Accord Hybrid Over-runs Demands of Family Sedan

February 16, 2019 by · Comments Off on Accord Hybrid Over-runs Demands of Family Sedan
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Accord Hybrid for 2019 displays high-tech features throughout.

By John Gilbert


My first after-Christmas auto review was going to be on the 2019 Honda Accord Hybrid, with the spectacular backdrop of the Pacific Northwest and Mount Baker. But that was before I got carried away describing the life-saving performance of our family Mini Cooper, making it home from Minneapolis to Duluth in a 6-hour battle against ice and whiteout conditions.

There’s still time. We can go back and evaluate the Accord Hybrid, but I must admit to being distracted by the spectacular scenery. No, not distracted driving; we stopped to admire the breathtaking views.

Without a doubt, the new Accord makes a strong impression, whether looking at it, riding in it, or driving. The EPA estimates for gas mileage is 47 miles per gallon city, 47 highway, and 47 combined. Makes sense. The Accord also performs with a strong, sporty flair that parallels the new looks.

The tenth generation Honda Accord came out as a 2018 model, and it is a curvaceous, attractive sedan that seems bigger than midsize. With styling cues from the exotic NSX sports car, the virtually unchanged 2019 stops folks in their tracks with its looks, especially from the front, where its thin string of LED headlights underscores the exotic appearance.

You could say this isn’t your daddy’s Accord, except that I was playing the daddy role during the trip.

I got a chance to test drive the new Accord Hybrid on our family’s Christmas trip to the Seattle-Bellingham areas of Washington, and several things jumped out at us immediately. First, there is enough room in the rear seat to hold a small convention, and the roominess is better than some large cars.

Second, there is considerable power from the hybrid system, which has a combination of a 2.0-liter VTEC 4-cylinder engine and a rechargeable electric motor device that, combines, produces 212 horsepower. I have no doubt the Accord Hybrid coul d have handled our venture from Bellingham up to the ski stations at the top of Mound Baker, but since the area had just been hit by over 2 feet of snow, we would be wiser to make the trek in younger son Jeffrey’s 4×4 Tacoma pickup.

The third noteworthy feature was that Honda is going with a continuously variable transmission, an electrically operated unit that uses belts and pulleys to enlarge or diminish in a system of never-shifting but always-shifting. CVTs have the nagging tendency of droning like a one-speed outboard instead of the stepped peaks of a normal automatic transmission. Honda wisely adds paddle shifters on the steering wheel to allow the driver to simulate manually controlled shifts and alleviate some of that inherent boredom.

I would grade Honda’s effort at B-, for at least trying to make it sporty.

The best part of a hybrid is to approach the spirit of a gasoline engine and provide a large increase in fuel economy from the electric motor input, knowing that the gas engine can spend its spare time recharging the electrical power.

Going back a couple of decades, to when Toyota and Honda were ferocious rivals to establish the major footprint on the hybrid market, Toyota had the Prius and Honda the Insight, and both tried to figure out how to turn their immensely popular midsize sedans into hybrids, so Honda put its system into the Accord, ahead of Toyota putting its system into the Camry.

It was fun talking to engineers of both companies, and I recall attending the Accord Hybrid introduction when I questioned the engineers about why — when the gas engine’s primary duty is to recharge the battery pack — Honda didn’t use its exceptional 4 instead of the larger V6. They had their reasons, but I followed by asking what would happen if Toyota used its 4 with the hybrid when the Camry came out. That’s what happened, and when the Camry flashed better fuel economy, Honda was quick to discontinue the Accord Hybrid.

Hybrid technology has advanced all along, and the newest hybrids are remarkable in their smoothness and performance. Plug-in hybrids are even more efficient, and a logical step up as we transition toward all-electric vehicles. German hybrids from Audi, BMW and Mercedes have made their mark, and Hyundai has made amazing strides with among the highest technology in hybrids with the Ioniq and Sonata sedans, and the new Kona CUV.

