When Honda introduced its first Accord Hybrid back in 2004, the company made a rare misstep by engineering and marketing the car as a performance hybrid instead of a fuel economy champion. It lasted just three model years and sales were dismal. That won't be the case with the second-generation car.
The 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid is EPA rated at 50 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway. More importantly, the combined rating is 47 mpg, and Honda's new two-motor hybrid system (introduced last year with the Accord Plug-In Hybrid) aims to deliver those numbers to all but the incurably lead-footed.
You Can Get Over 50 MPG, Sort of
Yeah, if your driving style is best described as "asleep at the wheel," or "featherfoot," you can get 50 mpg...or more. Drivers with lots of patience and no apparent reluctance to inconvenience others on the road, turned in 70-mpg-plus averages on a short city loop Honda set up during our test-drive in the suburbs outside of San Antonio. (That's miles-per-gallon as shown on the car's own fuel economy gauge, so we can't vouch for its accuracy.)
In "average" driving with no jackrabbit starts, no last-minute braking and strict adherence to speed limits, the top-of-the-line Accord Hybrid Touring we drove over a 47-mile combination city-country route returned 49.1 mpg overall.
But in a pair of much shorter drives near the University of Texas San Antonio campus, two other 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid models didn't fare as well. On a 9.2-mile run we attained just 41.8 mpg in a midlevel EX-L, while the lighter base EX over a slightly truncated 8.6-mile version of the same route delivered 42.9 mpg. Fuel efficiency on those drives suffered a little from an abundance of small hills that kept the two-motor hybrid system from really strutting its stuff.
Honda's Unique Hybrid System
Honda has always gone its own way in the hybrid arena, and its new system keeps that streak going. Honda engineers deftly combined a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine that develops 141 horsepower packaged with a pair of electric motors. One motor powers the front wheels, while the other, the motor-generator, is relegated solely to making electricity. The two motors have a maximum output of 166 hp, and when they are operating in conjunction with the gas engine the powertrain delivers a total maximum of 196 hp and 226 pound-feet of torque.
The Accord Hybrid can operate in three different modes: all-electric, series hybrid mode or gasoline-only mode. Pure EV mode only works when the battery charge is adequate, and in our time behind the wheel that seemed to be as much as 20 percent of the time. The all-electric EV mode even kicks in occasionally on flat or downhill terrain when cruising at highway speeds.
In hybrid mode, the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid doesn't use its gas engine for propulsion. It is a true "series" hybrid (similar to the Chevrolet Volt) in which the internal-combustion engine is used only to drive the motor-generator. The power computer decouples the engine from the wheels and directs its power to the motor-generator. The electricity produced by the spinning generator is then delivered to the drive motor, which turns the front wheels while any excess power is stored in the lithium-ion battery.
At highway speeds, when the gasoline engine is at its most efficient, the power controller shuts down the electric drive motor and lets the four-cylinder, dual-overhead cam, i-VTEC engine do its thing.
Doesn't Use a Traditional Transmission
For ease of communication, Honda calls the "transmission" in the Accord Hybrid an e-CVT, which would stand for electronic continuously variable transmission if it really were one. However, there is no actual transmission, CVT or otherwise. The electric motors do the job.
When the gas engine is propelling the car, the connection to the front wheels is made directly through the electric drive motor, which allows the output shaft to spin at a rate that would approximate 6th gear in a standard Honda six-speed automatic.
In EV and Hybrid modes, when power to the front wheels is all coming from the electric drive motor, the car doesn't need a transmission because of the electric motor's ability to deliver full torque instantaneously. The motor operates as a single-speed reduction gear to deliver maximum power to the wheels.
So How Does It Drive?
Honda didn't put us on a test track or even in an area where a fast run down the freeway was possible, but we did have lots of curves, small hills and traffic signals on our driving routes.
In those conditions, the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid drives, well, like a Honda Accord. It is peppy, exhibits very little body lean on corners, is fairly responsive despite its electric steering and it is quite comfortable. The ride is a bit stiffer than we remember in most Accords, although Honda claims that it's set up just like the conventionally powered models. The brakes are smooth and don't exhibit the low-speed grabbiness some hybrids and EVs exhibit as a side effect of the switch from regenerative to mechanical braking.
The car's e-CVT "transmission" does a good job of mimicking the feel of a more traditional setup. Much of the time there's none of that disconcerting disconnect between the accelerator pedal and actual engine revs for which "standard" CVTs are so well known. And Honda's powertrain engineers have done a masterful job of integrating the gas engine and electric propulsion systems. Even the engine idle-stop (also called auto stop-start) operates with nary a stutter or shudder.
The Cost of All That Efficiency
The 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid comes in one body style (four-door midsize sedan) and three trim levels. The base EX starts at $29,945 including Honda's $790 destination charge, which pushes it to roughly $3,000 above the price of a standard Accord EX. The midlevel EX-L jumps to $32,695 and the line-topping Touring begins at $35,695.
The hybrid is based on the standard 2014 Accord, so there's not much difference in standard equipment other than a few styling tweaks. These include hybrid-unique 17-inch aero-styled alloy wheels, low-rolling-resistance tires, LED daylight running lamps, blue-accented taillights, a blue-accented grille and hybrid badges. There's also a tiny spoiler lip on the rear deck lid and an air diffuser beneath the rear bumper, both designed to improve aerodynamics.
Inside, there's a unique instrument display that shows power use levels on the left side of the speedometer and battery charge and (gasoline) fuel levels on the right side. The information display centered in the big, round speedo shows all the regular stuff, like turn-by-turn directions and which safety systems (such as lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control) are engaged. It also has a hybrid-only power flow meter that shows whether power is coming from the engine, the electric motor or both, and also when power is being sent from the engine or wheels to the battery.
Because the Accord Hybrid's battery is mounted behind the rear seatback, it eats up about 20 percent of the truck space, cutting it to 12.7 cubic feet from the standard Accord's 15.8 cubic feet.
A Hybrid for the Anti-Prius Crowd
Like so many hybrids before it, this Accord Hybrid doesn't make perfect sense from a financial standpoint. It will take a while to recoup the extra $3,000 cost, especially considering that the standard four-cylinder Accord is pretty good on gas to begin with.
Then again, even if this Accord doesn't pencil out in strict dollar terms, it does make sense for those drivers who simply want a refined, spacious and efficient sedan that doesn't scream hybrid. The trunk might be slightly smaller and the ride a bit firmer, but the ability to drive any way you want and still get more than 40 mpg has its draw, certainly more so than the performance angle Honda touted the first time around.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.