Honda built a legacy of innovation by taking the high road when engineering automobiles that became known as the “Honda Way.” This determined focus resulted in the Civic CVCC engine, the first engine to comply with the 1975 Clean Air Act without a catalytic converter in 1974.
Several other “firsts” followed: The world’s first mass-produced aluminum-body automobile, the NSX sports car in 1990; first to develop a production-based gasoline engine certified as meeting Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) exhaust levels in 1995; and the Honda Insight became the first gas-electric hybrid car sold in the U.S. in 1999.
Of late, however, those who write about cars and the auto industry have suggested that over the past few years Honda has “lost the Honda way” or “lost its mojo.”
Enter the 2014 Accord Hybrid as evidence that the automaker hasn’t lost its way. Their mojo engineered a remarkable hybrid system that delivers an EPA fuel economy rating of 50 mpg city/45 mpg highway and 47 mpg combined.
By comparison, Toyota’s Camry Hybrid, the top-selling midsize hybrid in 2013, has EPA numbers of 43 city/39 higway/41 combined for the LE model, 40 city/38 higway/40 combined for the XLE edition.
Unlike any other hybrid system, Honda wisely chose the Accord for its introduction, a midsize sedan with an unbeatable brew of smart engineering, efficient packaging, and rewarding road manners.
Honda offers the Accord Hybrid in three levels. The base model, referred to as Hybrid, is priced at $29,945 including $790 destination charges. Next is the EX-L, $32,965 followed by the top end Touring, $35,695.
Here are the details.
‘Earth Dreams’ Hybrid System
The hybrid powertrain architecture employed by the 2014 Accord Hybrid is a mirror of the Accord Plug-in system with the exception of different-sized battery packs. It falls under the umbrella of Honda’s Earth Dreams Technology, an initiative in which the efficiency of internal combustion components including engine and transmission, as well as electric motor technology, is improved. The goal is a significant reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
Honda calls the Accord’s system, Two-Motor Hybrid Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) System. A mouthful for sure, but it is an elegant engineering design.
i-MMD combines a newly-developed engine dedicated for hybrid vehicles, an electric continuously variable transmission (CVT) coupled with two built-in motors, a lock-up clutch and a lithium ion battery pack. The system switches between three drive modes – electric-only, hybrid and engine drive. The mix of power sources is managed largely by onboard sensors that combine the optimum acceleration and energy usage according to the driving situation.
Producing 141 horsepower and 122 pounds-feet of torque of gasoline power, the new 2.0-liter I-VTEC four-cylinder engine incorporates an Atkinson cycle operation, a first for a Honda engine. For added efficiency the air conditioning compressor and water pump are both powered by the electrical system, and electric power steering eliminates the traditional hydraulic power steering pump. The automaker says it is the most efficient internal combustion engine in the world.
Coupled to the engine are two built-in motors. A 124 kw propulsion motor powers the front wheels while a generator motor, that is always connected to the gas engine, generates electric energy to drive the propulsion motor when the vehicle is operating in the hybrid mode. Combined, the two motors have a maximum output of 166 horsepower. When they operate in conjunction with the gas engine the powertrain delivers a competitive 196 horsepower and 226 pounds-feet of torque.
EV Mode will operate the car on electricity only until the energy from the 1.3 kw battery pack located in the trunk is depleted – around two miles in careful city driving. But, it will also kick in during cruising speeds on flat or downhill roadways.
In hybrid mode, the Accord Hybrid operates similar to the Chevrolet Volt. The gas engine only powers the generator motor, which delivers electrons to the propulsion motor that alone turn the front wheels. If there is additional energy produced, it is directed to the battery.
Engine drive mode mechanically couples the gas engine to the drive wheels via the single-speed transmission. This occurs at highway speeds where the 2.0-liter four is most efficient.
The Accord Hybrid’s transmission operates with some of the characteristics of a continuously variable transmission but the E-CVT, as Honda calls it, isn’t actually a CVT. In fact it’s not like what we would normally call a transmission: no pulleys or belts, no torque converter or drive clutch.
