A significant boost comes with three-year/90,000-mile warranty cover (up from two years/60,000 miles) introduced with the all-new saloon, and that's going to be extended across the Honda range. An Accord hatch is due in the spring and there will be facelifts announced on other models as part of the importer's campaign to increase UK sales by at least 10% during 1999, at the same time tipping the retail/corporate scales in fleets' favour.
Continued reliability, excellent build quality and ease of ownership will, of course, do their bit to help Honda hit target. But there's something else: the previous Accord had a certain classiness which helped overcome the fact that the exterior was unremarkable, the interior was bland, and the car wasn't much fun to drive.
Our latest long term test fleet addition, an Accord 1.8-litre four-door in middle-of-the-road LS trim, not only retains that touch of class, it now has the engine and handling characteristics to place it among the upper medium class leaders in driving terms (it does pretty well in wholelife terms, too - CAP Future Residual Values estimates 26.3p per mile over three years/60,000 miles and 41% of retained value, and that's knocking on Passat's door).
Driven gently, the entry 1.8 single overhead cam VTEC (0-62mph 10.4 secs, top speed 127mph goes about its job with little fuss: it's quiet and smooth, almost docile - but hit the throttle hard and the blue rinse blows away as the revs rise to a glorious crescendo of 136bhp at 6,000rpm. It loses none of its refinement treated enthusiastically, but it gains dramatically in its ability to please. Ride is crisp, but compliant, roadholding's excellent, steering is sharp and accurate, and there's little roll on corners.
Styling may still be conservative, but the new Accord has become a driver's car without losing its business-like qualities, nor lowering its status. And at ú16,595 on-the-road, the 1.8 LS manual (the S starts the range at ú15,295, while the leather-treated ES begins at ú19,395) looks good value - the air-conditioning in our car is more efficient than its predecessor's, cabin and boot are roomier, and seats better suited to long distance motoring. Our fuel economy is encouraging, too - 34.3mpg after 1,300 miles. So far, so good.