The Honda Accord Sport Hybrid launched in Australia this week — two years after its world debut in the US market — returns the company to the petrol-electric market it helped pioneer locally with the 2001 Insight.
Notable as the first Honda sold in Australia with the brand’s hyped new Earth Dreams dual-motor hybrid technologies, it is the most fuel-efficient car in its segment, with claimed Australian combined-cycle fuel use of 4.6 litres per 100 kilometres. This is compared with 7.9L/100km for the 2.4-litre four-cylinder conventional petrol Accord and 9.2L/100km for the V6.
As such, it won’t be cheap. The petrol-electric Accord Sport Hybrid (made in Thailand like the rest of the range) launches from a starting price of $58,990 plus on-road costs, placing it ahead of the current range-topper, the Accord V6L that retails for $51,990. This makes it Honda’s new most expensive offering in Australia.
This pricing puts it close to entry level versions of the (less powerful and efficient, and less well-equipped) Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, for instance, and well above the top-spec $40,440 Camry Hybrid. The Lexus IS300h hybrid, which uses 4.9L/100km, costs $57,000. In fact, the company explicitly states that it sees the cheaper but smaller Lexus as its chief rival.
“We’re not concerned with the mass market, we’re targeting the premium segment,” Honda Australia director Stephen Collins said. The company says it is chasing an older, mostly male demographic. The car is not about volume, with the company not offering any firm target, but rather about perception.
The company said it considered offering an entry-level specification priced against the Camry Hybrid, but decided it didn’t want to involve itself in the fleet-heavy market in which the Toyota competes. There are thousands of Camry Hybrids currently in service as taxis.
Reflecting this premium positioning, Honda Australia will only sell the Accord Sport Hybrid in five dedicated dealerships nationwide, in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth. These dealers will also sell the NSX hybrid supercar slated to launch in 2016. “The [Accord] model doesn’t work with 100 dealers,” Collins said.
Globally, the Accord Sport Hybrid is only sold in the US, Japan, Thailand and Australia.
The pricing is reflective of the Accord Hybrid’s obvious premium positioning in the range, with a single-specification to be offered, based on the top-spec petrol V6L. There’s no hybrid version of the lower-level petrol-powered Accord VTi, VTi-S or VTi-L variants.
As such, it comes loaded with standard equipment, including Active Cornering Lights, Active Noise Cancellation, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Watch blind-spot display, a blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, low-speed autonomous braking, satellite-navigation and an electric sunroof (full specs listed further down).
Stylistically, there’s a blue-accented upper grille, blue-accented headlights and LED daytime running lights. There’s also unique 18-inch alloy wheels and Hybrid badges on the front guards. There’s an additional Hybrid badge on the boot lid and blue-accented LED tail-lights. The lower rear fascia also has a unique diffuser.
Under the body is an all-new hybrid drivetrain that is rather different to the old Honda Integrated Motor Assist from the company’s previous hybrid models. This new system is called Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD). This powertrain is basically the same as the Accord PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) not sold here (and not even on the cards for now), minus the external plug-in charging capability.
It comprises a 105kW/165Nm 2.0-litre i-VTEC port-injected (not direct) petrol engine mounted at the front, that operates on the Atkinson cycle, paired to two electric motors and a 1.3 kWh Li-Ion battery (with eight-year warranty) and DC-DC converter mounted under the floor and behind the fixed rear seats. Despite this packaging, boot capacity is 415L, only 42L less than the regular internal combustion versions.
Total system output is 146kW/307Nm. Standard is a take on the continuously variable transmission called E-CVT, with a mode that amplifies the regenerative braking system to capture and re-use more waste energy, and which spares your brake pads.
The main electric motor is a 124 kW AC synchronous permanent magnet unit linked to the drive wheels to provide primary power, as well as funnel brake regeneration into the battery.
There are three driving modes controlled by the E-CVT. In EV mode, the car is propelled by the electric motor powered by the battery pack. It only works at low speeds and disengages when you apply firm throttle, and the range is only 2km. Once the battery is depleted, the car automatically switches to Hybrid mode.
In Hybrid mode, the petrol engine powers a supplementary generator (which Honda calls the second electric motor in the i-MMD system) to create electricity for the main propulsion motor, which still solely powers the front wheels. In this mode, you get maximum torque from zero rpm, the reason Honda applies the Sport badge (even though it’s only as fast as the 2.4, and slower than the 3.5-litre V6 version).
In Engine Mode, the electric motor is decoupled, and the Accord’s Atkinson cycle engine drives the wheels directly through the single-gear transmission. This functions at higher speeds of 70km/h and above, presumably because once you have momentum the engine is at its most efficient.
Unique to the Accord Sport Hybrid are an new all-aluminium front subframe that replaces the steel-and-aluminium front subframe of the petrol Accord, plus an aluminium rear bumper beam and aluminium brake pedal to save small amounts of weight. The Accord Sport is about 70kg heavier than a base 2.4 Accord.
Inside is a unique set of instruments that display detailed technical information.
Honda is a hybrid pioneer in Australia alongside Toyota, given the first-generation Insight launched way back in 2001. As recently as February 2014, it offered no fewer than four hybrid models, more than almost any other brand.
But over the course of a year up to February 2015, the company progressively axed the four-strong range starting with the second-generation Insight, and culminating in the Jazz Hybrid, Civic Hybrid and CR-Z. Global demand simply was not there.
One factor that hurt local sales was the price premium they commanded over their petrol counterparts. Nevertheless, Honda appears to have continued with this approach given the Accord’s premium positioning.
Next on the Honda Australia hybrid checklist are the new-generation Jazz Hybrid and the NSX.
Honda Accord Sport Hybrid specifications:
Honda Accord Sport Hybrid pricing:
$58,990 plus on-road costs