Honda Hybrids

Hybrid Hondas

What exactly is a hybrid? Hybrid vehicles combine an electric motor (or motors) with an internal combustion engine (ICE). Sometimes the motor and the engine work independently and sometimes they work together. The battery pack that powers the motor is charged by the gas engine and by regenerative braking. Note: this battery pack is different from the auxiliary battery used to start the ICE and power various accessories. With plug-in hybrid vehicles (like Honda’s Clarity) you can charge the battery pack via an electrical outlet as well. Most hybrids are not of the plug-in variety though they are becoming increasingly available. The electric motor is used on its own when pulling away from a stop and for short distances at low speeds. Hybrids also employ start-stop systems. When the vehicle comes to a stop the gas engine is switched off and is started again when the accelerator is pressed. Stop-start systems are spreading to gas engine only cars as well.

What advantages are there in driving a hybrid vehicle? These mostly come down to burning less fuel since the gas engine is used less often. That saves money and is more environmentally friendly. The ICEs used in hybrid vehicles are often unique to the hybrid models in a given manufacturer’s line up, smaller and engineered or modified for maximum fuel economy. They may be less powerful than engines in ICE only cars however that deficit can be made up, at least in part, with the contribution of the electric motor. Electric motors are good at producing torque, the twist force that gets a vehicle moving, and all of that torque that it produces is available from the start. That allows for brisk acceleration at low speeds. Since the electric motor is used most in stop and go traffic and at lower speeds the greatest fuel economy benefits are realized with city driving.

Do hybrid vehicles come with any disadvantages? Well, the purchase cost of hybrids is typically higher than that of their comparably equipped gasoline engine only counterparts. Rebates may be available from your provincial government and from the federal government, depending on the specific model. Regular maintenance costs are about the same since. Regenerative braking systems can extend the life of the brake pads so there can be some small savings there. Of greater concern is the cost of repairs associated with hybrid specific components, particularly the battery pack. Real life experience with high km hybrid taxis suggests that battery packs are actually quite robust and long lasting but there is still the high cost of replacing the pack eventually.

Canada’s climate highlights a particular vulnerability of hybrid vehicles. Batteries discharge more quickly as temperatures drop and as a result the gas engine will be used more of the time, potentially reducing a hybrid’s fuel economy advantage during our long winters.

Is a Honda hybrid vehicle right for you? This really depends on your driving habits. If your daily commute is short and most of your trips are quick then you’ll spend more time running on electricity alone. The more time spent in this mode the greater the savings. As such, hybrids appeal to taxi drivers who typically put a lot of city km on their vehicles and hang onto them for a long time. If you have a longer commute and want to take your vehicle on longer trips regularly then driving a hybrid makes less sense, economically, as it can take quite a while for the fuel savings to make up for the extra cost of buying a hybrid vehicle. Of course, high gas prices can always change that equation. Does resale value help compensate for higher initial purchase cost? That can be hard to pin down since hybrids still sell in small numbers in Canada but are growing in popularity.

Of course, hybrid vehicles are a fine choice for those who place a high priority on reducing their carbon footprint. Driving a hybrid can make significant contribution to that effort. Interestingly, choosing between the regular and hybrid version of a particular model may become thing of the past before too long. The latest generations of some vehicles are in fact only being offered with hybrid powertrains. Honda’s goal is to electrify (use electric motors to power their vehicles in whole or in part) two-thirds of its fleet by 2030.

Currently (no pun intended), Honda Canada has three hybrid vehicles for you to choose from. Honda’s entry level hybrid is the Insight. Entry level doesn’t mean a penalty box. The Insight is based on the award winning Civic. Here’s what Car and Driver has to say: “[The Insight] shares many components with the popular Honda Civic sedan, and delivers a similarly pleasant driving experience and roomy, practical interior. [Its] minimal price premium over the Civic and superb fuel economy make it a smart buy.” Next up is the Accord Hybrid. It brings all of the usual Accord goodness to the table in addition to stellar fuel economy. This from U.S. News: “[The] Honda Accord Hybrid is a great car. It stands out in our hybrid and electric car rankings because of its large trunk, smooth ride, and stellar fuel economy estimates.” Finally, we have the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid. The Clarity has an all-electric range of up to 76 km and its battery can be charged using a standard household outlet. Edmunds praises the Clarity’s smooth and quite ride and comfy, well-appointed cabin.

There you have it: three excellent choices for those thinking green. Keep your eye on Honda going forward for more electrified additions to the Honda family. In the meantime, check out this blog post for ways to maximize your fuel economy, whatever you may be driving.