SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- This doesn’t seem like the right place to launch a hybrid car. Texas is land of the pickup truck, land of the cattle ranch, land of the oil wells, with gasoline prices often as much as thirty cents lower than the national average. It’s hard to imagine a hybrid becoming trendy here.
Honda says it makes perfect sense as the place to launch its 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid. Old as the cliché is, everything’s still bigger in Texas. To Honda, the Accord Hybrid is big. It may not have a big engine or a lot of cargo space (3 cubic feet less trunk space than the gasoline model), but it does have something that no other four-door sedan has: a 50 mpg city EPA rating. Honda thinks that number is a game changer.
How did they do it?When Honda decided to revive the Accord Hybrid after its early-2000s flop, which combined Integrated Motor Assist and a V-6 gas engine, they set out to become a leader in full-hybrid technology. That required no small amount of innovation from Honda’s Research and Development Team.
For starters, the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid's 2.0-liter, 141 horsepower, 4-cylinder Atkinson cycle engine is a first for Honda. Atkinson cycle engines use slightly different valve timing than conventional internal combustion engines, which makes them efficient but at the expense of power. Honda’s VTEC technology allows the engine to operate with normal timing under heavy engine loads. The result is a car that feels plenty powerful for highway passing and quick accelerations, a refreshing change from some full hybrids that seem to be willfully sluggish.
The real innovation, though, is the transmission, which Honda calls an e-CVT. Instead of using pulleys connected to the engine and the wheels to transmit power, Honda uses its two-motor hybrid system to get power to the wheels. The Honda system has one motor – the generator motor – that’s connected to the engine and generates electricity. That electricity is then used to power the second motor – the drive motor – that powers the wheels. In this system, the engine is only rarely coupled to the wheels, not unlike the Chevrolet Volt’s system, but without the plug.
Drive modesThe 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid has three drive modes: Engine mode, Hybrid mode, and EV mode. Most driving will take place in Hybrid mode. During hybrid drive the engine powers the generator motor, which in turn creates electricity for the drive motor, which drives the front wheels. In hybrid mode, the engine is completely decoupled from the drive wheels.
In the EV mode, which doesn’t run long with the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid’s relatively small battery pack, the drive motor propels the car using power directly from the battery, with no help from the engine or the generator motor. Honda says EV mode can last up to a couple of miles in city driving. Once the battery no longer has enough juice to power the motor, the car automatically switches back to its default Hybrid mode.
Only in Engine mode is the gas four directly connected to the drive wheels. Applied automatically at medium to high speeds, the engine uses a fixed-gear transmission that provides a mix of power and efficiency similar to that of a fifth or sixth gear in a car with a manual transmission.
A hybrid worth driving?On a winding road through Texas hill country the Accord Hybrid handled itself with grace, feeling solid and predictable around bends in the road. It’s stable, though it’s not going to inspire daydreams. Cruising along on a sunny Tuesday morning, we wished we were driving something with a little more character through that lovely countryside.
The Accord Hybrid isn’t designed to thrill, though. It’s designed to return stellar fuel economy. With a 50/45/47 city/highway/combined rating, the Accord is almost guaranteed to impress. On our two-hour drive we easily topped 47 mpg. During a shorter mileage challenge, we saw numbers in the mid-60s. And the Accord Hybrid manages this feat without feeling like a penalty box. With 196 total system horsepower, it’s not going to win any races, though it will beat a Toyota Prius, and it will keep up with most four-cylinder midsize sedans.
So you think you want an Accord Hybrid?A base model Accord Hybrid starts at $29,945, and includes a USB audio interface, Bluetooth connectivity, power windows, and an eight-inch i-MID display, which shows the standard backup camera, fuel economy information, and audio functions. The mid-level EX-L adds leather trimmed seats, XM radio, Lane Departure and Forward Collision Warning, a premium audio system, and other upgrades. That model starts at $32,965. For $35,695 drivers can upgrade to the top Touring trim level, with Adaptive Cruise Control and a navigation system with FM traffic information.
The Accord Hybrid easily outfoxes much of its competition in terms of packaging and driving enjoyment. Add in its class-leading fuel economy and it seems like the right choice for many green shoppers, though the price tag is higher than many of its competitors. Bargain hunters will prefer the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, which comes in at $30,550 in top trim level, or the Ford Fusion Hybrid, which starts south of $27,000. Though its styling is a bit staid for our tastes, it certainly will attract traditional Honda customers at the same time its 50-mpg city rating attracts traditional hybrid customers.
2014 Honda Accord Hybrid
|Powertrain:||2.0-liter Atkinson cycle DOHC I-4|
|Horsepower:||Gasoline engine: 141 hp @ 6200 rpm. Total hybrid system power: 196 hp|
|Torque:||122 lb-ft @ 3500-6000 rpm|
|Measurements:||192.2 x 72.8 x 57.5 in.|
|Legroom F/R:||42.5/38.5 in.|
|Headroom F/R:||39.1/37.5 in.|
|Cargo capacity (trunk):||12.7 cu ft, 12.3 cu ft in EX-L and Touring due to subwoofer|
|Curb Weight:||3550 lbs|
|EPA fuel economy:||50/45 mpg city/hwy|