Saturday, October 2, 2004

Hybrid goes mainstream

Honda Accord balances power with fuel economy

By Carol Traeger
Enquirer contributor
Honda Accord Hybrid
Honda Accord Hybrid

The Accord Hybrid's system shuts down three of the V-6 engine's cylinders during cruising and deceleration.

What I drove: 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid, a four-door, five-passenger sedan

Estimated base price: $30,000

Wheels rating: (out of 5)

Summary: World's roomiest and vroomiest hybrid car

Drivetrain layout: Front engine, front-wheel drive

Engine: 3.0-liter V-6 with Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) and Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) electric motor producing 255 hp and 232 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 107.9 inches

Weight: 3,500 pounds

EPA mpg, city/highway: 30/37

Warranty: Basic: 3 years/36,000 miles; powertrain: 3 years/36,000 miles

Safety: Dual front air bags, front side-impact air bags, front and rear curtain air bags, antilock brakes, traction control, front seat belt pretensioners, side-impact door beams, LATCH child-seat anchors

Cool: Civic-like fuel economy, better-than-V6 power, smooth handling, inconspicuous styling

Uncool: Indistinctive styling, $3,300 price premium, reduced trunk space

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Some people are never satisfied. Give them more horsepower and they want better fuel economy. Give them better fuel economy and they beg for more horsepower.

Come December, they can have both when Honda unleashes the Accord Hybrid.

More power

Unlike Honda's first two hybrids, the Insight and Civic Hybrid, and those from other manufacturers, the focus of the Accord Hybrid is not just on fuel efficiency, but on higher performance. By combining a V-6 engine with an electric motor and a new cylinder-deactivation system, the Accord Hybrid provides more horsepower - 255 versus 240 for the regular Accord V-6 sedan - and boosts fuel efficiency to 30 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.

As with all Accords, the hybrid model runs on regular unleaded fuel. But unlike the regular Accord V-6, whose needle will point to "E" after 513 miles, the Accord Hybrid can take you 633 miles on a tank.

Looks familiar

The Accord has never been a head-turner, and the Hybrid is no exception. It looks just like a regular Accord, differentiating itself via subtle design cues. Honda says the Accord Hybrid's blend-into-the-

crowd styling - which is a far cry from the Toyota Prius' look-at-me design - is in keeping with the company's efforts to push hybrids further into the mainstream.

With the exception of a sunroof (which was deleted to save weight), the Accord Hybrid features the same standard equipment as the Accord V-6 EXL.

While suitcases might wish for a little more room in the trunk, passengers will enjoy 5 percent more breathing space than in a regular Accord EXL sedan, thanks to the elimination of the headroom-hogging sunroof.

Drives like an Accord

During a recent preview test drive, the Accord Hybrid out-accelerated the regular Accord V-6 sedan, and performed almost identically in terms of steering, cornering and braking. The hybrid rides on slightly wider tires to compensate for its extra weight.

The Honda folks concede that long-term fuel savings alone don't justify the price. They say you must look at the instant rewards: more power, fewer fuel stops, smaller gas bills, a $1,000 federal tax credit and the pride that comes from being part of the solution.


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