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AMR Review: 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid - A Hybrid for The Masses
    Managing Editor

The Background
Honda Accord HybridHybrid vehicles have been around for quite some time now, but have just recently started to make headway in the market. Environmentally conscious consumers, as well as daily commuters have loved these vehicles for the way they sip fuel and return superior range than most every vehicle on the road. However, most of these hybrid vehicles have been small, underpowered and generally not a car that every person could feel totally comfortable or satisfied in. Honda's Insight, introduced in late 1999, returns stellar EPA ratings of 61 mpg city and 68 mpg highway. However, it can only hold two people, has limited cargo room and also has to suffice on a combined 71 HP and 91 lb-ft of torque from the 1.0L 3-cylinder engine and IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) electric motor. Toyota had also introduced the slightly more practical and almost as fuel-efficient Prius in 2000, which has four doors and enough power to get out of its own way. Honda fired back with its Hybrid Civic in 2003, but something was still missing. While the Prius and Hybrid Civic are attractively priced and boatloads more practical than the Insight, you still pay the penalty for choosing a Hybrid when it comes to moving into the passing lane and carrying people and cargo. Most American drivers like the idea of having power underfoot and space, but they also want to use less fuel in the process. It would seem this is a paradox, but this is not the case.

For model year 2005, Honda gives us the brand new Accord Hybrid. It is positioned one step above the former top-of-the-line EX V6 sedan, both in price and power. While the standard Accord 3.0L V6 delivers a more than adequate 240 hp and 212 lb-ft of torque, the Hybrid improves to 255 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque by slapping a 12 kW electric motor in line with the engine. What these numbers don't capture is the amount of torque the IMA motor can supply from a stop. Within an increment of starting rotation, the IMA motor can provide about 100 lb-ft of peak torque to aid in quick stoplight getaways. The overall effect on performance, according to Honda, is a half second shaved off the Accord's already quick 0-60 time. Let's take a closer look at the operation of this marvel of modern automotive technology.

Inner Workings
So how does IMA work? Under hard acceleration, the full might of the 3.0L V6 is called upon with the IMA motor also kicking in. Once up to speed and cruising on the highway, this new Accord employs something entirely new to Honda: VCM, or Variable Cylinder Management. In a constant cruise, VCM deactivates the engine's rear bank of cylinders by closing both intake and exhaust valves, thereby using less fuel. When light acceleration is called for, the IMA motor supplies the power to circumvent the need for reactivating the cylinders. When it comes time to slow down or stop, IMA uses a regenerative process that captures the kinetic energy being dissipated by the brakes, using it to recharge the IMA's battery. Once the vehicle decelerates to less than 10 mph, a feature called "Idle Stop" shuts the engine down entirely to save fuel. So now, with the engine off, you might say: "Great, I just lost my power steering, and my air conditioning!". Keep a cool head, my friend, Honda has you covered. To fix the steering problem, the Accord Hybrid is the unlikely benefactor of a technology incorporated in Honda's own high-performance S2000 roadster: EPS, or Electric Power Steering. Instead of a conventional hydraulic power assist, the steering system utilizes electric servo motors to supply the assist. Painstaking work was done by Honda to ensure that the steering feel and weight was just as good as the hydraulic version, since some electric power steering systems produced by other manufacturers tend to have a certain artificial feel to them. As for the air conditioning, Honda has employed a hybrid system within a hybrid. Normally, the air conditioning compressor would run off the gas engine, but obviously this isn't possible when the Accord Hybrid is traveling under 10 mph or is at a stop. In these cases, an electric motor serves as the surrogate power source for the air conditioner, keeping occupants cool while they save the planet. Of course, now that you've successfully brought the Hybrid to a halt, the light turns green. Within an instant of you stepping on the gas, the IMA motor immediately restarts the slumbering V6 and you're off faster than you can say Green Peace. To aid in restarting the engine from "Idle Stop", Honda employed a special electric oil pump to keep the engine constantly flush with oil and reduce engine wear. Drivers also benefit from some eye candy on the instrument panel. Special indicators show exactly what the IMA system is doing at all times. This includes the charge level of the IMA battery, the level of IMA motor assist (or charge) being applied, a light to tell you when "Idle Stop" has occurred and an indicator that spells out the word "ECO" and signifies when VCM is operating. These various indicators are your only clue as to what is happening underneath the hood, as the extremely well engineered and thoroughly refined IMA system is nearly imperceptible as it goes through its motions.

