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Green War: Honda or Toyota, whose hybrid car should you buy?

Which among the two eco-friendly hybrid sedans – the Honda Accord Hybrid and the Toyota Camry Hybrid – should you bet your money on?

business Updated: Jan 09, 2017 11:39 IST
Autocar

A few years ago, you’d have to be a) very rich and b) very ecologically minded to consider a hybrid car. Yes, fuel-saving ‘micro hybrid’ technology has made it to many affordable cars – the SHVS-equipped Maruti Ciaz and Ertiga diesels, for instance, but ‘proper’ hybrids were prohibitively expensive. And with frugal diesel-powered options available for much less money, the case for going hybrid was weakened further. However, hybrid technology has trickled down to lower segments, so it’s possible to do your bit for the environment without having to break the bank. Plus, the uncertainty over future regulations on diesel cars has also got buyers thinking of alternatives. In the premium executive sedan segment, there are no greener and more efficient alternatives than the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the new Honda Accord Hybrid.

The Hybrid marks the return of the Accord to India and also serves as a technological showcase for Honda. Built in Japan, the fully imported Accord Hybrid is unfortunately subject to the full spectrum of Indian taxes and duties, and as a result, costs a hefty Rs 37 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). Toyota, on the other hand, assembles the Camry Hybrid in India, which qualifies the sedan for incentives under the government’s Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid and) Electric Vehicles in India or FAME India scheme. Hence, it costs a far more reasonable Rs 30.9 lakh.

On price alone, the Camry has the Accord beat. But does the Accord Hybrid have some surprises in store?

Both the Accord and the Camry hybrids have efficient petrol engines and electric motors that combine to form single-drive systems. However, both systems are quite different.

The Camry uses a 160hp 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol and 143hp electric motor. It can run in full electric mode at low speeds and switches to a combination of electric and engine power (for a total output of 205hp) when you go faster, both sources driving the front wheels via a CVT gearbox. The battery pack recharges via regeneration that is when the car is slowing down or cruising.

The Accord, on the other hand, uses a 145hp 2.0-litre petrol but has a peppier 184hp electric motor. The real talking points, however, are the car’s three drive modes. In the first, EV mode, the Accord runs solely on battery power. As the battery depletes and/or speeds increase, the system switches to Hybrid mode. Here, the engine steps in, not to drive the front wheels but to power the electric motor. The third is ‘Engine mode’ where the petrol engine directly drives the front wheels at speeds of 80kph and over. The electric motor steps in when you require more performance. This way you get a total of 215hp.

 Specifications Honda Accord Hybrid Toyota Camry Hybrid
L/W/H 4933/1849/ 1464mm4850/1825/ 1480mm
Wheelbase2776mm2775mm
Kerb weight 1620kg1635kg
Engine 4 cyls, 1993cc, petrol4 cyls, 2494cc, petrol
Fuel tank60 litres65 litres
Total max power215hp 205hp
0-100 8.32sec9.20sec
Fuel economy (City/highway)17.4/19.6kpl14.1/15.7kpl
Prices (ex-showroom, Delhi)Rs 37 lakhRs 30.9 lakh

Time to find out how they drive. Expectantly, both cars run silently on electric power but the Honda clearly replenishes its batteries faster during city driving conditions. As a result, it’s also the car that goes longer in full EV mode. Just that you have to be very gentle with the throttle to keep the Accord running as an electric vehicle; it quickly switches to Hybrid mode when you even lightly up the pace. Also, when the engine kicks in, it’s the noisier one here. While the Accord rarely gets into Engine mode in city conditions, it’s remarkable how seamless the transition is from Hybrid to Engine mode.

The Camry may not have the Accord’s electric range but its EV mode does allow you to be a bit more liberal with the throttle before the engine kicks in. The engine itself is mostly smooth but get the Camry excited and there’s no escaping that there’s a CVT in the picture – revs rise faster than a corresponding rise in speed.

Both cars offer adequate performance in town but the Accord always feels a bit livelier; it also has a Sport mode that quickens up responses. The Honda is quicker from 0-100kph with a time of 8.32sec to the Camry’s time of 9.2sec. However, acceleration figures don’t help sell hybrid cars. Fuel economy figures do. And it’s here that the Accord really shines. Its 17.4kpl city fuel efficiency significantly betters the Camry’s respectable 14.1kpl figure. Both cars are extremely frugal on highways too, but once again the Accord is the one that will take you further on a litre of petrol.

Efficient, green and powerful as these cars are, they won’t excite the keen driver when changing directions. There isn’t all that much between the duo in ride comfort either. The Accord has the marginally nicer low-speed ride and also feels a touch more planted at higher speeds.

What’s nice is that both these cars offer comfort and space in abundance. However, the Honda has a nicer back seat, and in true Accord fashion, offers sofa-like comfort. Its seating position and overall ambience are better than the Camry’s too. The Camry seats rear occupants lower resulting in a slightly knees-up seating position. However, it’s got more headroom, a more usable middle seat and also the option to electrically recline the outer seat’s backrests. Both the Camry and the Accord allow you to adjust the front passenger seat from the back to free up more legroom.

Both cars also offer comfortable and generous front seats. Still, the Accord’s cabin is far better finished and the multi-layer dash, replete with dual screens, looks more modern. There’s also a feeling of solidity in the manner its doors shut.

The Camry is well built too, but the cabin just doesn’t feel special enough for the price. The touchscreen on the dash looks like an aftermarket add-on and there’s way too much shiny faux wood and too many plain buttons in what should be a premium cabin.

What Toyota has done is equipped the Camry Hybrid rather well. It comes with a three-zone climate control, audio controls in the rear armrest, electric rear sun shade, ventilated front seats and powered steering adjust. The Accord has some highlights of its own too. Its driver’s seat gets a memory function; there’s a sunroof; satellite navigation is standard; and the infotainment system comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Both cars get seven airbags and a whole host of electronic safety aids. The Accord additionally features what Honda calls LaneWatch. Here, the centre screen relays images from the left side mirror thus giving a visual of any blind spots.

An important point to bring in is that the Camry gets a full-size spare tyre while the Accord only comes with a puncture repair kit. Even so, the Accord has a marginally smaller boot with the battery pack eating into luggage space.

A word here on the way these cars look. The Camry is smart but some may find the cuts and creases up front unnecessary. The Accord, on the other hand, looks sleek and relatively sportier.

Truth is, the Accord Hybrid is the more desirable car. It feels newer; got the nicer interior and is more high-tech under its attractive skin. And for what it’s worth, it’s also the more fuel-efficient car. But good as the Accord Hybrid is, it’s not good enough to justify the Rs 7 lakh premium over the Camry.

The Camry Hybrid may be down on appeal but it works well as a hybrid and there’s just no arguing the financial case it makes. It really is the more sensible buy of this duo.