Fleet News

Honda Accord v Saab 9-3 v Volvo S60



SUCH is the domination of the compact executive market at the moment by the premium German brands, that Honda, Saab and Volvo are unsung heroes to an extent. So we're going to sing for them.

Because at the thin end of the wedge for the likes of BMW or Audi, where electric windows or a CD player aren't always likely to find their way on to the car, there are alternatives for drivers who want more equipment and space.

The Accord and S60 in particular are much bigger cars than anything else in the sector, while the 9-3 in Aero 2.0T form in this test offers performance that would take a budget of many more thousands of pounds to match for the German brands.

And all of them come laden with kit. For a start all three cars here, in Executive, Aero and S trim respectively for Accord, 9-3 and S60 come with leather or part leather seats. They all have CD players, climate control and cruise control as standard while the Accord benefits from having Honda's excellent touch screen satellite navigation thrown in as part of the package. None of these cars is short of kit.

All have engines that provide enough performance as well, with the Accord the least powerful at 190 bhp from its normally-aspirated 2.4 i-VTEC engine. The Saab and Volvo both have turbos and manage 210bhp which means that for all three cars, CO2 emissions and tax bills are not going to be as low as if a driver chose their diesel cousins.

The 9-3 and Accord both sit in the 25% BIK bracket this year with emissions of 216g/km and 218g/km, which means a bill for a 40% taxpayer of £2,120 for the Honda and £2,380 for the Saab, which has a P11d price nearly £2,000 more than the other two. The Volvo just squeaks into the next emission bracket at 220g/km, so is charged at 26%, and would cost the same driver £2,286.

In terms of fuel consumption, none are going to win any awards for parsimony. The best is the Aero at 12.16 pence per mile, which equates to 32.8mpg, but the Accord is just behind at 12.31ppm and the S60 slightly further back at 12.43ppm. Over 60,000 miles, that's a difference of about £150.

There's not a lot in it on servicing, maintenance and repair either, although the ultra-reliable Accord comes out top with a figure of 2.50ppm, equating to £1,500. The most expensive, the Volvo at 3.16ppm, would cost just under £1,900.

Depreciation splits the trio apart, and the more expensive 9-3 Aero suffers in this comparison. According to CAP the Aero is worth 35% of its new value after three years/60,000 miles, which means it is losing value at a rate of 24.56ppm.

The other two cars hold their value better much with CAP percentage values of 37% for the Accord and 38% for the Volvo. That means 21.19ppm for the Honda and 21.44ppm for the Volvo. Both will lose between £12,500 and£12,900 over three years.

In terms of total wholelife costs, the Saab loses out solely because of its depreciation and is nearly 4ppm more expensive than the winner, the Honda Accord, which costs 36ppm. The Volvo is a close second at 37.03ppm.

Honda Accord 2.4 executive i-vtec (17in alloys)


WHEN it was launched a year ago, Honda set out to move the new Accord upmarket. So in its sharp-dressed saloon body, the range-topping 2.4 Executive with optional 17-inch alloys is vying for a slice of the action along with Sweden's finest.

Most things you could think of are standard – leather seats with heating and electric adjustment in the front, an in-dash six-CD autochanger, automatic climate control, an electric sunroof and DVD touch-screen satellite navigation.

With a more purposeful stance than the Volvo and more coherent overall appearance than the Saab 9-3, the Accord certainly has the premium car road presence Honda was after.

The interior has more of an upmarket ambience – perhaps helped by the standard leather trim and colour-screen sat-nav – than the old Accord ever did.

Everything is well screwed together and there is liberal use of expensive-feeling materials. It is also roomier than the Saab in the rear, although compared with the Volvo you could argue about gains in legroom being lost in shoulder room. Honda is the odd one out in this trio of saloons in that it uses a normally-aspirated engine, while the Swedes have turbos.

Its 2.4-litre engine boasts 190bhp, compared with 210bhp for its Swedish rivals, and while the benchmark performance figures are just a few mph apart and a few tenths over 0-62mph, the Honda feels lacking in the mid-range, where the Swedes have forced induction to help them out.

However, the Accord handles gamely, feeling more composed than the Volvo and less brash under acceleration than the Saab. The steering is livelier than we are used to from Honda, and the Accord's lines round quicker corners can be chosen with precision.

At a glance


  • Generously equipped
  • Upmarket feel
  • High residual value


  • Lacks mid-range performance
  • Premium image not yet established
  • Needs optional 17in wheels for looks

    Saab 9-3 2.0 T Aero


    WITH the lowest capacity engine of the three cars tested, the Saab 9-3 uses a beefy turbo to claw back any potential performance deficit it might be dealt by the lack of cubes.

    The high-output turbo is only available as an Aero – a sporty trim level based on Vector, which is available on lesser models – and it means the 9-3 has styling additions like side skirts and deeper front spoiler.

    In our opinion they seem to clutter the lines of the standard 9-3 saloon to an extent. The styling enhancements are too weak to make the Aero really stand out, but prominent enough to notice they are too weak.

    Inside, the Saab is a thoroughly pleasant place to sit. The instruments and centre console read-out are all back-lit in green and the whole dashboard is resolutely driver-focused.

