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 Confused consumers didn't get it, and the model largely failed to sell and was withdrawn.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 include hybrid versions of the Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, and the mechanically identical Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima. In turn, the plug-in Accord Hybrid competes directly with the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid and Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric vehicle.
Both hybrid Accords wear sheetmetal that's largely shared with the current Accord gas models, although the plug-in has more differentiation in its grille, lights, and trim. Honda's designers deserve praise for maintaining the Accord's low beltline and high visibility when penning this cleanly molded, handsome sedan.
Inside, the new hybrid 2014 Accords are pretty much standard-issue Accord, though it utilizes unique hybrid-specific gauges and touchscreen to provide more detail about the car's energy use and hybrid operation. We particularly enjoy Honda's intuitive power meter placed to the left of the speedometer in the instrument panel, which displays a notch in its bars indicating the load under which the car will turn on its gas-powered engine.
An ultra-efficient 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle inline-4 produces 137 horsepower wears an electric motor on its back that serves as a generator for the battery pack on engine overrun. The Accord Hybrid has a second electric motor is fixed to the differential and powers the front wheels. That motor also have regenerative capabilities to charge the battery under braking.
Unusually, Honda's new hybrid system can operate in three different modes--but all are chosen by the car's 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 ICE engine alone powers the Accord hybrid's 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.
- 2015 Toyota Camry
- 2015 Hyundai Sonata
- 2015 Toyota Prius
- 2015 Chevrolet Volt
The most likely competitors for the 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid are the other three mid-size sedans offered as high-mileage hybrids too: the Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, and Hyundai Sonata. The Camry invented the segment, and has been restyled with a more aggressive look for 2015; the Fusion stays the same handsome, competent sedan and is doing well in the market; and the Sonata is a carryover model for 2015, using the previous-generation body even as the gasoline Sonata is all-new. Then there's the Toyota Prius, the quintessential hybrid, which continues to deliver the highest gas mileage of any gasoline car, along with a love-it-or-hate-it shape. Then on the plug-in hybrid front, there's the Ford Fusion Energi, Toyota Prius Plug-In, and Chevy Volt. The Prius has the lowest electric range of any car with plug: 11 miles, only 6 of them continuous, although it does have the highest gas mileage. The Fusion Energi has been gaining steam lately, with 19 miles of range, and the Volt range-extended electric car offers 38 miles of range and all-electric running under any circumstances--and will be updated next year.