Lexus IS VS Honda Accord
- Good value
- Great after-sales
- Dodgy entertainment system
- Slick design
- Brilliant packaging
- Single well-specified variant
- Ride hardly luxurious
- Engines are so-so
This generation of the Lexus IS has been with us for a while now, and it has a lot more to contend with than it did on its debut. The Infiniti Q50 has come and gone, but a new Audi A4 (soon to be refreshed) and a very impressive new BMW 3 Series made life difficult. And that's before everybody wakes up to Genesis, which could bloom into a real threat.
Lexus has carved itself a bit of a niche in this country, going after just about every luxury segment worth chasing (and one or two that possibly weren't...) but the IS has been getting on with the job of presenting itself to customers who have either tired of German luxury or just weren't interested in the first place.
The third-generation IS must soon be heading for replacement, so it's worth having another look to see how the Japanese challenger fares.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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|
It's difficult to place the Lexus against any of the Germans because it's a different sort of car. Its intent is probably closer to the Benz C-Class than the more overtly sporting BMW 3 Series or the all-rounder Audi A4. All three of those cars are way ahead for cabin, chassis and engine technology (depending on spec levels, of course).
None of them feel as solid or, ultimately, as tightly built as the Lexus. The IS has a very consistent idea of what it's meant to be and it goes all the way back to the LS400 - something identifiably similar but different enough to lure you to Japan.
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 first IS is still - remarkably - a common sight on our roads and couldn't be more different to the current generation. This car is low and sleek, with fast glass and big bold statements, like the huge spindle grille. That grille was a bit weak when this first generation arrived, but the mid-life facelift fixed that, but didn't touch the headlights, which still look a bit melted. Then there are the "big tick" daytime running lights, which don't really work with the headlights. It's all a bit odd.
Inside, things are very grey and sober. Obviously, it's astonishingly well-built, but there are just too many carefully labelled buttons and way too many switches you can spot in your neighbour's Toyota Corolla. They're not bad buttons, they just don't fit with the vibe of the rest of the car. Everything is clear and crisp, though, and the materials feel and look fantastic. It feels properly expensive.
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.
For some reason, the IS has always had a tight rear seat, despite its growth over the years. Handily, one of my neighbours has the iconic original IS200, and there isn't a big difference between the two cars, despite being separated by two decades.
This IS has such a flat windscreen that you have to be careful not to whack your head when you're getting into the front seats. The glass is super-fast and no doubt that pushes the cabin space towards the rear. The front seats are uncommonly comfortable and you also get heating and cooling, so you're covered all year round for posterior thermal comfort.
Front and rear passengers enjoy a pair of cupholders each and a bottle holder in each door.
The boot swallows a suspiciously identical-to-the-Euros 480 litres.
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.
Price and features
At $59,340, the IS300 Luxury opens the range, stacking up well against the obvious luxury competition. That scores you a 10-speaker stereo, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric front seats, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, sat nav, auto LED headlights with auto high beam, headlight washers, keyless entry and start, partial leather trim, power everything, auto wipers, and a space-saver spare.
The standard complaints about the Lexus entertainment system still apply - it's hard to use, is devoid of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and takes longer than it should to learn where everything is. The sound, however, is excellent from the 10 speakers, the screen is huge and (mostly) pretty and the sat nav works quickly and without fuss.
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.
Engine & trans
Under the long bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with a very reasonable 180kW and 350Nm, carrying the code number 8AR-FTS. An eight-speed automatic sends the power to the rear wheels and will propel the 1680kg machine to 100km/h in seven seconds flat.
You can tow 750kg with an unbraked trailer and 1500kg braked.
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 sticker on the windscreen suggests you might get 7.5L/100km, drinking premium unleaded. Unfortunately, and despite my fervent efforts, the best I could manage was a far more sobering 12.7L/100km.
That's not a great result, and it's quite similar to the 200t I drove a couple of years ago. Even with stop-start.
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.
From the driver's seat you get that very appealing sense of solidity that you get in every Lexus, even the baby SUV UX. That's partly because when a car weighs this much, it helps soak up the bumps. Lexus has a particular ride quality, even in its sportier variants, that makes you feel safe and cosseted.
The steering's weight is light, but not so light you can't feel what the wheels are doing, yet it's not overly chatty.
But the main contributor to the feeling of solidity and safety is realising how unbelievably quiet and smooth the IS is. Even the turbo four is the most distant of whirrs (without sounding bad), smoothly dishing up the power and torque. I'll admit to more than mild surprise when I saw the 0-100km/h time of seven seconds - it just doesn't feel that quick, but the speed does indeed pick up.
The eight-speed automatic could be more decisive - I often found myself grabbing a lower gear because the transmission had been a bit tardy picking the right cog. It could also drop into third or fourth a little too firmly when in Sport mode. It wasn't bad, it just felt like it was making a last-second decision to pick the gear and then ramming it home a touch enthusiastically. In normal city driving, however, it's smoother than the butter through which a Barry White track is being played.
As a sporty sedan it does okay, too, but the suspension is really set up to keep everything calm and comfortable. The electronics cut in early and often on slippery surfaces and even Sport mode is pretty tame. And that's perfectly okay.
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.
The IS lands with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, brake asssist, forward collision warning, forward AEB with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, active-safety bonnet and tyre-pressure monitoring.
There are also two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchors.
The IS scored the maximum five ANCAP stars in December 2016.
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.
Lexus offers a slightly unusual four-year/100,000km warranty, which I guess is a good way to separate yourself from the Euro competition, who are stubbornly sticking with three years. Added to the warranty is four years of roadside assist.
Also throwing a punch at the Euro manufacturers' generally lacklustre after-sales offering, Lexus offers to either come and fetch your car from you for servicing or will give you a loan car for the day. And you'll get your car back freshly washed and vacuumed, too.
All of this (and a reputation for bulletproof reliability) is intended to lure you away from the Germans.
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.