Honda was the first automaker to sell a hybrid in the U.S. when it introduced the Honda Insight in 1999. Even so, it was quickly overshadowed by the Toyota Prius. Since then Honda has continued to produce hybrid vehicles, but none of them have been able to compete and grab market share from the Prius. Well, that's about to change with the manufacturer's next generation of hybrid vehicles that will take on the best from Toyota and Ford. And the shift starts with the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid that I recently tested in Texas.
Many people will remember that this isn’t the first time that Honda has produced a hybrid version of the Accord. Back in 2003 Honda released an Accord Hybrid that mated a V6 engine to an electric motor, which created a more powerful version of the Accord sedan. It sat at the top of the lineup, but failed to attract buyers since it didn’t really add more “sport” or “fuel efficiency” to the Accord. After skipping a generation, the Accord Hybrid is back and this time its four-cylinder engine and dual electric motors are prepared to take on models like the Toyota Camry Hybrid and Ford Fusion Hybrid.
Earlier this year Honda released a plug-in hybrid version of the Accord, which is unfortunately only sold in California and New York. But now Honda has released a non-plug-in version, which uses the same hybrid powertrain as the Accord PHEV. Since hybrids first hit the market, the hybrid powertrains consisted of an engine matched with an electric motor. Traditionally the electric motor would power the vehicle at low speeds and then the conventional engine would kick in at higher speeds. Honda has taken a different approach with its new two-motor hybrid (i-MMD) system.
Compared to traditional hybrid systems, where the conventional engine still powers the vehicle under most conditions, Honda’s new i-MMD two-motor hybrid system is different. The system features a 2.0L Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and two electric motors that generate a total 196 horsepower. From a stop the system starts in EV mode until it reaches around 60 mph. Above 60 mph the four-cylinder engine fires up, but rather than send its power directly to the wheels, most of the time it sends its power to a second electric motor that acts like a generator to send electricity to the lithium-ion battery. You can think of the system as being similar to the powertrain that powers the Chevy Volt. Only during high-speed cruising will the engine send its power to the rear wheels. One of the most interesting features is that the hybrid system doesn’t have a traditional transmission or CVT, instead it uses a single fixed ratio gear set.
At the end of the day, the Accord Hybrid is now the most fuel-efficient non-plug-in hybrid sedan with an EPA rating of 50 city/45 highway/47 combined. On paper the Accord Hybrid essentially ties the Ford Fusion Hybrid and is very close to the Prius. But on the road things quickly change. Ford has been criticized for its hybrid’s real world mileage that is far below the EPA rating. The Fusion Hybrid only averages 39-40 mpg in the real world, while I was able to average around 53-54 mpg in the Accord Hybrid. Even crazier, some people have been able to get in the 80 mpg range using some intense hypermilling techniques.
Throughout my drive around San Antonio, Texas the Accord Hybrid’s system felt a generation ahead of the Fusion and Camry’s hybrid systems. The transition between the four-cylinder engine and electric powertrain was so seamless that it was often hard to tell which mode the system was actually in. Luckily a small EV light goes off on the dash when in EV mode. Most of the time the hybrid system sounds more like what you would expect to hear from a fully electric vehicle.
After a short afternoon drive with the Accord Hybrid throughout the country roads in San Antonio it was obvious that Honda wants everyone to forget about every other hybrid its ever made before this. The Accord Hybrid maintains most of the attributes that make the standard Accord a great sedan and then adds a hybrid system that actually does what it is supposed to do, get great gas mileage. I drove the Accord Hybrid just like I would any regular car – fast and I still managed to average 54 mpg, seven more mpg than its combined EPA rating. This was even with the A/C on full blast. That’s more than I can say for many other hybrids on the market.
With a base price starting under $30,000 the 2014 Accord Hybrid is set to challenge the best from the hybrid segment. Also Honda stated that this hybrid system will eventually show up in a future model, so it looks like after nearly 15 years, Honda finally has a hybrid that tops the class.