Driving tech takes a leap: New Accord Hybrid shows Honda’s innovation mojo is back

2014-04-18T00:00:00Z Driving tech takes a leap: New Accord Hybrid shows Honda’s innovation mojo is backDerek Price Greenshoot Media nwitimes.com
April 18, 2014 12:00 am  • 

It’s hard to find anything to criticize about Honda, the maker of bulletproof cars that seem to last through the eternities, but it’s had one weak point in the past decade: hybrids.

Even as Honda has been an industry leader in developing hybrid technologies, which use electric motors to help gas-powered vehicles get better mileage, its hybrid cars have endured a few missteps along the way.

The CR-Z sports hybrid, for example, turned out to be neither particularly sporty nor efficient, and the V6-powered Accord Hybrid introduced in 2004 didn’t get good enough gas mileage to woo many buyers. It disappeared after just three years.

Well, at last Honda has come out with a hybrid car that is absolutely, spot-on perfect.

The new-for-2014 Accord Hybrid is not only a spectacularly good car to drive, with a taut suspension and a cabin assembled tightly enough to survive a nuclear blast, but it’s also great at saving gas.

Thanks to some innovative engineering that leapfrogs the competition — including designing what I call a “virtual transmission” that works electronically — the new Accord Hybrid has dialed in some impressive fuel economy ratings of 45 mpg on the highway and 50 in the city, making it a class leader.

In fact, leadership was a recurring thought during my week-long test of this new hybrid. It strikes me as being slightly ahead of its time, a return to the days when Honda would perfect and popularize a technology such as variable valve timing before the rest of the world would follow along.

If Honda has lost its innovation mojo in recent years, cars like this will bring it back.

The lack of a traditional transmission in the Accord Hybrid is the best example, as it dumps the system of pulleys and belts used in the majority of today’s hybrid cars in favor of computers and electric motors that can do the job more efficiently. It makes every other hybrid system seem instantly outdated, and I bet more cars will follow its lead in the future.

Another ahead-of-its-time technology is the use of video cameras to eliminate blind spots. The Accord is available with a camera mounted on the right side-view mirror, and any time you use the right turn signal it will display that video feed in the cabin.

I was skeptical when I first used this video system, called LaneWatch, last year, but it’s won me over. It’s not a gimmick. Every time I drive one of these new Accords that has it, I walk away thinking, “Jeez! Why doesn’t every car have this?”

There is one noticeable tradeoff when you buy the hybrid Accord, and that’s cargo space. The trunk in the hybrid version holds about 20 percent less than the regular Accord because of all the batteries and associated electronics back there.

For that little sacrifice, though, you get big dividends. The Accord Hybrid’s city mpg rating is roughly twice that of the regular ol’ Accord, yet it has the same spunky, firm-riding, communicative driving feel that makes Hondas some of my favorite cars on winding roads.

Overall, there’s not much to complain about in this car. It’s built well, drives beautifully, has impressive by-the-numbers performance and even looks good, with tasteful touches to make it stand out without being as eco-gaudy as a Toyota Prius.

It’s the best hybrid Honda has built to date, by far.

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