Loving The Alien: Honda Accord Tourer review

I once edited a review that started with a vague surprise at the continuing good form of the Accord, not to mention the fact that it was continuing at all. In a segment that has been shrinking as long as I’ve been writing about cars (seven years and counting), the traditional D-segment saloon / estate seems anachronistic. Oh, Laguna, where art thou?

Indeed, the Accord Tourer seems a car rather out-of-time. The interior feels a generation old in that way that a well-looked-after car belonging to an older relative does (or, in fact, an older relative does). The leather seats are sumptuous and the interior feels large, but the displays seem dated; they look a bit clunky – somehow analogue in a digital age.

Six years on from launch and the exterior is smart but clearly not in tune with the most recent design dynamic, looking rather chunky and boxy when compared to the rest of the current D- and E-segment offerings. There’s nothing especially bad about that – the Accord Tourer continues to look futuristic, in the way that a rocket ship in a 1980s sci-fi film looks futuristic and a little bit insectoid, alien – different from anything else on the road.

It was designed specifically to be an estate, rather than a saloon with a box stuck on the end of it and it shows. Paradoxically the amount of storage space has nosedived to barely 400 litres; about 200 litres less than the previous model – absurdly it’s less than the saloon offers to boot, as it were. This makes no sense whatsoever. Personally, because I’m a contrarian idiot, I’m very fond of it.

Musings of this kind on Honda models are nothing new, but it’s a subject that intrigues me. Oh, you can keep your torque curves and Bilstein dampers and Watts linkages – I couldn’t care less. You could show me the equations that prove the respective Audi or VW models are superior. It wouldn’t make any difference. How people relate to cars, what drives them to buy and love one car or spurn and deride another is what gets me. What meaning, what emotion, what significance do we project onto our cars – and why?

I love my Ford Puma – so much so that I sucked up the expense and put it through its MOT for another year, against all logic – and am always grateful to get back into it after a spell with a press car, regardless of the quality of said metal. I think it suits me and I suit it. I have moulded to its shape, handling and style. I can’t imagine not owning it.

The Puma does have a lot going for it. It’s a fine front-wheel drive car for hooning around and it’s the best-loooking of Ford’s late-90s idiom (New Edge, even the words sound 90s). But it’s not one of the best cars ever made. In some ways it’s rather shoddily and illogically made, prone to rust (courtesy, supposedly and probably apocryphally, of a batch of rubbish Polish steel used by Ford around the time) to the point where Paul, my local mechanic and the man who has probably spent the most time with the Puma bar me, was driven to ask if it had spent its life by the sea, or possibly in the sea. The Dead Sea, perhaps.

The rear space is pointless, the ride is bumpy and unsettled on poor road surfaces. To fold the back shelf (at an angle of about 30 degrees) you have to simultaneously pull two release cords on the rear of the boot while pushing the rear bench down. This is literally impossible unless you use your head to knock down the rear shelf. I do. The heat shield fell off one day, the car has a clever internal irrigation system, replacing parts is a ballache. You get the picture.

Yet I defend the Puma constantly. Once I replied to a man who called it a ‘girl’s car’ (true, perhaps, but reductive and meaningless) by calling him an idiot. Yet the Vauxhall Tigra is a girl’s car in my book. It’s far inferior to the Puma in every respect, yet there’s a man who owns a Tigra somewhere calling me an idiot. Which of us is right?

Which of us is right on any judgement call on a car? The car mags generally have it that Volkswagen is better than the rest of the volume market and that Hyundai and/or Kia has caught up with the Europeans. Bollocks. Every Kia or Hyundai – despite their efforts, for which I salute them – I step into crushes the soul out of me. They’re crap to drive, crap to look at, crap to experience. Oh, sure, they’re have generous warranties and competitive specifications, but they are noticeably inferior cars to the majority of European and Japanese cars, to me anyway. I recently drove both the Kia Optima and Hyundai Veloster. I thought them fine-looking cars. Then I drove them and I never wanted to see them ever again.

VW is not superior to the rest of the sector. It’s pretty debatable whether Volkswagen is superior to Seat and Skoda, its notionally inferior (certainly cheaper) sister marques. Yet the idea persists that Volkswagen cars are the best you can buy. Do JD Power surveys or customer satisfaction surveys tend to back up this notion? No, they don’t. You know who does well in these surveys, year after year? Of course you do.

I can’t quite explain what I love about Honda cars so much, despite the fact that I don’t especially like their clearly aging parts, engines, transmissions. There’s just a feeling of utter serenity about them; a reassuring solidity; a soothing calm. The Accord Tourer is like a 70s David Niven, getting on a bit yet radiating a kind of effortless, understated charm. Honda cars feel comfortable with themselves.

The Accord estate looks and feels well built and has an air of reassuring serenity on the motorway, though the ride starts to feel unsettled at higher speeds. The boot that’s no match for the sector leaders, due to the car’s streamlined styling. Nor is it the best inside, with the car’s sharp exterior styling intruding significantly on interior space and evidence of cash-saving on some parts.

The 2.2-litre diesel engine is powerful and refined, though running costs aren’t particularly impressive – not as much as you might expect anyway, another example of slightly aging technology. I didn’t achieve anything like the official mileage of 50mpg. Prices aren’t especially low either – the Accord Tourer 2.2 i-DTEC EX AT costs a night out shy of thirty grand. The price reflects that notional barrier between Honda and the rest of the volume players – the Fords, Vauxhalls and Renaults of the market – supposedly a gnat’s wing behind. Are they? Does a price point that puts the Accord Tourer on a par with Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus make sense? Well, it depends who you ask.

In much the same way, views on the Puma depend on who you ask. To many petrolheads the car is almost beyond reproach. To others, it’s simply a girl’s car on a Fiesta chassis. No-one who’s uninterested in cars is even the slightest bit impressed by it. The same might be said for many other fine cars on the roads today – and while the Accord Tourer’s vagaries and eye-watering asking price mitigate against it there will be people who buy one and will love it for all its faults, not despite them.

Honda Accord Tourer

Honda Accord Tourer 2.2 i-DTEC EX AT
Engine: 148bhp 2.2 i-DTEC
Price: £29,845
CO2 Emissions: 146g/km
Combined Fuel Economy: 50.4mpg
0-60: 10.7 seconds
Annual VED: £140