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The Honda Accord FOUR Challenge

May 30th, 2008

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There was the usual awkwardness when a dozen or so folk that don’t really know each other get together for breakfast. Well, the four journalists knew one another, and they all knew their host, Honda Canada Public Relations guru, Richard Jacobs.

But their spouses and one 7-month-old baby, Adrian, were fresh to an automotive media event and, considering what was about to get under way, it was easy to understand the few minutes of social adjustment. Over steaming coffee, the 4 couples eyed a table at the side of the room where 4 Nikon Coolpix cameras, 4 Ontario road atlases, 4 sets of car keys and as many colourful manuals entitled Accord Four Challenge were laid out.

“I think it’s timely that this briefing follows an overnight gasoline hike of another 2 cents last night.” Richard went on to warm up the group in the boardroom of Toronto’s stunning Angus Glen Golf Club before Honda Canada’s Executive Vice President, Jerry Chenkin, conducted a brief business meeting.

The jist of Jerry’s presentation was a prediction that the family sedan was back in business. With soaring fuel prices, the Honda 4-cylinder Accord EX-L Navi was one product that would tackle the needs of today’s family in a fuel-efficient way without compromising on size, comfort and convenience in a sporty and fun-to-drive package.

When Jerry finished it was our turn. My partner, Lisa Calvi, and I had been given the task of creating an event that would showcase the attributes of the 8th-generation Honda Accord in a fun, hands-on, real-world way. The event everyone was about to put their hands on consisted of a day on the road to Windermere House on Lake Rosseau, a couple of hundred kilometres north of Toronto in the area known as The Muskokas.

The teams, including journalists and their spouses representing the National Post, The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star newspapers would spend the day playing the game.

The Challenge was broken into four scoring sections. A trivia quiz with questions like: ‘What are the 4 Greek classical elements? Name 4 things that come in fours. Name 4 songs that have the word four in them. What flies and has 4 wings?’ would get them thinking. A photo contest would put the Nikon digital cameras to work shooting items en route that began with the letters F-O-U-R and A-C-C-O-R-D. Points would be awarded for a shot of 4 strangers in their Accord as well as a ‘beauty shot’ of their car. There would be a slide show at dinner to let the competitors determine who had the best shots for even more bonus points.

There was also a simple parking challenge, a ‘his’ and ‘hers’ competition that would obviously provoke friendly spousal banter at the awards dinner at Windermere House.

But the big kahuna of the weekend fun rally was to have a look at the fuel economy of the efficient Honda Accord family sedan. The fuel consumption rate of each team was worth 50% of the overall score. Whoever could complete the tasks, cover the distance and do it with the best fuel consumption had the best chance of taking the day, no question.

When everyone finished breakfast, we introduced them to their Accords and they were off into the sunshine. Lisa and I made our way to Windermere House in our own Accord. The car was peppy, quiet and roomy with a full load of comfort and convenience features.

After checking into the beautifully-renovated resort, we drove to the Bent River General Store and Service Station and swatted black flies awaiting the teams. I had super-filled the cars that morning so I wanted to refill them myself to get as accurate a reading as possible.

That evening at Windermere House while the Honda executives and the media teams had dinner, Lisa and I went thought the photos, marked the trivia questions and calculated team fuel economy that ranged from 8.01 L/100 km to an impressive 6.77 L/100 km. Wow, that’s about 42 miles per gallon for Toronto Star writer Jil McIntosh and her husband Fred Bottcher! Writer Michael Bettencourt for The Globe & Mail, his wife Celia and 7-month-old Adrian were close behind with 6.86 L/100kms. Not bad considering the stop-and-go driving that was involved in fulfilling the tasks of the day.

We had a ball at the ‘Awards Ceremony’. Plenty of laughter at the trivia answers and the photos of ‘four strangers in your Accord’ were intriguing to say the least. Everyone won, The Globe & Mail took the overall Accord FOUR Challenge Title, the brainy National Post team, Shaun and Lisa Keenan, won the Quiz section and the Toronto Star pegged the fuel economy challenge. The best photo went to the Michael Pistol Automobile Studio team of Michael and his wife, Cassandra Vasik.

The next morning at breakfast, I asked Jil and Fred: “How did you do so well?”.

“No air conditioning, easy starts, watch the tachometer and play the gears,” Jil informed me. Fred insisted that Jil had the lightest foot in the world.

She confirmed what I have always felt. Saving fuel is about picking the right product in combination with a slew of other variables. Think about those quick starts, keep your speed steady and if you don’t need the air conditioner leave it off. Park the pile of stuff in the trunk you don’t need and do some logical route planning.

And when replacing the minivan or SUV, consider a green, safe and fun family sedan like a 4-cylinder Honda Accord EX-L Navi and you just might be surprised what is waiting for you, your pocket book and the planet.

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