Emerging from the house in a caffeine-free stumble, he peers at the expanse of silver paintwork before him.
“Couldn’t you have found a smaller car?” my passenger jests, through bleary eyes.
It’s true, Honda’s five-door version of the Accord is probably visible from space. In a market full of ‘lifestyle estates’ barely commodious enough to play host to a surfboard, the Japanese have created a truly gargantuan rival to the ubiquitous Volvo estate.
Strange, then, they settled on the ‘Tourer’ moniker rather than ‘Cargo’ or ‘Warehouse’, given its epic 1,707 litre luggage capacity. Can an estate car perform like a grand tourer without feeling like a mobile barn conversion? We decided there was really only one way to find out – we would point the Honda badge north and stop driving when we’d had enough.
Flinging a Red Bull multi-pack into the Accord’s load-space, where it all but disappears, my passenger climbs aboard with a sanity-questioning sigh. It’s 5am, and I ease the Honda out into the Hampshire countryside.
Conversation is limited to a series of coded grunts as we attempt to coax my portable sat nav into a state of co-operation. However, it’s not long before we join the M25 around Heathrow and the customary accumulation of MPVs with children stuffed into every cup holder. Holiday season is most definitely here.
Swinging onto the M40, we’re passed by a Ford Galaxy with sucker-faced children pressed up against the windows. This, it seems, is to be a recurring theme for the trip. The star of Honda’s ‘Cog’ advert certainly attracts attention.
As we pass Oxford at 6am, the sun begins to peer over the horizon. It seems strange to think we might see tomorrow’s sunrise in the same place, albeit on the other side of the carriageway.
“Oh, purlease!” I snort, as a black Golf pulls in front and immediately reduces his speed by 20mph, causing me to brake. It’s a manoeuvre he’s practised well, having performed the same trick four times already over the course of the last few miles. I can only surmise that he objects to the design of the rear of the Accord Tourer so much that he can’t bear to look at it. I drop the gearbox through a couple of ratios and accelerate past. Again.
Birmingham, it seems, is hosting a road works convention. Contraflows and diversions of every conceivable design announce our impending arrival on the M6, all liberally decorated with cones and flashing lights. It also marks the beginning of the longest single leg of our journey; we’ll stay on this motorway for the next 200-odd miles until Carlisle.
Now 150 miles into our road-trip (it’s depressing to think of it as only a fifth of the way to our destination), we’re beginning to appreciate the extra effort Honda put into seat design. The additional bolsters of the Type S don’t appear to sacrifice comfort for support, but with another 500 miles still to go, we’ll be well able to judge how good they really are.
As we pass the Peak District, the number of caravans and (mainly foreign-registered) mobile homes seems to double, most of them sporting ingenuous, but essentially dangerous-looking, methods of strapping multiple bikes to the back.
Our first fuel stop of the day comes at around 9am when we pull into the Welcome Break services at Charnock Richard. Although only about 250 miles into our journey, and with the gauge still registering about a third full, I opt to keep a decent amount of fuel in the tank in case we have to dive onto the back roads when the traffic builds. I calculate our fuel consumption to be around 31mpg – not bad going. The Honda draws the now customary inquisitive glances, but I resist the urge to play with the power tailgate.
“Hadn’t you better start the engine first?” quizzes my passenger, sarcastically, as I prepare to move off. I slot the alloy gear lever into first and pull away, watching his face drop as he realises his faux pas. The Accord’s 2.4-litre engine was already running, testament to Honda’s excellence at supressing noise and vibration.
Back on to the M6, and time to settle back in to the rhythm. Years of passage by trucks has left the surface of lane one heavily rutted. While the optional 17″ Penta alloy wheels look great, and are shod with serious Yokohama rubber, they can tramline badly leaving you feeling like you’re piloting a train along a wonky set of rails. It’s a problem faced by any manufacturer that fits wide and low-profile tyres, and certainly isn’t unique to the Honda, but those seeking a calmer relationship with their steering wheel might want to stick with the standard-fit 16″ alloys.
