that includes trick noise cancelling via speakers. Instead of using rubber for the rear suspension mounts, the carmaker fitted in liquid-filled bushings.

Drive it, ride it
What difference these changes have made on the road. HCPI had devised the launch-event road trip so that participants not only get to drive or ride in both new Accords along the route but also to get behind the wheel of the previous model, making a direct comparison easy. Even allowing for the vast difference in mileage between old and new, the improvement in ride quality is markedly noticeable in the ninth-gen Accord. It simply wafts where the old car cruises, its cabin hushed where the other is merely toned down. And the new Accord does all this without wallowing over bends—it feels dynamic and lively on the twisty mountain passes and yet so comfortable on the expressways, too.

Certainly, the 2.4-liter engine had to huff and puff harder than the 3.5-liter V6 when the group of Accords sped up on the back roads of Bataan, but a firmer press on the go pedal, coupled with paddle-shift work, proved enough effort so it could keep up. Oh, and yes, paddle-shift work is really needed to keep the smaller engine on its power band as the transmission can sometimes be reluctant at kicking down a gear.

In terms of comfort features, however, there is virtually nothing to complain about—save for the lack of a cruise control function. But the new Accord’s cabin remains a great place to be in come spirited out-of-town or gridlocked city driving.

No question, Honda has again raised the stakes in the executive-car boardroom—and the other execs need to step up.

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