Photos: Honda. Click image to enlarge
by Richard Russell
Carlsbad, California – The arrival of the 2005 Accord IMA Hybrid raises the stakes in this growing class. The third Honda hybrid after the Insight (2000) and Civic Hybrid (2002) takes aim smack at the heart of the market with the most popular mid-size family car in the segment.
To ensure this Hybrid gains wider acceptance, the Accord Hybrid is not a penny-pinching, under-powered mileage squeezer. It doesn’t have a unique body style or require any compromises. It is a top-line V6 model, with an electric motor supplying additional power, making it not only the fastest Accord – but an Accord with the mileage of a Civic. And to add frosting to the cake, it also boasts electronic cylinder deactivation to further improve fuel mileage.
Einosuke Nakahara, project leader for the Accord IMA says it’s the world’s first V6 Hybrid and it will average 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 5.9 on the highway. By way of comparison, the 2005 Accord is rated at 11.4/7.3 and the Civic at 7.9/6.0. Nakahara-san says 60% of the improvement in the city comes from the use of the electric motor for supplementary motivation – and start-up. The V6 shuts off when the vehicle is at rest, with the big electric motor ensuring instant re-starts and added torque for acceleration.
Integrated Motor Assist consists of a pancake-like electric motor inserted between the engine and transmission. It adds about 15 horsepower and 20 lb. ft, of torque.
VCM (Variable Cylinder Management) cuts off one bank of cylinders under no and low load conditions, generally speaking below 3,500 rpm when less than 10% of available torque is being used. The basic pattern of operation goes like this. Under gentle acceleration the electric motor and three-cylinder engine combine to provide motivation. At constant speeds the engine alone, in three-cylinder mode is in operation. If stronger acceleration is required the electric motor and all six cylinders are used.
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When coasting or decelerating, a regenerative system recharges the batteries used to power the electric motor and when the Accord comes to a rest, the engine shuts off entirely, starting instantly when the brake pedal is released. It’s all perfectly seamless, other than a little green “eco” light on the instrument panel to advise of three-cylinder mode.
The Accord IMA can be visually differentiated from the normal 2005 Accord by a subtle rear spoiler, roof-mounted antennae, unique wheels and an instrument panel that displays supplementary information about the activity of the hybrid system. The Accord Hybrid also boasts Active Noise Cancellation which uses microphones throughout the interior to identify extraneous noises and a special amplifier to produce out-of-phase sound waves which are broadcast through the audio speaker system to cancel them out.
The technology tour does not stop there. The battery within the Intelligent Power Unit (IPU) is a significant upgrade from the second-generation version used in the Civic Hybrid. It provides 20% more power from a package that is 10% smaller and 17% lighter. The five-speed automatic transmission has unique ratios and a dual scroll hybrid compressor is used instead of a belt-driven unit to ensure air conditioning while the engine is stopped. To make room for the electric motor, without changing the overall engine/transmission package size, a smaller, high-response lock-up clutch unit is employed.
Hybrids come in two flavours – parallel and serial. In a parallel system, either the electric or internal combustion engine, or a combination of the two, provide power. In a serial hybrid, the electric motor does not operate alone. Parallel systems rely on electric power as much and as long as possible before bringing the engine into play. Serial systems use the internal combustion engine at all times, bringing the electric motor in for assistance. Parallel system maximize city fuel economy and serial systems are better in the highway. Both shut off at rest and neither requires plugging in to be recharged.
Honda says it chose the serial hybrid format instead of the full parallel system used by Toyota and Ford, because it is much simpler, less expensive and more appropriate to the extended highway driving style of North America. It is also, according to Honda, preferable in that in cold Canadian winters where it is difficult, if not impossible to rely on pure electric power in cold conditions.
Hybrids are seen by most as the answer until fuel cell technology becomes more practical. The 2005 Accord IMA Hybrid is among the most technologically advanced automobiles in the world, and easily the best, most seamless and compromise-free of the breed to date. The shift between three and six cylinders is virtually undetectable and the added power from the electric provides quicker acceleration than the already-impressive Accord V6.
Jim Miller Senior VP Honda Canada says the company figures the typical Accord Hybrid customer will be a 47-year-old married male with no children still at home and a household income of $110,000. One third of the customers will be current Accord owners and it will serve to attract affluent, educated buyers to the Honda brand. The Accord Hybrid will arrive in Honda stores in December at a price slightly below $40,000. As a “halo” model with all available luxury and power features, it is expected to account for about 3% – 4% of Accord sales. It will be available in three exterior colours, including silver frost, exclusive to this model.