We cross the border into Scotland around 11am, now a good 350 miles and six hours into our journey. It’s a testament to the comfort of the Honda that I still feel like pressing on. I wondered quietly to myself before the start of the trip if I might get to the Scottish border, only to suddenly reconsider why I was doing such a bizarre and slightly mad thing, and then decide to turn around. So far, I’m still driving north.
Minding my own business on the M74, a Ford Scorpio lunges out from a slip-road and takes up position a few feet from the Honda’s rear bumper. It’s clear this guy wants to get past, so I oblige. As he passes, I marvel at his parenting skills when I see that the rear of the car is filled with small children, all standing up, unrestrained, each one forming a perfect living missile should he need to brake in an emergency.
We skirt around the edges of Glasgow and up past Stirling on our way to join the A9, a road we’re likely to be on for some time. Past Perth, and things start to become noticeably more Highland-esque, with a proper array of hills (actually, sizeable mountains), valleys and rivers. And caravans. Unlike South West England’s A303 which is nearly always infested with slow-moving plastic houses, the A9 is punctuated with lay-bys and prominent yellow signs, reminding drivers that “frustration kills – please allow overtaking.”
The overtaking promotion allows us to make good time, but just as the Honda and I are settling into a relaxed cruise, we hit our first traffic jam of the day. A lane closure soon after a side road joins the A9 means we’re queuing as everyone jostles for position. Down south, we’d see a few road rage incidents as tempers boil over but here, everyone calmly filters into place. In fact, the only thing that overheats is a red Citroën ZX.
As we’re coasting in the jam, we’re subjected to the now customary stares and quizzical glances, notably from a middle-aged couple in a battered Xantia. The woman in particular seems incapable of taking her eyes off the Honda, and even leans her seat back further so she can get a better look. I begin to wonder if I’ve got a flat tyre, or perhaps someone’s graffiti’d the side of the car and I haven’t noticed yet. Or, worse, she’s looking at me and not the car. Luckily, her lane speeds up and my self-consciousness subsides.
Four in the afternoon, and we arrive at Tore, just north of Inverness. I’m beginning to think about finding fuel when we see signs for services just off a large roundabout. The signs lead to what can be best described as “Bob’s Garage” tucked away down a side road, with what looks like a meeting of the local Massey Ferguson club in progress in the car park. Although the forecourt has six pumps, five of them have plastic bags tied over the nozzles. I leave my passenger to have an unprovoked coughing fit, nearly causing a local to call an ambulance, while I fill up the car – it’s another 31mpg tank. A large “Diner” sign leads my bladder to believe they’ll have usable toilet facilities, so I investigate before paying. The diner is shut, and the toilets probably should be, too – not that I’m a WC expert, but I’m sure it’s customary to have the waste pipe connected to something. I decide to skip it.
Back on the A9 now, and across the impressive-looking causeway between Findon Mains and Ardullie just as the sky begins to fill with warm tones. We’re treated to an impressive view of Cromarty Firth as the A9 follows the coast past Invergordon and up to Morangie (yes, of Glenmorangie fame – the distillery is open all year round).
The road becomes satisfyingly more twisty, although also more populated by caravans. There are some great corners up here, and I take advantage of every overtaking opportunity and begin to really stretch the i-VTEC unit’s lungs. Stuck behind a V8 Discovery that looks like it needs outboard stabiliser wheels, I’m joined by an enthusiastic bright blue MG Rover. It’s obvious to each other that we’re both keen to get past our mobile chicane up ahead and make the most of the roads, so when an opportunity presents itself, I allow Rover Boy to pass first. A cheery wave is my reward.
With the exception of two Vauxhall Astras that insist on braking virtually to a standstill for corners but then frantically accelerating on the straights to prevent anyone from overtaking, the next few miles are the best of the whole journey so far. Sweeping bends, great weather, a fluid chassis and a nicely relaxed power unit, all combine to make the first 600-odd miles well worth it.
