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Car reviews - Honda - Accord - Sport Hybrid

Our Opinion

We like
Clever technology, well presented, roomy and quiet package
Room for improvement
Jury is still out on ride quality, low EV-only range

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Honda logo16 Jun 2015

IT’S not unreasonable to suggest that hybrid technology hasn’t taken hold in the Australian marketplace. Just one per cent of the 299,000-strong private passenger vehicle market in 2014 was made up of hybrid vehicles, a fall of 30 per cent from the year before.

The reasons are many, but the outcome is the same the buying public just isn’t biting.

Honda Australia knows this, and the company's director Stephen Collins isn’t expecting the Accord to break sales records.

“It’s all about quality it’s not about quantity for us,” he told journalists at the car’s launch. “We’re not concerned with the mass market in the hybrid segment. Instead, we’re targeting more towards the prestige segment.”

It’s certainly been priced out in the prestige segment at $58,990 before on road costs, sitting some $7000 above the previously top-line Accord V6L, and $14,000 above the VTi-L. Adjusting for inflation, the pioneering Insight would cost around $95,000 today.

The V6L is more powerful (206kW) and more torquey (339Nm), but also weighs about 45kg more. The Sport Hybrid musters up 147kW from its dual engines, along with an electrically-based 306Nm of instant torque.

It does offer, however, exactly half of the V6L’s fuel consumption at 4.6 litres per 100 kilometres, while the four-cylinder VTi-L offers a return of 8.1 litres per 100km.

Looking at it from a cost recuperation basis, and assuming a 25,000km-per-year usage, it would take about three years to recoup the price difference between the V6L and the Sport Hybrid, and about seven for the VTi-L.

Honda is pitching the Accord hybrid right at the Lexus IS300h, which sits nearly $2000 beneath it on the price charts in its base spec. It’s fair to suggest, though, that buyers of the Toyota Camry hybrid range may well look over at the Honda the top-line Camry Hybrid Atara costs a considerably cheaper $40,440.

If your heart is set on a Honda, though, you can certainly do worse than the Accord Hybrid Sport. While the notion of adding a sporting edge to a car that’s designed to save fuel is open for debate, the Accord platform has benefited from a raft of changes to its chassis, tidying up and sharpening its inputs across the board.

A new set of dual-piston dampers, a lighter front subframe, keener steering and a novel electrically-activated brake booster all combine to give the Sport Hybrid a lighter, brighter manner from behind the wheel than its V6 brethren.

Throttle response from the complex drivetrain is instant and eager, the brakes are beautifully modulated and very feelsome and the steering, while light, is linear and capable.

There are signs of brittleness over broken road surfaces from the tightly wound suspension, but we’d like to try the car again with a few more kilometres on board in order to get a better idea. Certainly its highway manners are beyond reproach.

Describing briefly what’s going on under the bonnet is next to impossible suffice to say that Honda has used the best traits of electric propulsion to give the Accord a real shot of go-get-‘em right from rest. Its 307Nm is available instantly, allowing the Accord to overcome its modest weight penalty.

There’s a little shudder and clunk at times as the Honda gets its ones and zeros in a row, but it’s only momentary.

With a theoretical range approaching 1000km from its 60-litre tank, the Accord can certainly go the distance. An electric-only range of just two kilometres is a surprise and a bit of a disappointment, though most hybrids in the category offer the same short figure.

The interior mimics that of the V6L and, despite the high-tech under-bonnet display, the cabin is distinctively normal. Leather seats, a large touchscreen display, a very vocal voice control module – she will even remind you in ‘person’ to put on your seatbelt – and a bright, simple dash display is let down only by the lack of a digital speedo.

There’s even a traditional gear shifter, despite the fact the Accord Sport Hybrid doesn’t have a gearbox as such. Instead, an electronically controlled clutch juggles power output between the 126kW AC motor, the 106kW 2.0-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol engine and a second electric generator according to the driving mode in use at the time.

The Sport can run in three modes electric, petrol and hybrid. In EV mode, the car is propelled by the AC motor, which is fed from the 1.3kWh battery array hidden under the boot.

The car can be driven at speeds of up to 80km/h in EV mode, for a range of approximately two kilometres. In petrol mode, a single clutch engages the four-cylinder engine to add petrol-powered drive.

Over about 200km of mostly highway-based testing, we saw an economy figure of 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres.

Hybrid mode sees the petrol engine power the generator, which in turn feeds energy into batteries that is then used by the AC motor to drive the car. The Accord will match engine revs with throttle position with road speed to replicate the sound and feel of a regular petrol drivetrain.

This rev-matching is probably the most unusual and artificial aspect of the Accord hybrid. The engine flares and recedes depending on how hard you’re pushing the throttle, when the reality is that the petrol motor isn’t actually driving the car forward via traditional gears. It could theoretically run at the same rpm without affecting the way car drives.

Scaring the ‘straights’ away with unconventional noises, though, isn’t the Accord’s intention. At first blush, the Accord Sport Hybrid represents a big step forward in hybrid technology from a company who’s been in the game for almost two decades.

We can only imagine how the tech might look and work in a mid-size SUV, too…

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