Honda’s strategy is to bring out a newly designed Insight, while powering the rear wheels of its exotic NSX with electric motors, and bring back the Accord as a hybrid model. Most impressive, given that history, is that the new 2019 Accord Hybrid uses the potent corporate 2.0 4-cylinder engine to work with the electric power.

Because hybrid power is most efficient in stop and go traffic, city miles per gallon is usually higher than highway cruising — the opposite for gas-engine driving. Driving moderately can keep the gas mileage up near that magical 50 mark, and you certainly could top it with extra care.

When driving a hybrid, you want to let off the gas before needing to clamp hard on the brakes, and easing the brakes on for a slow stop enhances the recharging characteristics. Same with going down hills. In Duluth, for example, you might use a lot of available power zooming up the hills, but you also can recover a lot by braking lightly as you come back down.

The next most impressive thing about the Accord Hybrid is that it comes in a pretty loaded form, so no added options were necessary on our test vehicle, which had a bottom-line sticker of $35,605, decidedly reasonable because the standard roomy Accord sedan would cost just about the same, with the same features.

Those features include all the current items: rear camera, cross-traffic alert, lane keeping and lane departure assist, road-leaving mitigation, collision mitigation, remote start, front and rear parking sensors, and adaptive cruise. And it also adds some features that are pretty unique. Twelve-way power driver seat should keep you alert, but there also is a driver attention monitor to help keep you tuned in. Another is “walk-away locks,” which I wasn’t familiar with. But when we left the car unlocked briefly and came back to find it had locked itself, I was impressed. Honda always has been adept at unobtrusively making cars idiot-proof.

Honda always has been at the forefront of great handling and steering, too,and the Accord Hybrid takes that to a new level, with firm suspentsion and precise, line-carving trajectory around curves making full use of the well-tuned MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, and proving it is possible to coordinate electric steering and shift control.

It would take longer than we had to get comfortable with tuning tricks for the audio system, where Honda seems to have subscribed to rivals who make the simple tasks that used to be operated by round knobs for volume and selection needlessly complex.

Wherever you look, though, you realize that if you just bought a contemporary, roomy 4-door sedan, you could pay $35,000; if you bought a different vehicle with a contemporary hybrid system, you could easily pay $35000. The Accord Hybrid gives you both — a roomy super-sedan that is quick and handles well, and a hybrid powertrain that meets all requirements and delivers exceptional economy.


Our loyal 2007 family Mini Cooper was better than I thought last week when it carried us through the blizzard that hit just after Christmas. I wrote about how the car made it, and I blamed the 5-year-old Nokian tires for maybe aiding its tendency to wander back and forth and keep me more than just at adrenaline-high levels. The wavering was accompanied by flashing dash lights to indicate we were having traction problems.

However, the next day I noted a small button on the console, on the far side of the floor shift lever and out of view of the driver. Pressing that button could cause those flashing lights to quit flashing — because it would have activated the traction-control system, which also would have prevented us from having the white-knuckle tendency to spin!

Sure enough, we ventured downtown and scaled some of Duluth’s steepest hills without any indication it wanted to spin. So maybe the Nokians have another year in them, and the trusty Mini Cooper is trustier than I described.


September 19, 2018 by · Comments Off on sportshort
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What happened last night in sports up north.

CR-V adds turbo power to stay on top

June 28, 2017 by · Comments Off on CR-V adds turbo power to stay on top
Filed under: Weekly test drives, Autos, Uncategorized 

Honda’s CR-V compact crossover SUV keeps improving, now with turbo power.

By John Gilbert

   If you know folks who own a Honda CR-V, chances are they love it. And, chances are it might be four or five years old, or older, and they still love it.

   The CR-V has been an enduring vehicle for Honda, helping establish the trend toward compact SUVs, which proved immensely popular when gasoline was expensive, and have continued their upsurge in popularity even when gasoline became cheap.

