Accord Hybrid gives Honda a double edge winner

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Now with gas prices reaching (unadjusted for inflation) record highs in 2005, the large numbers on a new vehicle’s window sticker will probably take on added importance to buyers.

Those numbers provided by the Environmental Protection Agency predict how far a vehicle can travel on a gallon of gasoline in both city and highway driving under normal circumstances. In that same box is an estimate of the vehicle’s annual fuel cost based on driving 15,000 miles a year.

Most people don’t achieve the EPA ratings. Although they may come close, the EPA numbers seldom accurately mimic our driving habits or real-life situations. And the annual fuel cost is based on the national average price of a gallon of gas when the window sticker was printed. In times like this, with escalating pump prices that may be a very conservative number.

But the numbers do give the shopper a fairly accurate comparison of vehicles. If vehicle A is rated 10 miles per gallon less than vehicle B, you can bet that vehicle B will probably travel an extra 10 miles for every gallon of expensive Saudi gold poured into the tank.

Until recently, the price of gas has not been a deciding factor in people’s buying decisions. Witness the proliferation of large sport utility vehicles, many barely capable of reaching double digit mileage in stop and go driving, and in vehicles with ever-increasing horsepower.

Adjusted for inflation, gas prices have been at historically low levels. And apparently consumers have found a larger cache of disposal income to buy these large and expensive SUVs and trucks. But the bigger-is-better and horsepower-is-king gas-be-damned trend started changing a couple of years ago and today sales numbers of the large gas gulpers is noticeably in decline. Sales of American made models have taken a real hit, adding real hurt to a place where our domestic manufacturers felt safe.

Manufacturers, led by Toyota, Honda and Ford are finally getting the better-mileage snowball rolling downhill with hybrid technology. Other car builders are working up a lather hoping to follow suit.

A hybrid vehicle is put in motion by a gas engine with help — in some form — of an electric motor. This electric-motor assist results in less gas consumption. The batteries that operate the electric motor are recharged by the gas engine and regenerative braking. Please note that all this is far more complex than we describe – and it’s an expensive technology to develop. 

Needless to say for the advantage of this upward tick in fuel economy, customers have been asked to dig a little deeper in their pocketbooks to help offset the costs. The dig can range from $2,000 to as much as $5,000. In some cases you do get something more for your money than just a happy feeling of fewer stops at your local filling-station.

Enter the 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid where you get both better fuel economy and greater performance. Why not get it both ways? Here’s a case where altruism and fun can go hand-in-hand. It’s a double-edged winner.

Honda has introduced its third-generation hybrid system, called Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), to its most-popular mid-sized sedan in a luxurious leather-adorned package. Not only will hybrid buyers get all the luxury features available on the top EX trim level, but they will get the most economical V-6 in history and with more performance than the standard 6-cylinder engine.

In this case the only downside is about a $3,000 penalty over the similarly equipped EX model. The hybrid without navigation starts at $30,655 and with navigation goes out the door for $32,505.

The usual question asked when considering a hybrid — will I save enough gas to get pay back for the extra cost? It is not as relevant in this case because you are buying a top-of-the-line car with better performance than any other model in the lineup. But just so you know, the answer is no – hence see altruism above.

By the numbers, Accord’s 240-horsepower V-6 can climb from 0 to 60 in about 7.5 seconds. The hybrid, which develops 255 horsepower, can accomplish the same feat in about 7 seconds flat. It can also finish off a quarter mile in 15.2 seconds at 93 miles per hour.

And here’s the really good part — the hybrid is rated at 29-miles per gallon in city driving and 37-highway. That’s slightly better than the Accord 4-cylinder automatic. The standard V-6 is rated at 21-city and 30-highway. So even though it’s not a complete payback it seems so very worthwhile.

Honda uses several tricks in addition to the electric motor to accomplish this rather amazing fuel economy. One of those is what Honda calls Variable Cylinder Management in which half the engine’s cylinders are shut down when they aren’t needed. Not to be afraid – today’s computer technology can handle engine management like this with ease as compared to other efforts several decades ago.

Other gas-saving features include electric power steering, which reduces efficiency loss present in a belt-driven system, and a hybrid-powered climate control system capable of operating even during engine idle-stop mode.

Honda also dropped the sunroof option to save weight and has used lightweight aerodynamic alloy wheels as well.

In Honda’s IMA system, the electric motor is fitted between the gas engine and the five-speed automatic transmission and boosts power only when directed by the driver’s right foot. 
It’s easy to forget that this is a hybrid. The only thing indicating its hybrid status is a small badge on the back of the car and some special instrumentation under the tachometer and speedometer that indicates when the electric motor is assisting and when the batteries are charging.

But the amazing aspect of the hybrid version is that it operates so seamlessly that it simply feels like a powerful Accord. It’s impossible to determine when the electric motor is providing assist and when three cylinders have become deactivated.

You realize the Accord’s unique qualities only when you come to a stop. At that point the gas engine noticeably cuts off. At start up, you can detect the V-6 coming back to life.

Forget the hybrid feature, and this is your typical Accord with a comfortable ride, good handling characteristics, quiet interior, impeccable build quality, great visibility in all directions and enough room to carry five passengers comfortably.

Some noteworthy standard equipment includes side-impact airbags and side-curtain airbags, premium stereo with XM Satellite radio, dual-zone climate control with air filtration, and a noise cancellation system.

Our test car with navigation listed for $32,505 with no options.

This is a family sedan that will rival virtually any entry-level luxury vehicle in performance and amenities. And it will blow away the competition at the gas pumps.

Who says you can’t have it all?