With 574-miles range, the Accord plug-in hybrid will challenge the Chevrolet Volt, Ford Fusion Energi, and Toyota Prius Plug-in. My test drive was the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV), which will go on sale this January 2013 in California and New York for $39,780.
This new Accord has the classic lines of a 4-door, 5-passenger midsized sedan. With contoured doors and aerodynamic design, the sedan is a bit more impressive than earlier Accords.
Sitting behind the wheel, I see that Honda has combined premium looks with sustainability such as the Bio Fabric seats that are soft and bio-sourced, rather than plastic fabrics from petroleum sources. With the 8-inch display, I can select music from XM satellite, radio, Pandora, my iPhone or Droid; rearview camera display when I back up: I can see a map as I get navigation guidance. Instead I select the display of electric motor, engine, and lithium batteries.
To enhance my safety, the new Accord PHEV comes standard with forward collision warning, land departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. This plug-in hybrid seems as rich in telematics as the Chevrolet Volt and Prius Plugin. The Ford Energi has added features such as automatic parallel parking.
Since others have driven the car, the 6.7 kW lithium-ion battery is too low to stay in electric-only mode. Fully charged, the Accord PHEV should provide up to 15 miles in electric mode. The car automatically engages the 2L gasoline engine and the car now drives like the Accord Hybrid. The transition is automatic and smooth. I can barely hear the drive system.
I silently leave the parking lot in electric mode. At the green light, I easily accelerate into the left turn. Steering is efficient. It’s a busy auto show, so I only take the car a couple of miles before returning it so that other journalists can get behind the wheel.
Before saying goodbye to this impressive new electric car, I peak in the trunk. It has more room than some hybrids and plugins. Like most, it does not have a spare tire. Unlike the Ford Fusion Energi, the back seat cannot be lowered for more cargo.
2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid Design Details
The 2014 Accord Plug-in Hybrid Sedan features one of four efficient new powertrains for the all-new Accord. The Accord Plug-in Hybrid will also serve as the basis for a conventional hybrid version of the Accord Sedan, which will join the Honda Accord lineup in the summer of 2013.
The 2014 Accord Plug-in Hybrid is powered by Honda’s first two-motor hybrid system, and uses a new Earth Dreams ™ 2.0-liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine producing 137 horsepower, teamed with a powerful 124-kilowatt (kW) electric motor. Electric driving is supported by a 6.7 kilowatt-hour (kWh) lithium-ion (Li-Ion) battery.
The two-motor hybrid system allows the Accord PHEV powertrain to move seamlessly between all-electric EV Drive, gasoline-electric Hybrid Drive and direct Engine Drive. Fuel efficiency for the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid is expected to be 124 MPGe city, 105MPGe highway, and 115 MPGe combined, due to the new regenerative braking, first proven in the new Fit EV. It may be the first car to achieve the California Air Resources Board (CARB) stringent SULEV20 rating.
In its default upon start-up, the Accord PHEV acts as a pure electric vehicle and will continue on in full-electric mode until battery capacity necessitates the automatic switch to gas/electric hybrid operation. At higher speeds or under high demand for acceleration, the gasoline engine can kick in to provide additional power. Owners can save the all-electric mode for the ideal part of their commute.
In “HV” mode, the plug-in Accord acts as a conventional hybrid, blending motor power between gasoline and electric to maximize fuel efficiency while maintaining the battery charge level. In “HV Charge” mode, the Accord PHEV blends gasoline and electric power while also augmenting the battery charge level.
The plug-in Accord can be fully charged from a low-charge indication point in less than three hours using a standard 120-volt household electrical outlet, and in less than one hour using a 240-volt “Level-2” charger. The free HondaLink™ EV smartphone application will allow owners to easily monitor the charging state of the Accord PHEV.
A host of visibility technologies are standard on the 2014 Accord PHEV, including a rearview camera, an expanded-view driver’s mirror, Honda’s new LaneWatch™ blind-spot display, LED headlights, LED daytime running lights (DRL), and LED mirror-mounted turn indicators.
