2007 Honda Accord Hybrid
2007 Honda Accord Hybrid; photo courtesy Honda Canada. Click image to enlarge

Review by Haney Louka

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Winnipeg, Manitoba – “I just don’t get it.” That was the concluding remark on my voice recorder as I was nearing the end of my test drive of the Honda Accord Hybrid. Apparently, I’m not alone: the people have spoken, and the Accord Hybrid is dead.

I received this review assignment just one day before an announcement came from Honda that there will be an all-new Accord for 2008, but not a hybrid version.

So I found myself in a good position to have a look at what this hybrid offers and why it might not have caught on with the car-buying public. Since 2005, the first full year that the Accord Hybrid was available, 52,014 Accords have been sold in Canada, but only 1,275 of them were Hybrid models. That means only two-and-a-half percent of all Accords sold have hybrid powertrains.

Jump over to the Toyota camp, where the Accord’s prime competitor, the Camry, is also available as a hybrid. The Camry Hybrid accounts for 18 percent of all Camrys sold: more than 4,100 units have been moved since May of last year. Now that’s significant.

Honda is considered the pioneer of mass-produced hybrid-powered cars, starting the trend in 1999 with the quirky two-seat Insight – a car that stayed in production essentially unchanged until last year. Toyota followed in 2000 with the first-generation Prius, a model that’s now in its second generation and perhaps the one that best represents the state of the art in mass-produced hybrids.

2007 Honda Accord Hybrid
2007 Honda Accord Hybrid; photo courtesy Honda Canada. Click image to enlarge

The car was designed from the ground up as a hybrid with a sharp focus on maximizing efficiency and these efforts have paid off with excellent fuel economy and solid sales numbers: more than 8,000 of them have found homes in Canada.

But Honda took a different approach with the Accord. This was the first “high-performance” hybrid sedan on the market; one created with the intent of providing both class-leading acceleration and fuel economy (rather than focusing on fuel economy alone) in a very normal looking car. So what went wrong?

The primary culprit is price: Honda chose to make the Accord Hybrid a flagship vehicle, and as such offered it only as a fully-loaded model. The 2007 hybrid carries a base price of $38,090. Major standard equipment includes a V6 engine with integrated electric motor assist, five-speed automatic transmission, power sunroof, automatic climate control, leather seats, six-disc audio system, and more. Add my tester’s navigation package and that price increases to $40,590. For comparison, a comparably-equipped gas-only Accord EX-V6 Navi retails for $36,700.

The four-cylinder, economy-minded Camry Hybrid stickers for $32,000. So even though at first blush an Accord Hybrid and Camry Hybrid would seem natural head-to-head competitors, these are two ostensibly similar vehicles with very different target markets.

The cars don’t only differ in equipment levels and pricing though: the hybrid powertrains they employ work on different principles as well. The Accord uses a “parallel hybrid” system, the primary distinguishing feature of which is that the car is never propelled exclusively on electric power. Toyota and Ford use “parallel-series” systems that allow the car to be driven on electric power alone under certain loading conditions.

2007 Honda Accord Hybrid
2007 Honda Accord Hybrid; photo courtesy Honda Canada. Click image to enlarge

This second system has been shown to achieve much lower fuel consumption in stop-and-go city driving since crawling along in rush hour traffic can be done without burning an ounce of fuel. Indeed, the Camry’s city fuel consumption rating is 5.7 L/100 km, while the Accord consumes 8.2 litres on the same city cycle prescribed by Transport Canada. In that same crawling scenario, the Accord’s engine will start and stop several times per minute until the battery is so run down that the engine won’t shut off at all and you’re back to driving a regular V6-powered car.

The Accord Hybrid’s fuel consumption isn’t low enough to earn it a spot on the federal government’s “EcoAUTO” list; one that translates into a rebate of between $1,000 and $2,000 for buyers of cars that consume less than 6.5 L/100 km. It does, however, qualify for Manitoba’s Hybrid Electric Vehicle Rebate Program which means a $2,000 savings to those who buy or lease any hybrid currently on the market. The basis of this provincial program (and others) makes little sense, as there’s no connection between the amount of the rebate and a given model’s fuel consumption. It’s purely an incentive to give hybrids a more competitive position in the marketplace.

But even more telling than the official ratings is my observed fuel economy: a Camry Hybrid I drove last summer consumed 7.4 L/100 km in heavy city driving, while my Accord Hybrid tester chugged almost 12 litres per 100 km in similar conditions last month. Granted, my test procedures are hardly controlled enough to be considered scientific; however, this much of a difference is impossible to ignore.

2007 Honda Accord Hybrid
2007 Honda Accord Hybrid; photo courtesy Honda Canada. Click image to enlarge

For those not familiar with city fuel consumption figures, note that 12 L/100 km is unremarkable for a conventional gas-powered car, and in my view simply unacceptable for a hybrid.

There are goofs in the driving experience as well. City driving in the Accord Hybrid isn’t the smoothest, thanks to the Auto Stop feature that shuts the gas engine off as the car rolls to a stop. Braking response actually changes when the engine stops, which sometimes just happens to be that critical instant that means the difference between a smooth stop and a head-jerker. Release that brake pedal and the otherwise smooth V6 rumbles to life before you get a chance to touch the accelerator pedal.

The accelerator pedal does just that. The combined gasoline-electric powertrain produces 253 hp (compared with 244 for the gas V6) and 232 lb-ft of torque (the gas engine cranks out just 211 lb-ft) and makes it clear that the Accord Hybrid is a performance-oriented machine.

2007 Honda Accord Hybrid
2007 Honda Accord Hybrid; photo courtesy Honda Canada. Click image to enlarge

On the well laid out instrument panel there’s an LED meter that shows whether the battery is assisting in acceleration or being charged (or neither, which I found to be the case much more often than I expected). If this gauge is at all accurate, it seems that the electric motor hardly ever assists the gas engine when accelerating. It certainly does a lot of charging when coasting and braking though.

So why didn’t the Accord take? Given its high price and relatively thirsty hybrid powertrain, it seems that the car-buying public can’t justify the $4,000 premium that the hybrid commands over its gas-powered sibling.

Pricing: 2007 Honda Accord Hybrid


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