This third generation hybrid is geared for the mainstream — eco-friendly, high tech and high performance all in the same package.
I was exhilarated. After driving the high-performance 2005 Accord Hybrid for a couple hours — punching it over 80 on the straights and taking tight banking curves way over the limit — I met a friend.
After telling her I’d been driving a hybrid, she asked: "Yeah, but does it go regular speed?"
Maybe it’s not a laughing matter to Honda executives. It’s understandable, though.
Consumer surveys indicate nearly half the population thinks of an extension cord when you mention the word, "hybrid." Perhaps another good percentage thinks of an aerodynamically shaped sci-fi mobile. That you have to get folded into before journeying across the fifth dimension.
The 2005 Accord Hybrid will dispel those misperceptions. This car not only delivers excellent gas mileage for its class — 30 mpg in the city, 37 highway, it has more power than a standard Accord and all the appointments of the company’s flagship sedan.
During the first drive, as a passenger, I blurted out matter-of-factly, "It’s a car."
After the backseat chatter died down, I clung to my idiot savant observation: the Accord Hybrid is simply a car sold by Honda. It just happens to have a gas-electric powerplant that delivers better gas mileage than standard V-6 models. And more power.
Which is exactly how Honda execs want the car to be perceived.
Billed as their third-generation entry — following the Insight and the Civic Hybrid, Honda has delivered another one of their mainstream models with a hybrid option — the same way a consumer might choose the Accord DX, or LX or EX-V6. Like optional leather seats or a sunroof.
The Accord Hybrid, however, delivers 255 horsepower, more than its sibling V-6s, and more torque as well — which, in technical terms, gives it a little more oomph in the passing lane. And up hills and around corners.
It does so by combining the technology of the electric motor so few people understand, on top of the six-cylinder gas engine we’re all familiar with. Though really, when was the last time someone discussed internal combustion theory at a coffee shop?
This is the sum of Honda’s third generation approach — combine hybrid technology in such a way to give the car a performance edge while still delivering improved gas mileage. And do so in a package looks and handles in a way their customers are already familiar with.
In short, it’s a car.
In the driver’s seat
But it’s a car that is fast, looks good and feels solid and is fun to drive. Tooling up the George Washington Memorial Parkway, about 50 mph, I hit the gas. Hard. Simply to verify the advertised five-second 50-70 acceleration time.
The Accord Hybrid responded immediately, smoothly and was going near 80 before I had a chance to set my stopwatch. For the sake of techies who might be reading this, the electric motor kicked in to assist the six-cylinder engine without a hitch. It occurred to me that it felt the same way any car does when its automatic transmission shifts to deliver more speed.
Also for techies: when the electric motor kicks in, a blue indicator light surges in the instrument panel, informing you the car is using battery power.
The rudimentary explanation for how hybrids work is this: the electric motor uses battery power when accelerating, and recharges the batteries when braking or decelerating. When the motor is in recharge mode, a bar of green lights indicates this function.
So when I went into the banking turn at Turkey Run Park, and hit the brakes, I got a fat green line telling me the electric motor was recharging the batteries.
The braking and handling was so smooth, I went a little too fast through the turn, enjoying the centrifugal hug and the sensation of the car under my control.
The hybrid powerplant indicators — either blue or green — require no input or understanding from the driver — the same way RPM gauges really serve no purpose when you’re running out to buy cat treats before the grocery store closes.
Indeed, one thing the Honda execs kept mentioning was the running debate over whether or not to even include the light show. The Accord Hybrid only bears a few physical clues that it’s powered by anything other than gas — and some think that the way to overcome consumer confusion is simply to sell the car with a hybrid option under the hood and jettison calling attention to the mechanics.
It was fun, though, in the course of a single day’s test runs, to put the car through calisthenics and watch the blue and green lights come to life. The side streets of Arlington, Virginia, which no one is ever going to confuse with San Francisco, offered the kind of stop and start city driving that really put the hybrid powerplant to work.
From a dead stop up a 30-degree hill, the blue lights flashed, showing the electric motor was helping the engine. Right turn and down a long, sloping stretch, foot off the gas, the green lights indicated the batteries were getting juiced back up. Of course, as all hybrid-educated know, when the car was at a stop, the gas engine hibernated in "Auto Stop" mode, waiting for the gas pedal to awaken it from its slumber.
Because the 2005 Accord Hybrid is only the fifth model to come on the market — after the Insight, Civic, Toyota Prius and Ford Escape — it’s expected that reviews will spend some time on the technology. However, since it also simply another car Honda is selling, it’s time to pay attention to the ordinaries.
The Bottom Line
The 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid will sell for about $30,000 when it becomes available Dec. 3. That’s about $3,000 more than a comparably equipped Accord EX V-6. With the federal tax deduction of $2,000 still in effect for this year, plus assorted state credits, the premium is reduced. For committed buyers, there’s always the rationale that the extra 15 horsepower the hybrid delivers is worth the cost.
With four people in the car, everyone announced they were quite comfortable in the leather seats. Rear leg room was more than adequate, and one passenger found the rear cup holders. [The Accord Hybrid has eight total — for those cynics who insist this is a make-or-break buying feature.] Safety features include front and side curtain airbags.
The front air conditioning system has dual controls mounted amidst the dash command center — and Honda informs us that the AC compressor is even powered by the hybird powerplant — but for me, that detail’s a lot like e-mail. It works. And the Accord Hybrid is also equipped with an XM satellite stereo with CD player, as well as a voice activated navigation system. One caveat: users should spend some time orienting themselves with the controls before they pull out of the driveway. It’s feature-rich and potentially distracting for the uninitiated.
The Accord’s hybrid components are covered by an 8-year, 80,000-mile warranty; the car is otherwise covered by Honda’s bumper-to-bumper 3 year, 36,000 mile plan.
Honda will have 1,000 Accord Hybrids on the ground in December, allocating about one vehicle for each of its U.S. dealers. The company projects Accord Hybrid sales of 25,000 vehicles in 2005, and claims they will sell 45,000 hybrid Accords, Civics and Insights combined next year.