HONDA attempts to reassert its technological prowess with a new-generation ‘i-MMD’ hybrid drivetrain headlining a new range-topping Accord variant
WHAT IS IT?
The beginning of Honda’s post-GFC new wave, the Accord Sport Hybrid is all about “re-establishing our leadership in the technological space”, according to Stephen Collins, Director of Honda Australia. But it’s also about trying to salvage the Accord’s flagging reputation among its highly capable competitor set.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT?
Two years after the ninth-generation Accord’s unmemorable arrival here, the Sport Hybrid lands with the promise of “a groundbreaking drivetrain”, and much-needed improvements to the Accord’s dismal dynamics.
At $58,990, Honda is shooting directly for the Lexus IS300h with the Accord Sport Hybrid. But where the Lexus is a dedicated premium product, the Accord is something of a ‘lipstick-on-a-pig’ proposition, seeing it is essentially a US-focused Toyota Camry competitior.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
A measurably improved Accord – for a price – yet it still suffers most of the flaws that afflict its petrol siblings, such as an abrupt ride, computer-game steering and an overall lack of cohesion. This is a Camry Atara SL Hybrid competitor with some extra class, not a Lexus IS300h rival.
Plus: Impressive drivetrain smoothness and operation; space and seat comfort; solid build quality; much-improved handling balance; high-quality tyres
Minus: Irritating and unresolved ride quality; anaesthetised steering; messy dash layout; B-pillar wind noise; reduced boot space; delusions of grandeur
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THIS clean-cut 2015 Honda Accord Sport Hybrid might look vaguely like any other 18-inch-wheeled model from Honda’s ninth-generation range, but everything isn’t quite as it seems.
If the light-blue-tinted grille and headlights, and charcoal accents inside the wheel spokes don’t give the game away, then the ‘Hybrid’ badges on the front guards and bootlid surely will. Honda has finally moved the game on from the first-generation hybrid technology it pioneered here with the Insight in early 2001, and this flagship Accord Sport Hybrid is the vessel.
Labelled i-MMD (for Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive), Honda claims this Accord’s “groundbreaking drivetrain” will re-assert its technological prowess in the hybrid field. Integrated with an all-new, purpose-designed 1993cc ‘Atkinson-cycle’ petrol four-pot featuring a pair of counter-rotating balance shafts in the oil pan for smoothness, the ‘Multi-Mode’ part refers to the three drive modes – EV, Hybrid and Engine. But it’s the engine’s ability to power a separate generator that charges the lithium-ion battery pack, all while being disconnected from the drive wheels (in Hybrid mode) that raises Honda’s i-MMD hybrid system to a new level.
In EV Drive, the Accord has a range of around 2km in pure-electric mode before it transitions seamlessly into one of the other modes. Tied to an electric CVT transmission that uses a pair of motors instead of a belt to continuously alter ratios and transfer power, the Accord doesn’t switch to pure engine mode until it’s doing around 70km/h. The result is a class-leading 4.6L/100km combined fuel figure and carbon-dioxide emissions of just 107g/km, though we averaged 6.5-7.0L/100km on a two-hour freeway loop.
But does this vaunted, new-generation drivetrain transform the Accord from embarrassing frump to spritely filly? Sort of. A suspension retune not only compensates for the Hybrid’s weight increase (70kg over a 2.4-litre VTi-L) but is intended to make the Accord feel a bit sportier to drive. New two-piston dampers and thicker anti-roll bars (19mm front, 16mm rear) combine with top-notch 235/45R18 Michelin Pilot Sport 3 tyres to endow the Sport Hybrid with much-improved chassis balance and tenacious grip, even on wet surfaces, though the Accord’s dynamic ills are far from cured.
Diverting attention away from the Hybrid’s intrusive ride and robotic electric steering is Honda’s terrific new drivetrain. Seamlessly integrated in operation and satisfyingly sweet when singing in petrol mode, about the biggest criticism we can level at it is a delay in response from a briskly floored throttle to serious forward momentum.
Even the braking system – dubbed Electric Servo Brake – which is fully hydraulic from the master cylinder to all four discs, but electronically controlled, and allows regenerative braking from the electric drive motor to slow the car in many circumstances, rather than the actual brakes, feels natural and well-calibrated. And while the Accord’s active cruise control is overly cautious in the distances it maintains, the excellent lane-keeping function will autonomously steer the car for minutes on the freeway.
The problem with the Accord Sport Hybrid is the Accord part. Developed during a GFC-imposed cost-cutting period at Honda, the current Accord remains a shadow of its former self. With the Euro version now dead, this is the only Accord the world sees and that’s a depressing thought. The Hybrid version may point more sharply and have a greater affinity for the road, but there’s no escaping the irritating flaws that conspire to undermine this car.
The slightly older demographic destined to be attracted to, and able to afford, the $58,990 Sport Hybrid will probably hate its jiggly ride. Then there’s the Accord’s dashboard, which is an incongruous mix of blotchy grey wood, a dated multi-screen dash display and no digital speedo. A Lexus IS smashes it for cabin class.
So while the front-drive Accord Sport Hybrid might be priced to compete against the rear-drive Lexus IS300h, the only areas where it scores is for cabin space and the excellence of its new-generation drivetrain.
Honda has promised that it will build more exciting cars in the future, starting with the 2016 Honda NSX and the next-gen Civic (also due here next year), including a turbocharged Type-R variant (a possibility for 2017). But until Honda gets rid of dead wood like the current Accord, not even a quality hybrid drivetrain will be enough to generate any ‘Power of Dreams’ mystique.
Model: Honda Accord Sport Hybrid
Engine: 1993cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v + lithium-ion battery
Max power: 146kW (combined)
Max torque: 307Nm (combined)
Transmission: CVT automatic
Kerb weight: 1642kg
0-100km/h: 8.5sec (estimated)
Fuel Economy: 4.6L/100km
On sale: Now