WINDING country roads may not be the natural habitat of Honda's Accord sedan. Over its previous eight generations the conservative mid-sizer has always been dynamically adept rather than exceptional. It's been more about the practicality and predictability than the excitement.
But Honda is planning to rewrite perceptions, which is why it aimed its ninth generation Accord at some of New Zealand's most challenging roads and unleashed them on media outlets such as Drive.
First, though, the regular stuff.
During the relaxed drive through Auckland and on to multi-lane roads the Accord quickly asserted itself as a competent freeway tourer; hushed, comfortable and with a spacious cabin that gives a feeling of airiness. The broad back seat and elegant materials - wood-look on some surfaces, satin chrome on others - also cement as a quality family hauler, even if the dash doesn't have the soft feel of some.
The clunky foot-operated park brake is a minor black mark on an otherwise well presented, functional interior. And the standard reversing camera makes parking easier.
The blind spot system that projects an image on the upper of the two colour screens when you hit the left indicator might seem gimmicky but could be useful in some situations, particularly three- or four-lane freeways where it's sometimes difficult to judge whether a car two lanes over is moving into the same lane you're planning to.
The Accord picks up a new 2.4-litre engine - with 129kW of power, less than the model it replaces - but it less than convincing. Mated to a five-speed automatic it doesn't take much of hill to have it reaching for its upper rev limit. There's some zing to it at higher revs but it can feel overwhelmed by the 1.7-tonne sedan body.
Honda says more effort has gone into broadening the spread of torque at lower revs, with the aim of Improving response in regular driving. And while the Accord is useful enough in country towns, it's ultimately down on the response of some key rivals.
Through the seemingly endless twists and turns north of Auckland the Accord is vice less in its demeanour. Driving the front wheels it clearly has more weight over the front end, something more noticeable if you shoot too hard into a tightening bend. The 18-inch Michelin tyres on the Luxury models we tested bring enough in the way of grip, though, and the sizeable four-door body feels well planted and unlikely to shock with unwanted body movement.
Like the engine, though, the dynamics don't quite deliver on the finer details. Light and responsive steering, while well shielded from bumps and imperfections, doesn't offer much of a clue about what's going on at ground level. And while the Accord is clearly competent, it doesn't have the alertness or litheness of some of the standouts in the admittedly excellent medium category.
The V6 engine is a more convincing proposition. With 206kW and 339Nm it has plenty or oomph to comfortably build speed, even triggering the traction control out of tight corners or from a standstill.
The 3.5-litre unit revs cleanly and efficiently and works OK with the six-speed automatic, although in S for sport mode it's too eager to hold on to lower gears, which can have the engine revving unnecessarily.
It adds up to a car that does the job for those who are looking for a spacious sedan. But it does it without some of the sparkle that can make class leaders shine.
Think of the latest Accord as an inoffensive way to comfortably transport up to five people in relative luxury. Then again, the top seller in the class - Toyota's Camry - boasts similar credentials, so it's not bad company to be in.
Safety technology: does it work?Some versions of the new Accord come with the sort of advanced safety technology currently reserved for more expensive luxury cars. But do they work?
Here's a rundown of the four technologies based on our drive of a few hundred kilometres:
Lane keeping assistance
As the name suggests the idea is to stop you wandering out of a lane. Like other systems it gives the driver a warning, but it's far from perfect, allowing the car to run over centre or outer lines. The Honda system also has a gentle self-steering system to guide the car back into a lane, but it still relies on driver inputs.
On winding country roads we found the system fairly ineffective and in most parts annoying because it would beep when you didn't want it to and not steer when it may have been handy.
On a faster multi lane freeway where the turns we're gentler it was more useful and for short periods could do most of the steering. But give driver input is still required it can at times be disconcerting as it pulls against the driver's input.
Active cruise control
As with all systems we've tried it can be handy in some situations, but not all. On single lane country roads it does a reasonable job of maintaining a set distance to the car in front, but it can't read the traffic or road as well as a human, so sometimes brakes too late.
On multi-lane freeways it's less useful and can brake at odd points, especially when another car cuts in front of you.
Blind spot mitigation
With a camera hanging off the left-hand exterior mirror the idea is to widen the mirror's field of view by projecting what the camera sees on to the upper screen. In most situations it's not required, especially on dual lane divided roads of if you're concentrating and are aware what vehicles are where.
But it does its job in widening that field of vision - if you remember to look at the screen, which is automatically activated when you indicate to move left. While we didn't test it, we think the potential to spot bikes it also quite high.
Here's a system we didn't get to test. The idea is to first warn of a collision and potentially automatically apply the brakes if it's determined a crash is inevitable.
While we had the seatbelts tighten during a slippery gravel section, it never applied the brakes?
Others reported false positives, where it warned of a potential collision when there were no cars around. An engineer suggested it may have accidentally picked up on a reflective road sign.
On sale: June, 2013
Price: $31,490 to $51,990, plus on-road and dealer costs
Models: VTi, VTi-S, VTi-L, V6L
2.4-litre four-cylinder engine
Power: 129kW at 6200rpm
Torque: 225Nm at 4000rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Fuel consumption: 7.9L/100km (VTi and VTi-S), 8.1L/100km (VTi-L)
Power: 206kW at 6200rpm
Torque: 339Nm at 4900rpm
Transmission: 6-speed auto
Fuel consumption: 9.2L/100km
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