   With the new 2017 CR-V, Honda has made so many changes that its left even popular auto magazines in the distance. Take Motor Trend, for example. That magazine runs annual editions that run little capsule descriptions of all the new cars, trucks, and SUVs. It is very helpful if you’re looking at buying a new vehicle, because it helps with the research and cuts down the usual comparison shopping chore.

    That issue came out last October. In its capsules, it ran pieces on the all-new Ridgeline, the Pilot, the Odyssey van, the HR-V, and the CR-V. Under CR-V, it says: “The CR-V remains unchanged. All CR-Vs are powered by a 185 horsepower 2.4-liter inline-4…”

    I got the chance to spend a week with a new 2017 CR-V, and it was remarkably peppy and handled extremely well, and it had quite a different look to it. Unchanged? I think it is greatly changed.

CR-V’s thorough new design has flashier exterior and luxury interior.

  Believing Motor Trend, I didn’t bother to look under the hood for several days. The CR-V ran well, handling all weather conditions, and seemed to uphold the tradition of being a new halo vehicle for Honda. Finally, I raised the hood. Sure enough, there was no 2.4-liter engine in sight — instead, it was a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder, with a turbocharger hanging onto the engine. 

    Honda is not new to turbocharging, and in fact has some progressive engineers who have established breakthrough technology with some previous turbos on vehicles such as the Acura RD-X. And Honda has used turbos to extremes while fiddling at the highest echelon of motorsports, places such as the Indianapolis 500 and Formula 1.  

Ergonomics always have been a staple of CR-V design and the new one doesn’t vary.

Honda had resisted the temptation to add turbochargers to its mainstream production vehicles. Turbos take a stream of exhaust gases that are headed for the tailpipes, and instead channels the flow to spin a generator turbine wheel that, in turn, force-feeds a more potent airflow into the engine’s intake. That air sucks in more fuel, and the result is more power and more efficiency.

   The new CR-V, changed quite dramatically, thank you, is also changed under the hood. Instead of a 2.4-liter that produces 185 horsepower, the comparatively tiny 1.5 develops a quite amazing 190 horsepower and 179 foot-pounds of torque, thanks to the turbo.

    While it feels light and agile (because it is!), the CR-V also has improved fuel efficiency, up to EPA ratings of 26 miles per gallon city, and 32 mpg in highway driving. All the while feeling quicker and more agile.


All controls are within fingertip reach from the driver’s standpoint.

Other more subtle tricks include a more aerodynamic shape amplified by  an active-shutter grille, which closes at cruising speed, when cooling isn’t needed, to form a barrier against air streaming in.

    Honda now has bracketed the CR-V with an all-new larger Pilot, which is a truly full-featured luxury SUV now, and a smaller and more basic HR-V, which I was slightly disappointed in, but only because I was accustomed to the CR-V and the high standards it had set and maintained.

   The new CR-V comes in various forms, starting with the LX at a base price of just over $26,000; the EX starting at $26,695; the EX-L (meaning leather upholstery) starting at $29,000; and the Touring model, starting at $32,000. The base LX starts with a front-wheel drive version, which should handled even Duluth type winter driving without difficulty. But the available all-wheel drive is the trick answer, because it is a “real-time” system that transfers torque away from any wheel where any tendency to spin is detected by the sharp-witted computer.


Compact on the outside, the CR-V is spacious on the inside.

Stressing its safety and creature-feature style, the CR-V has Honda Sensing, which includes a suite of items such as lane-keep assist, collision mitigation, and road-departing mitigation which use computer aided technology to alert you if you wander across a lane-dividing line without signaling, and can be set to gently prevent you from wandering across that lane line.

   Honda also has added the trick first developed by Ford for its Escape, where you can walk up to the CR-V from behind, holding your sacks of groceries, and wave your foot under the rear bumper, causing the tailgate to unlatch and open. Very handy.

