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The 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid and Accord Plug-In Hybrid are not only Honda's first-ever full hybrids--including a version that plugs in too--but they represent a strong and technically sophisticated first foray into the growing field of mid-size hybrid sedans. They're a year-later addition to the well-received 2013 Accord, a well-received redesign that is now even stronger with a proper hybrid in Honda's longstanding mid-size entry.
The biggest challenge for the Accord Hybrid, in fact, has been slow supply. Parts shortages and global demand far beyond what Honda projected have kept supplies of the hybrid Accord--built in the U.S. from the start--far below demand. Dealers have one or even none on their lots, and frustrated customers have endured months of low supply. In the third quarter of 2014, Honda claimed the situation was starting to ease, but it wasn't the smoothest rollout--and it pointed to the intense desire of some buyers to have a mid-size sedan with all the traditional Accord virtues, along with an EPA rating of no less than 47 mpg combined (50 mpg city, 45 highway)--which makes it the highest-mpg gasoline-powered four-door sedan without a plug.
Unlike the disappointing real-world performance of some of Ford's latest hybrids (which have had their ratings lowered), the Honda Accord Hybrid seems to deliver real-world efficiency close to its rating. The standard Accord Hybrid competes with hybrid models of the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and Toyota Camry, as well as possibly the Prius hybrid hatchback. The plug-in version competes with the Ford Fusion Energi--also a plug-in hybrid--and the Chevrolet Volt.
The heavier Accord Plug-In Hybrid, which gets a larger 6.7-kWh battery pack instead of the Hybrid's 1.3-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, is rated at 46 mpg combined (47 mpg city, 46 mpg highway) when operating in gasoline/hybrid mode once its larger battery pack has been depleted. Buyers should note, however, that the plug-in version is sold only in very limited numbers in just a handful of states.
The EPA rates that model's electric range at 13 miles, greater than the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid at 11 miles (only 6 miles of which is continuous) but considerably lower than the 21 miles of the Fusion Energi, or the 38 miles of the Chevrolet Volt. In electric mode, the Accord Plug-In Hybrid is rated at 115 MPGe, higher than the Fusion Energi's 100 MPGe. (Miles-Per-Gallon-Equivalent measures the distance a car can travel electrically on the same energy as contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.)
The styling of the hybrid 2014 Accords is largely that of the redesigned 2013 Accord gasoline models, but with a different grille and front bumper, special aerodynamic wheels, and a few detail differences like LED taillights. It's a clean, handsome sedan very much in the mold of Accords past, and we give Honda's designers special praise for keeping the beltline low--improving the driver's rearward visibility and making it possible for shorter rear-seat passengers to see out the windows.
The Accord Hybrid's 141-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine runs on the ultra-efficient Atkinson cycle, and has one electric motor--which serves as a generator to charge the battery pack on engine overrun--fixed to the back of it. A second electric motor coupled to it powers the vehicle most of the time, or it can also recharge the pack under regenerative braking.
Honda's new large hybrid system offers three different types of operation--all of them automatically chosen by its control software. At higher cruising speeds, the engine alone can power the front wheels, with or without electric involvement. But the driver won't necessarily know what's happening under the hood, as the engine is well muffled and comes on smoothly when it's needed.The plug-in hybrid gives drivers an "HV" button that allows them to direct the plug-in hybrid Accord to operate only as a hybrid, to conserve the battery charge for when it may be needed later. There's also an "HV Charge" mode that keeps the engine on longer to recharge the battery pack up to its capacity for maximum electric range later on. The standard Accord Hybrid, however, doesn't offer those.
From the driver’s-seat of the Accord Hybrid, there’s not always a direct momentary connection between those revs and the level of acceleration. Although full-throttle acceleration can bring out a sort of 'motorboating' sound as with a CVT, it's different in most other cases. If you’ve driven the Chevrolet Volt, it’s closer to that; give the accelerator a push and the vehicle moves forward responsively, with the gasoline engine revving up a moment later.
The figure that matters the vast majority of the time is that the electric motor system can deliver up to 226 pound-feet and 166 horsepower. Having acceleration (almost) always handled by the electric propulsion motor altogether makes it feel very linear and predictable—especially if you can ignore the sounds from the gasoline engine. That 141-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder i-VTEC gasoline engine, by the way, is noteworthy not just for being Honda's first Atkinson-cycle engine but for being the most efficient internal combustion engine in the world.
The Accord Hybrid can run with the gasoline engine completely off at up to 70 mph in some instances (or 60 mph for the plug-in). When the engine does switch on, it could become noisy under foot-to-the-floor acceleration, and even then it was more of a muted turbine noise than the anguished howl of the plug-in Prius engine.
The Accord Hybrid does weigh several hundred pounds than base four-cylinder models of the Accord, but it doesn't weigh much more than V-6 models--about 3,600 pounds in all. To help with that, all Accord Hybrid models get dual-path, amplitude-reactive dampers that help damp any harshness introduced by the hybrid system’s additional weight—and altogether, the Hybrid drives better because of it. The steering doesn't feel quite as crisp at turn-in as in the other Accord models—possibly a result of those different dampers, or the somewhat less sticky run-flat tires. But overall, its handling is surprisingly engaging—far more so than the Toyota Camry Hybrid, for instance.
Active noise control also helps keep down cabin noise, and a liquid-sealed subframe mount helps quell vibration. Braking is especially smooth and predictable, thanks to an electric-servo regenerative system originally developed for the Fit EV. There's none of the typical hybrid grabbiness in lighter stops or the lurching in the last several feet of a stop.
You'll find that the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid is essentially the same as the rest of the Accord lineup--although with different displays on the gauge cluster and more info screens on operation and energy usage. We particularly liked Honda's power-meter graphic to the left of the speedometer, which was easily intuitive, with a job in the bars to show where the engine would have to switch on under acceleration. Back-seat space is just as plentiful as in other Accords (we appreciate the easy entry and exit), but trunk space is compromised; due to packaging of the 1.3-kWh battery pack just below, the rear seatbacks don't flip forward and capacity is down to 12.7 cubic feet--still enough for a couple of suitcases or a large grocery run.
The Accord Plug-In Hybrid is a single model at the highest end of the range, with essentially every feature that's offered on the top-of-the-line Accord EX-L gasoline model, including LED daytime running lights, adaptive cruise control, and other features.
As for the 2014 Accord Hybrid, its features essentially parallel those in the main Accord lineup. The long list of equipment included in the base Hybrid EX include dual-zone automatic climate control, a ten-way power driver's seat, Smart Entry and Start, Bluetooth, Pandora integration and SMS text capability, a six-speaker sound system, and a rearview camera system with LaneWatch blind-spot display. EX-L models add Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning systems, leather, premium audio, a moonroof, heated front seats, a memory driver's seat, and a HondaLink touch-screen system.
Top Accord Hybrid Touring models are differentiated by their voice-recognition navigation system, Adaptive Cruise Control, and HomeLink universal-remote system.
Features in the 2014 Accord Hybrid essentially parallel those in the main Accord lineup. The long list of equipment included in the base Hybrid EX include dual-zone automatic climate control, a ten-way power driver's seat, Smart Entry and Start, Bluetooth, Pandora integration and SMS text capability, a six-speaker sound system, and a rearview camera system with LaneWatch blind-spot display. EX-L models add Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning systems, leather, premium audio, a moonroof, heated front seats, a memory driver's seat, and a HondaLink touch-screen system. Top Accord Hybrid Touring models are differentiated by their voice-recognition navigation system, Adaptive Cruise Control, and HomeLink universal-remote system.