2014 Honda Accord Hybrid tops competition on technology, fuel economy

Visually, the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid lacks the Visually, the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid lacks the more radically different nose that has been assigned to its Plug In counterpart, but it does feature a blue-accented grille, headlights and running lights, plus unique 17-inch wheels. Photo Credit: AP

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When a new hybrid sedan is called for, it appears that Honda is finally prepared to step up and deliver.

But instead of just one version of the Accord, there are two to consider: the Accord Plug In that recently arrived in selected areas; and another with less battery juice that you don't plug in.

Both hybrids can operate on battery or gasoline power independently or together in combination. It's the type of system commonly used in the Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima duo.

Up to now for Honda, the electric motor operated only in tandem with the gas engine (referred to as a partial or mild hybrid). That makes for good, but not exactly leading-edge fuel economy, and Honda has come up short in challenging Toyota and others for its rightful share of the expanding hybrid market.

Until now, that is.

Honda claims it has leap-frogged the pack with a class-leading 50 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway. The top-selling Toyota Camry Hybrid is rated at 43/39 and the Ford Fusion at 47/47. The Accord also beats out both the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima hybrid models that are rated at 36/40.

The secret to the Accord Hybrid is what Honda calls its Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive, or i-MMD. The system consists of two electric motors that are serviced by a lithium-ion battery pack plus a 141-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.

One 166-horsepower electric motor serves as the Accord's primary powerplant and principally drives the front wheels, while the other motor acts as a fixed-ratio direct-drive continuously variable transmission (referred to by Honda as an e-CVT).

The gasoline engine functions exclusively as a generator for much of the time (sort of like the Chevrolet Volt) by supplying power to the drive motor as well as helping to recharge the batteries. But at cruising speeds above 44 mph, it seamlessly connects to drive the front wheels, with or without electric-motor assist, depending on the load (accelerating and or heading uphill). In these instances, the system's 195 net total horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque come into play.

The reason the Accord's city MPG is so high is that at speeds below 44 mph, and under light-load conditions, only the electric drive motor is functioning to power the front wheels, or while the batteries have sufficient juice.

The entire drivetrain is cradled in a weight-saving all-aluminum sub-frame that replaces the steel and aluminum one installed in regular Accords.

Additionally, an aluminum rear bumper beam replaces the steel version. The weight savings help partially offset the battery pack that's packaged behind the rear seat and reduces trunk space by about 25 percent.

Visually, the Accord Hybrid lacks the more radically different nose that has been assigned to its Plug In counterpart, but it does feature a blue-accented grille, headlights and running lights, plus unique 17-inch wheels.

The taillights are also blue-accented and a trunk spoiler and special lower body panel improve vehicle aerodynamics (to help reduce fuel consumption.

Accord Hybrid pricing begins at $29,950 (about $10,000 cheaper than the Plug In variant) including destination charges for the base model, which includes a wide assortment of content. The EX-L version adds forward collision and lane departure warning safety systems, multi-angle rearview camera, moonroof and a premium sound package, while the Touring further adds LED headlights, adaptive cruise control and a navigation system,

Without question Honda has become a technological leader in gasoline-electric propulsion. Whether the company can trade on the Accord's already rousing success and convert new buyers would seem to be a foregone conclusion. Why? It's the hybrid that everyone knew Honda could build.

What you should know: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive mid-size sedan
Engines (hp): 2.0-liter DOHC I4 (141) and a 166-horsepower electric motor (195, net)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Market position: Honda's first full hybrid models (both regular and plug-in) have allowed the automaker to catch up, and possibly surpass its mid-size sedan competition in terms of technological achievement and fuel efficiency.
Points: Advanced hybrid design allows a wide window for electric-only propulsion; Impressive fuel economy numbers if they can actually be achieved in real-world driving.conditions; Too bad Hybrid doesn't share Plug In's more expressive grille; Well equipped, even in base trim; Will the technology spread to other Honda models?
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy) 50/45
Base price (incl. destination) $29,950

BY COMPARISON 

Ford Fusion hybrid
Base price: $27,000
Attractive, well-priced and efficient models, including plug-in hybrid.

Toyota Camry hybrid
Base price: $27,000
Popular sedan has proven technology, reliability on its side.

Kia Optima hybrid
Base price: $26,800
Upstart model uses a six-speed automatic to earn impressive mpg numbers.
 

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