As much as the folks at Honda don't like to hear it, when most people think "gasoline-electric hybrid," it's Toyota that comes mind.
After several unsuccessful attempts to break that “hybrid = Toyota” connection with vehicles such as the Civic Hybrid, Accord V-6 Hybrid and the second generation of the Insight, Honda is trying once again with the new Accord Hybrid. This time they’ve struck gold.
The Accord Hybrid is an excellent automobile that bristles with innovative approaches to hybrid technology. It uses an efficient Atkinson cycle, 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors. One drives the car, the other acts as a generator and is powered by the gasoline engine.
Here is how it works in daily use. Start the car, and if there is sufficient charge on the lithium-ion battery, the Accord Hybrid moves smoothly and quietly under electric power. Once the battery charge is depleted, the gasoline engine starts to recharge the battery. Finally, the gasoline engine can also directly power the car, kicking in at speeds over 40 miles per hour. The driver can feel a slight surge during transitions to the gasoline engine.
The Accord Hybrid delivers its power through fixed ratio gearing with the gasoline engine running. There is no conventional transmission in the vehicle.
Despite this unique technology, the Accord Hybrid drives like any other car. However, it operates with the smoothness of an electric car while sipping fuel at a stingy pace. My wife Paul and I averaged 47.5 miles per gallon at the end of our review week. This is Toyota Prius territory and it easily eclipses the last Camry Hybrid we had. Acceleration to 60 miles per hour took 8.2 seconds.
Handling is rewarding. However, testing on a closed track revealed that this current Accord is far more capable than its responses in daily driving suggest. Pressed through turns at irrationally high speeds, the Accord remained composed, balanced and responsive. Braking is also smooth and powerful.
Honda uses regenerative braking in the Accord Hybrid. That means that much of the slowdown is harnessed to recharge the batteries, capturing energy that would otherwise be thrown away by the brakes. I could detect no transitions between regenerative slowing and the application of the brakes.
The instrument panel features a speedometer ringed by a narrow green line that turns blue when the driver presses too hard on the accelerator, thus scuttling fuel economy for the rewards that come from the effortless electric-smooth acceleration. The Accord Hybrid also offers an “Econ” setting that adjusts fuel-consuming systems to maximize efficiency. I used it throughout the test period.
The interior is very comfortable. Our mid-level EX-L review car featured a power sunroof, leather upholstery and heated front seats. It also came with forward collision and lane departure warning systems. Stepping up to the Touring model adds active cruise control, LED headlamps, a navigation system and hard disc drive music storage for the audio system.
One of the few downfalls of the Accord Hybrid is in the trunk, which is only 12.3 cubic feet. Honda also eliminates the folding rear seat and any pass-through between the trunk and passenger cabin to accommodate the Hybrid’s components.
Still, this Accord works so smoothly, and produces such impressive fuel economy that it deserves a thorough look by anyone in the hybrid sedan marketplace. While more typical driving styles could well drop fuel economy into the 38 to 40 mile per gallon range, this Accord Hybrid is still an impressive economy car that features near-luxury car room, ride and comfort.
I really liked the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid. It’s roomy, smooth, a pleasure to drive and economical. To put it in perspective, it beats my own diesel-powered compact for room, comfort, performance and fuel economy, but not trunk size. The Accord Hybrid’s advantage in miles-per-gallon was slight, but when you add in diesel price premium over the regular grade gasoline consumed by this Accord, the Honda’s advantage is hard to ignore.
The mid-level EX-L is quite comfortable and includes an upgraded audio system and sunroof in addition to safety features such as forward collision warning and lane departure warning. This last feature didn’t wait until I wandered into the other lane without using the directional signal, instead beeping and flashing at me as soon as I was close to lane marking. I ended up calling it the lane departure nagging system, though I really do like the feature.
You would lose these two warnings, along with the leather upholstery and heated front seats if you opted for the base model. You would also keep $2,750 in your pocket, thanks to the base version’s lower price.
All the trim levels include a backup camera and Honda’s Lane Watch system. This is a camera under the right outside mirror that gives the driver a view of cars that might be lurking in the blind spot on the right side. It uses the large and clear central screen on the instrument panel and is activated when the right directional signal is turned on. It even includes reference lines for judging distance and it can be switched on for a view of the line or curb when backing into a parking space or when parallel parking.
I agree with my husband Jim about the small trunk. Its depth is limited in the Hybrid models, but it still has good width and a reasonable liftover height. The trunk is also missing a spare tire. Honda includes an inflation emergency repair kit in the well below the trunk floor.
Still, the Accord Hybrid would be a top contender on my list if I were in the market for a new car.
Engine: 2.0 liter four-cylinder
HP: 141 (166 electric motor); 195 total
Torque: (lb/ft): 122 (226 electric motor)
Starts at: $29,155
Next week: Volkswagen Passat TDI
Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show airing Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115, or email firstname.lastname@example.org