Honda Accord 2008 review

Latest version of the Accord is ready to take on prestige rivals from Germany.

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Honda hasn’t created the class’s best-looking or finest-handling car. But the new Accord’s driving environment is so pleasant that cornering ability becomes less relevant the more you enjoy the excellent seats. It’s questionable whether the Honda has the badge prestige of German rivals, yet on this evidence the gap is closing.

Times are getting tough in the family car market. Massive investment and a superhuman engineering effort have had a radical effect on the sector – ensuring the likes of the Ford Mondeo and imminent Vauxhall Insignia set a new standard for high-mileage drivers.

Although they are still volume cars, these models have the measure of pre- mium products, and are hot on the heels of upmarket brands. As a result, they bring new challenges for manufacturers such as Honda, which has traditionally occupied the space bet­ween volume and prestige marques.

Not that the Japanese giant will take this lying down – and bosses are promising the new Accord is the car to take the fight to BMW.

Of course, we’ve heard this before, and judging by the familiar styling, trim and engine line-up, the firm has got its work cut out. Both in the flesh and on paper, the model looks more of a conservative evolution.

Dig a bit deeper, though, and you will find a thoroughly revised diesel engine and more space inside, thanks to a wider and longer chassis. Cabin quality is better than ever, and there’s also a new gearbox. None of this will come cheap, however. The entry-level ES saloon costs £19,260 with petrol power, while the diesel is £21,060.

The line-up comprises two trims – ES and EX – although for £850, a GT pack can be specified. It brings sports sus­pension, 17-inch alloy wheels, half-leather seats and an aero bodykit.

This is Honda’s answer to BMW’s M Sport kit or the S line pack offered by Audi, and the modifications certainly boost the visual appeal. While it’s no Type R, the new Accord has real presence – especially from the front, where the aggressive headlights and wide stance give a far more muscular appearance than the previous model.

Climb inside, and things look even better. The front seats – upholstered in part-leather on the GT version, fabric on the ES and full leather on the EX – are supportive and supremely comfortable. We can’t think of a better place to sit on a long journey.

The superb voice-activated sat-nav (optional on ES, standard-fit on EX) is easy to use, while the stylish and well executed dashboard helps to justify prices that have crept up by as much as £2,000 over the previous car. It’s just a pity the major controls aren’t angled towards the driver as they are in the Civic hatchback. Instead, they are placed in the gearlever surround.

The six-speed manual transmission is crisp and positive. Buyers will also be able to specify a five-speed auto, although this won’t be offered on the diesel Accord for at least another year.

For this exclusive first drive, Honda rolled out the £24,910 top-spec EX complete with the GT pack. Crucially, our model was powered by the new 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel engine.

There are also 154bhp 2.0-litre and 198bhp 2.4-litre petrol cars, yet this reworked version of the previous i-CTDi oil-burner is easily the pick of the new range – especially as it has 10bhp more than the unit it replaces and meets the strict standards set out by forthcoming Euro V emissions rules.

It’s smooth and refined at idle or when cruising. But what will help the Accord take on Germany’s best models is the way the i-DTEC rewards drivers at the top end of the rev range.

This enables owners to enjoy the considerable talents the Accord’s new chassis displays in corners. And while the Honda doesn’t have the finesse of the 3-Series or the sharpness of the new Mazda 6, it’s still composed and immensely stable at speed, particularly with the GT’s sports suspension.

Yet this set-up doesn’t compromise the car’s suppleness at speed. There’s none of the crash or vibration seen on M Sport BMWs or S line Audis – and that’s what matters for a model aimed at high-mileage business drivers.

Rival: Saab 9-3 1.9 TTiD While it’s smaller than the Accord, the 9-3 also has a powerful, frugal diesel, and is well equipped. Its blend of individual style and brand image is similar to the Honda’s, too.

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