Honda does a lot of things very well. Small cars like the Fit and Civic; the CR-V crossover; minivans; racing cars; the Accord, of course; and let’s not forget those motorcycles.
But while it was the first automaker to offer a hybrid car in the United States with the original Insight in 1999, it hasn't had much luck in the segment since. Just one relative sales flop after another despite the fact that many of them have been very good cars.
Through November of this year, Honda only sold about 18,000 hybrids, which is less than Toyota sold IN November. Clearly, there’s work to be done. And from the looks of the 2014 Accord Hybrid, it’s been clocking some overtime.
The Ohio-built car is aimed squarely at the top selling Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion in the midsize hybrid sedan class. Its 47 mpg combined fuel economy rating matching the Fusion, and trouncing the Camry by 6 mpg.
The Accord’s $29,945 base price makes it the most expensive of the three, but it's the roomiest and comes with the highest level of standard equipment, including projector beam headlights and Honda’s unique right side blind spot camera, which displays an image of what's occupying the right lane next to you on a screen in the center of the dashboard so you don't have to turn your head too far to find out for yourself.
It also has a unique drivetrain that’s more like the ones used by plug-in hybrid cars than any of its ilk. In fact, it’s basically the same as the one in the Accord Plug-In that launched earlier this year, only with a smaller battery pack.
An electric motor drives the front wheels by itself most of the time, drawing energy from either the lithium-ion battery pack mounted in the trunk, or the 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine under the hood turning a generator.
There’s no traditional transmission, so the power delivery is very smooth and linear, just like in a pure electric car. When it’s on, the speed of the gasoline motor rises and falls with electric load requirements, much as it would in a conventional vehicle with a CVT transmission, like the standard Accord. It moans a bit when your foot’s to the floor, but otherwise hardly makes itself known.
That's not to say it can't be bossy, now and then. Via its generator, the gas motor can couple to the electric drive motor and take over, sending torque directly to the wheels. This only happens at highway speeds, usually between 50-70 mph. Think of it as an overdrive gear even though there really isn’t a gearbox. It’ll do this as long as you’re light on the throttle, then switch back to battery power with an almost turbo-like surge when you press hard on the accelerator.
The Chevy Volt works in a similar way. The engineers of both cars discovering that it’s more efficient to let the good old internal combustion engine do its thing at certain speeds, rather than just using it as a generator all the time.
The result is a car that’s very nice to drive, with lots of torque from the electric motor combining with the Accord's excellent road manners to deliver a no-compromises package. One that can be outfitted with all the options available on the regular accord, including lane departure warning, radar cruise control, and navigation.
But with hybrids the ultimate proof is in the MPG pudding, and while many don't deliver anywhere near their EPA rating in the real world, including the Camry and Fusion in my experience, I saw mid-40’s with the Accord and didn’t need to go out of my way to get that view.
While the regular Accord is arguably the best sedan in the midsize class, as far as I’m concerned this is hands-down the best in the midsize hybrid class, assuming its reliability proves to be up to Honda’s usual snuff.
Not only that, but it’s so much larger and more refined than the 50 mpg Prius that I’d gladly sacrifice those 3 mpg and make the $4,000 stretch to get into one of these.
It wouldn’t hurt a bit.
2014 Honda Accord Hybrid
Base Price: $29,945
Type: 4-door, 5-passenger sedan
Powertrain: 2.0-liter four-cylinder and 124 kW electric motor
Power: 196 hp
MPG: 50 city/45 hwy