Wide Range of Features are Standard
The Accord PHEV is available in a single highly equipped trim level, based on the standard features of the premium Accord Touring model. Standard Accord PHEV features include:
- Bluetooth® HandsFreeLink®
- USB/iPod® connectivity
- Dual-zone automatic climate control
- Pandora® internet radio compatibility
- Smart Start and Smart Entry
- Honda LaneWatch™
- Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System™ with Voice Recognition2
- Multi-view rearview camera
- HondaLink™ EV telematics system
- Heated front seats
- Auto-dimming rearview mirror
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Driver’s 10-way power seat with 2-position memory
- Intelligent Multi-Information Display (i-MID)
- Audio with touchscreen interface
- Forward Collision Warning (FCW)
- Lane Departure Warning (LDW)
- Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
- Bio-Fabric seating surfaces
- Expanded-view driver’s mirror
- LED mirror-mounted turn signals
- LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL)
- LED headlights
- Fog lights
- Chrome-plated door handles
- Decklid spoiler
Plug-in Hybrid Powertrain
The Earth Dreams technology used on the Accord PHEV includes an i-VTEC 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine coupled with a two-motor hybrid drive system. The hybrid system features a 124-kW electric motor powered by a 6.7-kWh Li-Ion battery pack.
The two-motor hybrid system in the 2014 Accord Plug-in Hybrid allows power from the gasoline engine to flow directly to the front wheels, power the generator to supply electrical propulsion or even charge the battery pack. The Accord PHEV hybrid system moves seamlessly and automatically through its three powertrain states to maximize performance, efficiency and range.
Light Weighting Helps Give Car Over 500 Mile Range. Weight reduction:
- All-aluminum front subframe
- 17-inch forged aluminum wheels
- Aluminum brake pedal
- Aluminum hood
- Aluminum rear bumper beam
- Puncture repair kit (in place of gasoline-engine Accord’s spare wheel and tire)
- Aerodynamic advancements include:
- Powertrain undercover
- Cabin floor undercovers
- Rear decklid spoiler
- Aerodynamic wheel covers
- Reductions in rolling resistance include:
- Low rolling-resistance tires
- Low-friction wheel bearings
Like the all-new Accord, the new Accord PHEV offers a greater range of standard active and passive safety features than any other vehicle in Honda history. These include Vehicle Stability Assist™ (VSA®) Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW). The Accord PHEV also has an Acoustic Vehicle Alerting System (AVAS) to audibly warn pedestrians when it is approaching in EV Drive mode. Based on internal testing, the 2014 Accord PHEV is expected to earn a TOP SAFETY PICK rating from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) and 5-Star ratings in federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests.
Just as Ford has done with the Fusion family, we expect Honda to offer customers a choice between fuel-efficient engine, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid. Clean Fleet Report expects the announcement of a new Accord Hybrid later in the year, with no pricing yet announced. My test drive shows that the new Accord Hybrid with 47 miles per gallon will challenge the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid and VW Jetta Hybrid.
Plug-in hybrids sales are likely to exceed 100,000 this 2013, following the growth pattern of early adoption made by hybrids a decade ago. The Accord Plug-in Hybrid offers customers an impressive alternative to the Chevrolet Volt, Ford Fusion Energi, and Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid.
VW Beetle TDI
Everything old is new again. Or is it everything new is old again? The Volkswagen Beetle will do that to you.
And the third time around, it’s the VW Beetle and a diesel engine – how Sixties, you might say. But this is the latest version of the Beetle (the new Beetle that followed the New Beetle) and the latest clean diesel engine obliterates any memory of the sloth-like old Bugs and Rabbit diesels.
The 2013 VW Beetle TDI is no longer that bare-bones icon of the Sixties nor the note-perfect cute revival New Beetle of the past decade. It’s grown in dimensions and heft, shifting from a one-box design to something closer to a rounded version of the Golf two-box (which under the skin it closely resembles). With the 2.0-liter turbo-diesel engine, the Beetle will regularly turn in 40+ mpg on the highway. Around town it’s more modest, but high 20s or low 30s are reachable without having to baby the throttle. The EPA numbers are 28 city/ 41 highway with the manual and 29/39 with the automatic. As is the case with most diesels, and in contrast to most gasoline-fueled vehicles, beating EPA fuel economy numbers are not hard.
And that throttle of the TDI supplies plenty of power, again as is typical of modern diesels. The common rail systems precisely delivers the fuel to supply the giddy-up along with the aforementioned fuel economy. As the former owner of a vintage Bug, I can attest to the total transformation of what was once a pedestrian commuter vehicle into a comfortable daily driver with all of the amenities expected in the 21st century.
VW Beetle TDI
The Beetle Is No Longer the Entry-Level VW
Part of that transformation has been to take the Beetle from a bare-bones entry-level vehicle (and for many years the only VW most people knew) to something in the middle of the VW’s ever-expanding lineup. The lowest-cost Beetle model starts above the Jetta and Golf in price and just below the Passat. The TDI engine, a must-have for those focused on fuel economy, adds about $3,500 to the base Beetle’s price with the slick DSG automotive another $1,100 on top of that (although some other extra features are included in the TDI package compared to the base Beetle). You can save about 100 gallons of fuel a year with the diesel (compared to the base gas engine), but it might take half a decade at current or even future gas/diesel prices to make up the extra cost. However, as most diesel drivers will tell you, it’s not just the miles per gallon, but the fun per mile that helps reinforce the decision to go with that powerplant.
