Culture shock!

Posted on July 14, 2012 by

3


From V8 petrol to 4-cylinder diesel …

From rear-wheel drive to front-wheel drive …

From Britain (and North America) to Japan …

From this MG ZT 260 …

… to this Honda Accord Type-S

This blog tells the story of how – and why – I changed from a much-loved MG ZT 260 to a Honda Accord Type-S 2.2 i-DTEC, and offers my impressions of the Accord after my first 2,000 km (about 1200 miles). In an earlier blog on this site, Anthony Braham compared his ZT-T 260 to a Maserati Quattroporte; other owners on the Two-Sixties forum have moved on to different V8s such as the Jaguar S-Type R or Vauxhall VXR8. My change was more mundane, but perhaps more representative of the decision other 260 owners may face.

At first sight, the two cars would seem to have nothing in common. And yet … both are 4-door saloons (or estates) with a discreetly sporting appearance, from a manufacturer positioned just below the German premium brands. In overall length, there is less than an inch between them, and – this might surprise you – only 30 Nm separate the torque outputs from their engines. Perhaps there is more to this comparison after all …

Qui vit bien, vit caché

I live in France and this saying means literally “He who lives well, lives in hiding”. Showing off your wealth has traditionally been frowned upon and that is truer than ever in the current economic downturn. France has never been as strong a market for upscale cars as Germany, Switzerland or even the UK. In today’s climate, times are tough for lovers of conspicuously thirsty V8s like our 260s. Demand for large, petrol-engined cars is shrinking every year: in 2011, for example, just 2% of all BMW 5 Series sold had petrol engines. That makes it increasingly hard to sell on high performance saloons. Many dealers simply won’t look at a 260, especially as MG no longer exists as a marque and the V8 is virtually unknown here, with only seven ZT 260 saloons registered new. Those that do will often propose derisory trade-in prices.  I was offered as little as 5,000 euros (about £4K) for mine; bear in mind that most used car prices on the Continent are significantly higher than in the UK.  Legislation, regardless of which party is in power, is steadily moving against cars like ours: the threshold for the highest level of new car registration tax (or “malus”) of 3,600 euros (£2,800) now starts at 231 g/km of CO2, with an additional annual payment for cars emitting more than 190g/km. At 314 g/km the 260 is off the scale!  There are also plans to limit access to some city centres for heavily polluting cars, and my home is right in the heart of Paris.

This is the environment I live and drive in, and I realise it may well be different from yours. Add to this some of the traditional challenges of using a car like the 260 in a city like Paris: exposure to knocks in traffic and when parking, and the car’s dislike for major traffic jams in hot weather (I experienced fuel vaporization a few times), and you may start to see why I found running a 260 as my sole car an increasingly challenging option for the long-term. Of the other 260 owners in France whom I met, I was the only one to use it as my only car. Lest I be accused of “wimping out”, I had run a series of V8s in Paris from 1999, but gradually the net has been closing in and this year I finally decided it was time to change.

Thanks to all the advice I found on the Two-Sixties forum and the excellent service I received from Austin Garages my 260 was running superbly when I sold it on, and it had less than 47,000 miles on the clock. I would have loved to keep it as a second car for special occasions, but with just one parking space that wasn’t really an option at this time. As one of my friends on the forum said, sometimes you have to leave on a high and move on when you’re ahead.

What to choose?

