By now maybe you’ve heard Honda is back in the hybrid game in a big way with its 50-mpg Accord Hybrid.
The company that launched America’s first hybrid in December 1999 then fell behind Toyota in hybridization as it also introduced a 2004 Accord Hybrid V6 only to cancel it in 2007 now needs no excuses for its latest model.
Revived with a proper four-cylinder, Honda’s Accord Hybrid was launched as a 2014 model October 2013 and since late August the 2015 model has carried forward for those wanting to save fuel and cut emissions.
The aforementioned “50” is actually the rated city mpg number, with highway mpg being 45, and combined, 47.
That’s enough to make it the best fuel mileage four-door non-plug-in sedan in the U.S. by several miles per gallon. The EPA says the Prius is tops with 51 mpg city, 48 highway, 50 combined, but we all know that’s a hatchback and the Honda has much more power, grace on four wheels, and it immediately stepped past full-hybrid sedan competitors from Toyota, Ford, Hyundai and Kia.
But after one year on the market, the existing 2014 Camry Hybrid outsold the Accord Hybrid three to one. True, Toyota juices its numbers with fleet sales mixed with retail, but Honda has also positioned the Accord Hybrid nearly like an entry level Acura.
Compared to similarly equipped competitors however, it can still be a strong value proposition, so let’s take a closer look.
The Hybrid Difference
Honda’s two-motor hybrid system is the main differentiator between the Accord Hybrid and a standard four-cylinder Accord with CVT transmission.
The gap in EPA-rated fuel economy is significant – the non-hybrid gets 27 city, 36 highway, 31 combined versus 50 city, 45 highway, 47 combined for the Hybrid thanks to a system cumbersome in name, but elegant in operation: Two-Motor Hybrid Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD).
Honda first launched this hybrid tech on its $40,000, 2013 plug-in Accord Hybrid sold in California and New York with a 6.7-kwh battery instead of the non-plug-in’s 1.3 kwh lithium-ion unit. The only effective difference between the two is energy storage capacity and the plug-in’s resultant 13 miles all-electric driving range potential.
Comprising the 196-horsepower total i-MMD system output is the most thermally efficient engine Honda knows to exist in a production car and two motors that allow full-electric, or gas-plus-electric, or just gas-powered operation.
The 141-hp I-VTEC four-cylinder engine is Honda’s first Atkinson cycle design, and this is its first full hybrid system. It leapfrogs others by doing away with an actual continuously variable transmission, creating instead a virtual one. Honda calls it an E-CVT, but that’s a misnomer. It’s really those two motors directly serving as a tranny.
Honda concedes as much and unlike an actual transmission, it has no pulleys, belts, torque converter or drive clutch.
One motor is for propulsion and capable of delivering 166 peak horsepower, and 226 pounds-feet of torque from 0-4,000 rpm. The second motor is primarily a generator to replenish the battery, not a propulsion motor, and it also serves as the engine’s starter.
Regenerative braking in addition to the motor generator helps replenish the battery, and stop/start technology is also employed. Improving efficiency further are an electrically operated air conditioning compressor, water pump, and power steering.
The Accord Hybrid can run in three propulsion modes—electric-only, gasoline-only, and gas-plus-electric.
The default upon startup is all-electric, good for lower-speed driving and/or for shorter distances mainly because the battery lacks the energy storage of the plug-in.
A firmer press of the accelerator will kick the engine on, but below 43 mph it remains decoupled meaning this series hybrid mode works like the Chevrolet Volt does, with no mechanical connection between the engine and drive wheels. It is thus still working all-electrically, albeit with the engine turning the generator to provide on-board electric propulsion energy.
While the decoupled gas engine powers the generator motor it also charges the battery charge. In turn again, the battery may supplement the propulsion motor as needed and as able. The car’s brain figures out when to do what, and works seamlessly.
Around highway speeds, depending on conditions, this mode sees the lock-up clutch connect the generator motor (always linked to the engine) and the electric drive motor to send power directly from the engine to the front wheels. This is gas-only mode, and here the engine propels the car while maintaining battery charge.
The actual speed this happens has been variously reported as 43 and 44 mph, and at the press launch last year in Texas did note the number 44 being stated, but Honda’s Chris Naughton quoted an engineer who says this is not a fixed transition point to direct drive from the engine.
“At around 60 mph, depending on conditions, the lock-up clutch engages and now the engine is driving the wheels via a single, fixed gear… which is roughly analogous to a sixth or final gear in a conventional transmission.”
Otherwise All Accord
Shared with all other Accord sedans is the fully revised design from 2013 that saw 3.5 inches in length lopped off while improving interior packaging.
Opposing a current sedan design trend to make them mimic the silhouette of a coupe, the Accord sticks to the fact this is a four-door car meant to haul taller people in the back seat too. It may look more boxy than, say, a Ford Fusion, but its less-slopped roofline provides a bit more rear headroom.
Inside the car, materials are all nice quality as you’d expect with soft-touch strategically placed with not excessive hard plastic. Yes the Accord costs more, but not only does it utilize space well, its layout is functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Unique to the Hybrid among other Accords are instruments to monitor its unique powertrain. A large, round speedometer is in simple white on black with other colors.
Other data includes to the right of the speedo battery charge and fuel level gauges, and to the left is a power use gauge.
