By Jonathan Crouch
Honda eighth generation Accord sat somewhere between the Mondeo mainstream and the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4-dominated compact executive sector. No prizes for guessing which segment Honda most wanted it to compete in. The original version of this 2008 model never really caught the imagination of business buyers, so in 2011, the brand updated it, creating the smarter, quieter, cleaner and more frugal version we're looking at here. If you're one of the few looking at a used MK8 model Accord, then this is the version worth stretching to.
The distinction between a Mondeo-sized Medium range model and a prestigious Audi A4 or BMW 3 Series-style compact executive saloon is a narrow one. Worse, for aspiring brands, there isn't one sure-fire solution to position their products in the more exclusive of these two market segments. With Audi, it's style, with Mercedes, luxury and with BMW, driver-involvement. And with Honda? Hi-tech doesn't have quite the same appeal when it comes to their Accord, especially as many other brands can now match the gadgets we first saw when this MK8 version was first introduced in 2008. Hence the revisions that the brand introduced with this model in 2011, creating the car we're going to look at here as a used buy.
Some facelifts completely rejuvenate their products but this wasn't one of those. It was more a package of changes guaranteed to dot the final 'i' and cross the final 't' on a decision potential buyers might have wanted to make anyway. Namely, to choose something better than a Mondeo or an Insignia but without the snob value and ridiculous pricing of a BMW, an Audi or a Mercedes. We always think Accord ownership is very clever for that very reason, premium brand motoring you don't have to shout about. Motoring that, in the case of this revised model, could be quieter, cleaner, more comfortable, even higher-tech and more economical. Unfortunately, the changes weren't enough to re-awaken customer interest in this likeable car and it was finally quietly dropped from the Honda line-up in the middle of 2015.
What You Get
What you see here is pretty much what you get. Glimpse an Accord and you're conscious of something a little more up-market than the usual Medium range market Mondeo fare but not quite as classy as the shapes provided by the prestigious German brands. To change that, Honda would have had to do a lot more to this facelifted version than they did. If you're interested, the changes amount to clear front indicators to flank the Bi-HID lights you get on plusher versions with their clever Active Cornering Lights. And an all-red light treatment at the rear with a chrome finish above the rear licence plate.
Inside, the tweaks made over the original 2008 MK8 model are equally subtle. Dark silver interior panels and a bright silver finish for the door handles and handbrake, as well as higher quality trim on base versions. Otherwise, the facelift 2011 version was little different, nicely finished with every 'touch point' (seats, steering wheel, pedals) feeling premium but without the hewn-from-granite feel that would tend to characterise something German. For us though, that's more than made up for by the exemplary driving position which has all the major controls falling beautifully to hand. We say all the 'major controls': there are plenty of minor ones the ergonomic placement of which appears to have defeated the best efforts of Honda's designers. You can see why. From the driver's seat, almost 100 switches are within reach, with 16 buttons alone on the steering wheel. In the absence of an 'i-Drive'-style central controller to get rid of all this dashboard clutter, drivers of plusher Accords need to spend an awful long time with the handbook first.
It's worth it though, for once you take the time to understand everything, you can't deny that the thought lying behind it all is very clever. The way, for example, that hi-tech optical sensors determine the sun's position and adjust the climate control accordingly. The way the centre console can have either cold or hot air pumped into it to cool or warm drinks. The way the voice-activated satellite navigation can recognise the speech of a set of different users and on the move, even distinguish between driver and passenger.
In the back, well you might not think it's very spacious if you've just got out of the kind of Ford Mondeo that can seat comfortably three adults here, but against just about everything else in the Medium range and compact executive sectors from this era, it's pretty competitive, with decent room for two adults or three children that can be cooled by their own air conditioning vents in plusher models.
As for boot space, well despite marginal encroachment from the rear suspension, there's certainly a little more than you'd get in something BMW or Audi-sized, the saloon version offering 467-litres and featuring a boot pack so that you can use every inch of it thanks to things like a cargo net, a side pocket and utility hooks on the underside of the rear shelf for hanging shopping bags. There's also a small underfloor storage compartment and the option to push the split-folding rear seatbacks forward to further increase space. A little ironically, the sportier styling which Honda decided that the 'Tourer' estate version had to have meant that it actually boasted a smaller 406-litre boot, though that's still enough for four medium-sized golf bags or four large suitcases. And the advantage of course here is that you can push forward the split-folding rear seats to free up more space, 660-litres if you load to the windowline or 1183-litres to the roof, enough room to accommodate, say, a mountainbike without having to remove the wheels first. And most Tourer models got an electric tailgate, which'll be a boon if you're approaching the car laden with heavy shopping.
