Look how far Honda's come

The motorcycle I went to Pietermaritzburg to drool over and photograph was a humble little beast, even when it was new, 45 years ago.

With a single-cylinder 50cc pushrod engine delivering less than 4kW, the Honda C110 was one of the first products from the Japanese factory to make its way to South Africa, and the funny little bike with its pressed steel frame, weird-looking leading-link forks and 80km/h top speed changed the face of motorcycling in South Africa.

Back in 1963 thousands of pimply-faced youths nagged their parents to come up with the R235 asking price, and a whole generation of youngsters developed a strong affinity with the brand, that still survives nearly half a century later.

It was thus appropriate that it was in a Honda Accord that I hied myself off to the sleepy capital of KwaZulu-Natal in pursuit of ex-racing driver Pat Duckham’s immaculately restored little motorcycle.

Another winner
The new Accord 2.0i-VTEC displays very little in common with Honda’s earliest South African offering, having twice the number of wheels, luxurious seating for five adults, and a highly efficient 16-valve four-cylinder double overhead camshaft engine.

The Accord range is aimed at the reasonably well-heeled luxury sedan buyer who could well be the same spotty adolescent who bought Honda’s earliest products all those years ago, and it has more in-built computer technology than existed on the entire planet in 1963.

Of course, the latter could be said of most cars today, but the Honda, even the cheapest two-litre version, compares favourably with much more expensive German offerings when it comes to quality, luxury and safety features.

Now that’s saying something.

The Accord range in South Africa consists of just four models, with two- and 2,4-litre engines matched to manual and auto transmissions.

There’s also a station-wagon derivative, but that’s a different class of vehicle so we’ll ignore it here.

The test car was the five-speed automatic version of the two-litre model which, at R257 900, is R13 000 pricier than the six-speed manual.

I’m usually not much of an auto fan, especially in cars with smallish engines and large bodies, because they usually seem to spend their lives hunting for the right gear ratio, but the Honda’s box is such a gem I can’t fault the wisdom of anybody who goes for it.

Although it seems to be lumped into the “compact saloon” class by most motoring publications, the newest Accord is in fact a big car.

First impressions are highly favourable, with the exterior styling and interior design and layout both being extremely classy.

The interior is particularly attractive, and I reckon Honda deserves first prize for their steering wheels.

The one in the Accord, apart from looking gorgeous, has easy-to-use controls for the six-speaker sound system, the on-board computer, the standard Bluetooth hands-free phone system, and the cruise control.

There are also paddles allowing the gearbox to be shifted manually when the driver slips into aggressive mode.

The seats are way better than average—all leather, with the front two being electrically adjustable (with memory) and electrically heated.

The driver’s seat also has adjustable lumbar support, which can be extremely welcome on long trips.

The materials used in the cabin all appear to be absolutely first class, and build quality is excellent—the test car already had 10 800km on the clock when we took delivery, but still felt brand, spanking new.

There are six airbags, but Honda’s versions of all the usual electronic driver aids and anti-skid devices help reduce the chances of your ever having to find out just how well they work.

What’s it like to drive?
I would expect a two-litre naturally aspirated car weighing in at just under 1,5 tons unladen to be a little reluctant to get up to a canter, and the Honda is, to an extent, just that.

The importers claim a 0-100km/h time of 10,7 seconds for the auto version and 9,3 for the manual, which makes them each about 1,5 seconds slower than the same cars fitted with the 148kW 2,4-litre motors.

That’s not to say that the smaller engine is a dog though—once it’s overcome its initial inertia it goes well enough, and its 115kW is good enough to haul the manual version up to 215km/h, with the auto being just 3km/h slower.

As a luxury open-road cruiser the Honda is an excellent choice, even at speeds well above the national speed limit, thanks to its comfortable interior and very capable soundproofing.

Handling too is good, although the suspension is intended more for statesperson-like progress than boy-racer hooliganism.

The best way to travel is to set the cruise control to somewhere around 145km/h—we like to build in a little margin for speedo error—and sit back to enjoy the ride.

During the week I had the car it sipped exactly nine litres of fuel per 100km travelled, with most of the driving being in and around Durban, so as big cars go, the Honda’s very affordable to run.

Pat Duckham’s little Honda 50cc motorcycle was well worth the trip. It also served as a reminder as to just how far Honda has progressed in the last 50 or so years.

The C110 earned Honda an enormous following in the days when anything Japanese was generally construed to be rubbish, and I suspect that even today many South Africans view the brand with affection because of their two-wheeled experiences in the 1960s and 1970s.

Factor in Honda’s excellent reputation in consumer surveys internationally, and it’s not hard to figure out why the marque is so popular in South Africa today.

The Accord 2,4 has been selected as a South African Guild of Motoring Journalists’ Car of the Year finalist for 2009. At the price, I reckon the two-litre version is equally, if not more worthy.

Client Media Releases

What does the future hold for SMS?
Changes at MBDA already producing the fruits
University open days: Look beyond banners, balloons to make the best choice
ITWeb, VMware second CISO survey under way
Doctoral study on leveraging the green economy