    The interior is distinctive and is one of the 9-3's strongest features. Look too closely, though, and you'll find a few items that feel out of place in a £24,000 car – for example the piece of plastic that blanks the space where the 'pistol grip' handbrake would be positioned on left-hand drive cars, and while the indicator stalks are OK, the noise they make when used sounds cheap.

    The 9-3 Aero is a fine performance saloon – as long as the roads are dry. It's steering is more communicative than in the other cars and relishes the prospect of being hustled along twisty roads.

    Add a drop of rain and things become more challenging as the front tyres struggle to deploy the 210bhp and 221lb-ft of torque to the road surface. It either means a level of circumspection is needed, especially in low gears, or the various traction and stability aids begin to cut in.

    The six-speed transmission isn't as slick as the Honda's.

    At a glance


  • Distinctive interior
  • Enjoyable driving experience
  • Performance car image


  • Less enjoyable on damp roads
  • Rear legroom
  • Highest depreciation

    Volvo S60 2.5T S


    VOLVO has always marketed the S60 in the UK as a 'sports saloon', but perhaps with the exception of the 300bhp all-wheel drive R model, it never really feels anything other than a comfortable premium car.

    The 2.5T S model boasts the same power output as the Saab, but its maximum torque figure is higher than the 9-3 at 236lb-ft. It means that combined with its five-speed manual transmission the S60 sprints from 0-62mph faster than the other two cars, taking just seven seconds, while the rivals are more than half a second adrift. But it just doesn't hack it when the road is other than straight lines with gentle curves.

    The steering is too light, offering little in the way of feedback and body roll is more pronounced than in the Saab and Honda. When you drive fast on more challenging roads, the Volvo always feels bigger than the other two.

    However, if you find pleasure in comfort and refinement, the Volvo pulls ahead of the Saab and just has an edge over the Honda.

    The seats are comfortable and supportive in all the right places, while the laid-back atmosphere in the interior is calm and relaxing.

    However, it loses out to the others with less boot volume – 394 litres versus 425 (Saab) and 459 (Honda) – and the rear seat compartment is less generous in legroom than the Accord.

    The five-cylinder engine (with a low-output turbo compared with the Saab) feels less stressed than the Saab's four-cylinder motor, and delivers its performance with a muted yet reassuring growl.


  • Interior comfort
  • Mile-munching ability
  • Low contract hire rate


  • Doesn't feel sporty
  • Poor steering feel
  • Smallest luggage space

    Honda Accord 2.4 Exec i-VTEC

    UNFAMILIAR territory for Honda, but the new Accord is up to the task of attacking the premium sector with executive car looks and bags of kit for the price.

    Delivered price, standard car (P11d value) £21,915
    CO2 emissions (g/km) 216
    BIK % of P11D in 2004/05 25%
    Graduated VED rate £160
    Insurance group 14
    Combined mpg 31.0
    CAP Monitor residual value £8,125/37%
    Depreciation 21.19 pence per mile x 60,000 £12,714
    Maintenance 2.50 pence per mile x 60,000 £1,500
    Fuel 12.31 pence per mile x 60,000 £7,386
    Wholelife cost 36.00 pence per mile x 60,000 £21,600
    Typical contract hire rate £451 per month

    Saab 9-3 2.0 T Aero

    THE high-performance Saab 9-3 provides a driver-focused alternative to the German premium saloons with a combination of driver enjoyment and low CO2 emissions.

    Delivered price, standard car (P11D value) £23,802
    CO2 emissions (g/km) 218
    BIK % of P11D in 2004/05 25%
    Graduated VED rate £160
    Insurance group 16
    Combined mpg 32.8
    CAP Monitor residual value £8,250/35%
    Depreciation 24.56 pence per mile x 60,000 £14,736
    Maintenance 2.91 pence per mile x 60,000 £1,746
    Fuel 12.16 pence per mile x 60,000 £7,296
    Wholelife cost 39.63 pence per mile x 60,000 £23,778
    Typical contract hire rate £502 per month

    Volvo S60T S

    THE S60 majors on comfort, refinement and has a torquey 2.5T engine to help those motorway miles pass, while Volvo inches closer to a true premium brand image.

    Delivered price, standard car (P11D value) £21,980
    CO2 emissions (g/km) 220
    BIK % of P11D in 2004/05 26%
    Graduated VED rate £160
    Insurance group 15
    Combined mpg 30.7
    CAP Monitor residual value £8,250/38%
    Depreciation 21.44 pence per mile x 60,000 £12,864
    Maintenance 3.16 pence per mile x 60,000 £1,896
    Fuel 12.43 pence per mile x 60,000 £7,458
    Wholelife cost 37.03 pence per mile x 60,000 £22,218
    Typical contract hire rate £413 per month


    HONDA has achieved great things with the new Accord, giving it a premium car feel and low running costs. In turn the trade is predicting strong residuals, meaning overall operating costs are much lower than its rivals. Add all the standard equipment and it can't fail and wins our test.

    The Saab 9-3 Aero might be expensive, but has more appeal than the S60, which has the straight-line speed advantage, but struggles in the corners.

  • WINNER: Honda Accord
  • 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.

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