7

A slightly forgettable drive and mixed ergonomics, but a very comfortable and cheap used buy

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The Honda Accord has a fine pedigree, a fact that surely attracted people to this eighth-generation model launched in 2008.

For example, there was the sharply styled third-generation Accord Aerodeck of the mid-1980s, the swoopy sixth-generation Coupé and much-admired Type R of the late 1990s – and throughout, a succession of handsome estates.

There’s an ‘up/down’ gear indicator inset into the rev-counter, which is all very well in theory but is annoyingly bright.

So when folk turned up at Honda showrooms for the new Accord’s launch night, they were expecting big things, especially since the outgoing model, launched five years before, had been so successful.

In fact, the new model appeared to be just an evolution of the old, albeit slightly larger and fussier-looking. There was the same choice of saloon and estate bodystyles, while the engines – a selection of 2.0 and 2.4-litre petrols and a 2.2-litre diesel, all with four cylinders and in a variety of power outputs – were updated versions of those previously offered. (In fairness, the diesel was comprehensively reworked.)

But appearances can be deceptive. Underneath it all, the eighth-generation Accord was all new. Those visitors to the showroom had only to peer at the new dashboard to see that, and those with a technical bent would have noted that the model had gained weight and that the Tourer now shared the same wheelbase as the saloon, which is why the load area had shrunk a bit.

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The saloon’s boot was smaller too, a consequence of the new, bulkier, multi-link rear suspension. After the launch sparkle had faded, it was apparent the new Accord was caught between a rock and a hard place – the cheaper but no less impressive Ford Mondeo below and the classier and more characterful Mercedes C-Class and BMW 3 Series above.

It means that, today, the classifieds aren’t entirely drowning under second-hand examples. Saloons comfortably outnumber Tourers, making the latter more valuable, and there are slightly more diesels than petrols, which is unsurprising given the model’s appeal to company car drivers.

Staying with the engines, the rare 198bhp 2.4 i-VTEC petrol is out of its depth – noisy and hobbled by its standard-fit, five-speed automatic gearbox. Meanwhile, the 154bhp 2.0 i-VTEC is sluggish and needs revving hard on gradients.

That leaves the two 2.2 i-DTEC diesels. The 148bhp 2.2 is smooth and quiet but a tad pedestrian. The more powerful 177bhp is a better choice but is even rarer than the 2.4i petrol, although it’s worth seeking out for its 280lb ft of torque. The six-speed manual gearbox, available on all models apart from the 2.4i, is light and precise.

The Accord was facelifted in 2011, when it gained a restyled nose and tail and new lights. The interior had a slight makeover too, but the ergonomic car crash that is the dashboard remained unchanged. There’s not much leg room in the back, but otherwise the cabin is a nice place to be.

Plenty of trims were offered, but today ES (most creature comforts) and EX GT (powered sports seats, sunroof) are the most plentiful. Under way, the Accord’s handling is secure, motorway ride comfort is excellent and it’s quiet and refined.

Crucially, the model is also more reliable than most, and when it comes to buying an older used car, unless you’re a speed freak, that’s about the only quality that matters.

Honda Accord 2008-2015 common problems

Engine: Manual diesels can suffer premature clutch slip, so boot it from second and see how it likes it. Diesel autos have a low, 1200kg towing limit, making them unsuitable for most caravan-towing duties.

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Still with diesels, if the car has done abnormally low mileage, take it for an extended test drive checking for running issues, perhaps caused by a clogged diesel particulate filter (DPF). This is potentially very serious because cleaning the DPF can confuse the ECU, which then triggers the warning light again.

A new DPF is around £1500. Check for white smoke, possibly caused by a failed head gasket, and examine the exhaust gas recirculation pipe for cracks. Regarding petrol engines, feel for hesitancy as you accelerate, an issue that can be caused by VTEC control problems. Valve clearances should be checked every 30,000 miles.

Gearbox: A rattle when pulling away or a series of loud clunks could be the dual mass flywheel breaking up. (Alternatively, the rattle could be the air-con pulley breaking up, to which they are prone.) 

Suspension and steering: The sophisticated suspension makes for secure handling but it is complex. Still, a fresh MOT should pick up any issues with the upper and lower ball joints at the front, and joints and bushes at the rear. Steering rack motors have been known to fail. (The car may pull to one side.)

