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2014 Honda Accord Hybrid first drive

Honda finally delivers a worthy midsized hybrid sedan

Published: October 21, 2013 01:30 PM
2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

A year after the launch of the redesigned 2013 Honda Accord—which was our 2013 Top Pick midsized sedan—the automaker has brought out an impressive hybrid version, set to do battle with the hybrid editions of the Ford Fusion and Toyota Camry.

Unlike the lame mild-hybrid Accord that debuted in 2005 and died on the vine shortly afterward, this new Accord Hybrid is the real deal. It is a technically elegant sedan that we expect to attain about the same overall fuel economy (38 mpg or so) as the category-leading Camry and Fusion. For a fee, we sampled an early-production model from Honda.

The Accord Hybrid officially goes on sale on October 31, with a price range of $29,155 to $34,905. That works out to a premium of about $3,600 over a four-cylinder Accord or $1,500 over an Accord V6. But it’s a lot less than the $40,000 Accord Plug-in Hybrid that came out last spring.

The new Accord Hybrid’s powertrain uses an efficient four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors juiced by a 1.3-kW lithium-ion battery pack. The electric-motor setup essentially acts as a continuously variable transmission, which Honda calls E-CVT. The only time the gas engine is directly connected to the front wheels is when the car is in the equivalent of top gear for highway cruising. At other times, the gas engine generates electricity to power the electric traction motor and recharge the battery pack. Total system output is rated at a competitive 196 horsepower.

The EPA labels the Accord Hybrid fuel economy at 47 mpg combined, but experience tells us that when it comes to hybrid powertrains, EPA estimates tend to be especially optimistic. (Read: "Ford Took Advantage of EPA Loophole Big Enough to Drive a Hybrid Car Through.")

On the road

No matter how you slice it, the Hybrid’s powertrain is slick. The car sets off decisively, gliding on abundant electric-motor torque. Transitions between electric-only and gas-assisted power are barely perceptible. And unlike other hybrids, the brake pedal feels natural and linear despite its regenerative-braking duties. No learning curve needed. On my 160-mile commute, the trip computer registered 38 mpg overall, which puts it right in line with the hybrid versions of the Camry or Fusion.

In typical driving, it’s quite easy to loaf around town on electric power alone, so long as you keep your speed below 35 mph or so. There is also an EV button that lets you lock in electric-only mode; the car’s brains overrule that if you dare to be in a hurry or when the battery charge level is not full enough.

The cabin is quieter than in a normal Accord four-cylinder. The difference is partly because the gas engine runs less often and doesn’t need to rev as high. Ride comfort is about on par with the regular Accord, meaning that it’s compliant enough but not entirely settled with choppy ride motions unbefitting for a $30,000 car. Handling is responsive, but steering feel is not terrific.

Maybe the biggest drawback to the Accord Hybrid is that the battery pack robs about a third of the trunk space, and since it sits right behind the rear seats, those seats can’t fold down to increase cargo room. There isn’t even a modest pass-through. While the Camry Hybrid has a good-sized opening to the rear cabin, the Fusion Hybrid wins here with fold-down seat and regular pass-though provision.

As with other Accords, the roomy cabin is nicely furnished. However, the double-screen infotainment system shared with most other Accords is a bit frustrating, since even basic radio functions require multiple steps. On this car, the fussy on-board computer bombards you with multiple fuel economy figures, including those from the last drive, the best ever, and whatnot.

Consumer Reports' take: Overall, marrying its slick hybrid technology to the already capable Accord and at a reasonable price is good news. It would be great if Honda were to use this system for its other so-called hybrid vehicles.

We’ll be buying our own Accord Hybrid soon, at which point we’ll be able to give more precise information on how it stands up to the competition from Ford, Toyota, and others.

Gabe Shenhar

   

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