Honda’s Accord Sport Hybrid: Works well, but no spare let us down.

 

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Yes Yes Yes oh YES: fab economy, engaging drive, bags of space, quiet.

Oh dear me no: no spare tyre (see story), small boot, expensive.

Australia has been fairly slow to take up the hybrid challenge. Our governments haven’t subsidised them the way other countries have done. This has cast a long shadow over the battery-powered movement dooming most electric cars and hybrids to abysmal sales. The biggest fleet of hybrids now rests with the taxi companies, and who wants to drive a car mainly identified as a taxi? Honda’s own hybrid attempts have suffered the same fate with Jazz, Civic and CR-Z hybrids being discontinued due to slow sales. The main reason for slow sales of electrics and hybrids is price. The market decides, and it is very savvy and very price sensitive.

Honda has high hopes for its $59 grand (plus on-roads) Accord. They say it will appeal to a mature crowd. We liked the previous Accords but thought them a bit expensive considering the bigger (for example) Commodore is cheaper, roomier, faster and until recently had more tech. I’d still have an accord because I rather fancy Honda, and always have but Honda sales have been rather bijou in recent years.

The “tech” has been sorted with a spanking new infotainment system. Honda have abandoned the twee HDMI/iPhone head unit. It looked great and did most things brilliantly until you wanted to use Satnav. I never got it to work and in that respect it was a failure. The Apple Car Play unit is coming and having used Car Play in other brands I’ve not doubt it will transform the driving experience. It is a revelation far too long in coming.

There is also loads of other goodies like active lane assistance and a beaut camera in the left hand mirror. When you indicate left the camera shows a view along the side of the car which displays on the central LCD screen. Sadly there is not one on the right hand side. For this price I’d have liked to see both, or neither with BLISS instead. But, Honda have opted for this system instead of a more usual Blind Spot Detection System (BLISS) and it works well. You can also activate it with a button on the indicator stalk should you just want to see what’s beside you without having to indicate a turn. The only drawback is when you’re changing lanes you aren’t normally looking at the centre console but rather looking at your mirrors. This is where most other marques display the bright orange or red lights to let you know there is something beside you. You be the judge.

The hybrid system is now properly pucker and more like those in other brands. The boot space is slightly compromised with 381 L VS the 457 L in the standard Accord. Honda claims there is an extra 34 L under the floor, but part of that space contains the puncture kit. There is no room for a spare tyre, but more about that later. Finally, because the battery pack is behind the seats, the seats don’t fold down limiting the carrying capacity even further.

Looking at the Honda website the prices are: 2.4 VTi-s $37,477, VTI-L $45,717, V6L $56,706, Sport Hybrid $64,056 so there is a significant premium for the Sport Hybrid over the V6L which was the previous top model (prices on-road in NSW) and a huge $28,000 over the 2.4.

I do have a problem with the “Sport” moniker though. The feeling is more premium tourer than sports car. Sports cars have manuals, or at the very least, a paddle shifting automatic. The Accord has an e-CVT transmission which is not a physical transmission as we know it. It’s described in the specs as an “interaction between the petrol engine and the two electric motors”. A CVT-style transmission is what is used in most hybrids and the feeling is not sporty at all. Conversely a smooth luxe ride with smooth luxe acceleration means the engine does almost no screaming at all. The car should have been called “Accord Hybrid L” for Luxury.

Most takeoffs use only the electric motor, however putting the boot in at any speed has the petrol engine screaming its head off. The CVT doesn’t function as well as our favourite CVT (if there is such a thing) in the Subaru which feels remarkably like a normal auto.

The hybrid system is a complex affair with most of us standing very little chance of really understanding how it works. In short: there is a main electric motor, a main petrol engine, with a small auxiliary electric motor performing minor functions. The main electric motor powers the wheels in electric mode and charges the batteries in regeneration mode. The petrol engine powers the wheels in petrol mode as well as powering a small generator to charge the batteries in some modes. Both main motors work together in hybrid mode. Confused? So are we but who cares as long as it works. So, the system has 3 modes: electric only, petrol only, and full hybrid. Leisurely take offs are dispatched with great alacrity by the 124kw motor and highway cruising uses the 104kw engine. The regenerative braking helps to recharge the batteries but the petrol engine does most of the work. In that respect the system works extremely well. Confusingly Honda says the combined system output is 146kw. That is not much more than the 2.4L and much less than the V6.