It all comes to an abrupt end, however, when we happen upon a Belgium-registered mobile home, complete with precarious rear-mounted bikes, dawdling at a maximum of 25mph. With no overtaking opportunities left, we’re destined to spend our last few miles staring at the back of an Elddis Autostratus. It’s not pretty. I briefly consider turning around and going home.
Fourteen hours and nearly 700 miles later, we pull in to the car park at John o’Groats.
After the magnitude of our journey, we half expect to pass through a golden archway with choirs singing and cherubs plucking serenely at harps. In reality, John o’Groats consists of a large car park with bays big enough for any mobile plastic abode, a handful of touristy shops, a roundabout and a famous sign. I park the Honda as close to the wooden landmark as I think I can get away with, and drink a celebratory can of Red Bull.
Consulting a map, it’s difficult to comprehend the distance we’ve covered, particularly as we still feel relaxed. After watching a group of tourists dressed in luminous orange leave for a wildlife tour, we start the return leg of our journey.
With the sun setting over the horizon, and no traffic ahead of us, the first few miles back down the A99 are an unspoilt version of that denied us by our caravanning friends on the way up. The coastal route offers incredible views over the North Sea. It’s mildly disconcerting at first the way the right-hand bends present us with a view of the sea and nothing else as you approach them. The prospect of a shear drop into the briny deep works wonders for keeping your mind focused.
The Honda and I start to merge, and together we scythe our way down the A9. Ever had an experience where it’s difficult to tell where you end and the car begins? It’s dark, but the road has plenty of overtaking opportunities. Even the other traffic seems to be egging us on, pulling over or indicating to the left when the way is clear to overtake. Our only hold-up is a Fiat Bravo that refuses to use main beam to illuminate the way ahead, leaving me to guess if the straight is long enough to pass safely. I opt to wait for a stretch of dual-carriageway. We make Perth in just over 3½ hours, and my passenger wakes just in time to plan a fuel stop.
While I’m filling up, a Peugeot pulls up at the adjacent pump and off-loads a group of lads. There’s much interest in the Honda’s alloys as I walk in to pay for the fuel, but when I come out they make some comment about “estate cars” that I don’t quite catch and wheel-spin off the forecourt. I work out our economy to be 36mpg on that last leg – excellent, considering our, err… enthusiasm.
The A9 is dispatched quickly, past Stirling and Glasgow, and before long we’re back on the M6. It’s closed at junction 34, and the diversion takes us and a motorway-load of trucks through Lancaster, along a route lined with speed cameras. I can’t help thinking the local police force will be earning a massive revenue boost while the road works are in place, particularly as the truck ahead of us appears to be piloted by one of Schuey’s relatives.
After the diversion and back on the M6, we pick up where we left off but, while the Honda is just getting into its stride, I’m beginning to feel more than a little tired. The rest of the M6 is largely uneventful, and that doesn’t help my now withering state. While the Honda’s boot capacity of 1,707 litres with the seats down might be enough to hold 6,828 cans of Red Bull, that’s still not enough to keep me awake any longer. I decide to sleep for an hour in the next services.
It’s 6am, and we’re woken by the sound of a Discovery starting up and rattling off out of the services. It’s time to move on ourselves, although not before a fuel stop for all concerned – a tank of unleaded for the Honda, and a Red Bull and Snickers breakfast for the rest of us.
The sun’s beginning to rise and the traffic is building. I’m now keen to get home, but I’d forgotten how many sets of road works and 50mph speed restrictions there were; I’m going to miss seeing the sunrise in the same place as yesterday.
I can tell we’re back down south as drivers are cutting each other up, tailgating, and gesticulating. The familiar sight of the M25 is upon us, and I know just beyond that is the M3. I’m getting my second wind.
After 27 hours, 24 of which were driving, we arrive back in Hampshire and can unfold ourselves from the car. The Honda’s done well. It’s covered in bugs, but has been economical and amazingly comfortable for nearly 1,400 miles.
A real tourer, then. It seems Honda were right with the name all along.