There's something a little unsettling about driving the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid in all-electric mode. Press the push-button start, and the dash lights up and tells you the car is ready to go. But if you're waiting for the reassuring grumble of an engine turning over, you're going to be waiting a long time. This Accord is riding the wave of the future, and where it's going, you don't need (as many) gas pumps.
The 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid hit dealer showrooms in January 2013. With an EPA rating of 115 mpg-e combined, it is one of the most efficient cars money can buy. The Accord PHEV owes that rating to its 6.7 kWh battery, which Honda says can give drivers up to 15 miles of all-electric range when fully charged.
Is fifteen miles of range enough?
By adopting a sedate driving style and sticking to city streets, where the Accord PHEV can make the most of its regenerative braking capability, it's fairly easy to drive ten or more miles without engaging the 137-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine (combined with the electric motor, net system output is 141 hp). Still, we eked out a full 15 miles of battery-powered travel just once during our weekend with the Accord.
Driving at high speeds and using climate control will significantly decrease electric driving range. And forget about full-throttle acceleration. The Accord Plug-in can travel in electric mode at speeds of up to 80 mph, but anything other than light acceleration will make the gasoline engine kick in to lend a hand.
For our purposes, the Accord PHEV proved perfect. Our short commute on city streets with a 240-volt charging port at the end of it makes us the ideal customer for a plug-in hybrid. The car charges in just an hour with a 240-volt outlet and three hours with a 120-volt outlet, so by lunchtime the Accord is topped up and ready to go. (The speed of battery charging is the real differentiator in plug-in hybrids and EVs, we've found.) Plug it in again after lunch for the drive home, and we've gone 24 hours and almost as many miles without a drop of gasoline.
Plug-in means flexibility
Left to its own devices, the Accord Plug-in automatically depletes its battery charge before switching to its gasoline engine. Yet drivers can also elect to save battery charge for later, say if they're driving fifty miles on the highway before ending up on city streets, which is a worthwhile feature.
We like plug-in hybrids because the gasoline engine offers flexibility for drivers who sometimes need more range than a fully electric car could offer, just as in our weekend trip to darkest Indiana. Yet the Accord Plug-in is by no means a family road trip car, as we discovered. Why? Two words: trunk space. Because of the big battery pack, there's hardly room for a couple of overnight bags back there, so forget about packing a volleyball net or a few bags of groceries. If you're traveling in the Accord PHEV, you'll be traveling light.
The 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in is good at what it does. It returns truly impressive gas mileage, drives well in the city and on the highway, and makes up for its short battery life with a very quick recharging time. Passengers found the ride smooth and were impressed by the car's standard technology, like a blind-spot camera that turns on when the right turn signal is engaged. The Accord PHEV suffers from slightly dorky "Look, I'm an EV!" styling -- those aerodynamic wheels may help fuel economy but they're not going to help you get a date -- but its crimes of fashion aren't egregious.
Better than the competition?
Good it may be, but how does the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in stack up to the competition? It's a fairly even fight. The Ford Fusion Energi gets up to 21 miles of electric range, and it's available with leather seating, while the Accord is only available with Honda's tacky, eco-friendly cloth seats. Both cars start right around $40,000. Both are eligible for federal tax credits -- $3,750 for the Fusion Energi and $3,334 for the Accord Plug-in. They'll both serve you well, if a plug-in hybrid is what you're looking for. What's not clear is just how many people are looking for them.
The Honda Accord Plug-in has sold just 200 copies in six months in the two states where it's available, California and New York. Honda says it's only planning to sell 1,100 of the vehicles in a two-year period, so don't expect to see them on every corner.
Annie White is an associate editor at Jean Knows Cars. Click here to find more of her writing.
2014 Honda Accord Plug-in
|Base Price:||$40,570 (including destination)|
|Engine:||DOHC 2.0-liter I-4|
|Electric Motor:||AC Synchronous Permanent-magnet, 124 kW|
|Horsepower:||141 @ 6200 RPM (system net)|
|Electric Range:||15 miles|
|Cargo Capacity:||8.6 cu ft|
|EPA Rating:||47/46 city/highway (gasoline engine only)|