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Road testing the Accord Hybrid

Honda Accord Hybrid

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"That's the killer app.'' That's a phrase in the technology field, and it means something is the best use of new technology.

The new Honda Accord V6 Hybrid is "the killer app'' of the emerging gasoline-electric vehicle field that promises improved fuel mileage over a vehicle with a gasoline engine alone, yet delivers power greater than can be expected from a regular fuel-efficient gasoline car.

The hybrid is not only the most fuel-efficient sedan in the Accord lineup, it's also the fastest. The phrase "having your cake and eating it, too'' comes to mind.

Although the Toyota Prius hybrid is the darling of the "green" crowd, Honda was the first to offer a hybrid vehicle in the United States, the 2000 Insight. A two-seater that wasn't very practical, it nonetheless still ranks as the most fuel-efficient car sold in America at 60 to 66 mpg. Honda sells but a handful of them here.

Then came the Civic Hybrid, which moved Honda's hybrid effort into the mainstream. Using a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor, it offers performance that is seamless when compared to a gasoline-only Civic, yet offers EPA-rated city/highway mileage of 48/47 mpg with a continuously variable ratio automatic transmission.

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With the Accord Hybrid, Honda opted for a package that wasn't just about being comparable to a gasoline Accord. The goal was a vehicle that was better in all regards. They succeeded.

The Accord Hybrid's combined gas-electric engine produces 255 horsepower -- 15 more than the standard gasoline V6. Yet it is rated at 30/37 mpg. That may not seem like much of an improvement, but that's 43 percent better city mileage than a standard V6 Accord and overall the hybrid's mileage is comparable to the rating for a standard four-cylinder Civic, which of course is smaller and slower.

There's a lot of technical magic going on under the hybrid's hood. The three-liter V6 shuts off three cylinders when cruising, and the electric motor provides added boost to the three remaining cylinders if mild acceleration is required while cruising.

At rest, the gasoline engine shuts off. Tap the accelerator, and the engine starts seamlessly, running all six cylinders. Under hard throttle, the electric motor kicks in to help the V6. All of this is monitored by a dash-mounted display.

Interior, Accord Hybrid

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Wrapped around this technology is, of course, a standard Accord, which is one of the best midsized sedans on the market. The only hint to your neighbors that you're driving a "killer app'' car is the word "hybrid" positioned discreetly on the rear portion of the trunk lid.

Of course your wallet will know, because, as in computers, buying the newest technology costs. An Accord Hybrid carries a factory list of $30,505, compared to the $27,215 for a comparable regular Accord.

Real-world testing of the hybrid vs. the gasoline Accord showed that the hybrid delivers 8 to 10 miles per gallon more in average everyday driving. That's impressive.

But at $2 a gallon for regular gasoline, after driving 100,000 miles in an Accord Hybrid a buyer would still be more than $600 short of recouping the added cost.

That gap will likely be even larger, since someone buying an in-demand Accord Hybrid today will likely pay list price, or even a little above, compared to a regular V6 Accord, which dealers are discounting.

Nonetheless, going the hybrid route for most people is about supporting technology that could lessen U.S. dependence on imported oil and driving something that's on the cutting edge.

Based on that alone, the Accord Hybrid is the "killer app'' that hybrid fans will clamor for.


Base list price, including delivery charge: $30,505
Engine: 3-liter gasoline V6 and brushless electric motor
Horsepower: 255 @ 6000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Chassis: Rear-wheel drive
Basic warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Battery pack: 8 years/80,000 miles
Fuel economy: 30/37 mpg EPA est., 33 mpg observed
Special factory lease/finance: None


-- Posted: Feb. 15, 2005

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