Honda pits the Accord against the slightly smaller Lexus IS300h as its main rival, but the RWD Lexus has a more luxurious feel inside. We also drove the Lexus ES300h which felt a little more luxurious again with rear controls for air cond and audio, and had a slightly more premium feel to the cabin. I feel that, like the discontinued Legend, cost will limit buyers for the Accord Hybrid which is a shame.

The drive is pleasing. For the most part the cabin is quiet and refined but the noise from minor bumps intrudes in a rather unwelcome and surprising manner. The tyres are low profile, and as we found out, fairly hard to come by. On the highway the Accord wafts along happily feeling every bit a premium saloon. It’s quiet until the petrol engine starts screaming for no apparent reason. Then as quickly as it started, it stops again. The only way you know what’s happening to keep an eye on the graphic in the instrument cluster. It shows which mode the system is in. The petrol engine cut-in is so smooth as to be undetectable.

We were not able to get fuel figures even vaguely approaching the claimed figures. After the week of combination driving we achieved about 8L/100k. We left the system in Eco mode for all but a few kilometres.

It is a pleasure driving around in EV mode and under normal conditions is extremely quiet even when the petrol engine cuts in. Only when the accelerator is given and extra press does the engine become a bit over excited and raucous. There is a bit of wind noise around the pillars but nothing to worry about. It feels light and breezy even in city traffic.

The price premium over the V6 is a mistake. Camry can be had for 20 grand less and although Honda say Accord is more like a Lexus, it feels similar to the Camry. Apart from the boot space being too small I can’t really fault the Accord.

Finally, I must mention our flat tyre:

Because of the batteries etc, the boot has insufficient room for a spare tyre. I’m sure room could be had for a space saver if they really tried but instead have supplied a puncture kit. The kit connects to the flat tyre and injects a runny goo which is meant to plug the hole. It means the tyre has to be replaced so you wouldn’t want it to happen too often. The other drawback is the goo won’t work on holes more than 4mm in size. You won’t know this until you try it, and in our case it didn’t work. Because roadside assist can’t bring a new wheel you have to be towed. We were only a few minutes outside Bowral in the Southern Highlands but had to be towed through the Macquarie Pass to Albion Park far below. This is the only place a tyre could be found. The alternative would be staying in Bowral until the tyre could be delivered.

Luckily, on a very hot day we were able to sit in the car with the electric air conditioning running. Unlike most hybrids the A/C in the accord runs at full power with the engine only cutting in to top up the batteries. It took a few hours for us to try the goo, get a truck and finally be on our way again.

Until this incident I’d have happily driven the Accord Hybrid on a trip between capital cities. Now, the thought of this happening on a rainy night on an unlit road in the middle of nowhere makes that idea impossible. You could not own any car without a spare and not have roadside assistance. It occurred to me that had the car been full of people the situation would have been dreadful. Worse still, the thought of a single lady with a kid in the same situation left me worried. Of course there are many cars on the market which only have the goo supplied and this is not the first time I’ve had a flat with only goo on board. So far I’ve not been able to get the sealant to work.

Up to this point I’d have said the only thing preventing me from buying the Accord Hybrid would be price but the goo cemented a firm no in mind. And to be fair to Honda, I would not buy any other vehicle without a spare.

The Honda hybrid system is complex but utterly brilliant. It is a brilliant car but the price will limit buyers. The lack of a spare will limit buyers even further. A mature driver, gay or straight, won’t like being caught like we were.

The one thing my father drummed into me was “always check your spare. Make sure it is in good condition and is properly inflated.” A wise old bird was my dad.

For full stats check here at the Honda website

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