Honda Accord Hybrid InteriorFeatures
Ok, so we know the Accord Hybrid is a technical tour-de-force, but what must we give up to gain all these ecological benefits? As it turns out, not much. The Hybrid comes pretty well loaded with leather, heated seats, an 8-way power driver's seat, dual climate control, power windows and locks, 5-speed automatic as well as the same stereo and 6 CD changer as the EX-V6 (A navigation system is optional). However, the stereo is not exactly identical. Making its debut on the 2005 Acura RL, noise cancellation technology has been employed in the Accord Hybrid as well. This makes an already silent ride positively serene. In fact, the only things that the Accord EX-V6 has and the Accord Hybrid doesn't, are the power sunroof and power passenger seat. Honda touted the absence of these features as a weight savings measure, but the Accord Hybrid's diet goes much further than just losing some creature comforts. Exclusive features such as a lightweight aluminum hood and bumpers (front and rear), magnesium engine components and special lightweight alloy wheels allow the Accord Hybrid to be lighter on its feet and more nimble. Additionally, specially designed spoiler was incorporated to make this Accord a little more slippery and further contributes to fuel savings. Of course, Honda has not given up any standard safety features. These include driver and front passenger side (and frontal) impact airbags, first and second row curtain airbags, ABS and Traction Control. While passenger room has not been affected by the addition of the IMA equipment, trunk capacity has been reduced slightly from 14 (in the EX V6) to 11.2 cu. ft., which is not an extremely huge loss in my opinion when you consider what you are getting in exchange. The interior is as refined, comfortable and luxurious feeling as any other Accord, which is a very good thing. Use of soft-touch materials is liberal and, as always, the interior exudes quality. I've personally spent many miles in the driver's seat of an Accord EX V6 and have nothing but good things to say about the ergonomics and seat comfort/support.

The Final Review
While I personally would have preferred the inclusion of a sunroof, It seems you aren't losing much with the Accord Hybrid while gaining bragging rights and the ability to call yourself environmentally conscious. After all, EPA estimates (30mpg city / 37mpg highway) place this 255 hp hybrid on par with your average 4 cylinder civic. However, you are also gaining a near $4,000 price hike over the MSRP of a standard Accord EX V6. To people who like the idea of getting 600 miles per tank of 87 octane and having the most powerful Accord ever produced, it might just be worth premium. However, the Accord won't be alone for long. Nissan has collaborated with Toyota and will be introducing a hybrid Altima in the near future. Though the Altima will utilize the less powerful 2.5L 175 hp four cylinder engine, it will more than likely boast greater fuel economy than the Accord while delivering adequate performance (the Altima's 2.5L engine is already pretty peppy by itself). If the hybrid Altima hits a lower price point than the Accord Hybrid, it just might represent some stiff competition. As for now, though, the Accord Hybrid stands alone and represents the long-awaited introduction of "every person's hybrid". It is a thoroughly convenient and practical automobile that gives up very little (many people forego the sunroof anyway to gain headroom) and can haul 4 to 5 persons in luxury and comfort. The hybrid vehicle's draw used to be that you could laugh at others as you passed them at gas stations, with the new Accord Hybrid, you can now laugh at them as you pass them on the highway as well.


Honda, The Crystal Ball


Honda is always thinking, innovating, and taking risks. From Asimo to the Insight to any number of their other cutting edge innovations, this is the company to watch to see what the next big thing will be. The Accord Hybrid is no different. Look at how many other manufacturers (all of them Japanese) are coming out with versions of existing cars with enhanced performance via a hybrid? Ford has some tricks up their sleeve with hybrids, and GM is looking to weak hybrids for things like power outlets for trucks on job sites.

What Honda needs to worry about is more than just the Altima, which will be a very strong competitor. It needs to worry about the Prius, too. You may think I'm crazy, but the Prius is the size of a Camry inside. Speaking of which, the Camry Hybrid is on its way, as well. And, I'm sorry to say given how much respect I have for Honda engineering, Toyota has better hybrid technology (at least right now). Whether there's strong competition for Honda or not, they are and will remain in a leadership position in hybrids. And they deserve it. This hybrid Accord only makes that case stronger.