Honda Accord VS Lexus IS
- Slick design
- Brilliant packaging
- Single well-specified variant
- Ride hardly luxurious
- Engines are so-so
- Looks a lot better now
- Improved media system
- Better safety tech
- Still the same engines
- Largely the same interior
- Feeling a little old
It’s honestly a wonder we’re seeing Honda’s new Accord at all, given it enters the least favourable market conditions for sedans that Australia has ever seen.
Honda even knows it, which is why the company is bringing this new 10th-generation Accord to our market in conservatively low numbers to begin with.
In fact, the only reason we’re getting this Accord is because the Japanese brand acknowledges the sedan is part of Honda’s DNA, and that there’s a dedicated fanbase of Accord owners who won’t buy anything else.
If you’re one of those fans – pat yourself on the back – this car is just for you. So, what’s it like? We went to its Australian launch to find out.
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Regular Unleaded|
No it isn’t an all-new car. It might look like it, but the 2021 Lexus IS is actually a heavy facelift of the existing model, which originally went on sale way back in 2013.
There have been significant changes to the look of the new Lexus IS, including a revised front and rear end, and the company has widened the track and made “substantial chassis changes” to make it handle more adeptly, too. Plus there is a whole raft of newly added safety features and in-car technology, despite the cabin being, largely, a carryover affair.
Suffice to say that the new Lexus IS 2021 model - which the brand describes as having been “reimagined” - carries over a few strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor. But does this Japanese luxury sedan still have enough quality traits to compete with the likes of its main rivals - the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series, Genesis G70 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class?
Let’s find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Honda’s new Accord is a miracle in that it was brought here seemingly simply for fan service.
I think those fans will mostly be pleased. The 10th-generation car is high-tech, sensibly specified, safe, and certainly Honda-like behind the wheel. Just don’t expect it to be as luxurious as Japanese flagship sedans of days past.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
The new-look Lexus IS takes several steps forward over its predecessor - it’s safer, smarter, sharper to look at and still pretty well priced and equipped.
It is feeling its age inside, and the competition has moved on in terms of engines and EV tech. But even so, if I was buying a 2021 Lexus IS, it would have to be the IS350 F Sport, which is just the most fitting version of this car, though the IS300h Luxury does have plenty to like for the money, too.
The Accord looks swish! It carries so much of Honda’s up-to-date design language through its entire body.
This majorly includes the chrome strip across the front, up-to-date LED headlights, and swoopy coupe roofline.
These are offset by a curvy line running down the rear half of the car’s profile, accented by a chrome strip. As mentioned, those wheels look bigger than they are, and add to the Accords presence by sticking way out to the edges of the chassis.
It’s referential to other vehicles in Honda’s range, like the Civic and even S660 kei-sized sports car. Fans will be happy to know the overall package is more restrained than something like the zany Civic hatch.
The cabin is almost exactly what you’d expect from a luxury Japanese sedan. This means throne-style plush leather trimmed seats (that are genuinely nice to sit in) a wide symmetrical dash look and familiar Honda touchpoints throughout.
It’s all well built and ergonomic, so there’s no complains on that front, but there are some areas where the Accord is showing its age in the design department already.
There’s a shift knob that sits too far out of the centre console (hardly a ‘high-end’ look), an odd retracting panel in the dash like its 2004, and the ‘wood trim’ that runs across the dash appears to be a plastic fill – it has no texture!
The rear seats are just as - if not more - comfortable than the fronts, and there are no complaints when it comes to packaging – the Accord's cabin is mostly a great place to be.
You either get the Lexus look or you don’t, and I think this latest version is possibly more agreeable than the IS in years gone by.
That’s partly because the brand has finally done away with the odd spider-eyes twin-section headlights and daytime running lights - now there are more traditional headlight clusters, which look a lot more resolved than before.
The front end still features a bold ‘spindle’ grille, which gets different treatment depending on the grade, and the front, to my eye, looks better than before but still very much stuck in its ways.
At the side you’ll notice the giveaway windowline hasn’t changed, despite the chrome trim line having broadened as part of this facelift, but you can tell the haunches have muscled up a bit, with the new IS now 30mm wider overall, and the wheel sizes are 18s or 19s, depending on the grade.
The rear accentuates that width, with an L-shaped lighting signature now spanning the entire re-sculpted boot lid, giving the IS a pretty tidy rear end design.
Overall dimensions for the IS are 4710mm long, making it 30mm longer nose to tail (on an unchanged 2800mm wheelbase), while it now spreads across 1840mm (+30mm) and is 1435mm tall (+5mm).
