Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Futuristically Normal | 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid Review

I live in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia. It's like any North American suburb. You have to drive everywhere. There’s no getting around it. With or without a plebiscite, transit isn't a sustainable option. So you must use a car.

Driving is quite pricey. There's the cost of the car, insurance, maintenance and gas. So what I'm going to do is try to help you save money.

Well, maybe. I tested the Honda Accord Hybrid, the manufacturer’s latest foray into the still unpredictable world of the hybrid. Remember those? Introduced to us by both Honda and Toyota sixteen years ago, they were touted as our savior from rising gas prices and greenhouse gas emissions.

The way they work is simple. You add a battery and electric motor to an existing gas engine to help recapture energy that would otherwise have been lost when the car slows down. It is still powered exclusively by gasoline, but that saved energy can be used to help the car along later. Lessening the load on the gas engine and reducing consumption.

And yet nobody is buying them (not unless they have Toyota and Prius written on them). In America only 3.8% of light-duty sales last year were hybrids. In Canada, it was less than 1%. Maybe it’s our cold winters’ effect on the batteries. Or the fact that they cost more than their regular gasoline powered counterparts. Or, most likely, the fact they are not very exciting.

Well that is where this new Accord Hybrid comes in. Because though it is powered by gasoline, the way it works is reversed from conventional Hybrids. The wheels are powered by a 124KW electric motor, while the 2.0 Litre 4-cylinder gasoline engine only creates electricity. In fact, it’s such a backwards system the Accord doesn’t even have a transmission. They call it the E-CVT.

It functions in three modes: EV mode. Where the electric motor runs on its own. Hybrid Mode, Where the gasoline engine is providing power to the batteries to help out with acceleration. And Engine Drive Mode. Where the gas engine is coupled to the wheels at highway speeds.

In the real world it works quite well actually. The instant torque of the electric motor is a really special sensation. And there’s a satisfying feeling when you are driving in EV mode. You feel like the best person in the world, because you’re bettering it. And then the engine spools up because the rather small Li-Ion battery taking up some of the trunk needs recharging.

Thankfully, none of the Honda Accord’s poise and handling has been lost with the addition of the hybrid pack. There is, however a noticeable lag, like a traditional automatic’s “kick down”, between the engine spooling up and the motor giving power. I think a sport mode button that reduces the gap would help. And you do notice the change to engine drive mode on the freeway.

These minor gripes are all worth it though, because the Accord Hybrid posts some really impressive numbers. According to government figures it should consume 5.0 L/100km. I was able to get pretty close with 5.7 L/100km. We are talking about micro car consumption from a mid sized sedan.

It all comes at a price though, $37,941 for the Touring model I tested to be exact. Which is about $3740 more than the equivalent 4-cyl Accord. The $31,851 base model only costs $2450 more. They’re not huge gulfs in price. But if you drive 20,000 km a year it would take about 5 years to recoup the costs of the Touring model and only three and a half years for the base model.

So clearly the base model is the one to go for. But is the Hybrid model itself the answer? As I mentioned earlier nobody is buying them. But after a week in one I can’t quite see why. We live in the warmest part of Canada, so the battery should not cause too many issues. And if you drive A LOT then you can recoup those savings in less than 3 years.

What I love most about the Accord Hybrid was that it is different where it matters and conventional everywhere else. It looks like a normal Accord, and is even as exciting in the bends. And yet you get great fuel economy. It’s futuristic without the tedious strangeness.

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