A family looking for a reliable and comfortable sedan that has luxury, performance and fuel economy, all wrapped up in one tidy package
Comparable models in this class:
With all the concern about rising gasoline prices, environmental pollution and depletion of world oil reserves, hybrid engines in passenger vehicles have begun to emerge as one viable counterbalance to the nations hefty appetite for fossil fuels.
Take one small gasoline powerplant, add an electric motor and mix together with a generous supply of technical wizardry. Shazam! Youve got a car with adequate performance, surprising fuel efficiency and ultra-low emissions.
Honda was first to wow the U.S. auto buying public with the introduction of the tiny, two-seat Insight in 1999. With an EPA average of 61 mpg in the city and 66 on the highway, this hybrid immediately became the fuel economy king, a title it holds to this day.
The Insight, relegated by size and space mostly to urban and suburban duty, has been followed by larger, more practical hybrid vehicles, including Hondas own Civic, Toyotas Prius and a Ford Escape sport-utility vehicle. More are on the way, all will have rear-world practicality and all will drink significantly less than their counterparts.
But what if a manufacturer wanted to offer a vehicle that would improve fuel efficiency and increase power without requiring any compromises in performance or comfort?
Enter again Honda, this time with the 2005 Accord Hybrid. At first, there seems little to distinguish the Hybrid from the top-of-the-line V-6 Accord sedan. The designs are identical, they contain the same basic engines and transmissions, and they have nearly identical convenience features.
But beneath the obvious, down where the engineers play, there are fascinating advances and clever detail changes that put Hondas third hybrid effort in a class by itself.
Lets look at the results first. The standard V-6 sedan produces 240 horsepower and 212 pound-feet of torque. That translates to an EPA-rated 21 miles per gallon of regular gasoline in the city and 30 on the highway. The all-out scoot from 0 to 60 mph takes about 8 seconds.
Now, lets add Hondas newest special ingredients. Horsepower jumps to 255, and torque to 232 pound-feet. And, fuel mileage makes a big leap to a federally certified 29 city/37 highway, putting it in the same league as the gasoline powered Honda Civic. Meanwhile, the 0-60 mph run drops to 7.5 seconds. Whats more, the Hybrid rides and handles like, well, like a Honda Accord. The powertrain is smooth, the steering reasonably precise and the ride controlled but compliant.
How did they do that? The centerpiece of these seemingly contradictory accomplishments is Hondas Integrated Motor Assist, essentially a 2.7-inch-thick electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission. Under full acceleration, the electric motor contributes 16 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque for maximum performance. In normal driving conditions, the motor kicks in varying amounts of assist to reduce demand on the gasoline engine.
Power for the motor comes from a battery pack installed vertically behind the rear seatback. Under deceleration and braking, the electric motor converts to a generator that produces the energy needed to keep the battery pack charged. Under extreme conditions, the gasoline engine can also generate electricity as needed. One small downside: The battery pack and ventilation system steal 2.8 cubic feet of trunk space, reducing it to 11.2. They also are the reason the Hybrids rear seatbacks cannot be folded forward.
While IMA is the biggest contributor to increased fuel efficiency, it is hardly the whole story.
The gasoline engine incorporates Variable Cylinder Management technology. During cruising, coasting and braking, VCM deactivates three cylinders. But this process involves a lot more than simply cutting back the spark to one cylinder bank. Honda developed electrically powered motor mounts to counteract the inherent roughness in three-cylinder power. It also needed to install an anti-noise system to cancel the booming sound that results from cylinder deactivation.
Sounds complicated, and it is. But most passengers and drivers will never notice. From the inside, the Hybrid is as quiet and smooth as its gas-engine-only counterpart.
What the folks inside the car will notice is the idle-stop feature. As the car slows below 8 miles an hour under braking, the engine just plain shuts down. When the driver lifts a foot from the brake, the electric motor spins the gasoline engine back into action instantaneously and the Honda is good to go again. The silence seems a bit weird at first, but it soon goes unnoticed.
Once again, theres more to this feature than a simple off-on switch. A revised air conditioning compressor, also a hybrid, operates on electrical power when the engine is off to maintain a comfortable cabin temperature. The Hybrids power steering is electrical, rather than the standard hydraulic system, to insure that steering effort is unchanged with the engine off. Finally, an electric pump maintains oil pressure in the automatic transmission to avoid acceleration lags following idle-stop.
Obviously, all of that technological wizardry adds weight, approximately 285 pounds. Some of it is offset by the use of aluminum in the hood, bumper beams, rear suspension, wheels and other non-structural chassis parts.
But the weight-loss program caused a couple of hard decisions, too. To some prospective buyers, the biggest casualty is the elimination of the sunroof. Hybrid owners will have to settle for the dual-zone climate control, but at least they wont have to worry about sunburn. The other casualty is the space-saver spare tire, replaced by a tiny air compressor and a can of sealant.
Another important change was necessary. To make room for the electric motor, the five-speed automatic transmission had to be shortened by about three inches. At the same time, the engineers changed gear ratios to improve both acceleration and highway fuel efficiency.
Visually, there is little to separate this car from the manufacturers top-of-the-line V-6 sedan. On the exterior, the sharp-eyed observer will notice the addition of a small Hybrid badge and an unobtrusive spoiler on the trunk lid, a different grille color and the five-spoke wheels.
Inside, located almost inconspicuously beneath the speedometer, are a fuel-consumption monitor and bar-graph gauges which tell you when the electric motor is assisting and when electricity is being generated. A green ECO light flashes on whenever the Hybrid is sipping on three cylinders.
Finally, a statement for the record: Overall, I averaged only 27 miles per gallon. But, much of it was during the road-clogged Christmas shopping season and the rest of it was in semi-nasty weather. I know of no other vehicle of comparable weight and power that could have done nearly as well.
Price of the Accord Hybrid is $29,900, and that includes leather upholstery and all of the other features expected on a premium Honda sedan. The only option is a navigation system, which adds $2,000.
At a $3,500 premium over Hondas most expensive gasoline-powered sedan, the Hybrid cannot pass muster on its fuel-saving merits alone. But it is easier on the atmosphere, it does have a bit more power and, with all of that science under the hood, it has a huge gee-whiz factor for everyone who likes to save gas - and to step on it.