Brakes: Check the fluid has been changed every couple of years.

Interior: Some owners have reported that the windscreen wipers fail to operate on.

DESIGN & STYLING

Honda Accord rear

When it first launched, the Honda Accord may have been all new, but the philosophy behind it is anything but. Its design is determinedly evolutionary, a fact that is testament to the clarity of the vision for the generation of Accord that went before it.

Whether it has been successful in this regard is down to personal choice. But for what it’s worth, while we admired the fact that the Accord looks more grown up and expensive, we also lament slightly and subjectively that a lot of the cleanness of the original has been lost.

Thin A-pillars make for excellent forward visibility

In 2011, the Accord range was given new headlights, a new ‘sportier’ grille, reprofiled cooling ducts and foglights and a new bumper at the front, while the rear also received a new bumper, a new finish for the lights and chrome trim above the number plate for saloon models. 17-inch alloy wheels were offered on ES and ES-GT models, while three new colours – Alabaster Silver, Graphite Lustre metallic and Celestrial Blue Pearl – were added to the options list.

As before, the Accord came in two shapes – this saloon and an estate (still called Tourer) – but they no longer sat on different wheelbases. Although this means that the Tourer no longer looks like a flying coffin, you can also expect its carrying capacity to be somewhat abbreviated.

Under the skin, the Accord could not hope for a more pukka specification, with double wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear end ensuring a vice-like control over both axles.

INTERIOR

Honda Accord dashboard

Ergonomically, we found the interior of the Accord to be a mess and a disappointingly backward step from the more cohesive design chosen for the previous model. Climb behind the wheel, let your eyes stray towards the indecipherable infestation of controls that dominate the centre console and one thought will appear in your head: “How am I ever going to make sense of it all?”

We’ve often been critics of single controllers, but the truth is that even that kind of arrangement works better than this. It’s a shame because the Accord has an excellent driving position, the instruments are attractive and easy to read, and the quality of the dashboard and upholstery are more than good enough for the car’s positioning.

You don’t get a spare wheel or run-flat tyres as standard. A space saver is available, but you’ll have to pay for it. Cheeky.

Honda sought to address some of these problems in 2010 by giving the interior a bit of a lift alongside the exterior tweaks. Although interior changes – including new dark silver panels and a bright silver finish for the door handles and handbrake – may sound fancy, they didn’t really address the fundamental problems.

But there was another problem, aside from the fundamental design and layout. Given the car’s considerable size, there’s startlingly little room in the back, both for your legs and head. Four adults will think twice before heading off for hundreds of miles. The boot is fairly small, too, and poorly arranged because of the considerable encroachment of the new rear suspension.

Things did improve in the Accord Tourer. It’s replete with the sort of touches that make living with a wagon pleasurable: under-floor stowage, lashing hooks and large side panniers for a start. It also has a low loading floor and a wide tailgate. So if you don’t want the ultimate in carrying capacity, it makes a lot of sense.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Honda Accord engine bay

‘Just about good enough’ summed up the Accord’s performance when equipped with the then staple 2.2-litre diesel engine. The engine produces 148bhp – up 10bhp from the old Accord – yet retains its commendably smooth running. And although overall weight rose, it was not by enough to blow a big hole in what was already fairly leisurely acceleration. Honda’s own numbers suggest a 0-62mph time of 9.5sec, a time we matched to 60mph in testing.

Of more importance is the quietness of the engine at a steady cruise and the fact that it has the nicest transmission in the class, even taking the German quality brands into account. Six speeds came as standard and the change quality is light yet deliciously precise. Refinement levels are exceptional for this class of car, with wind, road and engine noise kept to a bare minimum.

Although we experienced only marginal brake fade, the Accord’s front pads were smoking after five laps.

In the ranks of modern diesels, the more powerful 177bhp version of the 2.2-litre four-pot is much more commendable. Its 280lb ft torque maximum is on offer between 2000 and 2750rpm, although there is a decent spread of grunt throughout the rev range. The well-judged gear ratios, combined with that fantastic shift quality, ensure swift progress can always be maintained, not something that can always be said about the lower-powered model. Ask the diesel flagship for all it's got and it will carry you to 62mph in 8.8sec and to a top speed of 136mph.

