What is it?
Honda's Accord is a car Indian motorists are extremely familiar with. First introduced in 2000, Honda sold three successive generations of the Accord here before skyrocketing costs and a drop in demand caused it to be withdrawn from Indian showrooms. But the Accord is now back in its latest guise and with hybrid power. In fact, the Hybrid will be the only Accord you can buy as Honda has no plans to launch a conventional petrol-driven car.
Honda has taken the hybrid-only route for the Accord partly to showcase its technology and partly to take advantage of the lower excise duties and VAT on hybrid cars. But unlike the Camry which is assembled here, the Accord won’t get the FAME tax break offered to locally produced cars. The Accord is a full import and there’s no concession in import duty, and this is what will make it considerably more expensive than the Camry.
But what exactly does the Accord Hybrid have to offer? Well, to begin with, it looks nicer than the earlier car. There's less flab when compared to the eight-generation Accord, the 'bloated' nose of the earlier car has given way to a more compact one and while it looks a bit too generic from the rear, there's a nice flow to it when looked at from side on. The 'blued'-over details, meant to convey that this is a hi-tech hybrid, however, aren't very cool; they only look like afterthoughts. The new ninth-generation Accord is also a bit more compact and is built on a slightly shorter wheelbase. Honda says this has been done to make the new car more agile, and it is stiffer by around 40 percent too.
What makes this car truly unique, however, is the two-motor hybrid system. Combining a 143hp 2.0-litre i-VTEC Atkinson Cycle engine along with two electric motors, the Accord Hybrid achieves a peak combined output of 215 horsepower. Known as Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) the system has three operating modes – Hybrid Drive, EV Drive, and Engine Drive.
Under most conditions, the vehicle operates in a similar manner to a range extender. In the Hybrid Drive mode, the petrol engine operates as a generator, providing electricity to the electric motor and charging the batteries. Unlike other hybrids where the engine drives the wheels, in the Accord, the front wheels are driven by the electric motor alone. The engine has no direct link to the front wheels and since power is being sent via electric motors, there is no need for a conventional transmission. In the EV Drive mode, the Accord Hybrid can also operate on electric power alone for a limited range of 2km, with the engine shut off. What makes the Accord Hybrid unique, however, is the Engine Drive mode, where the engine drives the wheels. Used mainly during medium- to high-speed cruising (after 70kph), only one fixed gear ratio corresponding to fifth or sixth gear is used here, and while the engine has sufficient power, an electric assist is sometimes used here too in a effort to provide the most amount of performance.
This makes it both a series (Hybrid Drive mode) and parallel (Engine Drive mode) hybrid – truly unique. What's even more radical is the fact that the Accord Hybrid is constantly shifting between these three distinct drive operations, optimising fuel efficiency on the fly.
The Accord Hybrid's two electric motors cover different functions. The propulsion motor converts the kinetic energy of the decelerating vehicle into electric energy. The other motor, known as the generator motor, collects energy made by the gasoline engine.
The car also gets frequency selective dampers, as on the earlier generation Mercedes C-class, that alter stiffness to suit either corners or straights. Honda's LaneWatch system is also on the car and it uses a camera to illuminate the blind spot in rear-view mirrors.
What's it like on the inside?
The Accord Hybrid doesn't exactly get a spaceship-like instrument cluster but the blue hue and the two big screens, along with the attractive layering of the center console, make the cabin an attractive place to sit in. There's much more character here than on the earlier car and driving it, with the modes swapping and the display relaying information, is pretty cool.
In addition, the car gets Honda's Active Noise Cancellation, that plays back noises in reverse phase to cancel out low-frequency sounds. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are also available and you can even start the engine of the car remotely to power the air-con system.
Indian car buyers have always loved the space and comfort the Accord provided, and they are unlikely to be disappointed here as well. Space is huge, despite the marginally shorter wheelbase over the earlier car. There’s just as much legroom, due to more efficient interior packaging, and shoulder- and headroom are also improved. You are immediately comfortable in the back, where many Accord owners in India will sit, and this is down to the sumptuously proportioned leather-lined seats, that along with their double stitching and super support allow for an extremely comfortable experience. Thigh and back support is fantastic, the seat has just the right amount of firmness and there’s plenty of space for your legs. What’s also nice is that Honda has improved the quality of the doorpads – it feels much more like a luxury car now.
What’s it like to drive?
We are now used to the silent way hybrid cars start off, or should we say switch themselves on. It’s only when you prod the throttle pedal that you know the Accord is ‘alive.’ It’s ultra-responsive from the get-go and power builds up in a seamless way. In pure EV mode, the Accord Hybrid has a range of around just 2km after which the engine kicks in. Sport mode is particularly nice, especially from low revs, as all the torque of the electric motor pulls the car forward effortlessly. And as long as you don't keep your foot flat on the floor, the strong responses are delivered without delay. There's a level of effortlessness that gels perfectly with the relaxed demeanour of the car, and it's also nice that the Accord Hybrid can gather a fair bit of speed, even when driven in a relaxed manner.
Pin the throttle to the floor, however, and things quickly so south. Engine revs soar to a preset limit and are held there, and the disconnect between engine speed and acceleration is so clear, it feels like there's a CVT gearbox somewhere in there. Yes, performance does increase when the Accord is driven in this manner and you can feel the car accelerating faster too, but you feel so removed from the experience, it isn't really enjoyable. A 215hp Honda, honestly, should really be a lot more fun and the overall driving experience is quite lacklustre.
In fact, the Accord Hybrid isn’t a sporty sedan and nowhere near as entertaining as its high-revving petrol sibling but then it doesn’t pretend to be. The suspension too has been set up for an effortless and stress-free driving experience, rather than engaging the driver. Yes, the steering is accurate and nicely weighted, the Accord has a fair amount of grip and stability at speed is decent too. It's just that handling in general feels a bit soggy and on uneven roads, it tends to bounce around a bit, especially at the rear.
Should you buy one ?
The Accord Hybrid is a technical knockout from Honda. Capable of delivering an astounding 23.1kpl under the Indian Driving Cycle, a figure a that would embarrass Maruti Alto, it can seat five passengers in luxury and comfort and deliver enough performance to whisk you to your destination briskly and without drama.
It is also very well equipped. It gets features like remote control engine start, Honda's camera-based LaneWatch for blind spot management, Active Noise Cancellation in the cabin and Apple Car play and Android Auto, among others. It's attractive to look at, comes with a nameplate recognized by many and because it is so efficient, it comes with plenty of green credentials too. The Accord Hybrid, however, is an import and that will mean it is expensive. Very expensive. Honda has priced the Accord Hybrid at Rs 37 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), and that means it is considerably more expensive than its most natural rival the Camry hybrid at 30.9 lakhs. Good as it is, the Accord Hybrid is priced out of the ball park and will only appeal to die-hard Accord fans who are willing to let their heart rule their head. And, there are a few of them – the first batch of 30 Accords is already sold out.