The cleanest and most efficient diesel ever to feature in the Accord is designed to turn the Honda from a bit-part player in the saloon car market into a leading light. But its diesel powerplant isn’t all that’s new.
A mild makeover has given it a subtle lift, with an angular front bumper and dark chrome grille providing slightly more visual impact. Our ES GT test car’s alloys also offer a welcome boost.
Whatever you think of the exterior, the Honda has an air of precision-engineered excellence inside. The angular dashboard and sheer number of buttons on the centre console won’t be universally popular, but the switchgear works superbly and it all feels incredibly well built.
The Accord is more spacious than the cramped Alfa from behind the wheel. Slender windscreen pillars also ensure there are smaller blind spots. And there are some fun neat details, too. The wings on top of the seats feel reassuring around your shoulders, and the red footwell illumination provides a classy ambience at night.
The screen for the optional sat-nav is poor, though. It costs a hefty £1,150, but its dim, clunky graphics look as if they’re from an Eighties computer.
Rear space is disappointing for a car of this size, too, yet the seats are comfortable and still provide more space than in the 159. Plus, the 467-litre boot is bigger, and has a low sill which makes loading heavy items easier.
Hit the road, and the revised 2.2-litre i-DTEC engine is the star of the show. It feels more like a petrol than a diesel unit, and its smooth nature and lively responses give it a sporty feel.
Acceleration is swift and in-gear pace is strong, but you need to use the entire rev range if you want to make the most of the performance on offer – it’s often quicker to downshift than rely on the engine’s torque to do the job.
The i-DTEC unit’s smoothness and overall flexibility add to the impression of technical efficiency from behind the wheel, and all the controls have a very accurate feel. A fantastic gearshift is another Honda trademark, and the Civic Type R-inspired lever doesn’t disappoint, delivering quicker and crisper changes than the Alfa.
The Honda inspires more confidence in corners, and turns in swiftly thanks to well weighted steering that’s light at low speed yet firms up reassuringly at pace. Relaxed suspension settings mean there is some body roll, but movements are well controlled and there’s plenty of grip. It’s best at speed, as the set-up cushions occupants over the worst bumps, and the well judged damping maintains its composure.
Things are less assured around town, where the Honda feels more jittery and thumps over potholes at low speed.
At the end of our test, the Honda recorded economy of 36.4mpg, ranking it ahead of its Italian rival – will that be enough to tip the scales in its favour?
Chart position: 1WHY: Visual changes are slight, but the mechanical differences are more obvious. The cleanest diesel ever to feature in an Accord is the biggest highlight.