The base 154bhp 2.0-litre petrol Accord feels surprisingly sluggish. The effortless mid-range urge of modern turbodiesels that we're used to means that a revvy petrol engine like this one feels overwhelmed when asked to lug a large family car.

Performance has to be extracted from the petrol Accord by revving it surprisingly hard, and even shallow motorway gradients are enough to defeat this car’s tall sixth gear.

The range-topping Accord – the model that middle-managers countrywide surely aspired to own – had a noisy 198bhp 2.4-litre four-pot, which drives the front wheels through a five-speed automatic gearbox that is often slow to kick down and guilty of transmission slip. The Power of Dreams? This is anything but.

RIDE & HANDLING

Honda Accord rear hard cornering

It’s always more difficult to make a front-wheel-drive car ride and handle properly, because not only do the front wheels need to drive and steer, but they also carry a disproportionate amount of the car’s weight. Yet in this class, the only similarly configured car to reach standards as high as those set by the Honda Accord was the then Ford Mondeo.

Indeed, Honda would like you to believe that the Accord’s chassis compares favourably with that of the BMW 3 Series. Although that’s not a contention we’d support ourselves, when you consider ride and handling as a whole, it is not quite the implausible flight of fancy it might at first seem. Certainly, the Honda’s ride quality reached far beyond that of any Accord we can recall and probably any Honda, the Legend included.

Plenty of space around the alloy pedals and left foot brace, which not only look good but are also ideally positioned for most

Yet instead of falling over in the corners as you might expect from a car with such an accommodating ride, the Accord felt precise and assured all the way from turn-in to exit. What it lacks, and where the BMW (or a Mercedes-Benz C-Class) scored so highly, is a degree of driver interaction that distinguishes a merely good-handling car from a real driving machine.

The Accord is happiest on the motorway, where its suspension delivers an impressively smooth high-speed ride and refinement levels are excellent. Body control on rougher road surfaces is less convincing, with the Accord’s ride quality taking on a jagged edge. The electric power steering is impressively accurate, but it lacks feedback or the ability to communicate any involvement to the driver.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Honda Accord

On the road, the 148bhp diesel Accord is as frugal as you’d expect of a shape as aerodynamic as this, powered by a small-capacity diesel engine. Although Honda claims a combined consumption figure of more than 50mpg, in reality most owners are likely to achieve something between that and the 38.8mpg we managed during testing at the time.
Still, it comes with impressively low CO2 emissions of 138g/km.

The recent changes to the Accord range also did wonders for the CO2 emissions for the rest of the model line-up. Aerodynamic revisions and improvements to the 2.0 i-VTEC petrol in the manual saloon helped it achieve a CO2 figure of 159g/km, down 9g/km from before. These changes drop it below the important 160g/km Write Down Allowance threshold for the first time.

Collision Mitigation Braking System will tighten the seatbelt around you to prepare for impact and to jolt you from your reverie. If this doesn’t work, it will even slam on the brakes

Should you desire the extra performance of the 177bhp diesel, there is an inevitable price to pay in terms of efficiency, albeit small. Honda's official figures were 50.4mpg and 147g/km. 

VERDICT

3.5 star Honda Accord

It is tempting to think that Honda miscalculated by replacing a car as fit and healthy as the old Accord with something that seems to advance the art to no great extent. Such is the brilliance of hindsight. The truth is that this car was on the drawing board soon after the birth of the previous one and few could have predicted then what staying power its forebear would possess.

Yes, it would have been better to let the old Accord live a little longer and spend the time making a new one with more than the ability merely to maintain the class pace, but we were never going to condemn this Accord for that.

Brake or even lift sharply mid-corner on our wet circuit and the Accord will fall into oversteer, needing considerable corrective steering input.

The Accord’s biggest problem is that it failed to excel in any one area. If you want a well-built, quiet and refined cruiser, there is much here that commends the Accord, yet nothing to lift it clear of the pack. It’s a more than competent all-rounder, however, and as a used purchase it will likely give you a reasonable return on investment, literally and emotionally.

Honda Accord 2008-2015 First drives