The fast estate car has always been popular with us Brits. It seems we’ve always been in a hurry to transport Labradors, shopping and kids at high speed through the twistiest parts of our green and pleasant land.
The Swedes were quick to pick up on this national trait, and responded by giving us full elk-carrying capabilities in the shape of Volvo’s 850 T-5 and a range of blown Saabs. The Germans weren’t far behind, and set about shoehorning improbably large power units into otherwise classy and restrained engine bays to give us barnstormers like the Audi RS6 Avant and a whole slew of AMG-fettled Mercs.
Even Alfa Romeo were keen to get in on the act, and delivered the pretty 156 Sportwagon to the market whilst also managing to retain much of the saloon’s faux-coupe styling.
And herein lies the problem. In the interests of styling, these lifestyle estates have lost much of their carrying ability and simply morphed into large hatchbacks. They’ve even lost the ‘estate’ name, with marketing departments busy coining new terms – Touring, Avant, etc. This trend must surely have peaked with the Lexus IS Sportcross, an estate car with less cargo space than a Golf hatchback.
Does this mean space and pace can’t co-exist? Honda doesn’t think so.
The new Accord Tourer is an important car for Honda. Realising that the market is moving away from mass-market mainstream brands at the Ford and Vauxhall end of the food-chain, Honda are trying to move their brand up-market. Rather than follow the Stella Artois method of brand positioning (increase the price of your product and hope people think it’s somehow better), Honda recognise they have real work to do if they’re going to convince people their’s isn’t just a brand for wobbly people with blue hair and pension books. Not for nothing did they spend £6 million on their infamous two-minute long ‘Cog’ TV advert.
So, styling first. Japanese cars have long been criticised as boring and devoid of character. That criticism can’t be levelled at the new Accord, which is bold and well detailed. Take a look at those aggressively-styled front headlights – black-backed projector units with delightfully frosted sidelights. Or the chrome door handles. Or the Mercedes-a-like side repeaters in the wing mirrors. Or the deep-cut V of the grille that drapes back into the bonnet. That grille might be an issue in itself for some, though. Not just because of the large H badge in the centre, but also because Mazda tried something very similar with the Mazda6.
It’s towards the back that things are more interesting. The Tourer shares only the front section with its Saloon brother, and is unique from the B-pillar back. Overall length is increased by 85mm, 50mm of which is in the wheelbase. The C-pillar is moved forward slightly and, as the rear wheel arch is now further back, ease of entry for rear seat passengers is much improved.
Unlike the lifestyle estates, the bluff rear end of the Accord doesn’t intrude into the load space, and Honda have given the window line a tapered look to disguise much of the squareness. It’s quite striking, but you can’t help feeling it’s been lumbered with an incredibly long rear overhang.
So it’s a practical beast then, with well-controlled wheel arch intrusion, and cleverly designed rear seats that fold both the seat bases and backs in one combined motion, leaving a virtually flat load area. The seat bases can’t be removed, however, so tall drivers will have to move their seat forward once the rear seats are folded. Total area is 576 litres with the seats in place, and a Volvo V70-beating 1,707 litres with the seats stowed. There’s a lockable storage bay underneath the load floor where there’s space for a spare wheel, although the Accord is supplied with a can of gunk and an electric pump instead. You’ll find plenty of tie-down hooks, as well as two hooks that spring out from just below the window line, and a power socket.
Loading up couldn’t be easier, with an electrically-operated tailgate activated from the ignition key or a button on the tailgate. The electrickery for this is housed within the roof, the benefit being that there are no hydraulic struts to get in the way. The system incorporates pressure sensors to prevent canine decapitation, and even sounds a warning beeper and flashes the hazard lights while the tailgate is in operation.
Up-front, there’s good space for drivers of all sizes, and Honda have paid special attention to seat design. Our Type-S model is equipped with more bolstering than the comfort-orientated Executive, but both models offer comfort rivalling even the acknowledged Swedish experts.
The dashboard is illuminated from behind (red in the Type-S, white in the Executive), with the dials hidden until you insert the ignition key. The red illumination does make it difficult to read the instruments if you’re wearing sunglasses, but generally the effect is clear and interesting.
There are quality materials in places, notably the fabulous soft lining of the doors, and the controls move with a perfectly weighted and well-oiled action. Honda took great pride in designing a door that dampens high-frequency vibrations while amplifying those of a lower frequency. This means the doors shut with satisfying clunk, leaving you with an impression of weight and solidity.
The 2.4 Type-S costs £20,513 on the road, with our test vehicle in Satin Silver Metallic (£300) with 17″ Penta alloy wheels (£400) topping out at £21,213. While cheaper than the BMW 3-series Touring, it’s still more expensive than many of its immediate rivals, and almost into Lexus territory. Depreciation is likely to be a factor, with first-year loses of around £8,000 and a retained value after three years of around 39%.
Out on the road, things improve. There’s a fluid chassis to be enjoyed, and the steering offers good initial turn-in, if a little less feedback than we’d like. The ride is generally excellent, if not quite class-leading, but still suffers from the typical Honda trait of too little wheel travel, and under full power on rough surfaces the front wheels feel like a wild stallion pawing at the ground. The optional 17″ alloys can induce a degree of tram-lining, too, but as the Accord looks substantially under-wheeled without them, it’s something worth living with.
Although your Labrador won’t thank you for it, the Accord is quite happy being thrown through the bends, and while the Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) system generally does a good job of keeping things in check, it can abruptly cut the juice while powering out of a tight corner.
The gearshift action is slick and precise, although a little recalcitrant when cold. I’d have preferred to have seen the six ratios spaced a little lower and closer together – to make really spirited progress, you often find yourself having to change down three or even four gears to take advantage of the engine’s high power band, and once you’ve reached the redline in second gear you’re practically at the UK legal limit with four gears still to go.
That said, there is plenty of low-down usable torque unusual for a Honda VTEC unit, and the drive-by-wire throttle has a flexible attitude to power delivery.
Noise suppression is excellent, with the engine barely audible at tick-over. At one point during our test, while preparing to reverse out of a parking spot, my passenger suggested I might like to start the engine first; it was already running, of course.
When the engine does make its presence felt, it’s a rather generic four-cylinder drone; it seems Honda were so keen to instil calmness and serenity into the passenger compartment that they’ve insulated out most of the characteristic VTEC hard-edged snarl, and there’s no trace of an exhaust note despite the twin tail-pipes. We can only hope Honda compensates by producing a snorty Type-R version.
Whilst the Accord might not perform like a balls-out sports car, it excels as a rapid ground coverer, with space for as much garb as you’d care to take with you. We took ours to John o’Groats – we were fully expecting to arrive withered and arthritic, but the Accord left us feeling so fresh and relaxed that we turned around and came home again. Back home, after 1,400 miles and 27 hours behind the wheel, I was still fully in touch with my posterior.
A real tourer, then. It seems Honda were right with the name all along.
An excellent package, and a supreme ground coverer.The Accord Tourer is, in our view, the best estate on the market today. We wish there was a Type-R version.