Now in its second model year, the Accord Hybrid hasn't enjoyed the runaway success of Toyota's Prius. This is a more expensive model, but the greater issue may be how it delivers on the promise of fuel economy. The EPA has downgraded its mileage estimates significantly for 2006 — by more than 3 mpg, on average.
Unlike the Prius, the Accord Hybrid is hard to spot. The only differences are unique grille and alloy wheels, slightly different taillights, a modest spoiler on the trailing edge of the trunklid, and Hybrid badging.
The Accord Hybrid seats five — four in comfort. Like the Civic Hybrid, this model is the equivalent of the top gas-only Accord trim level, so it's very well equipped. Unique to the Hybrid, the instrument panel includes a battery-level gauge and an indicator that shows when the system is charging or assisting. The driver gets a comfortable, leather-trimmed eight-way power seat with a lumbar adjustment. The passenger seat is manual. Both are heated. The backseat has a flip-down center armrest and is reasonably roomy.
A major downside to the Hybrid is that the high-voltage battery reduces the trunk size from 14 cubic feet to 11.2 cubic feet, and does away with the regular model's folding backseat that would extend the cargo area forward into the cabin.
Under the Hood
The Accord was the first hybrid to utilize a V-6 engine, combined with the usual electric motor and battery pack. The V-6 uses Honda's Variable Cylinder Management to deactivate three of the six cylinders when the car is cruising or slowing, for added efficiency. This model was also the first and is still one of the few hybrids to employ a conventional step-gear automatic transmission, a five-speed, instead of a continuously variable transmission. This makes the car feel more natural for people who are most comfortable with cars that behave as they always have.
The Accord Hybrid's real-world gas mileage has been disappointing. In one of the more dramatic corrections we've seen, the EPA has knocked the model's 29/37 mpg (city/highway) estimate down to 25/34 mpg for the new model year. Owners have expressed frustration about their results because many expect more from the "hybrid" designation and the price premium over the regular Accord.
The Hybrid comes with front, side-impact and side curtain airbags as standard equipment. With these features the Accord is rated Good (the highest) in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal and side-impact crash tests. Antilock brakes and an electronic stability system also are included.
For all practical purposes, the Hybrid is an Accord. It rides like one — a little firm — and handles similarly. The conventional shifting makes the car feel like any other automatic, but there's some shudder when the engine starts and stops itself, and the brakes feel a little alien because they play a part in recharging the battery pack. There's no doubt that the car is as fast as the V-6, and seems faster immediately off the line. In retrospect, it seems that Honda may have swung too far in the direction of speed in the speed/efficiency tradeoff, making this hybrid less attractive than most.