Accord Thai Drive-6

Sawadee-krub. Hello from Thailand, where we’ve spent a day driving the new Honda Accord. Launched here at the Bangkok International Motor Show earlier this year, the ninth-generation Honda Accord will make its official debut in Malaysia next week, as you would have already found out.

UPDATE: The 2013 Honda Accord has been officially launched in Malaysia – click to read our launch report with local specs and pricing.

This first drive report will be based on the Thai-made, Thai-spec Accord, which is identical to what we will get in Malaysia, save for slight spec and trim differences. Malaysian Accords will roll out from Honda’s Melaka plant as a CKD model in three variants – 2.0 VTi, 2.0 VTi-L and the range topping 2.4 VTi-L. The previous two Accords were launched in Malaysia with a V6 option, but there will be no six-pot this time around.

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If you’re wondering, no, this is not a facelift but an all-new generation of Honda’s famous Accord lineage. The eighth-gen Accord that we’re familiar with has been around since 2007, and since then, a raft of rivals have emerged in the D-segment.

In that time, Toyota came out with a new Camry, Nissan finally brought the Teana into Malaysia, Mazda launched two generations of the 6, while an awakened South Korea rolled out eye-catching entries like the Sonata and Optima K5. We even now have some European alternatives in the shape of the VW Passat, Peugeot 508 and Ford Mondeo. It’s a brave new world, and the new Accord has its work cut out.

Accord Thai Drive-60

If the new Accord looks smaller, your eyes are correct. At 4,870 mm long, it is 80 mm shorter than the outgoing car, and its wheelbase length of 2,775 mm is 25 mm less than before. Coupled to the fact that it’s slightly wider and lower, the new Accord looks fitter and more athletic in the metal.

It is by no means a small car, not when it replaces a sedan that’s bigger than the class norm. In any case, despite the reduction in outer dimensions, the already limo-like rear legroom is up by 35.5 mm, and the vast boot holds 23 litres more, thanks to packaging magic. Honda adds that overall weight has been reduced by 4.5%, which makes it win-win for all aspects – smaller body, more space, less weight.

Under the hood, the 2.0 litre SOHC i-VTEC engine has been carried over, but is now tuned for better fuel efficiency. The Thai-spec sheet reads 155 PS and 190 Nm, which is more (+ 1 Nm) or less (- 1 PS) similar to what our eighth-gen 2.0 made. Also unchanged is the five-speed automatic transmission.

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The 2.4 is new. Out goes the long-serving K24A DOHC i-VTEC unit, replaced by a brand new “Earth Dreams Technology” engine. The new twin-cam i-VTEC mill is good for 175 hp at 6,200 rpm and 225 Nm of torque at 4,000 rpm.

The figures may be a touch lower than the K24A’s 180 PS/222 Nm, but they’re made lower down the rev range, and the EDT engine is cleaner and more fuel efficient. Read more about what Honda’s Earth Dreams Technology is all about here.

I started the day driving the 2.4 from Phuket to Khao Lak, and found the new Accord to be improved, yet familiar. It didn’t take long for us to notice that there’s less rolling noise than before, one of the few complaints we had about the old car. Less road roar and tyre noise, but rougher local tests such as the well-worn Federal Highway and concrete PLUS highway surfaces await.

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Incidentally, the new Accord is factory fitted with the new Michelin Primacy 3 ST tyre in Thailand, which we found impressive in a recent test. This won’t be the footwear of choice for locally assembled Accords, which will come with Malaysian-made rubber.

The gains in rolling refinement co-exists with an engine that’s typically Honda in character. Ever willing to rev up to the redline, the new EDT engine works with a familiar buzzy mechanical note. Personally, I like the racy sound it makes, even if it’s not hand-in-glove with the executive theme. It’s not unpleasant because we’re talking about character, not strain.

Compared to the K-series 2.4 litre, which starts slow before it wakes up with a scream, the EDT offers more low down pull and less of the “two-phase” nature that’s undesirable in a big executive sedan. It’s better, but those looking for the ultimate silent and smooth operator would do better with a Camry 2.5V, in my humble opinion. The five-speed automatic is faultless, as usual.

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The sporty nature of the engine dovetails nicely with a sharp drive, which is as good as it gets in this segment. I have not tried the new Mazda 6, but like the outgoing Accord, this new one is a great tool for a B-road cross-country drive. The steering is light, quick, and feelsome enough for what it is, the car’s mass is well masked, and there’s good body control to boot.

No lurching and rolling around, and ride comfort was good on the 2.4’s 18-inch wheels, on Thai roads. “Drives like a smaller car” may be quite cliche, but true in this case nonetheless. The Koreans may look the part as class athletes, but would do well to match the Honda’s communication and composure when driven hard.

The 2.0 litre model is as good to drive, but has to be worked harder. Not that it feels a lot slower than the 2.4 (it doesn’t), but there’s more engine sound in the cabin for sure. The auto ‘box works well, but lacks steering paddles to downshift for corners when driving hard on the twisties, which means I had to pull the lever (straight-line gate, be careful to not miss your station) down to D3 for the same effect, before pushing it up again. More work, but can do.

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Away from B roads, the Accord is a comfortable car to sit in. From the driver’s seat, our range topping 2.4 “Tech” spec tester felt like a Volvo with Adaptive Cruise Control (mirrors the speed of the car in front), Collision Mitigation Brake System (BRAKE warning on the meter and flashing light when you approach the car in front, fast) and Lane Watch Camera.

Lane Watch Camera, the only one from above that will appear in the Malaysian range topper, gives you a view of the left lane when you flick the signal stalk. Captured by a camera below the wing mirror, the visual is displayed on the central eight-inch i-MID colour screen. Only for the left side, LWC can be manually turned on via a button on the light stalk. Very cool, very useful.

Speaking of toys, the Malaysian Accord will finally get keyless entry and push start. Other available equipment include a multi-view reverse camera, LED headlamps, LED DRLs and Active Cornering Lamps. Many of these things are appearing in a Honda for the first time in Malaysia. We’ll bring you the full local equipment list and spec breakdown from the launch next week.

Compared to the eighth-gen Accord, the new car’s cabin is a massive improvement in both design and functionality. Gone is the expansive, swoopy button-fest dashboard, and in its place is a more conventional layout featuring two colour screens.

The smaller of the two is a touch screen for the audio system, while the big one above displays everything else, controlled by the panel on the base of the centre stack. The parking brake is now foot-operated.

The ambience is more intimate and luxurious than before, with the colourful displays and 3D multi-layer speedometer adding to the high-tech feel missing in the outgoing car. Perceived quality is good, with soft plastics (the only hard/shiny piece on the top half of the dashboard is a small panel to the left of the steering wheel) and solid controls.

Feel aside, the dashboard is more user-friendly now, and the driver’s seat is comfortable over long distances. Compared to the main chair of the old car, the new seat allows one to sit lower to the floor, and the excessive lumbar support I found annoying in the old car has been rectified.

The new Accord introduces electric seat adjustment buttons on the side of the passenger seat, close to the driver. Borrowed from the Camry, this is a simple but very thoughtful feature I used frequently when testing the Toyota, one of those things that makes you wonder why all cars don’t have it. Our test unit also had a powered rear sunshade.

Its predecessors only had to duel with the Camry, but the new Honda Accord will face stiff competition from all corners when it enters the Malaysian D-segment arena. That said, with new tech, fancy equipment, smooth new looks and great driver appeal, it’s well equipped for the battle, and even a class win.