The Beetle is a fun car to toss around on good roads, but it also delivers a decent ride on the freeway, which is not always true of a small subcompact car. Its 100-inch wheelbase and 62-inch front track (wider than its rear track, which suggests VW designers are paying attention to subtle aerodynamics) keep the car firmly planted going over freeway joints that tend to set up an ugly pitch with many small cars. VW suggests alternatives to the Beetle are the Mini Cooper or Fiat 500, though I suspect buyers come from all over the automotive landscape since, as VW likes to say, the connection between the Beetle and its buyers is an emotional one as much one related to traditional car-buying rationales.
The Beetle, Mini & 500 – Small & Efficient
The comparison of the Beetle to what at first blush appear to be much smaller cars (the Mini and 500) may be VW’s way of rationalizing another aspect of the Beetle – it’s constricted space. That aspect is shared, along with the updated Sixties nostalgia, with the other two models. Even more so than my memories of my Sixties Bug, the back seat (maybe we were just more limber back then) is a tight squeeze to get into and has limited headroom when you get there. On the other hand, shifting from the old Bug’s rear-engine design to a front-engine configuration had given the Beetle a decent amount of storage space behind the back seat, a plus compared with the older set up. Its rounded shape does limit that storage space compared with the Mini’s squared off rear.
Another negative that comes along with the car’s “iconic” design is severely restricted rear visibility. The large C-pillar that anchors the back of the curve that defines the Beetle’s shape is functional over the right-rear, but to the left it prevents anything other than an obstructed glimpse in that direction. Another driver suggested that visibility may be a relative judgement, since she thought the VW’s rear views were significantly superior to her other daily driver, a compact sport utility. An accessory to the VW’s impairment is a rear-view mirror that also appears to appeal to historical accuracy over functionality. It’s small and, coupled with a rear window defined by the wide C-pillars, requires the driver to take at least a couple alternative views from the side mirrors to establish the presence of anything smaller than an 18-wheeler looming behind.
Comparisons with the two other retro models show them close in the fuel economy department, too. The Mini delivers anywhere from 23-to-32 mpg around town (depending on the engine and transmission) and 30-to-37 mpg on the highway with its gasoline engines, which range from 121-horsepower in the base four-cylinder up to a turbocharged model that puts out 208 hp. Of course, fuel economy and power are inversely proportional, though not as much as you might think. The Mini is the only one of the trio to offer all-wheel-drive in some of its models.
The Fiat 500, which like the Mini only offers gas engines in the U.S., will give 27-31 mpg in the city and 34-40 on the highway. It’s engines start at 101 horsepower with turbo versions bumping that up to 135 or 160 hp.
Base prices on the three retro vehicles are spread over quite a spectrum (standard equipment varies quite a bit between the different cars). The Mini Cooper starts around the same range as the Beetle ($20-21,000) while the Fiat can be had for around $16,000. If you view the TDI as the performance VW model (power plus fuel economy), it’s equivalent at Mini (the John Cooper Works) and Fiat (the Abarth) bracket it in cost. The Fiat Abarth is around $22,000; the TDI starts at $23,300 and the JCW Mini begins at $30,800.
Other than the TDI, there are two engine options with the Beetle, the base 2.5-liter five-cylinder that has 170 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque as well as 22/31 city/hwy mpg. An optional engine is the 2.0-liter turbocharged gas engine that delivers 200 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque with 21/30 city/hwy mpg. The TDI tops both in torque, particularly in the low end, which is significant since that’s the power that launches you from a start or gives you the boost you need to accelerate onto a freeway.
Overall, the Beetle TDI, even for someone without nostalgia, is an easy car to live with, as long your lifestyle doesn’t involve a substantial amount of time hauling several other adults or any large cargo. You can get used to the high mileage and sprightly performance of the car’s turbodiesel very quickly and find the 21st century version of the Bug a real answer to stylish transportation.
VW Beetle TDI
Ford C-Max Hybrid
First Honda, then Hyundai, now Ford, is in the crosshairs of criticism over inflated fuel economy numbers. It’s not that an average driver can’t get the mpg numbers found on the window sticker when you buy the car, but can you get them – or even close – in normal driving? Hypermilers can routinely max out fuel economy. For reference I’d offer the doubling of the EPA estimates that Taylors managing in a stock VW Passat TDI this year. But that’s different from being subject to commuting traffic or just the random stop-light ambush. The Hyundai and Ford complaints followed legal action early this year against Honda for failing to deliver the promised fuel economy in its hybrids.