I wish I could say that all my time behind the wheel was spent storming over the Alps or along France’s many wonderful back roads, but sadly this isn’t the case. I’ve had some great drives in the 260, but – like many of us, I am sure – much of my driving consists of routine motorway and main road trips, with a dose of city traffic thrown in. For what would be my only car, another 4-door, 4-seat saloon with a decent boot for holiday luggage and photographic equipment was my starting point. The MG accustomed me to a high level of standard equipment, so I was looking for a car with all the toys included. For my longer trips back to the UK or on holiday I wanted a good motorway cruiser. And since I still hoped to enjoy my driving, it had to have a decent chassis and, preferably, manual transmission. Last but not least, the new car had to have radically better fuel consumption and CO2 emissions (and in turn resale values) than the 260, which inevitably meant looking at diesel models for the first time. When Messrs. Barker, Meaden and Tomalin on Evo magazine are all driving oil-burners and even Harry Metcalfe admitted to liking a Panamera diesel, I knew times were changing. My budget was a maximum of £20K on top of the value of the 260, which in France ruled out the Jaguar XF and some of the powerful 6-cylinder diesels from BMW.

I started looking around this spring, but quite a few of the cars I viewed left me cold and just didn’t check enough boxes for me to give up the MG, which meanwhile sailed through its last service and “contrôle technique” (the French equivalent of the British MoT test). I was offered quite a decent deal on one of the final Saab 9-5 saloons, with a 2-litre turbo engine fuelled by bioethanol (which costs less than 80p per litre in France), but it was bigger than I really needed and I was wary of the long-term parts supply, with only 10,000 cars produced and no future for the model in any business scenario. As I have described elsewhere on this site I had comprehensively upgraded the infotainment system in my 260 and speccing up the German compact executives like the BMW 320d or Audi A4 S-line to a comparable level took their prices to £37/38K, with no discounts available, which effectively ruled out these models.

I bought my 260 from Soupizet in Le Mans and have always been impressed by their service and friendly attitude. Soupizet now manages dealerships for Mazda and Honda (and Daihatsu, but after one drive in a Sirion let’s not go there!), so I started looking at the Mazda 6 and Honda Accord, both of them available with diesel engines offering at least 180 bhp. The Accord Type-S impressed me on a short test drive near Paris and it felt sportier and of higher quality than the Mazda, so my mind was made up. Soupizet offered me a very good trade-in on my 260, which they have since re-sold to a local collector, as well as a decent discount on the new Honda. I doubt whether I could strike a deal like this again. And so I placed my order in May and took delivery five weeks later.

Taking a look at the Accord Type-S

The current (eighth) generation of the Honda Accord was launched in 2008 and mildly facelifted in 2011, when the Type-S was added to the range. Saloon and Tourer (estate) body styles are available. The line-up in France is slightly different to that in the UK, with two models taking different approaches at the top of the range. Here you can either opt for a Luxury model, which includes full leather upholstery, a glass sunroof and – with the Innova version – all the electronic gizmos, including lane assist warning (LKAS) and adaptive cruise control (ACC), but with the standard 150 bhp diesel engine. Or you can go for the Type-S with the more powerful 180 bhp diesel engine and part-leather/part-velour trim, but without LKAS or ACC. The Type-S gets a different design of alloy wheel and a reasonably subtle body kit.

Rear body kit

Honda is renowned for its high-revving petrol engines and was a latecomer to diesel power, which has never been popular for use in passenger cars in its domestic market. In several European countries you can buy a Type-S with the 2.4 i-VTEC engine and manual transmission, but in France this engine is only available with automatic transmission and the Luxury trim level, which seems a surprising combination. It develops 201 bhp but has far less torque (230 Nm) than either of the diesels. In any event, diesel models dominate Accord sales in France, accounting for 92% of all new registrations in 2011.

Outside Europe, the Accord as we know it is marketed as the Euro Accord in Australia and as the Acura TSX in the US, where it is also available with a 280 bhp 3.5 litre V6 petrol engine, which should make for an enjoyable drive. The US market Accord is a different and larger design, competing there with the Toyota Camry. Honda was actually the first Japanese manufacturer to launch Acura as a separate premium brand in North America, ahead of Toyota (Lexus) and Nissan (Infiniti).

