What’s hot: New-gen hybrid technology, most fuel-efficient car in its class, comfortable interior and luxury ride.
What’s not: Hybrid drivetrain comes with a steep price premium, petrol engine intrusive when accelerating.
X-FACTOR: The Aussie debut of the Accord Hybrid signals Honda’s next leap forward in hybrid technology - but it’s one for committed ‘green’ buyers.
Vehicle Style: Medium-sized sedan
Engine/trans: Hybrid drivetrain; 2.0-litre Atkinson cycle petrol four, combined with twin electric motors for a combined output of 146kW and 307Nm | CVT automatic transmission
Fuel economy claimed: 4.6 l/100km; (tested: not recorded. Watch for our full week-long review soon.)
The Honda Accord suffers from the same affliction as many luxury cars: age, and a problem of image.
And the Accord, along with every large Japanese sedan up to the highest-spec Lexus luxury barge, has a faint whiff of ageing Baby Boomer about it.
Even Honda Australia admits that Accord buyers are “usually older men”.
Bestowing the typically conservative Accord with a tech-laden hybrid system not only doubles the fuel economy of its V6-powered stablemate but also overtakes the 300h as the segment’s most efficient car.
But with just 100 coming into the country, Honda isn’t banking on the Accord Hybrid’s fuel economy and new gizmos to make much of a dent in the market.
Nor encouraging buyers in droves back to the ultra-conservative Accord, let alone away from the Lexus.
Quality: One day, someone will convince Japanese manufacturers that Australians love a good soft-touch surface; we associate it with quality, solidity and, for now at least, European brands.
The Accord persists with plastics that have all the give of body armour but the build quality is there, even if the soft-touch plastics aren’t.
The dark faux-wood panelling, on the other hand, is straight out of the Mercedes-Benz playbook, lending a similarly muted feel to the cabin.
The seats are what many manufacturers, including Honda, call “leather-appointed”, where artificial leather is stitched to real leather to form the seat cover.
So, while you still sit on bits of Bessie, the material covering the seat backs and under the bolsters is ‘pleather’.
In practice, the leather feels more resilient than supple, presumably good news for its longevity.
Comfort: Accords have to do well in this department; Honda admits that buyers of its flagship sedan have reached a point in their lives where ordering chintz from glossy catalogues is fun in a non-ironic way.
Adult passengers in the rear seats may find headroom tight, but leg-room, on the other hand, is ample, partly due to the limited range of seat travel back and forth.
Heated, perforated leather seats, a rear-window blind and an array of air-conditioning vents will suit all conditions.
And it is eerily quiet inside.
As with the Lexus IS 300h, the Accord Hybrid employs active noise cancellation to negate much of the traditional road noise from tyres and wind.
Equipment: Honda has paired an eight-inch display with a smaller touchscreen unit underneath to cover the various settings and functions available, also providing an iDrive-like centre dial arrangement to access common settings quickly.
It’s a little cumbersome at first but opens a fairly logical set of menus and settings that make sense after a few exploratory pushes on various buttons.
The multimedia system interfaces with anything from Moses’ tablets to yours, but the sound quality doesn’t befit the Accord’s $60,000 price tag.
Storage: The boot space is roughly on par with its competitor from Lexus at 415 litres, but down on the standard car’s 457 litres.
Inside the cabin, pockets and cubby holes abound, including a deep, phone-swallowing centre console.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: A clever pairing of two electric motors and a petrol engine helps the Accord Hybrid deal with motorways and provincial roads without issue.
Honda claims a class-leading throttle response but keen drivers won’t confuse it with a traditional, naturally aspirated engine.
The Accord Hybrid doesn’t accelerate with verve or vim; instead, it seems to discreetly gather speed.
Thanks to liberal applications of aluminium in the Sport Hybrid’s body panels, much of the weight penalty so often associated with hybrid cars is notably absent.
The official 0-100 time isn’t listed, but a stopwatch and a clear stretch of road suggest figures around the nine-second mark. Nine seconds is a reasonable time for a family sedan, but hardly worthy of the ‘Sport’ badge.
Refinement: In much the same way as its Toyota and Lexus counterparts, when the Accord’s 2.0-litre buzzes into action, it can feel more than a little intrusive.