So is it just driver error that keeps ordinary citizens from achieving the promised fuel economy? There is some truth to that, but it’s not the big problem. Here is a run-down of the issues and what can be done to sort this out.
EPA Testing Distorts Real World Driving
Ford’s immediate response to complaints about the C-Max hybrid fuel economy shortfall was to blame the EPA test cycle. Hyundai’s response was more blunt – they admitted their data submitted to EPA (fuel economy numbers are self-reported by the car companies) was off and moved to offer cash rebates to car purchasers. Honda battled in court, with some success, against its detractors.
Ford’s point about the EPA test cycle is significant, particularly for plug-in hybrids that have a variable EV-only cycle. Ford claimed the fact that the C-Max could run in EV-only mode up to 62 mph allowed the car to turn in superlative numbers in an EPA test cycle that tops out at 60 mph. Of course, in the real world, 60 mph would be a dangerously slow speed on most freeways; above 62 mph the C-Max’s gasoline engine kicks in, supplying additional power while recharging the battery, but of course bringing down the overall fuel economy.
This points out a bigger issue with the EPA test cycle. It’s only real value is that it subjects every car to the same test. The test itself is a joke. Top speed: 60 mph. No air-conditioning use until they changed the test procedure in 2008. Numbers weighted 55% city driving/45% highway, just the opposite of the numbers the Department of Transportation says the average American drives. No wonder the numbers are off and have been tweaked to try to get closer to reality several times over the years, the most recent in 2008 when they added a more aggressive driving cycle and it resulted in lower mpg numbers for many cars.
The biggest challenge to the EPA comes from plug-ins with varying EV-only cycles and their relation to real-world driving. Here’s some examples:
They Chevy Volt can run about 40 miles on electricity. If your commute is less than 40 miles and you charge each day you won’t use any gasoline until the engine decides it needs to cycle on to keep itself in working order. What does that work out to in miles per gallon? Anecdotes from Volt owners claim the use of only tens of gallons of gas for thousands of miles of driving.
Diesel cars typically get significantly (30-40%) higher highway fuel than comparable gas models, but don’t have a lower efficiency increase in around-town driving. As a consequence, virtually every press report (and many owner ones) testify that the EPA numbers for diesels are under-reporting the real world fuel economy of those cars.
The Way We Really Drive
So it seems like the question is less about the car or the test, but how we plan to drive a given car. The challenge for modern car buyers is to match the vehicle and powertrain to their driving needs and patterns. As mentioned, if you’ve got a short, well-defined commute, a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or even an electric might work to minimize fuel consumption.
On the other hand, if you take regular longer trips or have an extensive commute, a diesel or high-mileage gasoline car might be the best choice. Then, of course, you also have to factor in other dimensions such as passenger and cargo space, which may further complicate the choice since not all models have multiple powertrain options.
The good news – as we saw at the recent LA Auto Show, the options are growing and it should continue to get easier to match up a specific driver’s needs and driving patterns with the optimal vehicle configuration and powertrain.
The Los Angeles Auto Show’s media preview days’ included cars and SUVS with record fuel economy. All of the mainstream vehicle introductions – whether the vehicle was fueled by gasoline, diesel, a gasoline-electric hybrid system (that may or may not plug in) or electricity – focused on the improved fuel economy of the vehicle being introduced.
There’s a reason – or two. First, as the automakers are demonstrating, vehicle fuel economy is increasing across the board. Second, customers are buying more fuel-efficient vehicles. Even with declining gas prices, the latest numbers from the University of Michigan UMTRI study show that. January through November of 2012 the sales-weighted fuel economy average of purchased vehicles has gone from 23.5 to 24.1 mpg. That’s only a 2.5% increase, but it follows on four years of measured increases. (The first month measured in Oct. 2007 showed a 20.1-mpg average.)
As if to underscore the point, the Environmental Protection Agency released the fuel economy ratings for 2013 cars and in the “best” category the worst combined fuel economy is 42 mpg for the Prius V mid-sized station wagon.
