New & Used Honda Accord Hybrid: In Depth
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The Honda Accord Hybrid and Accord Plug-In Hybrid were both added to the automaker's range for 2014. This represents the second time Honda has offered a hybrid option on its mid-size sedan, and the first for a plug-in model. The new versions are much more mileage focused than the original, which should resonate better with the type of customers looking for a hybrid.
The Accord Hybrid was named Green Car Reports' Best Car To Buy 2014. Its rivals include hybrid versions of the Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and Ford Fusion, as well as plug-in versions of the Sonata and Fusion.
MORE: Read our 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid review
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 curvaceous 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 in the future) that's entirely different from the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system offered on various smaller Hondas 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.
Regardless of their plug-in or plug-free status, all current Accord hybrids use a direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder gas engine. It powers the front wheels through a transmission that features a pair of electric motors. Just one of those electric motors powers the wheels, able to supply 124 kW (166 hp), which is more than other gas-electric vehicles. The system is very well packaged, with clever controls that allow it to run in a variety of modes, including a special gear that lets the engine take over on the highway.
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). Despite the weight penalty compared to the non-hybrid Accord models, the gas-electric Accords handle decently, with a solid overall feeling and comfortable steering.
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 has 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. A plug-in version of the latest Hyundai Sonata will soon join this fight with a claimed 22 miles of electric range.
While neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has specifically tested 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 Accord Hybrid is built in the same U.S. assembly plant as all conventional Accords, while the lower-volume plug-in hybrid Accord is built only in Japan and imported.
Early Accord Hybrid history
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 improved acceleration and performance. Ten years ago, with far fewer hybrids on the market, that was a confusing message. It used a 3.0-liter V-6 paired with an electric motor to provide lots of output and fuel economy that was only marginally better than that of a four-cylinder model.
The first-generation Accord Hybrid performed about as well as the standard Accord V-6, 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.