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The 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid and Accord Plug-In Hybrid add a pair of new hybrid options to the latest generation of Accord mid-size sedans. Restyled and updated for the 2013 model year in gas-only form, the Accord line expands for the 2014 model year to include both a standard hybrid and the company's first-ever plug-in hybrid, with an electric range far greater than the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid.
We spent a day driving a prototype Accord Plug-In Hybrid, but haven't yet driven the standard hybrid version--which will go on the market later in 2013. The plug-in model was launched in a handful of selected markets, including California, in January 2013.
While Honda has sold mild hybrids--which don't offer all-electric running--since 2000, its previous Accord Hybrid in 2004-2007 was tuned for performance rather than fuel economy. Confused consumers didn't get it, and the model was withdrawn.
Now Honda has a new two-motor hybrid system for larger vehicles, which has all the usual hybrid virtues. It offers electric running at low speeds and under light loads, electric torque to assist a smaller gasoline engine, and regenerative braking to recapture and reuse energy that would otherwise have been wasted as brake heat.
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 137-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 that powers the vehicle is fixed to the differential that transfers power to the front wheels, and can also recharge the pack under regenerative braking.
Unusually, Honda's new large hybrid system offers three different types of operation--all of them selected automatically by its control software. It can run all electrically up to 30 or 40 mph. It can operate as a Volt-like series hybrid with the engine turning the first generator to produce electricity that powers the second motor (with the clutch between them opened), and finally it also functions as a conventional parallel hybrid with engine and motor together contributing torque (with the clutch engaged). The plug-in also reverts to all-electric running under light loads, just as the hybrid does, at speeds as high as 60 mph.
The driver won't necessarily know what's happening under the hood, as the engine is well muffled and comes on very smoothly when it's needed. Drivers also, by the way, have a "HV" button on the plug-in model that allows them to direct the car to operate in hybrid mode and 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 charge the plug-in's battery pack up to its capacity for maximum electric range later on.
The EPA hasn't yet rated the hybrid 2014 Accord for fuel economy, so we can't compare its ratings to comparable hybrid models of the Toyota Camry, Hyundai Sonata, or Ford Fusion. Nor has the EPA released electric range for the 2014 Accord Plug-In Hybrid, so we can't compare it to the upcoming Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid or the sole hybrid with a plug that's on the market today, the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid.
But from driving the 2014 Accord Plug-In Hybrid, we can say that it has a longer electric range and stronger all-electric acceleration than the plug-in Prius. Honda expects the plug-in Accord to provide 10 to 15 miles of continuous electric range from the 6.7-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack mounted in the trunk behind the rear seat.
A day of driving a prototype Accord Plug-In Hybrid proved that point, with the car staying in electric mode under all but the most aggressive driving circumstances--and under conditions in which the plug-in Prius would long since have switched on its engine. The plug-in Accord stayed in electric mode up to 45 mph, and frequently switched back to electric running with the accelerator steady at speeds as high as 60 mph. When the engine did switch on, it only became 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.
Inside, the new hybrid 2014 Accords are pretty much standard-issue Accord, with different displays on the gauge cluster and the central touchscreen that provide more detail about the car's 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. Our prototype had an attractive pale grey, silver, and black interior, with only the gold sparkly metalflake-like finish of some piano-black glossy plastic trim as a headscratcher.
The one drawback we found is that our plug-in hybrid felt considerably heavier than the gasoline Accord models. Honda couldn't give us a precise weight difference, but it's likely several hundred pounds. While the handling and roadholding was fine, it felt like a more ponderous larger vehicle rather than the light, easier-to-toss-around four-cylinder 2013 Accord gasoline model. It wasn't objectionable, but it was a surprising difference in a car that looked more or less the same.
The Accord Plug-In Hybrid in particular is 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.
The 2014 Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid will go on sale in California and other markets early in 2013, to be followed a few months later by national rollout of the 2014 Accord Hybrid model without a plug. No prices have been released so far.
- Strong all-electric running for plug-in
- Muted engine noise when turned on
- Excellent display graphics
- Clever, compact new hybrid system
- Crisp, handsome new styling
- Heavy, almost ponderous handling
- Limited plug-in availability
- Luxury features, like 'em or not
- Plug-in hybrid is priciest Accord