Compared with the ZT, all Accord models have rather more chrome trim, as has become fashionable recently. These things are subjective: personally, I find the exterior styling more contemporary than the MG, but relatively bland. The interior, on the other hand, is a real step forward, with a much more modern and distinctive design, as you would expect from a car launched ten years later. Interior room is comparable to the ZT, if perhaps a little tighter for legroom in the rear. The boot is a similar overall size, but with a less regular shape and more restricted access. To give the Type-S a sporting look, there are aluminium pedals and liberal use of red accents: on the instrument dials, in the stitching for the steering wheel and gear knob, and – hard to see in the photograph – as a polka dot pattern in the seat upholstery. Fit and finish are generally excellent, inside and out, albeit a notch down on the elevated standard now set by Audi and the other German premium brands. In a couple of areas, however, the Accord falls short of the already high bar set by the ZT: there is a simple prop for the bonnet, for instance, and manual, not automatic, height adjustment for the front seat belts. Opting for the Type-S rather than the Luxury model also means manual, not electric seat adjustment, although as I am the only regular driver of my car, this doesn’t worry me unduly.

Interior

Levels of equipment in the Type-S are nonetheless high, with some sophisticated technology at work. The lighting system is a good example, with bi-xenon headlamps, active cornering lights and automatic switching from dipped to main beam. Inside, you get a full trip computer, with the usual functions including average speed and fuel consumption. The heating and air conditioning system is, unsurprisingly, much better than in the 260, with effective ventilation available even with the A/C switched off. When switched on, an additional vent allows you to cool the glovebox, so no more melted Mars bars! The satnav even “talks” to the air conditioning system, telling it to step up when driving in the direction of the sun.

Xenon headlamps and fog/cornering lights

So what about the satnav system itself? On the downside, the graphics seem a little old-fashioned and you don’t get a touch-input screen: this has been introduced with the newest Civic, but in the Accord the screen is in any case too far away. There is no Internet connectivity or Google Maps view either, where the German manufacturers have led the way, so it is slightly off the pace by today’s exacting standards. In the US Acura has introduced HDD (hard disk drive) data storage for 2012, but in Europe Honda sticks to a DVD-based system, with two (presumably single-layer) map DVDs covering Western Europe and Central and Eastern Europe respectively. Compared with even a Mark IV DVD-based 16:9 system in the ZT, however, it is a clear step forward. The system offers all the routing and display options you would get with a current TomTom or Garmin device, but with the benefit of an integrated installation. The GPS even updates the clock automatically as you move time zones, which will be very handy for my trips back to the UK! Ergonomically, it soon becomes intuitive to use, with most operations being carried out via the large central “jog wheel”.

Centre console with jog wheel and satnav in day mode

You can also control the entire satnav, audio and air conditioning systems by voice. This goes way beyond what was possible with the BMW/Mini Bluetooth module I had fitted to my 260, which had a very limited range of commands. In the Accord there are more than 100 possible commands. Want to turn down the temperature on the passenger side, tune to a particular FM radio frequency or navigate to the nearest Italian restaurant? Your word is its command! Even here, however, the pace of change is unrelenting; the latest Microsoft Blue and Me technology used by Fiat goes further and will recognize MP3 tags (for album, artist etc.) so that you can select any of your music library with a spoken command. Honda has recently announced an agreement to use Apple’s Siri voice recognition software, so we should expect further advances in voice and touch-screen technology for the ninth generation Accord.

Both the Luxury and Type-S models are equipped with Honda’s premium audio system with ten speakers, and the sound quality seems superior to that of the standard (non-Harman Kardon) set-up in the ZT. One feature which I believe Honda pioneered with the Legend is the use of active noise cancelling technology, as used by Bose and others for their headphones, to cancel out background noise. Again, the audio system is easy to use after a brief period of familiarization.   Unlike the BMW systems fitted in the Rover 75 and MG ZT, however, there is no option to fit a TV tuner.