Because the Accord Hybrid uses a type of Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), the engine is kept at a constant speed under acceleration, which contributes to a coarse and uninspiring drone.
With a wide open throttle, the little four-cylinder seems to work at a frenetic pace. It sounds like the engine is pinned against its redline. In reality, it’s probably a safe distance below maximum revs but, without a tachometer, there’s no way to tell.
The best method of driving suits the Accord’s character - conserving momentum and letting the low-down electric torque do most of the heavy lifting.
Honda designed the system with this in mind, so owners won’t feel as though they have to adjust their driving style to compensate.
Ride and Handling: Despite using a fairly humble MacPherson strut front end, the Accord holds dry and wet roads with surprising tenacity, even in the wet.
The electromechanical steering feels well-connected and well-weighted, especially for a car of this type, and body roll is kept to a minimum.
The Hybrid Sport gets thicker anti-roll bars and firmer shocks, partly to deal with the added weight of the hybrid system, but also to earn the ‘sport’ part of the badge.
The Accord Hybrid also gets a new set of suspension dampers that incorporate a smaller, secondary piston to take the brunt of hard, fast shocks such as potholes.
The system deals with sharp bumps well but, on larger undulations, the Accord can feel as if it needs a moment to settle back down and rest on its haunches.
Braking: The Accord Hybrid has a clever system where a braking computer measures the speed and pressure on the brake pedal, then simulates traditional brake feel by sending an appropriate amount of feedback through the pedal.
What’s actually happening, under regular conditions, is regenerative braking to charge the battery packs. Traditional disc brakes take over in emergency situations and at low speeds to bring the car to a complete stop.
In practice, it does away with the binary feel of some regenerative systems, producing a more progressive feedback that feels like real brakes.
Safety: While the Hybrid hasn’t undergone ANCAP analysis yet, it has scored 5-Stars in overseas crash testing.
Passive safety consists of a “next-generation” high-strength steel structure, a raft of airbags and whiplash mitigating head rests.
Active safety runs the usual gamut of ABS with brake assist and stability control, adding Volvo-style visual and audio warnings when the system detects impending doom.
Honda also adds a ‘Lanewatch’ camera that’s activated when the driver indicates left, as well as a lane departure warning that will wrest up to 80 per cent of control from the driver to put the Accord back in its lane.
Warranty and servicing: Honda covers the hybrid system’s battery with an eight-year warranty; the rest of the Accord’s mechanicals are covered under Honda’s three-year / 100,000km warranty.
Servicing falls under Honda’s capped-price system for five years.
HOW IT COMPARES:
Lexus IS 300h ($58,900) - Line-ball on price, the conservative Accord offers a counterpoint to the angular IS.
But while the 300h comes with a raft of pricey options, the Accord has no boxes to tick or options to spec. Whether that is a slight on Lexus or Honda remains to be seen. (see Lexus IS reviews)
Toyota Camry Hybrid HL ($41,490) - Honda maintains that the Camry and Accord target different markets, with the Camry Hybrid range topping out at nearly $19k less. But it’s going to be a popular and well-worn comparison.
The Camry is obviously going to be the better value equation, but it’s unlikely that the Accord’s niche buyers will be looking at mass-market Camrys. (see Camry reviews)
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
While Honda has pitched the Accord Sport Hybrid against the Lexus IS 300h, its real competition sits, much like a nefarious Game of Thrones character, in its own house - the Accord V6L, a full $7000 cheaper than its hybrid counterpart.
Yes, the V6L is 35 kilos heavier than the Hybrid - thanks to the latter’s liberal use of aluminium - and misses out on the fancy twin-piston shock absorbers. It will also burn twice as much fuel.
However, at current petrol prices, $7000 will buy more than 4600 litres of 91 Octane, more than enough to cover 45,000 kilometres in the faster, more powerful and cheaper V6.
Honda’s engineers have gone to great pains to resolve the competing and disparate ideals of performance and efficiency with the Accord’s new hybrid system; unfortunately, a much simpler, cheaper and more familiar option exists in the standard V6.
And the very best of luck to anyone trying to talk a Baby Boomer out of something cheap, simple and familiar.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- Accord Sport Hybrid - $58,990
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