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.
A backlit Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) logo nestled in the center of the speedometer informs the driver that this car uses Honda's dual-source propulsion system, which, unlike Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive, is designed primarily to allow the electric motor to assist--rather than replace--the car's internal-combustion engine. The Accord Hybrid is rated as an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV) and so must run on an electric-only power source at some point (downhill in a hurricane, perhaps, as someone suggested), but there is none of the noiseless inner-city stealth driving that comes with the 2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid.
The 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid--this car's immediate predecessor--was the first car to be referred to as a muscle hybrid, due to its ability to balance environmentally friendly technology with solid performance, and the 2006 model follows in this tradition. The IMA system adds a 12kW electric motor to the Accord's gasoline engine to provide additional torque when needed and to increase overall energy efficiency by recapturing energy from deceleration and braking, which is then stored in the nickel-metal-hydride battery. With 253 horsepower, this car will have drivers of the 2006 Chevy Impala and the 2006 VW Passat rubbing their eyes in disbelief when they notice the V6 Hybrid motif on the tailgate as the Accord shoots past on the freeway.
While the 2006 electrically assisted Honda Accord Hybrid puts out 9 more horsepower than the 2006 Accord V-6--giving Honda the bragging rights as the first manufacturer to offer a more powerful hybrid model than its gasoline-only equivalent--one of our editors observed that the Hybrid feels less punchy than the regular V-6 EX. In our experience, the Hybrid performed competently on the highway, where it cruised at just more than 2,000rpm, but it did suffer from low-end lag and Hybrid jitters when accelerating from standing.
This was principally attributable to the fact that the engine not only has to engage when pulling off but actually also has to switch itself back on, due to the Idle Stop feature. Designed in the energy-efficient vein of the Hybrid drivetrain, Idle Stop cuts the engine when the Accord comes to a complete stop with the car in drive mode and the brake depressed. While the car temporarily hibernates, a light in the instrument panel marked Auto Stop flashes green--a somewhat superfluous notice, as most drivers will be able to surmise that the car has cut out from the sudden lack of engine noise. The most noticeable result of Idle Stop, however, is when the stoplight turns green and the Accord Hybrid wakes up with a driveline jolt that hinders fast getaways and brings down the overall driving experience of the car--certainly something for the Honda engineers to work on for future models.
The most surprising thing about the 2006 Accord Hybrid's performance is its relatively weak gas mileage. Despite what the EPA says--25mpg in the city and 34mpg on the highway--we observed an average of 23.5mpg in mixed metro driving. Not only is this far worse than the gas mileage for the 2007 Camry Hybrid (35mpg in the same conditions), but it is even lower than CNET's observed mileage for the gasoline-only 2006 Honda Accord EX, which got an overall reading of 24.9mpg on a trip down Southern California's notoriously congested I-5.
One of the possible explanations for these surprising results is the difference between the transmission systems in each car. While our test EX has a six-speed manual enabling in-town flexibility and sixth-gear cruising, the Hybrid was constrained by its five-speed automatic gearbox, which limited its options in town and gave it little room to stretch its legs at highway speeds. Whatever the reason, our readouts will be grist to antihybrid mill.
In addition to its hybrid technology, the 2006 Honda Accord boasts a range of other advanced systems to enable it to maximize performance and efficiency. These include Honda's i-VTEC system, which uses an advanced valve-control system to adjust valve overlap and therefore the amount of intake charge reentering the intake manifold. Different levels of overlap are employed, depending on whether the car is cruising or accelerating, to maximize torque and minimize emissions.
The i-VTEC's Variable Cylinder Management, which activates and deactivates the three rear cylinders as needed, and Honda's Grade Logic Control, which calibrates the automatic transmission to avoid gear hunting when the car is on an incline, all mean that the Accord Hybrid is a tech superstar under the hood. It's just a pity that it doesn't seem to work as it should.
The 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid comes equipped with a respectable number of active and passive safety features, including ABS and vehicle stability assist (VSA) with traction control, which is designed to compensate for lack of control by applying brake force to counter wheel slippage or oversteer. Driver and front passenger both get dual-stage front-, side-, and side curtain air bags, and Honda's occupant-position detection system deactivates the front-passenger air bags when necessary.
The 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid also comes with the LATCH system to enable child seats to be firmly fastened in the rear. In NHTSA testing, the Accord Hybrid scored an admirable five stars for front impact and four stars for both side impact and rollover safety. It comes with Honda's five-year/60,000-mile limited power train warranty and an eight-year/80,000-mile warranty for its battery pack. Honda expects that the Accord Hybrid will complete its first 100,000 miles with no scheduled tune-ups.
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