Don’t you think it’s strange? You buy a BMW one day and you are told that it is the ultimate driving machine, that it is all about balance and grip and immediacy. Whereas the very next day you are told that exactly the same car is all about joy. It was designed and built to be happy and to make you happy as a result.
Welcome to the world of advertising. Volkswagen’s advertising agency told us for years that its cars were very reliable. But then the agency decided that actually you don’t buy a VW because it’s well made; you buy one because it’s cheap. Right?
So. Has there been a philosophical sea change at the factory in Wolfsburg? Or has there been a meeting in Soho? In the olden days engineers would tell advertisers what they had made and advertisers would pass the message on. Now it’s the other way round. Advertisers tell us what the engineers were thinking. Even when it’s plainly obvious they weren’t. Do you really think for a moment the new BMW 5-series was built with “joy” in mind? It’s German. And in Germany the word for “joy” will almost certainly be 16 miles long and mean, literally, “the unusual and unexplained phenomenon that occurs in your inner being when someone of your acquaintance accidentally slips on a banana skin”.
All things considered, the current BMW 5-series is possibly the best car on sale today. It is handsome and well made and spacious and economical and comfortable and fast. It is a brilliant driving machine. But it is about as joyful as a technical lecture on the inner workings of a telephone junction box.
Things on the advertising front are particularly difficult for Mercedes. It knows that its two-seat convertible models are particularly popular among women. This seems to annoy the marketeers. So with the SL we had Benicio Del Toro hammering through the desert, and with the SLK we had a good-looking chap being chased by what appeared to be the god of thunder. And neither worked. The cars remained very popular with girls. I shouldn’t be surprised if the next ad showed a docker spitting and scratching his backside. Before we cut to the pack shot: an enormous scrotum.
The only “lifestyle” ads that match the car they’re promoting come from Honda. “Isn’t it nice when things just work?” The message is simple. We don’t do fuss. We don’t do flimflam. We are sensible. And that’s what Hondas are. Sensible. Because they are so sensible, my shoulders sagged quite a bit when I walked out of the house last Monday morning to find that a brown Accord with a diesel engine was sitting in the drive. I had many miles to cover that week and, frankly, I didn’t fancy doing any of them in the motoring equivalent of wholemeal bread.
So I loaded up the boot of my Mercedes and took that instead. Sadly, the following Monday, the Accord was still there and I was overcome with guilt. So, with a heavy heart, I climbed inside, fired up the motor, pointed its sensible, car-shaped nose at the capital and pressed the accelerator. What happened next was alarming. We are conditioned to expect a certain level of response from a diesel engine. It’s the response you get from a fat man in a vest who’s spent the afternoon sitting in a deckchair. Not this diesel engine, though … Honda — the last mainstream car maker to get into diesel engines — brands this top-of-the-range paraffin stove the Type S, and that means the 2.2-litre turbocharged motor now develops 178 horsepower.
That’s 30 more than you get from the standard car and, boy, oh boy, do you feel it. This car may be brown and as interesting to look at as the periodic table, but it goes like a scalded cock. Of course, you may imagine that by upping the power, Honda has sacrificed fuel economy. And you’d be right. It has: 1.9mpg of it. But you should still be able to get more than 50mpg, and that, thanks to a massive fuel tank, means you need visit the filling station only once every 650 miles. Let me just say that again. Once every 650 miles. That, all on its own, is a good enough reason for buying this car.
But there’s more. The Type S package means an “aero” body kit — which I couldn’t spot — bigger wheels, low-profile tyres and sports suspension. You would imagine, therefore, that you were in for a bone-shaking ride. But you’re not. At the BBC’s underground car park in White City there are speed bumps of such severity that in most cars I weave about through the bays rather than drive over them. Even at 1mph they hurt. But with the Accord they weren’t there. I didn’t feel them at all. It was as if I was trying to park a hovercraft. So, it’s fast, economical, comfortable … and almost unbelievably well made.
Slam the door on a Subaru Legacy — another well-made car — and it makes the sound of a shot pheasant hitting the ground on a frosty morning. Slam the door on the Honda Accord and it makes the sound of a pheasant coming in to land … after you’ve missed it. It’s almost silent.
There’s a similar sensation of quality on the inside. This is a car that doesn’t feel assembled. It feels as though it’s been hewn from one solid block of steel. It’s a Barbour jacket. It’s a Scottish mountain. Push a button in a Honda and it feels as if you could push it a billion times and it would still be working. It’s the exact opposite, then, of an iPhone.
Right. Now it’s time to talk about the drawbacks. Well, while this car is available as an estate, it is not available with an automatic gearbox. And that’s odd. Also, it comes with many electronic features that are understandable to only the sort of person that would switch from vodka to sherry more readily than they’d switch to a Honda Accord. I suppose I ought to point out as well that while the engine delivers all that you could ask, it is not quite as refined as the diesel engine you get in a BMW. And that’s it.
The diesel Accord Type S is well priced, considering the amount of equipment it comes with as standard, it’s pretty spacious, it’s lovely to drive and — I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned this already — you only need take it to the pumps every 650 miles. Yes, it’s boring to look at, but even that can have its advantages. It’ll never be vandalised, and I think I’m right in saying that not once in all of human history has an Accord driver been stopped randomly by the police. That’s because they know that anyone who bought a car as sensible as this will have the correct paperwork, no alcohol in their bloodstream and no sub-machinegun in the boot.
If it were available with an automatic gearbox, I’d be tempted to give it five stars. But it isn’t, so, reluctantly, I won’t. Instead I’ll sum it up by saying that it’s nice to find something that just works.