EXPERT REVIEW

The Detroit Newspapers's view

If you’re a sharp-eyed consumer, you might be wondering about the curious changes that have been made to the redesigned 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid, which is only in its second year of production.

We’re not talking about dramatic sheet-metal renovations. We’re talking about an increased sticker price and a significantly lowered fuel economy rating.

What’s up with that, we wondered, and then spent a week testing a top-of-the-line model equipped with a navigation system. Bottom line on our test 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid: $33,540, including $550 for shipping.

SHE : Maybe I’ve been clipping coupons and comparison shopping for too long. But when I recently saw the price of the 2006 Accord Hybrid — $850 more than last year — and the revised fuel-economy numbers, I called Honda. I was confused because Honda said the EPA ratings on the Accord Hybrid have been changed from 29 mpg in city driving and 37 mpg on the highway in 2005 to only 25/34 mpg for the 2006 model. But it is the same engine.

HE: Ok, Inspector Clouseau. Did your glasses just need an adjustment?

SHE : Not hardly. Although Honda won’t come right out and say it, the new fuel economy ratings on the 2006 Accord Hybrid more accurately reflect real-world results by consumers, which is something I griped about when we reviewed the ’05 model. During that test drive last year, we averaged about 21 mpg, way less than what the EPA and Honda said we should expect.

HE: If the regular 2006 Accord sedan equipped with an in-line four-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic transmission already gets 24 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway and costs thousands less than the hybrid, why would you even bother buying the more expensive gas/electric version?

SHE : Hold on a minute. Honda has made some changes to the 2006 Accord Hybrid. Vehicle stability control is now standard, which beefs up an already great slate of safety features, including antilock brakes and side air bags and side curtain air bags. The car gets a face-lift, including a rear spoiler, unique alloy wheels and heated side mirrors with built-in turn signals and a standard moonroof and a temporary spare tire.

HE: That spoiler is totally superfluous. You should point out, too, that the fuel economy figures aren’t the only Accord Hybrid stats to drop. There’s also been a reduction in horsepower, albeit a slight one. Despite the carryover of the car’s 3.0-liter V-6, the horsepower ratings change from 255 for the 2005 model to 253 for the 2006 model. Honda says this reflects its voluntarily adopting new Society of Automotive Engineer ratings specifications.

SHE : Wow. You almost have to be an accountant or engineer to keep all these numbers in your head. I’m glad the Accord Hybrid is equipped with an instrument panel “meter display” that helps you to keep track of what kind of fuel economy you’re getting. In a 200-mile test drive, we averaged 23.5 miles per gallon. On a short stretch of road, our best fuel-economy rating was 31 mpg, according to the readout.

HE: The Accord Hybrid has lots of power, it’s very well equipped and easy to operate, just like the previous model. The electric motor is almost totally transparent. I found the ride to be smooth and compliant. So it’s got a lot of pluses. But I did have some gripes. The electric power steering feels too vague, and I noticed some suspension and tire rumble at highway speeds.

SHE : We’re both in favor of hybrids, on paper. But as companies and consumers get a reality check on just how much — or how little — they help conserve fuel and the costly price you pay as you struggle toward that goal, it’s often getting harder and harder to argue in their favor.

Paul and Anita Lienert are partners in the Ann Arbor-based Lienert & Lienert, an automotive information services company.

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2006 Honda Accord Hybrid with navigation

Type: Front engine, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger sedan.

Price: Base: $33,540 (inc. $550 destination charge); as tested, $33,540.

Engine: 3.0-liter V-6 plus electric motor; 253 hp; 232 lb-ft torque.

EPA fuel economy: 25 mpg city/34 mpg highway.

Where built: Marysville, Ohio.

12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan*: $1,274. (Estimate. Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage, driving record.)

– – –

Paul: 4 (out of 5)

Likes: Smooth, compliant ride. Plenty of power from V-6 engine. Electric motor is almost totally transparent to the customer. Very well-equipped. Familiar and easy to operate.

Dislikes: Pricey at $33,000. Our real-world mileage was lower than the revised EPA ratings. Electric power steering feels too vague. No outside temperature gauge. Rather not pay for the standard moonroof. Deck spoiler is superfluous.

– – –

Anita: 3 (out of 5)

Likes: Five-star safety features, including standard stability control. Totally mainstream — no extra buttons, levers or gadgets to operate. Very well-equipped. Power moonroof now standard. No direct competition until the new ’07 Toyota Camry Hybrid arrives this fall. Navigation system was fairly easy to operate.

Dislikes: Hard to justify the price tag, especially when you compare it to conventional Accord. Despite a face-lift, unremarkable styling inside and out. Battery pack robs trunk space.

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