Honda’s Odd Policy

For reasons unrelated to cars, I had reason to visit a Honda showroom.

A Honda showroom, yesterday in Denmark.
A Honda showroom, yesterday in Denmark.

While I waited to talk to the salesman who busily spoke to a real customer, I had had a short look at the interiors of all the cars on display. I discovered that Honda don’t fit rear central armrests to any of their cars: the Jazz, the Civic, the HRV or CRV. Those cars that might have had them, the Accord and Civic saloon are not on sale in Denmark. Their range is still unbalanced: the Civics, two CUVs, a city car and a billion euro supercar. That last one sits very uneasily in a range devoid of a cheaper roadster, a saloon and an MPV.

Okay, so Honda can’t sustain a full range of cars and nobody’s really into saloons anyway, not in a big enough way of bit-players to justify having them in their line-up. However, customers still do ferry people about and the Civics, HRV and CRV are probably doing the job that Accords used to do. So, in place of offering a saloon why don’t Honda make those cars suitable for the saloon work they do by offering a rear-centre armrest? Is this a manifestation of Honda’s seriousness about saving weight in cars?

During my quick survey, I noticed the cars all had dashboards and centre consoles. However, I found it quite hard to look at them with a view to assessing their merits. They all seem very, very busy concatenations of shapes. Do people like this?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

16 thoughts on “Honda’s Odd Policy”

  1. As to your last question, I’m afraid they do. The calm, if not very graceful dashboard of my C6 is considered ‘boring’ by most onlookers. They badly miss their chrome surrounds and fake aluminium inserts there. Concentration on the essential doesn’t seem to be a strong point of our times.

    But what bothers me more than a busy styling or even missing central armrests is how former mainstream players more and more become niche sellers with very incomplete ranges. Most Japanese marques, who used to offer a full programme, are now in this field (at least in Europe). Mazda soon seems to be the only exception. Fiat has been there for a long time. The French struggle to keep a more or less consistent line-up. It’s a pity that we’ll soon only have German premium or cheap small cars and CUVs as a choice.

  2. There is no rear armrest because of Honda’s ‘Magic Seats’, which splits and folds the rear bench every which way to create a very flexible load space. They were terrific in my 2008 Civic and I often miss the extra utility they afforded.

  3. An US class leader title is roughly equivalent to a death sentence in Europe. It means that a car has a wobbly suspension and a lush, but cheaply built interior with questionable colour choices.

  4. Chris, if I understand Honda’s products correctly — I could be mistaken — the US Accord is a wider longer version of the Euro Accord. I’m not sure it is physically a good fit for narrow streets and short parking spaces.

    Simon, I’m not sure that all US model Hondas have wobbly suspensions. I’m in the depths of my great old age and am married. I no longer drive as fast or as hard as I did when young and single. Road conditions here — congestion, law enforcement — make driving fast more difficult and financially risky than it used to be. We still have, however, sections of interstate highway that aren’t perfectly straight. On them, as wherever possible, I turn the cruise control on and pooter along at perhaps 5 mph over the posted limit. Surprisingly, in my 2011 Accord, my wife’s 2009 Civic, and in the Civics and Integras I ran before them I’ve always passed just about everyone in the relatively twisties. I can’t speak for all US model Hondas, but ours have and had adequate or better road holding. Or, perhaps, few drivers here can tolerate much lateral acceleration.

    1. Fred, of course I’m not talking about actual merits any Honda may or may not have. Actually I’m quite sure Honda isn’t going the wobbly way. I just reflected what most Europeans think are American preferences, and how vehicles fulfilling them don’t seem fit for European style driving. While tastes might be more similar on both sides of the Atlantic today, prejudices aren’t following reality very quickly, as we know.

  5. Simon, thanks for the reply.

    You’re very right about one thing. As I see them the Accord and the equivalent Toyotas (Camry, Avalon, Lexus ES) are quintessential American cars and do “the American car thing” better than anything from our nominally domestic makers. Comfortable, reliable, fast and quick enough.

    To be fair to Chrysler, Ford and GM, its been years since I’ve had much experience with their products. I occasionally get a GM product when I rent, they’ve been marginal to OK but not up to the equivalent Honda. But when it comes to buying, why take the risk?

  6. My 2013 CRV has a rear armrest. I checked the Honda UK website to see if they’ve decontented the facelift 4th gen cars, but it remains standard across the range.

    Must be a Euro thing.

  7. I don’t think Honda can be a really low cost producer – they tend to put in very highly engineered and reliable mechanicals in their cars, along with the lowest quality battery and small brakes to even things out. I know Europeans wander around in a daze of appreciation for “VW” quality, applying the same sort of out-of-date-thinking that believes US cars are marshmallow-riding hedonistic mobile boudoirs, but in the reliability stakes Honda and Toyota crucify VW. They just don’t have the appropriate snob badge, and the fit ‘n finish in some Toyotas is a bit tragic, while Honda excels with orange peel paint.

    However, Honda is indeed resolutely Japanese in outlook, no matter their claim to devolve entire projects to far-flung outposts of their empire. There’s still a head office wagging its corporate finger at any sign of real independent thought. It’s known as Honda R&D, which is about design policy as much as new combustion chamber design. Don’t believe me?

    http://world.honda.com/RandD/wako/

    Consequently, when given the small budget left over from deft engine machining, ACE body structure and ten or so Takata airbags, a zany hip Japanese designer who loves both sushi and Hollywood movies decides on the corporate interiors and interfaces. Thus we end up with US Accords, there now not being a Euro model, sporting an utterly alien two LCD infotainment system, one stacked above the other and featuring non-related scripts, some functions covered twice. Lovely. Someone picks out the Rubbermaid plastic grain for the various surfaces, ensuring the uppers are soft enough to be given a bit of a squeeze to ensure a semblance of upscale ambiance. But the true innovator would be the chap who designs seat cloth out of recycled rice husks in a fourteen year binge of 12 hour days for the lower spec and hybrid models. And gets his pic in the R&D journal as a loyal journeyman. I am being perhaps a little too tongue-in-cheek here, but there can be no doubt that the resulting interior(s) is a bit of a shock to European tastes, resembling the future in a sort of retro mind-bending version of “Dan Dare and the Mechanical Asteroid”‘s operational furniture. It’s also now a big car so no more flogging them in Europe. Still, a quick squint under bonnet will show the gubbins are as well turned out as any volume manufacturer, much better than a Cadillac ATS for example.