The exterior changes really are impressive - I think it is a more purposeful but also more pleasant looking car now than it ever has been in this current generation.
The interior? Well, there’s not a whole lot to talk about in terms of design changes, aside from the repositioned and larger media screen - which sits 150mm closer to the driver because it’s now a touchscreen with the latest smartphone mirroring tech. Otherwise it’s a carryover affair, as you can see from the interior pictures.
Speaking of packaging – it’s consistently a Honda strong point, and that’s no different in the new Accord. As already mentioned, front and rear passengers get heaps of room for their arms and legs, and there’s decent storage areas throughout.
That means two smallish cupholders and trenches in the doors, a large caddy in front of the shift-lever with that odd retracting door, and large cupholders in the centre console.
Like almost every Honda, the centre console box is colossal and hosts a single extra USB 2.0 port.
The back seat has leagues of legroom – almost limo-sized for rear passengers, although headroom is compromised a bit by the descending coupe-like roofline. The thick and low C-pillars also make getting in and out a little harder than it perhaps should be – but this is a common trait shared with other coupe-styled sedans in the class like the Peugeot 508.
Touchpoints everywhere are nice and plush, and there are only a few nasty plastics which are well hidden.
Rear seat occupants can make use of adjustable air vents, dual USB ports and a plush trimmed drop-down arm rest with two cupholders.
The arm-rest also reveals a ski port – an increasingly rare feature in today’s cars – which leads us to the boot. It’s massive at 570 litres (VDA) – that’s significantly larger than both the Camry and Liberty and the best part – it doesn’t matter whether you pick the petrol or hybrid, the boot space is the same.
Honda tells us that this is because it has managed to reduce the hybrid battery pack significantly in size – so that it can be placed under the passenger seats instead. Brilliant.
Every Accord has a space-saver spare under the boot floor.
The interior design of the IS, as mentioned, hasn’t changed dramatically, and it is starting to feel old compared to some of its contemporaries.
It’s still a nice place to be, with comfortable front seats with electric adjustment and heating across all grades, and cooling on many variants, too.
The new 10.3-inch touchscreen media system is a nice unit, and means you can essentially do away with the silly trackpad system that still resides near the gear selector, so you may still end up bumping it accidentally. And the fact the IS now has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (though neither are wirelessly connectable) does further its appeal on the multimedia front, as does the standard 10-speaker Pioneer stereo - though the 17-speaker Mark Levinson unit is an absolute blinder!
The centre stack below the media screen retains a CD player, and still has the electromagnetic temperature adjustment sliders as well. That part of the design is dating it just as much as the transmission tunnel console area, which looks a bit out of touch by modern standards, though still incorporates a pair of cup holders and a reasonably large centre console bin with soft armrest padding.
The front doors feature trenches with bottle holders as well, while in the rear doors there is still no drink storage - a carryover annoyance from the pre-facelift model. However, the middle seat in the back doubles as an armrest with pop-out cupholders, and there are rear air vents too.
Speaking of that middle seat, you wouldn’t want to sit in it for long, as it has a raised base and uncomfortable backrest, plus there’s a huge transmission tunnel intrusion eating into leg and foot space.
Outboard passengers also miss out on toe room, which - for my size 12s - is an issue. And it’s hardly the roomiest second row in this class for knee room and headroom, as my 182cm frame was a touch squished behind my own driving position.
Children will be better catered for in the back, and there are two ISOFIX anchorages and three top-tether attachment points for baby seats.
The boot capacity varies on the model you buy. Choose an IS300 or IS350 and you score 480 litres (VDA) of cargo capacity, while the IS300h has a battery pack that robs it of some boot space, with 450L available.
Price and features
Honda has chosen to bring the Accord in surprisingly limited numbers – just 150 units a year to begin with – and so there is just one specification level.
It’s the highest it goes though, a VTi-LX. Honda tells us there’s no chance of lesser variants, even if consumers are asking for it, so don’t hold out for an entry-spec car.
The single variant is split into two engine options. A familiar 1.5-litre petrol turbo, and a new-generation 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engine with hybrid drive.
Naturally, as a high-grade car, the price is quite high. Honda is asking $47,990 for the turbo and $50,490 for the hybrid.
This is more expensive than highly specified traditional opponents, like the segment-dominating Toyota Camry SL hybrid ($41,090) and Subaru Liberty 2.5i Premium ($37,940). You could also consider cross shopping it against something like Peugeot’s new 508 GT ($53,990) – but if you’re an Accord fan there’s a good chance none of those alternatives matter.
