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A More Refined Green Machine

Thus, Honda and other car companies, including Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota Motor Corp., are dressing up their new gasoline/electric hybrid automobiles in the finest materials and the most profit-generating, add-on components -- such as costly (to the consumer) navigation and entertainment systems. The message is that you are not buying a hybrid, per se. (The very sound of the word "hybrid" sounds anti-libido and counter-romance.) Instead, you are buying a dream machine that happens to have hybrid technology.

Still, before ending this week's discourse, it is useful to do a cursory review of what hybrids are and aren't. Here goes:

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.

_____Ultimate Car Guide_____
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• There are many different kinds of hybrid vehicles -- gasoline/electric, diesel/electric, full hybrids in which the fossil fuel engine and electric motor constantly trade power responsibilities, partial hybrids in which the electric motor acts as an assistant (during starting, for example) to the fossil fuel engine, and hybrids that also employ automatic cylinder deactivation technology.

• Hybrids require no electric cord. They do not have to be plugged in to recharge the battery pack.

• Battery recharging generally is achieved through capturing braking energy normally wasted in regular cars. Cruising at constant speeds also helps to recharge hybrid batteries.

• The Accord Hybrid battery pack has an eight-year/80,000-mile warranty.

• Most hybrid cars cannot be operated solely on their electric motors, but they can function on their gasoline engines if the electric motor is disabled.

• Currently, the best hybrid fuel economy often comes in city driving, where the gasoline engine shuts off automatically. With the assistance of the electric motor, the engine engages when the brakes are released and the accelerator pedal is depressed.

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