The iPod integration is much better than that provided by the Gateway Dension unit I had fitted to my 260, with easier navigation through the iPod menus and a clearer information display on the main audio/satnav screen. This screen is also used for the back-up camera which switches on automatically when you engage reverse gear; it comes in addition to the customary front and rear parking sensors, so there can be no excuses for bumping this car! It is the first car I have driven with such a feature, but you soon get used to it.

iPod display

On the road

On paper, the biggest difference between the cars has to be in their engines. Gone is the wonderful soundtrack of the Ford V8, especially with the Zero exhausts I had fitted to my car. Gone too the sprints away from motorway tollbooths, letting the engine sing its way up through the rev range. The top speed – a largely academic consideration outside Germany – is lower (136 mph vs. 155 mph) and the 0-60 mph time is about 1.5 seconds slower. But in many ways the experience is surprisingly similar: I have always enjoyed the lazy performance of a V8 and the Accord’s diesel is really quite alike. The usable rev range is narrower, but in the mid-range from 1,500 – 3,500 rpm the Accord is very strong indeed. The Type-S gets 30 bhp and 30 Nm more torque than the standard Accord, thanks to a bigger intercooler and revised turbo for its aluminium engine. Its peak torque of 380 Nm actually comes in at just 2,000 revs and since the car is 100 kg or so lighter than the 260 subjectively it feels just as fast. When a startled Jeremy Clarkson tested the car for the Sunday Times, he described it as going “like a scalded cock”! The engine is mated to an excellent 6-speed manual gearbox, with a precise shift which reminds me of the Mazda RX-8 I ran before the MG; changing gears is a real pleasure. The clutch is much lighter than in the 260, which makes Paris traffic jams easier to put up with. The Honda’s diesel may have a dull engine note, but it is very unobtrusive on the move: cruising at motorway speeds it is noticeably quieter than the 260. If you can’t listen to a V8, you might as well enjoy some music through the excellent stereo system!

2.2 i-DTEC engine; note the strut brace for improved rigidity

It has been fifteen years since I regularly drove a front-wheel drive car, so this was another big change for me. Until now, the best-handling FWD car I have “owned” was a Ford Mondeo V6 I ran as a company car in the UK back in 1995-96. It’s a little early to say how the Accord compares but first impressions are good. The Type-S has firmer suspension than the standard Accord and runs on 18-inch wheels with 235/40 Michelin Primacy tyres, a size up on the 260, but less performance-oriented than the Pilot Super Sports I had fitted on the 260 at the end. The balance between ride and handling feels similar to that in the MG, with a firm ride over the cobblestones you still sometimes find in Paris, but smoothing out well at higher speeds. I have been impressed by the crisp turn-in and lack of understeer; the car corners with little roll and – despite plenty of rain over the past month – I have not detected any significant problems with torque-steer. I have had no issues either with the electrically-assisted power steering, although these systems are sometimes criticized for their lack of feel. Testing the car for Fifth Gear, Vicki Butler-Henderson was taken aback by the car’s agility, describing it as having “pseudo-touring car levels” of handling. As you would expect from a modern design, the Accord has all the latest electronic safety aids such as traction control, stability control (ESP), brake force distribution (EBD) and emergency braking assistance. This is an area where the 260 shows its age, but at the same time its simplicity is a key part of its appeal.

18-inch alloy wheels with 235/40 tyres

I have left fuel consumption – one of the biggest reasons for my change – to the end. With the 260 I averaged about 23 mpg over 5 years and 38,000 miles; Paris traffic, warmer temperatures leading to more use of the air conditioning and higher motorway speeds probably pushed that down by 1-2 mpg compared with what I could have achieved in the UK, at least away from London. The Accord Type-S diesel has CO2 emissions of 147g/km, less than half those of the 260, but still some way behind the best-in-class figures achieved by BMW with their latest 320d,which produces near-identical power and torque, but emits just 119 g/km of CO2.  The latest Honda diesel engine in the 2012 Civic is also more fuel-efficient.  Even so, with trips to the UK and up to Normandy, plus some local journeys in the Paris area, I have so far averaged a highly creditable 47 mpg. The second tankful was in fact noticeably better than the first, returning over 49 mpg, as the engine has bedded in and I have become more used to its power characteristics. This is only slightly off the official EC combined figure of 50.4 mpg. With diesel at least 10% cheaper than unleaded in France my fuel bill has dropped by more than 60% overnight. Result!