   The interior of the CR-V is upgraded too, although I’d like to make a strong suggestion to Honda to be careful how they “improve” their controls and switchgear.

     My favorite feature of all Hondas is that they tend to have ergonomically perfect instruments and controls, meaning that you reach for something and it’s there. Even if you’ve never been in the vehicle, the lights are right where you think they should be, same with the wipers.

    In recent model changeovers, however, there seems to be the tendency to make some items a bit more complex. Don’t do that! The CR-V still has logical redundant switches on the steering wheel, and you can pretty well operate everything from there.

    Otherwise, you can operate the audio system’s technical complexities via the large navigation screen, which includes touch-screen operation. Personally, I’m not a fan of touch-screens. Seems to me, after three or four days, you need some high-tech stuff to clean the fingerprints off the touch-screen.


Nothing has changed more than the grille on each CR-V generation, and this time the stylists got it right.

Especially if you’ve stopped by the Great Lakes! Candy Shop in Knife River, and got overly friendly with some of those home-made caramel things. Let’s see you try to make it all the way home without sampling some of the goodies, after which you need some high-test washer fluid to clean the touch-screen.

    As for the prices of the CR-V stable, each model offers all the features of the previous model, plus some added stuff. So the prices go up commensurately and each level seems to be a relative bargain. And while the basic LX is in the mid-$20,000 range, the completely loaded Touring model might reach the mid-$30,000 level. My favorite is the EX-L, because I like leather seats, and I’d pay extra for them, as well as the other features that model adds.

    And so as not to embarrass anyone at Motor Trend, we’ll keep it a secret as we jump at that 1.5-liter turbo with its CVT, accepting power increases over the 2.4, as well as delivering fuel economy of over 30 mpg on the highway.

Cute Fiat 500x handles ‘Minnesota Riviera’

January 18, 2017 by · Comments Off on Cute Fiat 500x handles ‘Minnesota Riviera’
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Cute and capable Fiat 500x proved capable of dealing with Minnesota’s snow and cold.

By John Gilbert

If you want to escape from the rigors of Northern U.S. wintertime, what better destination than sunny Italy? It doesn’t seem as logical to go from Italy to Northern Minnesota’s ice-locked clime in January, but that’s what my little red Fiat 500x did for a week.

I knew it was not overmatched, when we got hit with a Duluth-quality blizzard of 6-8 inches of snow, followed by a bone-chilling 20-below-zero frigid spell. My wife, Joan, delivered a bowl of hot oatmeal in the dawn’s early light, and as I finished a follow-up cup of coffee, I stood up, pulled out the Fiat 500x key fob and aimed it out the kitchen window. Push the  button twice, watch the lights blink, and notice the exhaust vapor streaming out of the tailpipes. Autostart. What a wonderful invention.

When it was time to leave, I bundled myself into my favorite down parka and headed out, climbing into an already soothingly warm vehicle. With all-wheel drive in the 500x, all was well. Well, almost. The only failure of the Fiat 500x is the inclusion of Nexen tires, which I’m sure are very smooth, round Korean-made tires for nearly every road surface. “Nearly every” does not include Duluth, Minnesota, avenues in wintertime.

The Fiat 500x tried to hide under a blanket of snow, but its Italian red showed through.

Switching the 500x to all-wheel drive didn’t help much, because the Nexens wanted to slither around dangerously anytime you applied throttle. I found, in fact, that leaving the 500x in front-wheel drive worked almost better, because you only had the front tires spinning and slithering instead of all four seeking their own direction.

We have a joint venture here, with an American company contributing a lot to the mix, an Italian company putting it all together, and a Korean company supplying the basic 2.4-liter engine design, and those Nexen tires.

If the 500x had some highly competent all-season or winter tires — my choice continues to be Nokian — the car would have been the greatest winter “sleeper” car on the planet. As it was, an AWD crossover shouldn’t require white-knuckling inside your gloves. Read more