A case of déjà vu dawned as we took the wheel of the 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid this afternoon. Leather-trimmed seats, Honda navigation system, a pretty ropey stereo--I knew we had seen this getup before recently, and so we had, in the 2006 Honda Accord EX, which my colleague Wayne Cunningham and I took for a spin last week. So what's the difference between the EX and its more ecofriendly sibling? Is it a case of just replacing the EPA mileage figures for the gas-engine Accord and publishing the same review?
On a first look at the cabin interior, the answer seems like it should be yes. Eyeing exactly the same interior trim, excellent voice-activated navigation system, six-disc in-dash CD changer, lackluster audio system, and dual-zone climate control as the Accord EX, I thought I could just do a bit a cut and paste from Wayne's review of the EX and go home early.
However, a closer look at the 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid throws up a couple of surprises. Not slap-in-the-face, look-at-me-I'm a-hybrid-car surprises like the pushbutton start mechanisms and miles-per-gallon meters found in Toyota's Prius andhybrids, but more subtle features that lets the driver know that this is more than an internal-combustion-engine machine.
The first clue is the IMA logo in the instrument cluster. This stands for integrated motor assist, Honda's hybrid propulsion arrangement, which enables an electric motor to assist the Accord's 3-liter V-6. From our ride out in the regular Accord, we found that the 244-horsepower V-6 could handle itself pretty respectably without backup, but the electric input does help to make the ride in the hybrid extremely smooth and provide a little extra vitesse; the Accord Hybrid squeezes an extra 9 horses under the hood to give it a Camry Hybrid-blasting 253 horsepower. A few quirks of the IMA reminded us that this was a dual-propulsion car, especially apparent in stop-and-go traffic. When the Accord Hybrid is brought to a full stop, the engine cuts out completely, giving the driver a feeling that the car has stalled. This feature, called Idle Stop, is presumably intended to save fuel in keeping with the car's AT PZEV design. However, we found it a little disconcerting and somewhat inimical to fast launches, as the car took a couple of milliseconds to fire up when called into action as the lights turned green. Otherwise the Hybrid felt smooth and handled well. A rear spoiler and distinctive alloy wheels set it apart from the plainer EX, as did its heated front seats and heated wing mirrors.
On the cabin-tech front, Honda's integrated nav system is the unrivalled star of the show, responding to voice commands with impressive ability and giving us plenty of options to enter--and get to--our destination. Honda has certainly thought a lot about its in-dash touch-screen unit, and this is one of the best we've used. However, a quick scroll through the other information features in the unit suggests that the Japanese engineers had spare time on their hands when putting this unit together. As well as incorporating a calculator, the touch screen includes the facility to convert distance, volume, and liquid measures from metric to imperial units and vice versa. Useful for revising for the SAT exam, perhaps--not essential for getting from A to B.
No calculation is needed for trips, gas mileage, or range to empty on the Accord Hybrid, all of which are also reported via the LCD. The EPA says that this car will get 25mpg in the city and 34mpg on the highway. Our car suggested that this was dead-on, with a reading of 25.4mpg around town. That's 10.79 kilometers per liter, in case you were wondering. Other than the multi-information display, cabin tech was pretty threadbare on the Hybrid, which didn't know what to do with an MP3 disc, let alone an iPod or a Bluetooth cell phone.
Nevertheless, while the 2006 Honda Accord EX was pretty nondescript, the Hybrid left us with a more memorable--and favorable--first impression.