Standard spec is great. The Accord sports the best of Honda’s catalogue and then some. Standard are flashy 18-inch alloys that look big in the Accord’s wheel arches, an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as marginally better software suite than the rest of Honda’s range (typically a sore point for Honda). Unlike pretty much every other Honda though, the Accord scores a 6.0-inch head-up display and one of its dual dials in the dash is digital, and configurable to several layouts including navigation.
You’ll also be getting a wireless phone charging bay, but no USB-C. At least it gets Apple CarPlay and Android auto from the get-go, unlike the current Camry which will need to have it retrofitted if you bought one prior to it being rolled out.
The Accord has an electronic parking brake, auto parking function and active cruise control to sweeten the deal, too. More on safety features later in this review.
The updated 2021 Lexus IS range has seen a number of pricing changes, and a reduction of variants, too. There are now five IS models available, down from seven prior to this update as the Sports Luxury model has been axed, and you can only get the IS350 in F Sport trim now. However, the company has expanded its “Enhancement Pack” strategy across the different variants.
Opening the range is the IS300 Luxury, which lists at $61,500 (all prices listed are the MSRP - not including on-road costs, and are correct at time of publishing). It has the exact same equipment as the IS300h Luxury model, which is $64,500, and that ‘h’ stands for hybrid, which will be detailed in the engines section.
The Luxury trim is equipped with items such LED headlights and daytime running lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, proximity keyless entry with push-button start, a 10.3-inch touchscreen multimedia system with satellite navigation (including live traffic updates) and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech, plus a 10-speaker sound system, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with heating and memory settings for the driver, and dual-zone climate control. There’s also auto headlights with auto high beam, rain sensing wipers, power steering column adjustment, and adaptive cruise control.
Indeed, there’s a raft of safety technology included - more on that below - and there’s also a number of Enhancement Pack options.
Luxury spec models can be equipped with a choice of two Enhancement Packs: the $2000 Enhancement Pack adds a sunroof (or moonroof in Lexus speak); or Enhancement Pack 2 (or EP2 - $5500) further adds 19-inch alloy wheels, a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, cooled front seats, high-grade leather-accented interior trim, and a power-operated rear sunshade.
The IS F Sport trim line is available across the IS300 ($70,000), IS300h ($73,000) or the V6-powered IS350 ($75,000), and it adds a number of additional features over the Luxury grade.
As you can probably tell, F Sport models get a sportier look, with a body kit, 19-inch alloy wheels, standard fit adaptive suspension, sports front seats with cooling, sports pedals, and five drive modes to choose from (Eco, Normal, Sport S, Sport S+ and Custom). The F Sport grade also includes a digital instrument cluster with an 8.0-inch display, as well as leather-accented trim, and scuff plates.
Buying the F Sport grade allows customers to add further goodies by way of the Enhancement Pack for that grade, which costs $3100 and includes the sunroof, 17-speaker sound system and rear sunshade.
What’s missing? Well there’s no wireless phone charging in any grade, and no USB-C connectivity either. Note: the spare wheel is a space saver in the IS300 and IS350, but there is only a repair kit in the IS300h as there are batteries where the spare wheel would go.
There’s no go-fast IS F model sitting at the top of the tree here, nor is there a plug-in hybrid to compete against the circa-$85K BMW 330e and Mercedes C300e. But the fact the IS models all come in below $75K means it’s a pretty decent value proposition.
Engine & trans
The Accord will only get two engine options – the first is a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine which will be familiar from other Hondas where the same engine lives. Honda says it’s put a new head on for the Accord and tightened up the engine’s response. The result is the same 140kW power output, but an increase in torque to 260Nm. This engine is mated exclusively to a stepped-ratio continuously variable transmission (CVT).
The other option is a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol four-cylinder with hybrid drive. Combined system output is 158kW/315Nm, so it is the more powerful of the two choices.
It also has a different transmission which Honda refers to as the e-CVT – but it proved to behave quite differently as explained in the driving section of this review.
All Accords are front-wheel drive.
The engine specs depend on the powertrain you choose. And at a glance there’s no variance between the earlier version of the IS and the 2021 facelift.
That means the IS300 model still runs a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol motor producing 180kW of power (at 5800rpm) and 350Nm of torque (at 1650-4400rpm). It has an eight-speed automatic transmission, and like all IS models, it is rear-wheel drive (RWD/2WD) - there is no all-wheel drive (AWD/4WD) model here.
Next up the spectrum is the IS300h model, which has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson cycle petrol motor teamed to an electric motor and nickel metal hydride battery pack. The petrol engine is good for a 133kW (at 6000rpm) and 221Nm (at 4200-5400rpm), and the electric motor produces 105kW/300Nm - but the combined total maximum power output is 164kW, and Lexus doesn’t provide a maximum torque figure. The 300h model runs a CVT automatic transmission.