Instead, the E-CVT uses the two electric motors to control both the engine and electric motor rotation via the lock-up clutch. At highway cruising speeds, the clutch is engaged, connecting the drive motor to the generator motor to transmit engine torque directly to the drive wheels. In EV mode, when the battery-powered drive motor is used for either acceleration or regenerative braking, the clutch disengages the stopped gasoline engine from the drivetrain.
A standard straight-gate shifter has two selections. The D position is for normal driving, the B (Brake) position provides significantly increased regenerative braking.
Accord received a clean sheet redesigned for model-year 2013, breaking precedent by shrinking rather than growing in size. It may look longer and sleeker than its immediate predecessor, but the body lost 3.5 inches in length while interior space was increased.
This latest Accord sedan is a model of family car design. Its relatively flat roofline contributes to exceptional headroom, smart packaging creates generous rear-seat legroom, and large side windows let in lots of light.
Its exterior appearance is not the most alluring car in the class – Ford’s Fusion and the Mazda 6 are top contenders for that honor – but it is not without style. An expressive, but not aggressive, grille combined with a curvaceous hood and body sides suggest that the adjective handsome applies here.
What isn’t apparent is low-drag exterior surfaces, including nearly flush windshield glass, combine with careful underbody tailoring that contribute to fuel economy.
There is little to differentiate the 2014 Accord Hybrid from your basic, garden-variety Accord. But eagle-eyed observers will notice its hybrid badging, blue-accented grille and headlamp lenses, rear spoiler and unique wheels.
The Inside Story
Give credit to the interior designers for continuing Accord’s heritage of near-class-leading roominess. Preserved as well is high-grade passenger-compartment materials and workmanship. All automakers are struggling to cut costs and reduce weight, leading to thinner, hard plastic panels in place of more luxurious padded surfaces.
But the Accord avoids this compromise. Every surface the driver and passengers are likely to contact is suitably padded with high-quality looking materials. Panels feel solid to the touch and workmanship is top drawer.
The dashboard also reflects the designer’s eye. There’s a balanced proportion to the instrument panel shape and layout, and dashboard sophistication is up a notch thanks to a standard 8-inch diagonal information screen mounted at its center.
However, there’s a fussiness to the controls that’s bedazzling. Buttons are everywhere, seeming to overtake the center of the dashboard. After a week of driving the Accord Hybrid I couldn’t grasp the markings and the logic of their groupings to use them casually.
The Hybrid has its own dedicated gauge cluster. Centered is a large, round speedometer with simple numerals on a field of matte-black. To the right, battery charge and fuel level gauges are shown and on the left is a power use gauge. There’s also a power flow meter that shows where the power is coming from: engine, electric motor or both.
Efficient interior packaging delights good engineers and the Accord makes the most of a slightly shortened wheelbase to provide abundant front passenger room.
In-cabin storage space is plentiful, and while the standard Accord’s trunk is family-vacation generous, the Hybrid’s is whittled down in size to a couple’s weekend thanks to the placement of the battery pack.
Tech Feature Rich
The available features list witnesses Honda’s commitment to bringing technology front and center. Standard on the base Hybrid is Smart Entry and Start, a rearview camera system with Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot display, Bluetooth, Pandora integration, SMS text capability, dual-zone automatic climate control, a ten-way power driver’s seat and a six-speaker audio system.
A step up to the EX-L model adds Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning systems, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a moonroof, premium audio and the new HondaLink that connects the car via the owner’s smartphone to music and media resources such as Aha by Harman, Internet apps, roadside assistance and more.
The high feature Touring model adds Adaptive Cruise Control and a voice-recognition navigation system.
Standard features on all Hybrid models include Honda’s double-pane Expanded View Driver’s Mirror, cruise control and a tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio controls.
Behind The Steering Wheel
The 2014 Accord Hybrid is more fun than a responsible midsize hybrid family sedan has a right to be.
A characteristic of the Hybrid’s handling package is torque steer, which plagues lots of overpowered front-wheel-drive cars. Put your foot to the floor and the Hybrid will reward you with a slight tug to one side on the steering wheel and a chirp from the tires, which is only the churning brew of gasoline and electricity under the hood trying to assert itself.
