New & Used Honda Accord Hybrid: In Depth
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The Honda Accord Hybrid and Accord Plug-In Hybrid are both new models in the Honda lineup for 2014, moving the Accord range to greener pastures with improved fuel economy for the newly redesigned mid-size sedan. It competes with the Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry, and the Ford Fusion.
The Accord Plug-In Hybrid went on sale in limited markets in January 2013, but the regular hybrid Accord won't arrive until the second half of 2013, when it will be sold nationally. It will be built in the same U.S. assembly plant as all conventional Accords, while the lower-volume plug-in hybrid Accord will be built only in Japan.
With the exception of the grille, headlights, taillights, and a few add-on aerodynamic trim items, the pair of hybrid Accords look just like high-end versions of the conventional Accord four-door sedan. We like the lines, which are crisp for such a large sedan but neither overly curvacious (like the Sonata) nor too aggressive. Inside, the same high-quality interior materials as the regular Accord are used, but the hybrids come in at the high end of the Accord range, so they have most of the bells and whistles that are extra-cost options on gasoline Accord models. Honda has added extra energy-use graphics and power displays to the instrument panel and center display screen for the hybrid models as well.
It's the powertrain that sets the new Accord hybrids apart. Honda has created a new two-motor full hybrid system for these models (and more to come) that's entirely different from the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system offered on various smaller cars since 1999. The company concluded that a more powerful hybrid system was needed for larger vehicles than the compact and subcompact hybrids it had sold so far, and Honda has put many years and much development work into the new system.
Both Accord hybrid versions are fitted with a 2.0-liter gasoline direct injected four-cylinder engine, which powers the front wheels through a transmission incorporating a pair of electric motors that all but nestle inside each other. The traction motor that powers the wheels is rated at a whopping 124 kilowatts (166 horsepower), more powerful than any other hybrid's. It's a remarkably compact system electronically controlled to operate in a number of different ways depending on demand.
The hybrid Accords handle decently, but they're far heavier on the road and behind the wheel than other Accord models. The top-of-the-line plug-in hybrid model weighs many hundred pounds more than the simplest four-cylinder Accord with continuously variable transmission (CVT), which was much lighter and lither than the heavier hybrid models.
We haven't yet driven the Accord Hybrid, but at speeds up to 30 or 40 mph and under moderate loads, the plug-in model can run solely on electric power; at the highest cruising speeds, only the engine powers the car; and in between, the new hybrid system can power the car with blended torque provided by both the engine and the motor. It also has an additional 'series hybrid' capability, in which the engine turns one of the motors that acts as a generator to recharge the battery while the battery simultaneously powers the other motor to run the car--but the engine is not mechanically driving the wheels. The system switches seamlessly among these modes to maximize fuel efficiency.
Overall, Honda's new hybrid system is clever, compact, and flexible, and it delivers a smooth driving experience with enough power that drivers can forget they're behind the wheel of a hybrid and simply drive as they always would. Honda also gives drivers of the plug-in model an "HV" mode to conserve the plug-in's battery charge for later use (perhaps in quiet zones), and even offers an "EV Charge" function to recharge the battery pack using the gasoline engine--the least efficient charging method, but useful nonetheless. The Accord Plug-In Hybrid is fitted with a 6.6-kW onboard charger, meaning the pack can be recharged from empty in about 3 hours.
Honda says the plug-in version will have 10 to 15 miles of electric range from its 6.7-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. That's less than the Fusion Hybrid (at 21 miles), but considerably more than the plug-in Prius, which the EPA rates at 11 miles of electric range--only 6 miles of it continuous.
While neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has specifically testing the Accord Hybrid or Plug-In Hybrid models, the standard 2013 Honda Accord was deemed a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS, scoring the top rating of "Good" on every single test. The NHTSA gave the conventional 2013 Accord a five-star rating, its highest, with five stars on every test except frontal crash, for which it was rated four out of five stars.
The Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid is the most expensive model in the whole Accord range. It's got essentially every feature of the top-of-the-line Accord EX-L, plus the added hardware of the plug-in hybrid system--so it leaves the lot at $40,000 or more. It qualifies for a $3,750 Federal income-tax credit (the Accord Hybrid without the plug carries no Federal incentive). Honda also says the plug-in Accord will qualify for single-occupant access to California's HOV Lanes, making it even more valuable to harried Golden State commuters.
The earlier Honda Accord Hybrid, sold from 2004 through 2007, used the company's mild-hybrid system not for better fuel economy but to deliver better acceleration and performance. Ten years ago, with far fewer hybrids on the market, that was a confusing message.
The first-generation Accord Hybrid performed about as well as the Accord V-6 version, but was less smooth under some driving conditions--and didn't deliver the stellar gas mileage most buyers associated with hybrids. It didn't do well and was withdrawn after initially good sales plummeted.