The big horsepower offering here is the IS350, which runs a 3.5-litre petrol V6 engine, producing 232kW of power (at 6600rpm) and 380Nm of torque (at 4800-4900rpm). It runs an eight-speed auto.
All models have paddle-shifters, while the two non-hybrid models have seen tweaks to the transmission software that is said to “estimate driver intentions” for better enjoyment.
The Accord has brave claimed/combined fuel usage figures of 6.5L/100km for the petrol-turbo and 4.3L/100km for the hybrid. If real-world tests can even come within a litre or two it will prove to be fantastic for the segment – but you’ll have to wait until we get one for a week-long road test for a fair real-world figure.
Honda says its engines are tuned to run on 91RON unleaded petrol, and the Accord has a 56-litre fuel tank in the turbo or 48.5L in the hybrid.
There’s still no diesel model, no plug-in hybrid and no full electric (EV) model - which means that while Lexus was at the forefront of electrification with its so-called “self-charging” hybrids, it is falling behind the times. You can get plug-in versions of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, and the Tesla Model 3 plays in this space in full-electric guise.
As for the fuel-sipping hero of this trio of powertrains, the IS300h is said to use 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle fuel test. In reality, our test car’s dashboard showed 6.1L/100km across a mix of driving.
The IS300 with its turbocharged 2.0L engine is next best for fuel use, claiming 8.2L/100km. On our short launch drive of that model, we saw 9.6L/100km on the dashboard.
And the full-fat IS350 V6 petrol claims consumption of 9.5L/100km, while on test we saw 13.4L/100km.
The emissions for the three models are 191g/km (IS300), 217g/km (IS350) and 116g/km (IS300h). All three are Euro 6B compliant.
Fuel tank capacity is 66 litres for all models, meaning your mileage range for the hybrid model could be considerably longer.
The Accord doesn’t quite drive like you might expect. It betrays its luxurious look and plush interior with a firm ride.
Honda says this is because it has imbued the “spirit of Accord Euro” into the development process for this new Accord – suggesting that it can appeal as much to fans of the sporty Accords of days past as much as it does for its Japanese luxury car fans.
I think they’ve gone overboard, though. The chassis and dampers are stiff. Too stiff. This car feels abrupt and crashy over larger bumps, and unsettled over smaller ones.
The flip side of that, of course, is that it is a blast to throw into corners. With the wheels way out to the edges of the chassis (the Accord is wider than ever) it simply refused to understeer, giving it handling prowess that eludes most front-drive sedans this size.
In some ways its like driving a giant Civic, and for those who enjoy driving, that will be a very good thing.
Both engine options don’t quite keep up with the abilities of the chassis. While the 1.5-litre petrol punches above its weight when it comes to power, it’s just not an athletic performer, especially when you’re demanding straight-line acceleration.
Its weak link is largely the transmission which tries to emulate a torque converter by stepping its way through 'ratios'. It has some typically negative characteristics of limiting the feedback, and changing the ratio at seemingly random times.
The hybrid is better, both on power and in terms of its transmission, which locks up when needed. It’s still no true performer though.
Neither option seems to be capable of spinning the front wheels, either through lack of power or design, so if nothing else, it’s predictable and feels safe.
Handling proved to be good, with Honda’s direct and fast steering being on-point, and the signature chunky leather-bound wheel offering a satisfying way to interact with the car. The steering does have a slight artificial tinge to it, especially with the seemingly computer-weighted ‘Sport’ mode, but Honda has also reduced the turns lock-to-lock, making it fast to park in city scenarios.
I was surprised to find that road noise in both variants wasn’t great. It’s better than in the Civic, but Honda claims it has gone to lengths to deaden it, so I had hoped it would be quieter inside. The engine noise is better – relegated to a distant hum unless you’re really wringing it.
Overall, it’s a good – if a little firm – driving experience. It just doesn’t quite live up to the luxury promise set out.
With the engine at the front and drive to the back, it has the ingredients for a pure driver’s car, and Lexus made a bit of a big deal about the new-look IS being more focused thanks to chassis adjustments and track width improvements - and it does feel a pretty nimble and tied-down car in the twisty stuff.
It is competent at stitching together a series of corners, and the F Sport models are particularly adept. The adaptive suspension in those models includes both anti-dive and anti-squat tech, which is designed to make the car feel solid and flat on the road - and it does, thankfully without feeling twitchy or uncomfortable, with good suspension compliance even in the most aggressive Sport S+ drive mode.
