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Honda hybrid ranks as top family sedan

On the Consumer Reports track in Connecticut, where some 200 vehicles are put through 45 tests, a familiar nameplate with a new power system is this year's top pick of family sedans — the Honda Accord Hybrid.

“I think hybrid technology has gone mainstream with this car,” says David Champion, who leads the Consumer Reports auto test team.

With an electric motor assisting the V-6 gasoline engine, Champion gave the hybrid high marks for fuel economy at 25 miles per gallon.

“If you're cruising at highway speeds, it will cut down onto three cylinders if the road is relatively flat,” he says.

The test for acceleration blew away Consumer Reports' engineers. Hybrids have a less-than-peppy reputation, but this hybrid goes from zero to 60 a half-second faster than the all-gas version.

What is it that gives this car so much oomph?

“It's the electric motor that really adds the power, or adds the torque to the engine,” says Champion. “That allows it to really launch itself off the line.”

The Accord is not the only hybrid to do well. Toyota's Prius won top honors in owner satisfaction, with 94 percent saying they would buy another.

With more hybrids hitting the road this year, Craig Van Batenberg is teaching mechanics across the country how to work on these vehicles. The first rule: Turn off the electricity.

“That's what technicians are doing now," says Van Batenberg, an instructor at the Automotive Career Development Center in Wooster, Mass.  “They're de-powering this, and making sure the battery pack is isolated from the rest of the car before they start doing any work.”

And in crashes, experts say hybrids and their electric batteries aren't any more dangerous than traditional vehicles.

“They've got cutoffs built into the system,” says Brian O'Neill with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “And for the rescue squads, there are special procedures, because you don't want to be cutting away, cutting into high power.”

Once thought of only for lovers of Planet Earth, this new technology is making its mark with lovers of performance.