The 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid rewrites the hybrid-car playbook in more ways than one. A strapping 3.0-liter V-6 egged on by an electric motor puts out 253 horsepower, making the Hybrid more powerful than its V-6, gas-only 2006 Honda Accord EX stablemate. However, before we start popping the organic champagne, the financial and environmental cost of this enhanced performance requires closer inspection: In our road test, the Hybrid did significantly worse than the gas-only model when it came to gas mileage.
Low-end performance on the 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid is sluggish in large part due to the car's Idle Stop system, an energy-saving feature that could use some refining for future models. Aside from its hybrid technology, the Accord Hybrid has an impressive arsenal of tech under the hood, including Honda's i-VTEC variable-valve-timing system.
With specially designed alloy wheels and some neat body-styling touches, the Hybrid Accord looks handsome from the outside, and the aesthetics continue into the cabin, with a swish leather-trimmed interior.
Our test model was equipped with Honda's exceptional navigation unit (a worthwhile $2,000 option), which was a pleasure to boss around. A hybrid dual-zone climate-control system is also a nice touch. Less impressive is the 2006 Accord's audio system, which comes with no MP3 capability unless purchased in the shape of an optional player or an optional dedicated iPod dock. With the nav unit and a $550 destination charge, the 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid comes in at $33,540.
Leather seats and premium interior accents greet the driver on entering the cabin of the 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid, the latter consisting of brushed-metal-looking plastic trim on the doors.
The star of the cabin, however, is the Accord Hybrid's optional navigation system, which can be operated--along with the Accord's six-disc CD changer and climate-control system--by voice commands or via a touch screen in the dash. This has to be one of the best factory-installed, voice-activated navigation units on the market. Without so much as a glance at the instruction manual, we were able to ask for directions (just say "navigation" for navigation--simple but beyond the capabilities of some automakers) and set our course by address, cross street, or point of interest. With spoken street names, the Honda voice-recognition system almost invariably turned up our intended destination as the first choice on its list, simply requiring our confirmation to plot a route.
Inputting data via the touch screen was a little less intuitive, especially seeing that our car's LCD touch pad was apparently misaligned, forcing us to press the screen some way to the right-hand side of the required letter. Other niggles we had with the LCD navigation interface include its tendency to present us with a list before we entered sufficient details, meaning that we had to either back up or spend ages trawling through irrelevant options.
As well as voice and touch capabilities, destinations can be entered by pointing to them using a crosshair controlled by a joystick at the base of the LCD. Despite some programming glitches, with the destination in its sights, the Honda nav system's spoken voice directions are excellent. Text-to-speech functionality enables the system to call out the names of streets and routes, and at busy intersections, the voice guidance will maintain a running commentary--advising the driver to "keep left," "keep right," or "continue to follow the road"--even when there are no immediate turns pending.
In addition to its remarkable ability to understand and process directions, the 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid's voice-recognition system can process and respond to spoken requests for the current time, as well as changes to the cabin temperature, the stereo input, or the satellite/FM/AM radio channel. Readouts for the current driver and passenger temperatures, as well as the current satellite-radio artist and track name, are usefully displayed on a separate two-tone LCD on top of the dashboard. The audio system can be controlled via the in-dash LCD, as can the car's trip computer, which displays a scientific-looking real-time chart of the car's current gas mileage (see the Performance section for detailed--and surprising--information on this).
Due to the Honda's unique Idle Stop feature, which cuts the combustion engine when the car comes to a halt, the Accord's dual-zone climate-control system is also hybridized. Usually powered by the car's gasoline engine when in motion, it switches over to an electric-motor power source when the car is in Idle Stop mode--a feature that ensures Honda Hybrid drivers stuck in traffic don't have to suffer extremes of temperature for their choice of ecofriendly automobile.
The major drawback of the 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid's interior is its disappointing standard audio system. The standard six-CD in-dash changer offers no MP3-CD playback option, and an auxiliary input jack is nowhere to be found. Owners of the Accord Hybrid wishing to listen to 21st-century music formats can do so but will have to fork out either $544 for an optional in-dash MP3/WMA player or an extra $199 for Honda Music Link, which allows iPod docking and playback. The fact that these features are optional is pretty disappointing, especially for a car that has a base price (with navigation) of more than $33,000. Those who do bite the bullet and pay for the audio upgrades may also find themselves ruing the decision, as the Accord's six-speaker stereo system's sound quality is mediocre at best. Bass is distorted at any volume approaching halfway, and lack of fine detail means that XM's classical channels are best avoided.
Before one fires up the engine of the 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid, it is almost impossible to tell that the car is a dual-source vehicle. When the engine is off, there are none of the "I'm a hybrid!" fixtures that come with the 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid, with which this car will almost certainly be compared and contrasted by hybrid family-sedan shoppers. When we put the key in the ignition and turned the 3.0-liter V-6 over, we needed to make sure we hadn't mistakenly gotten back into the Honda Accord EX. When brought to life, however, the cabin starts to feel a bit more hybridized.