The 19-inch wheels on F Sport models are fitted with Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber (235/40 front, 265/35 rear) and there’s plenty of tarmac tenacity.
The grip from Luxury-spec models on 18s could be better, with those Bridgestone Turanza tyres (235/45 all around) proving not quite the most enthralling.
Indeed, the IS300h Luxury I drove felt very different in character to the F Sport IS300 and 350 models. It was surprising how much more of a plush-focused model the Luxury grade feels, and likewise it wasn’t as impressive in dynamic driving due to the tyre grip and less-enthusiastic drive mode system. The non-adaptive suspension is a touch more jittery too, and while it’s not to the point of discomfort, you might expect better for a car on 18s.
Across all models the steering is accurate and direct enough, with predictable response and decent feel to the driver’s hands for this electric power steering setup. The F Sport models have even further retuned steering for “an even sportier drive experience”, though I found at times it could feel a little numb for rapid changes of direction.
As for engines, the IS350 is still the pick. It has the best zest, and feels the most fitting powertrain for this model. It sounds good, too. The auto transmission is pretty clever, there's easily enough pulling power, and it's probably going to be the last of the non-turbo V6s in Lexus's line-up when this cars life-cycle is up.
The IS300's turbo engine was the most disappointing, lacking some urge and constantly feeling bogged down by turbo lag, transmission confusion, or both. It felt underdone in enthusiastic driving, though in dull day-to-day commuting circumstances it came across as more acceptable, though the remapped transmission software was far less impressive in this application than in the IS350.
The IS300h was a lovely, quiet and refined experience all around. It’s the one you should go for if you don’t really care about all that go-fast stuff. The powertrain is proven, it accelerates with nice linear delivery, and at times it’s so hushed I found myself looking down at the instrument cluster to see if the car was in EV mode or if it was using the petrol engine.
The Accord impresses with a fairly comprehensive standard safety suite, helped along by the fact that the brand only needs to bring one variant to market.
On the active safety front, it gets auto emergency braking (AEB – with pedestrian detection), lane departure warning with lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, driver attention alert, and Honda’s strange Lane Watch camera suite in place of blind-spot monitoring.
It also gets an expanded suite of cameras with a wide angle top-view to assist with parking.
On the expected front, the Accord gets the standard suite of stability, brake, and traction controls as well as front and side curtain airbags which have ‘safety vents’ to prevent airbag injury and ‘roll-over sensors’ which can keep the airbags deployed for longer in the case of a prolonged rollover scenario.
The Accord has not yet been rated by ANCAP.
The facelifted version scores auto emergency braking (AEB) with day and night pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection (from 10km/h to 80km/h) and car detection (10km/h to 180km/h). There’s also all speed adaptive cruise control with low speed following.
The IS also has lane keeping assistance with lane departure warning, lane trace assist, a new system called Intersection Turning Assist which will brake the car if the system judges the traffic gap isn’t big enough, and there’s also road sign recognition.
Plus the IS has blind-spot monitoring on all grades, as well as rear cross-traffic alert with auto braking (below 15km/h).
And beyond that, Lexus has added new Connected Services features, including an SOS call button, automated collision notification if an airbag deploys, and stolen vehicle tracking.
Where is the Lexus IS built? Japan is the answer.
Honda covers the new Accord with its five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty promise – which is competitive against both the Camry and the Liberty as well as other mainstream brands.
The Accord requires servicing once every 12 months or 10,000km whichever occurs first or when the engine computer tells you.
While you might be at the mercy of the computer, services are capped all the way out to 10 years/100,000km at just $312 a visit. That’s mega cheap.
There are a few things not covered under the “base service price” but they shouldn’t throw up too many red flags. The most expensive is the ‘HCF – 2 fluid’ every three years at a cost of $172, or the spark plugs every 100,000km at a cost of $289.
On paper, Lexus’s ownership offer isn’t quite as enticing as some other luxury car brands - but it has a strong reputation for blissful ownership.
The Lexus Australia warranty period is four years/100,000km, which is better for duration than Audi and BMW (both three years/unlimited km) but not as accommodating as Mercedes-Benz or Genesis, each of which offer five-year/unlimited km warranty.
The company has a three-year capped price servicing plan, with maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km. The first three visits cost $495 each. That’s okay - but Lexus doesn’t offer free servicing like Genesis, and nor does it offer prepaid service plans - for three to five years for a C-Class, and five years for Audi A4/A5, for instance.
There is complimentary roadside assistance for the first three years, too.
That said, the company has its Encore ownership benefits program that allows a number of experiences and deals, and the service team will collect your car and return it, leaving you with a loan car if you need it.