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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Honda's heritage: celebrating 70 years with two of its most popular models

The carmaker makes a statement at 70 with the latest Jazz and Accord

Whenever a significant anniversary is celebrated, a decent percentage of written considerations tend to centre on what else was happening on the planet at the time of said entity’s genesis. The aim is generally to emphasise just how much has changed since then. But when Japanese car giant Honda began life 70 years ago, its home country really did bear little resemblance to the ultra-modern tech hub that it is today.

Ravaged by the Second World War and nursing two major cities vaporised by atom bombs, the Japan that Honda emerged blinking into in 1948 would not have given much cause to guess that one day the company would be responsible for automotive feats including the NSX supercar and hot-hatch king the Civic Type R.

Co-founders Soichiro Honda and Takeo Fujisawa’s first contribution to the world was the “Dream” D-type motorcycle. Within a decade, the company had set up in the United States. By the mid-1960s, Honda was the biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the world; a mere 20 years after its formation it had sold its millionth motorcycle in the States.

Its debut in Formula One in 1964 was preceded a year earlier by a slightly less auspicious entry into four-wheeled production vehicles with the T360, a tiny pick-up under “kei” regulations (the Japanese class of pocket-sized cars devised to satisfy tax and insurance red tape in the country). A few months later, it was followed by the far more beautiful S500, a two-seater sports roadster powered by a 531cc engine that zipped out a whole 44hp. In 1963 it cost US$1,275. Bigger things – and engines – were to come.

The co-founders retired from Honda in 1973, but both lived to see the first incarnations of many Honda models that remain in production today, including one of the longest-running, the Accord, a car that itself celebrated a big anniversary two years ago, marking its 40th birthday. It was the best-selling Japanese car for 16 years in the 1980s and 1990s, while cumulative sales figures have long since eclipsed eight figures.

The latest Accord is the 10th generation model, which looks to build on that success while tweaking the popular saloon into 2018. Where it succeeds is largely down to your choice of engine. While the Accord is now a four-cylinder-only proposition, ditching the earlier generation’s V6 variant, there is now a 1.5-litre base option to go with a 2.0-litre, both now turbocharged. Dual exhausts and 18-inch alloy wheels give a smart executive look, bringing the long-running model up to date.

The fact that it is lower, wider and shorter than the outgoing model, with a longer wheelbase, makes the whole car more stable, too, and although you won’t be approaching corners at supercar speeds if you value your no-claims bonus, the Accord feels more than able for a car of this class.

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Read more:

Road test: 2018 Honda City

Ferrari at 70: Meeting the modern-day visionaries behind the supercars in Maranello, Italy

Emirati Saif bin Adhed: ‘I fell in love with Honda so much that my dream car changed from the GT-R to an NSX’

Latest from The National's Motoring section

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There are subtle differences between the two engine variants beyond the power plants, most visually in the gear-select buttons in the larger-engined car versus its baby brother’s traditional shifter, but what really matters here is the respective levels of get-up-and-go. I take both models on a drive in Dubai on a route that involves roads around Al Qudra, and while the 2.0-litre can accelerate up to highway speeds with a degree of comfort, the smaller-engined car whines like a hungry baby, not aided by its continuously variable transmission (CVT). Even the Accord’s active noise cancellation can’t entirely remedy or hide the racket, which would certainly get frustrating long-term.

That aside, you won’t dread climbing into the cabin. The eight-inch infotainment display has a tablet-ish look that gives a contemporary edge and it displays blind-spot camera views from the appropriate side of the car when you indicate. Stereo controls on the steering wheel, something that a surprising amount of vehicles in all sectors seem to

neglect, make for fuss-free road trips, too.

Road trips aren’t really such an attractive option with the other new Honda that I test, the facelifted Jazz. While it isn’t entirely what you would describe as a looker, there is something quirkily likeable about the Jazz that grows on you in time, much like its ability to zip around as a more-than-decent city car.

The open road isn’t its friend, sadly, with a CVT that protests so noisily when you floor it – doing so is necessary if you want to achieve the highway speed limit before you celebrate another birthday – that prolonged use would very probably test sanity. Much like the Honda City that we recently reviewed, it has a sport mode and tiny flappy paddles, bless its little cotton socks. When you do engage the nominally racing mode, seventh “gear” (yes, it has seven) seems to be attached to an air brake – it actually appears to slow the car. And while fuel economy is a plus of the Jazz when driven parsimoniously, it isn’t so attractive when you thrash it. For Dh63,900, however, it is one of the niftiest small cars around on this budget.

That cursed CVT aside, then, the carmaker continues to offer plenty of which Honda and Fujisawa could be proud. The enduring popularity of models such as the Accord, which is set to build on its success on the evidence of the 2.0-litre version, certainly suggests that a century not out seems a safe target.