Gear shift indicator and trip computer showing 48.7 mpg!

The Accord does not have an automatic stop-start system, but – like many recent cars – it does have a gear shift indicator, telling you when to change up or down. This is rather too eager, encouraging you to short shift at only 1500/1600 rpm and so dropping you out of the power band. I prefer to change up a bit later, which lets you enjoy more of the performance and doesn’t seem to be harming the fuel consumption. It should also keep the DPF (diesel particulate filter) in better condition, as these can clog up with too much low-speed work. Another benefit of this economy is the great range between fill-ups it allows: with a tank of similar capacity to the 260, I have been going over 600 miles between visits to the petrol station, this without the low fuel light coming on.

Ownership prospects

Honda has an enviable reputation for reliability, regularly reaching the top of J.D. Power surveys in the UK and France. The lower fuel bills and 20% cheaper insurance should make the Accord much less costly to run than the MG, and there isn’t much scope to fit any upgrades. With a 5-year extended warranty the Type-S should be a trouble-free ownership proposition. I only noted two small defects on delivery: incorrectly set tyre pressures and the tilt functionality for the passenger side door mirror when selecting reverse not working. The first was soon put right and the second may in fact be an error in Honda’s model documentation, as it was inoperative on the Type-S Tourer I test drove in Paris as well. In any case, I won’t be asking for a refund!

The Accord is an individual choice in France: just 285 were registered new here last year and nearly all sales are private rather than to companies. But – unless Honda revives the old Series VI Type-R Accord of 1999-2001 – it will never be an enthusiast’s choice like the ZT 260. The 260 was an entrance ticket to club and magazine events such as the Youngtimers Festival at Montlhéry and always received a warm welcome. It has the support of the best online car forum I have known: the Two-Sixties has provided a wealth of advice and a wonderfully friendly atmosphere. It even got me started writing on motoring topics, here and for Enjoying MG, the MG Owners’ Club magazine. With fewer idiosyncrasies to deal with, the Accord probably has less need for this kind of support and so far I have not found the same extent of knowledge on the two forums I have visited. The camaraderie of the Two-Sixties will be one of the things I miss most now that I have sold my V8.

Conclusion

Do I regret my decision to buy the Accord Type-S?  No, it does what it says on the tin and then some; purchasing it always felt like a sensible decision, but it is more enjoyable to drive than I expected.

Do I miss the 260?  You bet. I have had the good fortune over the past twenty years to own several V6 and V8 petrol-engined cars, even one (the Mazda RX-8) with rotary power, and for me nothing beats the sound and effortless power of an old-fashioned V8. The MG ZT 260 gave me that and more, thanks to the community that has built up around it and the interest it generated. Together with the Ford Mustang which got me started on V8s it is the car that has given me the most pleasure to own; I enjoyed it even when it was parked in the garage!

My decision was a personal one, based on my situation here in Paris, and even then it wasn’t easy. If your circumstances let you go on enjoying your 260, I certainly wouldn’t suggest you give it up. If you do have to change though, be reassured: life does go on, even without a 260! For my part, I hope that at another time I will be able to buy a second car just for fun. That might well be another V8, it could be another MG, or perhaps both together. I should be careful what I say here; I ended up buying back my Mustang two years after selling it!  There are some other V8-engined MG options too; now I think about it, I even wrote a blog about them once …

But until then I shall just say “Au revoir”, or should that be “Sayonara”!

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Posted in: Features, Reviews