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A More Refined Green Machine

2005 Honda Accord Hybrid sedan

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page G01

One way to get people to pay higher prices for new technology is to cover it with luxury. Car companies have done this for decades, which is why items such as automatic transmissions and power steering first appeared on high-end automobiles.

Technology alone is sexless. A new transmission may be super-efficient; but rare is the consumer willing to buy a see-through car to show that transmission at work.

2005 Honda Accord Hybrid sedan
2005 Honda Accord Hybrid sedan
2005 Honda Accord Hybrid sedan

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: Nothing technical at this writing. Some consumers may stop at the $32,000 price tag. But with those nifty luxury touches and its super-fine craftsmanship, many hybrid car shoppers will buy this new Accord.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Best in the mid-size family sedan class in all three categories. Mary Anne and I fought over the "right" to drive this one. We mostly left everything else sitting in the driveway.

Head-turning quotient: Classy, elegant, rich -- inside and out.

Body style/ layout: Front-engine with Integrated Motor Assist (permanent magnet motor), front-wheel-drive, four-door mid-size family sedan with traditional notchback trunk.

Gasoline engine and transmission: The 2005 Accord Hybrid is equipped with a three-liter, 24-valve V-6 engine that develops 240 horsepower at 6,250 revolutions per minute and 212 foot-pounds of torque at 5,000 rpm. With Integrated Motor Assist, the horsepower equivalent rises to 255 at 6,000 rpm, and the torque equivalent increases to 232 foot-pounds at 5,000 rpm. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard.

Cargo and fuel capacities: The Accord Hybrid has seating for five people. Cargo capacity is 11.2 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 17.1 gallons of recommended regular unleaded gasoline.

Mileage: The Environmental Protection Agency says the Accord Hybrid gets between 24 and 34 miles per gallon in the city and between 31 and 43 mpg on the highway. I averaged 32 mpg in city and highway driving, roughly the same mileage I get in my normally aspirated Mini Cooper. But my Mini is a four-cylinder, 116-horsepower subcompact for an asking price of $12,000 less. And the Hybrid Accord is an undeniably grand, powerful, six-cylinder mid-size sedan.

Safety: Loaded, including side and curtain air bags, traction control and anti-lock brakes.

Price: Base price is $31,990. Dealer's invoice price is $28,777. Price as tested is $32,505, including a $515 destination charge. Prices come from American Honda. They are mere suggestions. This one will sell. Some dealers may ask for premiums.

Purse-strings note: This is the one I would buy if I were in the market for a hybrid. Very well done, Honda. Congratulations.

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To sell, technology must be properly packaged and presented. To sell at premium prices, it must be offered in a way that bespeaks distinction and exclusivity, in much the manner of a meal sold at a fine restaurant, or a diamond bought in a top-end jewelry parlor. Your relationship may come from Kmart. No matter. Your engagement ring comes from Jared.

Honda Motor Co. has learned this lesson well, as evidenced by its presentation of the 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid sedan. It is brilliant.

I watched in awe as several family members either drove or sat as passengers in the Accord Hybrid model equipped with a satellite-linked, onboard navigation system. They marveled over the simulated teak trim; praised the comfort of the heated, commodious leather-covered seats; snapped their fingers to the jazz, blues and Motown tunes pouring from the standard XM Satellite Radio; and played with the dials on the car's dual-zone climate-control system.

I asked about the Accord Hybrid's Integrated Motor Assist system. My passengers and guest drivers said nothing. I told them that the car was a hybrid, reiterating the message on its glistening external "Accord Hybrid" badge. My wife, Mary Anne, responded: "I just think it's a very nice car."

And that is exactly the way Honda wants it. Yes, the Accord Hybrid has a clever gasoline engine/electric motor assistance drive system -- thus, the Integrated Motor Assist appellation. It also comes with Honda's extra-fuel-saving Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) feature, which automatically deactivates three of the car's six cylinders when the automobile is cruising at a steady, moderate speed.

In addition, the Accord Hybrid comes with what Honda calls Grade Logic Control. To put it simply, this feature eliminates the annoying, transmission-wearing, constant downshifting (more commonly called "gear hunting") associated with driving uphill in cars with traditional automatic transmissions. By automatically adjusting and holding gear ratios when moving downhill, the computerized Grade Logic Control also reduces brake wear.

Honda, as is the case with practically all car companies, refuses to discuss the specific design, development and implementation costs of all of that technology. But it's a safe bet that little or any of it comes cheaply. We're talking hundreds of millions of dollars here, money that has to be recouped or swallowed as a loss; and, let's face it, there aren't many companies, corporate boards or stockholder groups willing to swallow that much.

Nor are there many companies unwise enough to believe that consumers are willing to pay more for technology that, although beneficial, offers little prestige. A straightforward price hike to cover the cost of new technology has all of the sex appeal of a tax increase to cover the cost of fixing Social Security.

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