First Drive: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid [Review]

The Accord Hybrid nameplate is back, this time with a high degree of technology and efficiency. We check it out.

Will history repeat itself, or will a whole new chapter in Honda hybrids be written? With the introduction of the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, the brand is hoping to erase any trace of Accord Hybrids past with a new vehicle flush with technology and handsomely wrapped in its own style.

On its last go-around about a decade ago, the Accord Hybrid launched as a slightly sportier alternative. It was, to put it bluntly, a flop. But this time, the Accord Hybrid comes pre-loaded with lots of technology.

Honda chose Texas Hill Country to launch the new vehicle. It turns out, it was just about the perfect place to put the newer tech to the test with its perfect mix of rolling hills, sweeping turns, longhorns, barbeque in the shadow of Austin's Silicon Hills. C'mon, y'all.

Prime power

The Accord Sedan lineup grows to three strong, bookended by the top-of-the-line Accord PHEV plug-in hybrid and the standard internal combustion engine-powered Accord. In the middle: The new Accord Hybrid.

For the Accord Hybrid, the singular power plant offering is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder DOHC iVTEC Atkinson-cycle engine (a Honda first) that makes 141-horsepower and 122 lb-ft of torque. The four-banger is enhanced by two electric-powered generator motors, which make 166 horsepower and 226 lb-ft of torque. When combined, it yields a total of 196 horsepower overall. The system is mated to an Electric Continuously Variable transmission (E-CVT), and the EPA says it is possible to achieve 50 city/45 highway with a combined rating of 47 mpg. Based on those figures, Honda claims a range of 673 gas-electric miles from a full tank of fuel.

Honda's goal was to aim for the most efficient powertrain system that could be designed. Nothing was off the table as far as technologies went, and the goal was to surpass the less than successful efforts of the last Hybrid Accord, as well as those of its competition like the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid.

For the new Accord Hybrid, motivation comes from two motors in addition to the gasoline VTEC engine. From a standing start, after ignition, energy from the battery is sent to the drive motor and the car starts to move in EV mode. This pure electric mode can propel the car up to 60 mph for a distance of around two miles. As is normally the case, the need for more current will cause the gas engine to fire. The generator motor then starts to make electricity for the drive motor, which then causes the car to move. The result is instant torque as in a slot car.

An additional engine mode now exists, which causes operations similar to a Chevrolet Volt. Using a one-gear transmission, with a gear ratio like a sixth gear direct-style drive, the engine operates as needed for fast acceleration.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Accord Hybrid features regenerative braking to recoup some energy loss from the batteries. Unlike other systems that operate when the brakes are applied, the Accord starts regeneration when drivers take their feet from the accelerator. Power is sent back to the lithium ion batteries, housed in the Intelligent Power Unit, which reduces the Hybrid Accord's trunk space to 12.7 cubic feet from the standard Accord's 15.8 cubic foot trunk.

Ride quality is everything we have grown to like about the Accord. The Hybrid uses a similar MacPherson strut front kit and independent multilink rear suspension to keep contact with the road, while new amplitude reactive dampers and an electric servo brake system join into the mix. The dampers are adjusted to react to low and high speed movements, while the servo brakes assist with the regenerative braking functions.

Accord has the Blues

Like many Hybrid models in the industry, the Honda Accord Hybrid uses blue accents to differentiate itself from the average run-of-the-mill offerings that make up the rest of its stables. The result is blue-tinted chrome wings in the grill, as well as blued chrome headlight surrounds that immediately let a casual observer know that you've got your hybrid freak flag on.

Other than the blue accents, hybrid badging and unique 17-inch aero-styled wheels, it would appear as though your next door neighbor might have driven off his dealer lot driving a common everyday version of one of the most popular vehicles in North America. The only other giveaway would be the aero-tuned rear deck spoiler.

A trio of trims will be on offer: Base, EX-L and loaded up Limited.

If your liked the interior of the newly designed ninth-generation 2013 Honda Accord Sedan, you will be equally at home in the Accord Hybrid. Everything from the well-designed front seating with nicely contoured bolstering to the more than accommodating (and relatively deep-set) rear seats with their substantial legroom and width for three passengers, has been carried over into this new model. The only substantial change occurs in the instrument binnacle with the addition of new meters to help drivers achieve the most efficient driving style.

While Ford and others may embrace leaves that grow or wither, depending on your pressure on the skinny peddle, Honda chose to keep it simple with a Power/Charge meter on the left side of the speedometer that lets you know how efficient you truly may be.

We tested both the base and top-of-the-line Touring versions of the Accord Hybrid and found them both well-equipped with soft touch material throughout. The standard version featured a high-quality fabric seat covering, but we would opt for the full-cow leather seating found in the Touring.

Hill Country rambling

From our starting point located in a Texas valley between several hills, the electric motor was the first to engage, sending the car off from a standing start. At first we heard the whirring of the generator motor, and then the thrum of the iVTEC four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine, which tended to cause a bit of squawking from underhood, letting us know that a combination of motivating factors were at play at the same time. Once we found relatively level road surfaces, it was clear if we listened closely that the gas engine was taking a breather, while the electric power unit was doing most of the heavy lifting.

While cruising on the highway, the direct-drive sixth gear engaged - but not always. For instance, we heard the electric motor whine up while we attempted a pass on one of the major highways around San Antonio. After we stabilized our speed, the wet clutch once again engages the direct drive in a fashion that was almost imperceptible. It was up to the Intelligent Power Unit to determine which was the best use of energy for the task at hand.

This continued through most of our drive along dual-lane highways in the area. Keeping an eye on the mpg-e (mpg equivalent) meter, we started off slow and steady through the backroads of a state that could fit the 23 smallest European countries within its borders.

Honda and the EPA cite a 50 mpg city rating from the Accord. We think they are sandbagging. While we never claim to be hypermilers, it was not too difficult to surpass that figure. Before we knew it, our gauge was reading out a measure of 58.3 mpg average for an admittedly hand-chosen combined city/highway route. Some of our tree-hugging colleagues, through the use of annoying slow speed driving tactics, no air conditioning and windows-up conditions in 95 degrees of Texas heat, easily surpassed that for an 83.7 mpg average.

We'll let them take the prize this time, but, suffice to say, Honda might have the most appealing fuel miser yet on its hands.

Leftlane's bottom line

Prodigal son Honda returns with its latest Accord Hybrid offering and we'd have to say all things are forgiven. Using innovative technology in a well-received and recognized package, at a reasonable price, will only heat up the Hybrid Wars.

This time, they'll be ready.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid base price range, $29,155 to $34,905.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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