So back to LA. We saw the introduction of a couple models that may hit the top 20 best sellers for the year, including a plug-in version of the Honda Accord, a redesigned Honda Civic and the Ford Fusion being named Green Car of the Year. But the meat of the show hit models that, while not the best sellers in a lineup, were critical to the ongoing success of a brand. Those included the Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Acura RLX, Ford Fiesta and Transit Connect Wagon, Kia Forte, Hyundai Santa Fe, Porsche Cayman, VW Beetle Convertible, Chevy Spark EV, three Fiat 500 variations and an AMG variant of the Mercedes-Benz GL, along with more exotic concept cars from several manufacturers. At least three companies – Audi, BMW and Mazda – talked more about diesel engines than new models, while Ford and Mitsubishi, among others, highlighted new technology available in their cars as much as new hardware.
If fuel economy was the frequent refrain, “class-leading” was the most popular adjective. That goal appears to be a moving target as each refreshed entry in a class seems to be poised to be the new “leader,” usually by an inconsequential one or two miles per gallon. I say inconsequential because as has been shown in the recent dust-up with Honda and Hyundai-Kia over their fuel economy claims, “your mileage may vary” has probably never carried more meaning than in current vehicles.
The plug-in vehicles that make up the EPA “best” received some new contenders, all with promises of sky-high fuel economy numbers, but the reality of the slow market acceptance of these new technologies also sank in. That’s part of a market shift that’s been going on for the past two decades. No longer are there several models selling a half million units per year. The market has become more fragmented and the consumers demands more diverse. On their side, automakers have generally learned the smart way to spin new models off of common platforms/architectures and make them appear and function in truly different ways. So the new RAV4 or Santa Fe may not sell 250,000 units, but it extends the reach and leverages the investment in the platform it’s built upon, which is shared with several car models.
Biggest Buzz of the LA Show
1. BMW i3 coupe concept. While this is not a production vehicle and not the first time BMW has shown a version of the i3, it was one of most important cars at the show because of its groundbreaking technology. BMW’s extensive use of carbon fiber points the way toward extensive weight reduction with no loss of structural integrity and at a price point much-reduced from previous technologies. Carbon fiber is one of the critical technologies needed for EV success, but it also will play a role in keeping the internal combustion engine around as it lightens up vehicles so they can use smaller engines.
2. Honda Civic. This car, while in the top five sellers in the country, was given a quick redo due to negative reviews when it was introduced last year. Honda upgraded the car’s interior and rushed the changes into production in record time. Even though the car’s sales are strong, Honda responded quickly to concerns about the model and with the changes should help it to continue as a strong contender in the compact class. As fuel economy continues to be an automaker and consumer focus, this size of vehicle becomes a key component to a brand’s success. In the same way the Cruze has led Chevrolet’s renaissance, a well-received Civic is a must-have for Honda to maintain its market position.
3. Fiat 500e and Chevrolet Spark EV. I’ll throw these two together because they represent an important shift in the image of small electric vehicles. They still have relatively short range and have little distinguishing features compared to their internal engine-powered cousins, but these two models were presented as something EVs have not been up to this point–serious performance and cars with an image beyond merely green. The torque numbers these small cars throw up and the Fiat approach that “this is an Italian car first and an electric car second” is significant. The sales numbers may not be destined to be too high, but at their lower price points these two could help rehabilitate the EV image for a whole new class of consumers.
4. Audi and Mazda champion diesel. You could add BMW to the periphery of this new wave, along with Chevy and Mercedes. This is not simply dropping in diesel and noting how much more efficient it is than old port-injected gasoline engines. Both Audi and Mazda have state-of-the-art direct injection gasoline engines that offer some of the best fuel economy in their respective classes, but still feel there is a role for high-tech modern diesels. And, as Audi’s President Scot Keogh said at the show, this is the second generation of diesels with more expected to follow. The proliferation of diesels shows yet one more path that the auto industry is taking in its attempt to satisfy its customers desire for not just fuel economy, but functionality, hence the Audi diesel shows up in two SUVs as well as its full-size sedan.
5. Ford Fusion as Green Car of the Year. For the first time, a model with one technology didn’t take home this trophy, which has been gaining prestige over the years. Previously, it’s been a battle between EVs, plug-ins, CNG, diesel, fuel cells and efficient gasoline cars. This year they gave the award to a Ford that would span several categories, coming in efficient gas, hybrid and plug-in hybrid models. It is a sign of things to come, where the consumer is going to be faced with much more complex choices in the showroom than at any time in the last century.
These five highlights of the LA Auto Show, the first major show of the season, may be sum of the direction of the automotive market. It ties things up nicely to say that new technology, rapid response to market changes, new images for alternative fuel/technology vehicles, ever-developing traditional technology and multi-faceted vehicles offering true consumer choice will be our future. And it is not happening way off in the future–these are all happening in the coming year. In that sense the LA Auto Show was a very timely window into what’s coming very soon.