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Honda Accord Hybrid overpromises, underdelivers

Besides its fuel economy, let us count the ways

Last updated: July 21, 2014 12:30 PM

Many of today’s hybrids get really impressive gas mileage. Unfortunately, they also frequently overpromise based on official EPA fuel economy ratings. That’s the case with the Honda Accord Hybrid. We also found that the Accord Hybrid makes a few other sacrifices compared to the basic four-cylinder Accord.

First, the good news: The Honda Accord Hybrid is the first midsized sedan we’ve tested that gets 40 mpg overall in combined city and highway driving. That’s impressive. But it is much less than the Accord Hybrid’s official combined fuel economy rating of 47 mpg, as advertised on the car’s window sticker and touted in print and television ads.

The Accord Hybrid isn’t the first hybrid we’ve found that doesn’t live up to its EPA rating, nor does it fall as far short as some others. When we tested one of its major competitors, the Ford Fusion Hybrid, also with the 47 mpg EPA rating, we found it returned just 39 mpg. The Ford C-Max Hybrid, with the same advertised rating, achieved just 37 mpg. All the hybrids we’ve tested have fallen short of their official estimates to one degree or another. This is more of an artifact of the EPA testing than the manufacturers’ fault.

Since hybrid systems usually have a bigger effect on city fuel economy, the Accord Hybrid may sound especially enticing to city drivers. But in our city test, we found the car gets only 33 mpg, compared with 50 mpg on the window sticker.

Visit our fuel economy guide to learn how to get the most MPG on your current car.

Unfortunately, even missing its fuel economy estimates isn’t our biggest problem with the Accord Hybrid. In driving the car for thousands of miles and running it through our more than 50 standard tests, we also found that it rides significantly less comfortably than any other Accord we’ve tested. It is a constantly choppy ride that becomes fatiguing.

The Accord Hybrid also uses a unique hybrid transmission system. Or, to put a finer point on it: It doesn’t have a transmission. Rather, the Hybrid’s electric motor provides all the direct power to the wheels at lower speeds, up to about 45 mph—a range where other cars need their lower gears. Above that, a clutch engages the engine directly in top gear. At lower speeds, the engine acts as a generator to provide electricity to the motor.

On paper, this solution is brilliant in its simplicity. In practice, though, we found the engine often has to rev noisily to produce enough electricity at lower speeds. This is particularly disappointing since the basic four-cylinder Accord has one of the least-intrusive continuously variable transmissions on the market. We often complain of CVTs holding revs high and creating engine racket when accelerating. But in the Accord’s case, the hybrid generates a lot more fuss than the four-cylinder with its conventional CVT. And that car still gets 40 mpg on the highway, while costing thousands less. It’s our Top Pick among family sedans.

We love getting great gas mileage, and the Accord Hybrid delivers that. But we’re not so pleased when getting frugal mpg forces us to give up so many other good qualities. Like many buyers, we were expecting more from the Accord Hybrid. For shoppers looking to save money, the clear choice from the Accord line is the basic four-cylinder model.

—Eric Evarts

Editor's Note:

Updated to add Accord vs Accord Hybrid video.

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