And who thought that would ever be said about a five-passenger hybrid family car?
OK, a 0 to 60 time of 7.1 seconds isn’t sport sedan quick, but it beats the four-cylinder gasoline Accord with a CVT by a half a second. Oh, it is also quicker than those other hybrid family sedans. You know, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.
Of course rapid starts and exuberant driving takes a toll on fuel economy and isn’t what the Accord Hybrid is about. After a couple of hours and 67 miles of “having some fun,” the instrument panel readout was 37.2 mpg.
A week with the Hybrid and the odometer had added 362.3 miles. Part of our time spent was in Seattle where we logged 63 miles with its steep hills and often narrow streets. The balance of our driving included 167 miles of Interstate and two lane highways plus, 65 miles of the typical in-town daily errands in our hometown of Olympia.
With the exception of our having some fun time, we engaged the Eco mode that softens the powertrain response and operates the climate controls at a conservative setting.
The combination of Eco, a light foot on the accelerator that resulted in driving on battery power much of the time and careful braking, our 65 miles of in-town driving yielded 59.8 mpg. At week’s end, our combined mpg tallied 51.1 – 4 mpg better than the EPA rating.
Honda is the uncommon mainstream carmaker directed by an engineering mindset, and the engineer’s desire for mechanical parts to operate in harmony pervades the Accord Hybrid. There’s a distinct natural feel to the control effort – turn the steering wheel and response is smooth and linear. What you ask the car to do, it does, and in just the doses you request.
A new front suspension employing vertical struts communicates the tires’ interaction with the pavement to further boost confidence. But it’s really a matter of degree, because the Hybrid is not embarrassed by a twisty road.
No midsize car beats Accord’s firm but composed ride quality. A new mechanical damping system uses two pistons. One is tuned to small imperfections on smoother roads; the other tames rough roads, potholes and sudden steering or braking action.
Engineers crafted a more efficient regenerative braking system called Electro Servo Braking. It’s a hydraulic system activated by an electronic actuator, and regenerative braking begins the moment the foot is lifted from the accelerator. In addition to the payoff in efficiency, the brakes stop the car with reassuring quickness without any mushy feeling associated with regenerative brakes.
Using the electric motor as the transmission, like an all-electric car, the motor’s instantly available torque accelerates the Hybrid rapidly from a standstill. The E-CVT replicates the feel of a traditional set up quite well, however while accelerating at around 28 mph, engine revs wanted to catch up with actual speed much like a conventional CVT. This was a little disconcerting at first, but after a couple of days wasn’t noticed.
The overall handling and ride quality of the 2014 Accord establishes new standards for the midsize class. Add to that an interior that is pleasantly hushed with only appropriate feedback of road noise is likely sending competitors back to their drawing boards.
At first glance Honda’s pricing of $29,945 for the base model 2014 Accord Hybrid is anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 more than midsize hybrid competitors. Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid is the lowest priced starting at $26,445. It’s followed by the Kia Optima Hybrid, $26,700; Toyota Camry Hybrid, $27,140; and the Ford Fusion Hybrid, $27,990.
Take a close look and you will find that Honda doesn’t offer options ala carte. Instead, it favors a model hierarchy in which equipment multiplies as you ascend the price ladder. This can make the Accord Hybrid’s prices appear higher than those of direct competitors, though optioned similarly, bottom lines aren’t usually far apart.
If you’re comparing the Hybrid with the standard Accord, the base Hybrid is equipped similarly to the Accord EX, priced at $26,470. That’s around $3,000 more.
Once upon a time, we all figured extreme fuel efficiency would be the modern hair shirt — righteous but painful.
Honda gives lie to dire expectation with the 2014 Accord Hybrid. With it, we have entered a new world of mainstream motoring: Look around at all the inefficient, uninspiring cars on the road. Given the option of driving the one that is ultimately efficient and surprisingly fun, who wouldn’t come up with the extra three bills?