What to Look For
Honda's output isn't known for niggling faults or mechanical mishaps and the Accord should be as reliable a medium range saloon as you'll find. Many Accords will have lived former lives as company cars but don't be put off by well cared for high mileage examples. Reliability should be up to snuff.
(approx based on a 2011 Accord 2.0 i-VTEC ES) A whole headlamp unit for your Accord will set you back around £250. A radiator retails for £150 whilst an alternator is £300 and a replacement starter motor will cost £240. Front brake pads are £50 for a pair whilst an exhaust system costs £400.
On the Road
I always look forward to driving a Honda. There are rivals offering sharper handling and cabins of better aesthetic design and higher quality, but for some reason, especially when it comes to an Accord, there's nothing else in the sector in which I feel as at home. The way the controls work. The way everything falls easily to hand. And best of all, the way the lovely short-throw 6-speed manual gearbox makes all others feel notchy and reluctant. A five-speed auto with largely redundant gearshift paddles was an option on most revised MK8 Accord models but please don't choose it without trying an example fitted with the manual set-up. You'll be missing out on a great individual piece of automotive design.
By 2011, to sell alongside the minority-interest 156PS 2.0-litre and 201PS 2.4-litre petrol powerplants, Honda dealers could talk of two diesel options, with the grander of the two, a 180PS version of the company's 2.2-litre i-DTEC unit, being the powerplant the Japanese brand liked to promote. For nearly all business buyers though, the default Accord option was the 150PS version of this engine which, with 350Nm of torque, had just 30Nm of pulling power less than the pokier 'Type-S' 180PS model and was just a second slower in the 0-60mph sprint at 9.4s.
In the original post-2008 version of this MK8 model Accord, one of the reasons why you might not have wanted to use all of this performance was due to the diesel din offered up at higher revs, as well, incidentally, as at start-up. Not good enough from a wannabe premium brand that once led the market in this respect. Hence the enormous efforts expended upon improving matters in the post-2011 facelift version. Without the option of redesigning the engine, the development team concentrated upon a combination of detail improvements - high density foam beneath the bonnet, under-floor noise insulation and sound-deadening sheets on the diesel particulate filter and exhaust manifold. And just in case all that wasn't enough, they thickened the rear window glass too: out of earshot, out of mind.
I can't help thinking that it would have been better to have designed a quieter engine in the first place, but there's no denying that all this effort really worked and in the 2011 to 2015 era, the Accord returned to its position as one of the most refined diesels it was possible to buy in the class - whatever class you think that might be. If, as Honda hopes, you see this as a compact executive BMW 3 Series-style rival, then you'll be expecting handling to match. Which you won't get of course, since the BMW drives its wheels from the rear rather than, as here, at the front. Still, that never held Audi's A4 back and this Accord is quite the equal of the Ingolstadt car when it comes to a set of twisting turns. Thanks to the suspension tweaks introduced as part of the 2011 facelift package that were aimed at better suiting this car to our appalling British roads, nothing, save Ford's Mondeo, is better around the bends in the Medium range volume class either. That's thanks to this car's low centre of gravity, wide track, rigid body, variable rate damping, quick ratio steering and supple multilink rear suspension. There's nothing ground-breaking here, but collectively, it's enough to produce a very assured drive indeed, if not in most ways, an especially memorable one.
Like other cars in the 2011 to 2015 era trying to make the jump into the premium sector - Lexus' IS, Volvo's S60, Saab's 9-3 and Alfa Romeo's 159 to name but a few - this Accord remained a minority choice here in the UK when it was new. Then, as now, business buyers in this country were programmed to want a BMW, an Audi or a Mercedes if they were going to pay more for something Mondeo-sized. But business buyers can be wrong. For significantly less than something with a premium German badge, this Honda, for us offers a very smart package for the clever used car buyer who doesn't care what others think. And it makes more sense in this facelifted, more efficient post-2011 guise than it did in its original post-2008 form.
The premium you pay over the Mondeo mainstream you'll largely get back in higher residuals at the end of ownership having in the meantime enjoyed a plusher, hi-tech product that'll be more reliable than a Swiss watch. And with greater refinement, sharper handling and most importantly, lower running costs delivered by this revised eighth generation version, there are now fewer reasons not to factor in the Accord into your used car buying deliberations if you're looking for a smartly turned out medium range saloon or estate of this type. It certainly isn't an obviously choice, but we're prepared to bet that it's one you won't regret making.