    In the US, people tend to gaze on the resulting Honda, decide it’s not too bad, not completely unacceptable, know it’ll be anvil solid with a mere modicum of upkeep for ten years or more, and since it drives not badly, they sign on the dotted line. People do not want to think about their personal chariots which are just supposed to work, and there’s not a soul about who’ll make jokes about aging taxis or purple-haired grannies picking a “nice” car, simply because the Accord is mainstream. As is the frumpy CR-V. Despite all, there is no badge dishonour picking out an Accord over a totally decontented BMW 320i, and one may well be congratulated on their “sensible” choice. Nor does depreciation seem to reach UK levels of throwaway-ness in 3 or 4 years.

    The consequence in the US is that they flog 300,000 of these beasts a year and 300,000 CR-Vs, and 300,000 Civics and not a single one with a diesel. I suspect that the odd interiors and now the “are-they out-of-their-mind” exterior of the new Civic hatchback mean that any sane European with a hint of self-modulating taste wouldn’t be caught dead in one, especially since they aren’t cheap to buy. One has to believe in the intangibles to buy one. As sales decline, there becomes less and less reason to spend the cash on a decent Euro interior for any model, so the number of models available for sale declines inexorably. Just as VW hasn’t cracked the US market in 50 years, shaking their heads in utter confusion, I’m sure Honda cannot work out why Europeans don’t take up their cars in gob-smacking quantities, because everywhere else people grit their teeth and buy them as a quality appliance. Rather than worrying too much about it and the queer-to-them Euro tastes, Honda uses spare UK factory space and builds Civic hatchbacks there to inflict on the rest of the world, where, if not being overtly appreciated, they are at least likely to sell decently.

    Japanese cars are a bit of an enigma to me, Honda in particular. In both styling and the way they drive, unapologetic differences unswayed by press or customer criticism for years at a time (aka the Acura beak or the Lexus spindle grille) are the order of the day. However, a miracle has recently occurred. A volume knob has returned on the new 2017 CR-V infotainment system, as people found the touchscreen slider rubbish a bit hard to take. I’m sure some Japanese designer is still smarting at the change from his pure original. But Honda deleted the nearside rearview camera dubbed Lanewatch to compensate and maintain profit margin. Cough, cough.

  8. I have a UK current version Civic ES and it has both front and rear centre armrests. The 2017 model loses the Magic seats, gains a turbo for the petrol and is even longer. It’s off my shopping list.

    1. Hello Martin:
      It’s good to know Honda isn’t short changing their British customers. Why do imagine they got rid of the magic seats? Can I ask if you thought much of the last two Accords? The second last one looked neat, was right-sized and had a nice ride/handling balance. I think Americans could buy it as an Acura.

  9. The magic seats are gone because they’ve moving the fuel tank (which is under the front seats) to make way for the exhausts! It was a great feature where you could fit 4 full size tyres in when you wanted to change to winter wheelsets or even a bike without the front wheel. The Accord is dead in the water over here where it’s price didn’t do well against the premium German equivalents (Audi/BMW/Mercedes). You only have to see how the Ford Mondeo is fairing – I think the BMW 3 series is now the classes best selling model.

    1. The second last Accord (2003) deserved a much better reception. It had very smart, understated looks and the few I have seen had very good interiors. I really can detect no difference in the quality of their material and fit compared to whatever BMW had on sale at the time. That it also doubled as an Acura in the US helped.
      The decision to move the fuel tank is perplexing. Presumably the version with the forward-located tank also had exhaust pipes. So, what has happened that Honda are reverting the old layout? I can´t even guess.
      BMW´s declining prestigiousness has been well-documented here. The Ford´s poor sales (they are poor, aren´t they) has a lot to do with being late to the market. Having a common car for the US and EU is not really working out. Then again, Opel get on alright with the Insignia. A critical difference is the suspicion that Opel designs their car for Europe and then hand it over the rest of GM whereas the Fusiondeo was born in Detroit and Europeanised. They can´t win. The Mystique/Contour twins failed because Ford used Eurosizes.

  10. The HRV and Jazz still have the Magic seats but I think the Civic is moving up to the Accord size. That makes the range Jazz-HRV-Civic-CRV. The HRV has a rubbish 1.5 petrol so I didn’t even try it. In other markets they’ve put in the 1.8 VTEC petrol. I suspect Honda will not put the new 1.5 turbo into the HRV to stop it taking sales from the Civic (they would also have do something to handle the power upgrade). In any event Honda now have a complete set of ugly-swoopy cars suited more to Far Eastern eyes than Europe. As you may have seen from the Paris show, Hyundai are gunning for the Golf with a more understated look for the i30. Game over for Honda and I’ve owned 7 of them.

    1. Such a transformation, isn´t it? It seems they decided that reserved good looks didn´t work and then went wholly off in the other direction. Without researching the matter very carefully, Honda might have the least satisfactory-looking range of cars out there – or it´s a toss up between them and Lexus.

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