With the launch of the Insight in 1999, Honda became the first automaker to offer a mass production hybrid. Since then, Honda has built Jets, ASIMO and the S2000, but little has changed in its gasoline-electric technology lab.
|1. A new two-mode hybrid system using a 2.0L 4-cylinder, electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack combines to offer 196-hp and 226 lb-ft of torque.
2. With Honda claiming at least a 100 MPGe rating the Accord PHEV can get between 10 and 15 miles of electric range per charge.
3. The Accord PHEV offers a one-hour charge time using a 240-volt outlet and can charge up to eight miles of range in just 30 minutes.
Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist system is as outdated as a first gen Blackberry in an iPhone5 world and consumers have responded, voting with their wallets to make the word Prius, not Insight, synonymous with the term hybrid.
The 2014 Honda Accord, however, marks a major shift in Honda’s engineering push. Playing catch up with others in terms of technologies like direct-injection on its gasoline powerplants, it’s finally moving into the 21st century of alternative powertrains, albeit a decade late.
NEW ACCORD LOOKS, PLUS HYBRID GETS ITS OWN STYLE
And yet Honda has seemingly caught up immediately with the launch of the 2014 Accord PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle). Based on an all-new Accord platform that’s 3.6-inches shorter overall but with the same interior space, the plug-in Accord is also styled to stand out.
Compared to the rest of the new Accord lineup, the PHEV gets a unique grille that’s certainly more dramatic, though hardly more appealing. Compared to its internal combustion counterparts, it also gains a comically large H on the grille.
And then there are the wheels. Light weight 17-inch forged aluminum units, not all is as it appears, with a simple spoke design hiding behind the aerodynamically styled wheel covers – or just call them hubcaps if you prefer.
HONDA DITCHES OUTDATED HYBRID TECH
Of course the real story is what’s under the hood, with Honda’s first-ever two-mode hybrid system using a lithium-ion battery pack, electric motor and a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder making a combined 196-hp and 226 lb-ft of torque. While acceleration is less than shocking (groan, we know), it’s perfectly suitable for a mid-size sedan.
In many ways it feels a lot like a Prius – although without the horribly slow part – and that’s a good thing. The transition from gas to electric power is smooth and we’re thrilled to report that unlike the old IMA system used in cars like the Civic Hybrid and CR-Z, the start-stop function at idle is smooth.
The brakes are surprisingly consistent, a rarity amongst hybrids, which first engage the regenerative function and then transition to conventional braking delivering disparate pedal feel. Honda solved this issue by having the regenerative function operate for almost the entire pedal travel. This also helps to maximize the recharging function to deliver maximum electric range.
YOUR CHOICE: HYBRID OR EV?
As for range, Honda claims the Accord PHEV will get 10 to 15 miles of electric-only propulsion from its 6.7 kWh battery pack and 124-kilowatt (kW) electric motor, although what’s perhaps more important is just how fuel efficient it is once that range has been depleted, not to mention the fact that Honda lets you choose just when you want to use the electric miles. This is particularly handy to help maximize fuel usage as electric cars are at max efficiency in the city, whereas an internal combustion engine operates best out on the highway. As a result, the Accord plug-in hybrid will let you start your morning commute on the highway operating much in the say way a conventional hybrid would, and then once you reach the congested city streets, you can switch over to electric power.
Hopping behind the wheel for a rather short spin, it’s more than a little impressive to see the fuel economy gauge in the center of the car’s speedometer read out 199.9 mpg. An official EPA MPGe rating has yet to be released, but Honda expects no less than 100 MPGe, based on a combined cycle of electric and hybrid propulsion.
We drove a few miles in pure EV mode on city streets and on the highway before resetting the gauge and hitting the large “HV” button in front of the gear shifter, switching the car over to a conventional hybrid drive mode. After a few more miles on the highway and then some city driving we were more than a little surprised to see the numbers had averaged out to 55 mpg – better even than the Prius.
QUICK CHARGING THAT’S ACTUALLY QUICK
And the Honda’s hybrid performance isn’t limited just to range or fuel economy either. A huge aspect of owning one of these vehicles is the ability to recharge the battery, and thus avoid using fuel at all. A full charge using a conventional 120-volt household outlet takes under three hours, while a 240-volt charging station can do the job in just an hour. Better yet, up to 8 miles of range can be recharged in just 30 minutes. Comparatively, cars like the Prius plug-in hybrid or the Volt take up to 1.5 hours to recharge just 4 miles of electric range.
STILL AN ACCORD
From the driver’s seat the plug-in version isn’t dramatically different from the rest of the new Accord lineup, which is a good thing for family sedan buyers who aren’t looking to make a dramatic change.
The seats are made of a special bio fabric with a reduced impact on the environment, while a new gauge cluster sits just behind the steering wheel. On the left side can be found the typical power gauge, displaying how much power is being used or how much energy is being recharged. On the right side are separate displays for the fuel gauge and for the battery life gauge. A central speedometer also includes a multi-information screen including numerous energy-flow graphics.
Pricing for the Accord PHEV has yet to be released but it’s not likely to be very cheap. Apart from the technology it uses, Honda has also packed it full of standard features similar to what you’ll get in the $33,430 Accord Touring model. Those include: Bluetooth, USB and iPod docks, dual-zone climate control, keyless access with a push-button ignition, navigation, a multi-view backup camera, the HondaLink telematics system, heated front seats, a leather wrapped steering wheel with 10-way power driver’s seat, Fordward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning and adaptive cruise control, LED headlights and daytime running lights, a rear spoiler and Honda’s new LaneWatch system, which displays (in real time) what’s in the passenger side blindspot on the central 8-inch monitor. In addition, much like with the Fit EV, Accord PHEV owners can also download the HondaLink EV smartphone app to monitor their car’s charge level and range, schedule charging for off-peak hours, find a charging station, pre-set the heat or cooling and see what the car’s charge range is.
Proof that Honda still has the engineering chops when it focuses its efforts, the Accord plug-in hybrid goes beyond our expectations, delivering both impressive performance and fuel economy, but also a driving feel that’s first rate.
What isn’t yet clear is if those interested in a plug-in hybrid really want a mid-size sedan, or if their urban or commuter needs are better served in a smaller package. Additionally, it’s equally up-in-the-air as to whether mid-size sedan buyers want a plug-in hybrid. Luckily for Honda, chances are in the not to distant future both of those questions will be answered in the affirmative and Honda has the product to meet those needs. A company that’s been chastised plenty for “putting on the jogging pants” seems to be have turned a corner in its green car efforts, once again taking a leadership role.