The Honda Way to MPG
Honda is the rare mainstream auto manufacturer directed by an engineering mindset, a determined focus resulting in a legacy of innovation that has become known as the “Honda Way.”
Continuing that legacy is the 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid. It features a remarkable hybrid system that delivers an EPA fuel economy rating of 50-mpg City/45-mpg Highway/47-mpg Combined. Those numbers are tops in the midsize car segment for a non-plug-in car.
By comparison, Toyota’s Camry Hybrid, the top-selling midsize hybrid car, has EPA numbers of 43 City/39 Highway/41 Combined for the LE model, 40 city/38 highway/40 combined for the XLE edition.
Now in its sophomore year, the 2015 Accord Hybrid continues to be available in three trim levels. The base model, referred to as Hybrid, is priced at $29,945 including $790 destination charges. Next is the EX-L at $32,965, followed by the top end Touring, $35,695.
There are no significant changes for the 2015 model year.
How’d They Get That MPG?
To achieve the mpg numbers, Honda ignored its long-standing mild hybrid system and started from scratch, creating a new full hybrid system called Two-Motor Hybrid Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD). A mouthful for sure, but it is an elegant design unlike any other.
Engineers deftly combined a newly developed 2.0-liter four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine dedicated for hybrid vehicles with a pair of electric motors, a lithium-ion battery pack and an innovative transmission. One motor powers the front wheels, while the other, the motor-generator, is dedicated solely to making electricity, not unlike the current Chevrolet Volt’s system.
The system switches between three drive modes—electric-only, hybrid and gasoline engine drive. The mix of power sources is managed largely by onboard sensors that combine the optimum acceleration and energy usage according to the driving situation.
The car will operate on electricity only until the energy from the 1.3-kilowatt battery pack (located in the trunk) is depleted—around two miles in careful city driving. But electric driving can also occur during cruising speeds on flat or downhill roadways.
The gasoline engine produces 141 horsepower and, when the motors operate in conjunction with the engine, the total powertrain output is 196 horsepower and 226 pounds-feet of torque. With this system, the gas engine is only rarely connected to the front wheels which, again, is similar to the Volt.
The electric transmission uses the two electric motors to control both the engine and electric motor rotation via a lock-up clutch. At highway cruising speeds, the clutch is engaged, connecting the drive motor to the generator motor to transmit engine torque directly to the drive wheels. In EV mode, when the battery-powered drive motor is used for either acceleration or regenerative braking, the clutch disengages the halted gasoline engine from the drivetrain.
Styling Is, Well, It’s An Accord
Accord received a clean sheet redesign for 2013, and it is a model of family car design. Its relatively flat roofline contributes to exceptional headroom, smart packaging creates generous rear-seat legroom and large side windows let in lots of light.
Even so, you’ll never mistake this for anything other than an Accord. It still looks like a family sedan, although it’s not as conservatively styled as in the past. An expressive, but not aggressive, grille, combined with a curvaceous hood and body sides suggest that the adjective handsome applies here.
There is little to differentiate the 2014 Accord Hybrid from your basic, garden-variety Accord. Eagle-eyed observers will notice its hybrid badging, blue-accented grille and headlamp lenses, rear spoiler and unique wheels.
The Inside Story
Give credit to the interior designers for continuing Accord’s heritage of near-class-leading roominess. Preserved as well is high-grade passenger-compartment materials and workmanship. Every surface the driver and passengers are likely to contact is suitably padded with high-quality looking materials. Panels feel solid to the touch and workmanship is top drawer.
The dashboard also reflects the designer’s eye. There’s a balanced proportion to the instrument panel shape and layout, and dashboard sophistication is up a notch thanks to a standard eight-inch diagonal information screen mounted at its center.
However, I found a fussiness to the controls that’s bedazzling. Buttons are everywhere, seeming to overtake the center of the dashboard. After a week of driving the Accord Hybrid, I couldn’t grasp the markings and the logic of their groupings to use them casually.
The Hybrid has its own dedicated gauge cluster. Centered is a large, round speedometer with simple numerals on a field of matte-black. To the right, battery charge and fuel level gauges are shown
and on the left is a power use gauge. There’s also a power flow meter that shows where the power is coming from: engine, electric motor or both.
In-cabin storage space is plentiful. While the standard Accord’s trunk is family-vacation generous, the Hybrid’s is whittled down in size to a couple’s weekend thanks to the placement of the battery pack.
Tech Feature Rich
The available features list witnesses Honda’s commitment to bringing technology front and center. Standard on the base Hybrid is Smart Entry and Start, a rearview camera system with Honda’s
LaneWatch blind-spot display, Bluetooth, Pandora integration, SMS text capability, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10-way power driver’s seat and a six-speaker audio system.
Other high-tech features include lane departure and forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, a voice-recognition navigation system and HondaLink that connects the car via the owner’s smartphone to music and media resources such as Aha by Harman.
Standard on all Hybrid models is Honda’s double-pane Expanded View Driver’s Mirror, cruise control and a tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio controls.
Driving the 2015 Accord Hybrid
A characteristic of the Hybrid’s handling package is torque steer, which plagues many powerful front-wheel drive cars. Put a foot heavy on the go pedal and the Hybrid will reward you with a slight tug to one side on the steering wheel and a chirp from the tires, which is only the churning brew of gasoline and electricity under the hood trying to assert itself.
And who thought that would ever be said about a five-passenger hybrid family car?
Yes, that sort of driving defeats the purpose of hybrid fuel economy, but the positive is: the car is powerful enough to avoid anxious moments pulling into fast-moving traffic or the passing lane.
Keeping the powertrain in electric mode in town is easy at speeds of 35 mph or less. The transition between the gas engine and electric motor isn’t always seamless. Sometimes there’s a slight pause, as if the computer controls can’t quite decide what to do.
On the highway, the drive experience is Honda Accord smooth, and no midsize car beats the Accord’s firm but composed ride quality. The suspension is clunk- and thunk-free. It simply deals with road irregularities with casual competence, whether the challenge is a hole in the asphalt, a gravel shoulder, uneven paving or rough surfaces.
The Hybrid sits tight even when you take the curves faster than you should. Steering has a distinct natural feel and braking action from the regenerative system offers a solid feel without the grabbiness of other hybrids.
For most of the 210 miles we drove during our week with a Touring model, we engaged the Eco mode. It softens the powertrain response and operates the climate controls at a conservative setting. The combination of Eco, a light foot on the accelerator that resulted in driving on battery power much of the time in town and careful braking, yielded a mpg of 49.8 — nearly 3 mpg better than the EPA’s 47-mpg rating.
Sometimes car company decisions make you want to scream. For me, with the Accord Hybrid, it’s the frustrating infotainment system and all of the dashboard buttons.
But if you accept that the marketplace is the final judge of an automaker’s wisdom, one has to concede over the years that Honda is among the gifted and talented group. The Accord Hybrid feels so good to drive and is so nicely furnished that Honda’s standing is in no jeopardy.
And then there’s that innovative hybrid system, which does Honda proud.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle, which does not address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology, during which we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements. Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class or are among the top mpg vehicles on the market. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at firstname.lastname@example.org.