Per hybrid practice, and mainly for your edification or gratification only, is a power flow meter that shows where the power is coming from: engine, electric motor or both.
Three Hybrid trim levels see a significant step up in approximately $3,000 price points.
Standard on all models is a double-pane Expanded View Driver’s Mirror, cruise control and a tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio controls, and beyond this, all are well equipped.
Even the base model has Smart Entry and Start, rearview camera with LaneWatch blind-spot display, Bluetooth, Pandora, SMS text capability, dual-zone automatic HVAC, 10-way power driver’s seat and a six-speaker audio system.
The EX-L model adds Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning, leather, heated front seats, moonroof, and premium audio system .
HondaLink connects to your smartphone to music or media such as Aha by Harman, Internet apps, roadside assistance and more.
The top-line Touring model adds Adaptive Cruise Control and a voice-recognition navigation system.
The base “Hybrid” weighs 3,550 pounds, the EX-L weighs 3,595 and the Touring, 3,602 pounds. This is within a hundred or so pounds of the competitors.
On the Road
Pushing the start button brings the car and infotainment screens to life, and it quietly takes off in EV mode – unless you push for quicker get up and go, at which point you will hear the engine operating at an appropriate rpm to supply energy via the generator.
Acceleration with instant torque on demand feels akin to an EV, albeit with a gas engine working as needed, sometimes out of sync with road speed.
The car’s plenty quick for its purpose, and the Hybrid’s 7.1 or so 0-60 mph time is about a quarter second or quicker than the non-Hybrid’s, and its governed top speed is 114 mph.
As for that engine noise, it’s not intrusive most of the time, and fades into the background once one is engaged in driving. Steer it toward a bend in the road, or ideally a series of curves and the power steering is linear and direct, rewarding you with a crisp feeling of control.
Bump attenuation is also smooth with “Amplitude Reactive Dampers” utilizing two pistons that work smoothly while also handling deeper potholes and bigger bumps relatively well.
Braking action too is mechanical and precise – Honda’s regenerative braking works well, with friction brakes not engaging under milder stops at speeds below 5 mph. In harder stops, the ECU initiates a chain reaction of commands to brake system components, proportioning friction brake energy to each wheel.
Like a traditional system, it’s fully hydraulic from the master cylinder all the way to the calipers so no one can complain of mushy or laggy brakes with this regen-equipped car.
Now here’s a word on that all-important fuel economy. It is exceptionally good, but can vary. A lot. Drive the car with your foot hard on the accelerator most of the time, and combined fuel economy can drop to between 35-40 mpg, even lower if lead footed. Drive it in a fairly civil manner with some quick getaways mixed in, and low 40s combined and above are possible. Drive it more carefully, but not necessarily like the sedate senior citizen from Topeka, and economy matches EPA. Drive it even more carefully, and learn to work with the hybrid system, keep momentum up, and you’ll beat the numbers.
Like any hybrid, the electric motor assist is why it’s rated better on the city cycle instead of highway, and naturally, higher speed cruising will burn the most gasoline. On the highway the world’s most efficient engine does a great job, but on rolling terrain, or against headwinds, with un-smooth accelerator action or above speed limits, it will drink more fuel. Such conditions could net mpg in the high 30s or lower 40s.
On the flip side, during a lower speed mpg contest last year among auto journalists pushing the extremes of frugal driving style, we’ve seen city economy numbers rise into the 60s and above, and combined numbers 50 and above. Amazingly, the best saw 64 combined, 83 city. This is the exception, not the rule, probing the outer limits of what can be done.
There is no guaranty everyone can do this, in fact we suspect most probably cannot. But we’ve seen it, and know it can be done by experienced hybrid car drivers, which thus means we’ve seen “50” in a different way – that’s the span of low to high mpg the Accord Hybrid can make between low 30s to low 80s between careless and ultra careful driving styles.
In sum, the Accord Hybrid’s mpg is as promised and typically very satisfactory, but if you hear an occasional gripe from someone saying it’s over hyped, that may be true for them and they may indeed not be able to make the numbers. Hybrids, like any car, can differ in real world fuel economy and that’s true for this one too.
Honda Accord Hybrid Review: Thumbs Up or Down?
The Accord Hybrid sets a new benchmark as a total package, although we will be driving the 2015 Camry Hybrid next week, and we’ll see how much nicer Toyota made that refreshed car.
Including $790 destination, the base Accord “Hybrid” starts at $30,095, the mid-level EX-L is $32,845, and the Touring is $35,845.
Compared to the competition from Ford, Kia, Hyundai, and Toyota, it costs $2,000-$4,000 more, so Honda knows its multiple award-winning, perennially well-regarded car is something special now with the most-effective hybrid system available.
Frankly, we would submit that if Honda were to de-content a lower base model and price it equal or only a little above the Camry Hybrid – and closer to the Accord non-hybrid – it would sell much better, and put a dent in Honda’s other product sales.
It’s irksome that one must spend extra money at the dealer just to save money at the pump. Do only those with household incomes from mid-$90,000s well into six figures, as Honda’s marketers say they’re targeting, appreciate a fuel saving family sedan? We think not.
And, if one does a line-by-line comparison to competitors, the price gap narrows as the Accord Hybrids are well equipped.
The bottom line is, despite the price uptick, we like this one. A lot. The verdict for those looking for a car in this echelon? A definite thumbs up.