There are some nice features but Honda’s hybrid still doesn’t quite hit the high notes
SOMETHING got lost in translation on the Honda Accord Sport Hybrid.
Where I live and drive, the word Sport with a capital S means firmer suspension, bigger brakes and flappy paddles on any automatic gearbox. Extra go, too.
Yet all of those things are missing from the new top-end Accord, the first proper Honda hybrid after four “mild” hybrids were culled from Australian showrooms. And did I mention the price? Honda has big dreams and high hopes for its new Australian flagship, which is priced towards the space once filled by the Legend.
For that money, it offers the technology — also coming in the born-again NSX supercar — to give it proper hybrid bragging rights.
The Accord is a three-mode hybrid that combines a hi-tech Atkinson-cycle petrol engine, a 124kW electric motor and smaller supplementary generator. At low speeds it runs fully electric and at high speeds it’s fully petrol powered with 105kW and 165Nm, but mostly it’s in hybrid mode with smart electronics making the decisions on how to combine the petrol and electric power sources for maximum efficiency.
The upside is best-in-class claimed economy of 4.6 litres/100km.
The downside is the extra weight means the Sport is no quicker than a regular 2.4-litre petrol Accord and some way down on the 206kW V6 model.
Also, the noise from the engine room is a flat drone that never changes pitch, even if you’re asking for the maximum from the petrol engine. Blame the continuously variable transmission and the lack of any artificial “gears” to excite or reward the driver.
The Sport’s failure is also reflected in suspension that’s set for cushioning, not sport, and braking that’s all right but not great.
In the end, there’s no point in asking for sporty responses in a car that’s a nice hybrid, with better range than an equivalent Camry, but has the wrong badge on the boot. There is too much tyre noise on anything but a super-smooth motorway and the ride gets bumpy and intrusive on low-profile tyres.
There is plenty of nice stuff inside, from excellent aircon and leather seats to a sunroof and side blinds, and safety is covered by everything from radar cruise control to autonomous emergency braking and a great side-mounted camera that supplements the left-side mirror for lane changes and turns.
But did I mention the price? Well, it’s $58,990 and that’s way too much for any Accord, as well as $7000 more than the V6L that used to top the model range.
Honda likes to think the Sport Hybrid is a rival to a Lexus ES or IS and a bunch of other semi-prestige cars but, really?
The hybrid stuff is good as far as it goes, and there is space for five adults and a roomy boot, but this is still a Camry competitor for most people and they are never going to see it as a replacement for the Legend. And it’s going to top $60,000 by the time it’s on the road, although dealers are likely to cut some slack after a few months with almost no sales.
The Accord Sport Hybrid is a nice car, but not a great car. And it’s proof that Honda’s recovery from its GFC setbacks is still not complete, despite the nice new Jazz and the well equipped Odyssey and the NSX that’s coming in 2016.
Its cars are still not good enough against their rivals and the days when Honda could charge a premium for its badge are history. These days, Honda needs to under-promise and over-deliver, not the other way around.