- Handsome, crisp Accord styling
- Strong electric-only power
- Engine muted when on
- Intuitive operating graphics
- Hybrid built in U.S.
- Availability disappointing so far
- Priciest Accord is plug-in model
- Acceleration, engine noise out of sync
- Plug-in only sold in a few states
The 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid is a handsome sedan that delivers high gas mileage under real-world conditions; its biggest disappointment has been how few of them Honda is making.
The 2015 Honda Accord hybrid twins are less well-known than competing hybrid mid-size sedans from Toyota, Ford, and Hyundai, which is a shame. The Accord Hybrid is not only the most fuel-efficient model in the Honda Accord lineup but a genuinely desirable hybrid mid-size sedan competing very effectively with better known models. Its rare and low-volume plug-in sibling, the Accord Plug-In Hybrid, is equally good against a different set of competitors, but sales of less than 50 a month in only a handful of cities sadly make it irrelevant for most buyers.
MORE: See our 2015 Honda Accord review
The pair of Accord hybrids didn't launch until the 2014 model year, though they're variations of the latest Accord that was restyled for 2013. The Japan-built plug-in model actually went on sale first, in January 2013, while the conventional Accord Hybrid entered the market in the fall of that year. Like the rest of the Accord lineup, the regular hybrid model is built in the U.S.
By the spring of 2015, supply of Accord Hybrids--which had been rare to nonexistent on the ground for a year--had begun to ease up after shortages of key components finally abated. While its outstanding 47-mpg combined fuel economy rating is higher than that of any of its competitors, falling gasoline prices also likely cut demand for the high-efficiency sedan.
Honda has sold mild hybrids--which don't offer all-electric running--since 2000, although it is now phasing them out with the withdrawal of its Insight model last year. There was a previous Accord Hybrid, sold from 2004-2007, but its mild-hybrid system was tuned for extra performance rather than fuel economy. Confused consumers didn't get it, and the model largely failed to sell and was withdrawn.
Now Honda has developed a clever and compact two-motor full hybrid system designed specifically for larger vehicles. It offers electric running at low speeds and under light loads, electric torque to assist a downsized gasoline engine, and regenerative braking to recapture and reuse energy that would otherwise be wasted as brake heat. Competitors for the Accord Hybrid, including the hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and Toyota Camry. In turn, the plug-in version competes with the Ford Fusion Energi--also a plug-in hybrid--and the Chevrolet Volt.
The styling of both hybrid Accords is largely that of the current Accord gasoline models, although the plug-in has more differentiation in its grille, lights, and trim. 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.
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
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 automatically chosen by its control software. It can accelerate electrically up to 30 mph, and it will also drop into electric-only mode under light load at higher speeds up to 60 mph. It also functions as a conventional parallel hybrid with engine and motor together contributing torque (with the clutch engaged). Then, at higher speeds, the engine alone powers the front wheels, with no electric involvement. But the engine is well muffled and comes on smoothly as needed, so the driver won't necessarily know what's happening under the hood.
Both hybrid Accords have stronger all-electric acceleration and a longer electric range than their Prius equivalents. The one drawback we found is that both cars, the plug-in especially, feel considerably heavier on the road than do the conventional four-cylinder Accords, which are relatively svelte. The handling and roadholding were fine, but the hybrid Accords feel somewhat larger and a bit more ponderous than the light, easier-to-toss-around four-cylinder Accord gasoline model. It's not objectionable, but it's a notable difference in a car that looks more or less the same.
With a larger 6.7-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack mounted in the trunk behind the rear seat, the plug-in hybrid adds an additional mode (and more weight). 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 the motor opened). It too reverts to all-electric running under light loads, just as the hybrid does, at speeds as high as 60 mph.
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.
On the road, the plug-in Accord stays 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. Under acceleration, it 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.
The 2015 Accord Hybrid is rated at 47 mpg combined (50 mpg city, 45 mpg highway), which is better than any other hybrid on the market except three of the four members of the Toyota Prius family. Notably, it's higher than the Ford Fusion Hybrid (recently adjusted down to 43 mpg), the Camry Hybrid, and the mechanically identical Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima sedans. Our experience in several road tests of an Accord Hybrid was that real-world mileage was between 41 and 48 mpg, meaning that the ratings are roughly on target if you factor in the 10-percent variation most hybrid owners expect.
The plug-in hybrid Accord is rated at 13 miles of range--higher than the plug-in Prius at 11 miles, but lower than the Fusion Energi at 20 miles and the Volt at 38 miles--and 46 mpg when running on gasoline, better than the Volt's 37 mpg and the Fusion's 38 mpg. The EPA rates the Accord Plug-In Hybrid's efficiency in electric mode at 115 MPGe, higher than the Fusion Energi's 100 MPGe and the Volt's 98 MPGe. (Miles-Per-Gallon-Equivalent measures the distance a car can travel electrically on the same energy as contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.)
Various trim levels and options are available on the Accord Hybrid, although--once again--availability has been so limited in its first year that eager buyers will take whatever model arrives on the local Honda dealer's lots. The very low-volume Accord Plug-In Hybrid is at the highest end of the Accord 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.