But changing the customer's perception of your product is another matter and it is what Honda is planning to do with the seventh generation Accord when it goes on sale in February.
During the development process for the new car, Honda's research found that in the past, the Accord had been seen as a cut above the Fords and Vauxhalls of the world, and perceived in quality terms as close to the Volkswagen Passat.
Honda split the upper-medium sector into three segments. There is the volume end, dominated by Ford and Vauxhall, along with most other manufacturers you care to mention.
Rover also did not gain a mention, and the 75 could have shared common ancestry with the new Accord.
In short, Honda is claiming the new Accord is no longer a rival for the Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Vectra and Volkswagen Passat, but more a challenge for the Audi A4, Saab 9-3 and Volvo S60 – which will be reflected in its price. There will be an estate called the Tourer joining the range in May, and the 2.0-litre and 2.4- litre i-VTEC engines will be joined by a Euro IV compliant 2.2-litre Honda-developed diesel in 2004, which is clean enough to avoid the 3% company car tax supplement for heavy oil engines.
I can already hear company car drivers throwing up their hands in despair at the news of a 12-month wait for the diesel, but the 152bhp 2.0-litre in the petrol SE model fills the gap nicely, with carbon dioxide emissions of 176g/km and combined fuel consumption of 38.2mpg. In tax terms this would compare favourably with a non-Euro IV compliant diesel in an A4 or Saab 9-3 (Lexus doesn't even have a diesel) when diesel price premiums are taken into account in the P11d price.
Honda will be selling fewer Accords than before with the new model. This is one of the actions taken to ensure higher residual values are maintained. There will be about 6,000 saloons and 6,000 Tourers in a full year, with diesel adding an extra 6,000 to the total.
This means a maximum of 18,000 units in the UK, where the Accord's best year to date has been about 22,000 units.
The corporate market is also key to its success. Honda corporate sales manager James Daulton said: 'Since the previous Accord was launched more than 32,000 sales have gone to corporate customers. We expect about 3,000 units in year one but this will climb in year two with the launch of the diesel model.
'We would expect that diesel will ultimately account for close to 50% of the sales of the car. Inevitably, a lack of diesel restricts the opportunity, but the new car is very fuel efficient, and produces low emissions – this has the effect of lowering the taxation level.
'The next generation diesels will be more tax-efficient and, of course, the new Accord diesel will feature this development. We will offer a strong alternative in the quality sector of the medium market both with petrol and ultimately diesel.'
Behind the wheel
THE new Accord certainly has road presence. The sneering headlights and grille and high rear give the car a dynamic look.
It is a clean shape which helps give the car class-leading aerodynamics, and its purity is emphasised by details like the windscreen washer jets which have been removed from the bonnet and put below the wipers.
The doors close with a 'quality' sound and most of the parts of the car that come into contact with the driver use softer materials.
The centre consoles of the test cars were dominated by the optional colour screen navigation system with other function buttons grouped together around it, rather like Jaguar's X-type. Much time and effort has been invested in how these controls feel when operated.
From the steering wheel-mounted controls which feel like operating the buttons on a very expensive hi-fi system to the well-damped steering column stalks, everything makes the driver feel good about being in the cabin.
The first car I tried was the 2.0 Sport, which has shorter gearing than the standard 2.0 SE, hence its slightly higher fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The engine started with a sigh and remained subdued through the urban roads of the Cote D'Azur. Honda's VTEC engines have had a reputation of being lethargic at low revs and lacking in torque.
The i-VTEC used in the Accord (a version of which has already been used in the Stream and CR-V) produces 140lb-ft at 4,500rpm, but much of that is available at lower revs, and it certainly feels keen enough to pull from about 2,500rpm, particularly with the shorter gearing of the Sport model.
At a steady 80mph on the French autoroutes there was hardly any noise from the tyres and barely a murmur from the engine, although this only made the wind noise around the door mirrors seem louder.
The steering has much more feel than we are used to from a Honda, and you can turn the Accord into bends knowing exactly how the car will react.
There is very little in the way of body roll, too, with the Accord devouring sweeping bends and tight corners alike. The ride feels a little more compliant than an Audi A4, although it was a left-hand drive model on French roads, so it can be difficult to make a comparison to right-hand drive versions. Given the competition it is aiming at, the Accord should be one of the most comfortable saloons.
Rear space isn't on the same level as a Mondeo or Vectra, but against the Audi A4, Volvo S60, Saab 9-3 and Lexus IS200, it seems generous. The boot has more than adequate space but is about 40 litres short of something like the Mazda6.
NEW Accord sales might get off to a slow start as people adjust to the higher price and image upgrade. But the car certainly has what it takes to compete with quality rivals on price and equipment while the engines are among the best four cylinder motors in the world.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||152/6,000||152/6,000||189/6,800|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||140/4,500||140/4,500||164/4,500|
|Max speed (mph):||137 (134)||135 (134)||141|
|0-62mph (secs):||9.0 (10.6)||9.9 (10.6)||7.9 (9.0)|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||38.2 (35.3)||*36.7 (34.0)||*31.0 (30.1)|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||176 (190)||*182 (196)||*216 (223)|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||65/14.3|
CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.