Road Test: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

Road Test: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

Fun But Ultra-Responsible – A New Midsize Hybrid MPG Leader at 50 MPG. 

Honda,Hybrid,Accord,MPG, fuel economy,fun

The New MPG Leader Adds Fun To The Mix

Honda built a legacy of innovation by taking the high road when engineering automobiles that became known as the “Honda Way.”  This determined focus resulted in the Civic CVCC engine, the first engine to comply with the 1975 Clean Air Act without a catalytic converter in 1974.

Several other “firsts” followed:

  • The world’s first mass-produced aluminum-body automobile, the NSX sports car in 1990;
  • First to develop a production-based gasoline engine certified as meeting Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) exhaust levels in 1995; and
  • The Honda Insight became the first gas-electric hybrid car sold in the U.S. in 1999.

Of late, however, those who write about cars and the auto industry have suggested that over the past few years Honda has “lost the Honda way” or “lost its mojo.”

Enter the 2014 Accord Hybrid as evidence that the automaker has found its way again; its revived mojo engineered a remarkable hybrid system that delivers an EPA fuel economy rating of 50 mpg city/45 mpg highway and 47 mpg combined.

By comparison, Toyota’s Camry Hybrid, the top-selling midsize hybrid in 2013, has EPA numbers of 43 city/39 higway/41 combined for the LE model, 40 city/38 highway/40 combined for the XLE edition.

For the introduction of its new hybrid system, Honda wisely chose the Accord, a midsize sedan with an unbeatable brew of smart engineering, efficient packaging, and rewarding road manners. It also happens to be Honda’s best-selling vehicle.

Honda offers the Accord Hybrid in three levels. The base model, referred to as Hybrid, is priced at $29,945 including $790 destination charges. Next is the EX-L, $32,965 followed by the top-end Touring, $35,695.

Here are the details.

“Earth Dreams” Hybrid System

The hybrid powertrain architecture employed by the 2014 Accord Hybrid is a mirror of the Accord Plug-in system with the exception of different-sized battery packs. It falls under the umbrella of Honda’s Earth Dreams Technology, an initiative in which the efficiency of internal combustion components, including the engine and transmission as well as electric motor technology, is improved. The goal is a significant reduction in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

Honda calls the Accord’s system: Two-Motor Hybrid Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) System. A mouthful for sure, but it is an elegant engineering design.

i-MMD combines a newly-developed engine dedicated for hybrid vehicles, an electric continuously variable transmission (CVT) coupled with two built-in motors, a lock-up clutch and a lithium-ion battery pack. The system switches between three drive modes – electric-only, hybrid and engine-only 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.

Producing 141 horsepower and 122 pound-feet of torque of gasoline power, the new 2.0-liter I-VTEC four-cylinder engine incorporates an Atkinson cycle operation, a first for a Honda engine. For added efficiency, the air conditioning compressor and water pump are both powered by the electrical system, and electric power steering eliminates the traditional hydraulic power steering pump. The automaker says it is the most efficient internal combustion engine in the world.

Coupled to the engine are two built-in motors. A 124 kW propulsion motor powers the front wheels while a generator motor that is always connected to the gas engine generates electric energy to drive the propulsion motor when the vehicle is operating in the hybrid mode. Combined, the two motors have a maximum output of 166 horsepower. When they operate in conjunction with the gas engine the powertrain delivers a competitive 196 horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque.

EV Mode will operate the car on electricity only until the energy from the 1.3 kW battery pack located in the trunk is depleted – around two miles in careful city driving.  But, it also will also kick in during cruising speeds on flat or downhill roadways.

In hybrid mode, the Accord Hybrid operates similar to the Chevrolet Volt. The gas engine only powers the generator motor, which delivers electrons to the propulsion motor that alone turn the front wheels. If additional energy is produced, it is directed to the battery.

Engine drive mode mechanically couples the gas engine to the drive wheels via the single-speed transmission. This occurs at highway speeds where the 2.0-liter four is most efficient.

The Accord Hybrid’s transmission operates with some of the characteristics of a continuously variable transmission but the E-CVT, as Honda calls it, isn’t actually a CVT. In fact, it’s not like what we would normally call a transmission: no pulleys or belts, no torque converter or drive clutch.

Instead, the E-CVT uses the two electric motors to control both the engine and electric motor rotation via the 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 gasoline engine from the drivetrain.

The Honda’s standard straight-gate shifter has two selections. The D position is for normal driving, the B (Brake) position provides significantly increased regenerative braking.

Exterior Styling

Accord received a clean sheet redesign for model year 2013, breaking precedent by shrinking rather than growing in size. It may look longer and sleeker than its immediate predecessor, but the body lost 3.5 inches in

Honda-Accord-Hybrid-interior-MPG

Big Where It Counts

length while interior space was increased.

This latest Accord sedan 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.

Its exterior appearance is not the most alluring car in the class – Ford’s Fusion and the Mazda6 are top contenders for that honor – but it is not without style. An expressive, but not aggressive, grille combined with a curvaceous hood and body sides suggest that the adjective handsome applies here.

What isn’t apparent is low-drag exterior surfaces, including nearly flush windshield glass, that combine with careful underbody tailoring to contribute to fuel economy.

There is little to differentiate the 2014 Accord Hybrid from your basic, garden-variety Accord. But 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. All automakers are struggling to cut costs and reduce weight, leading to thinner, hard plastic panels in place of more luxurious padded surfaces.

The Accord avoids this compromise. 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.

 

Honda-Accord-Hybrid-MPG-interior

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button

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 this year thanks to a standard 8-inch diagonal information screen mounted at its center.

However, there’s 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.

Efficient interior packaging delights good engineers and the Accord makes the most of a slightly shortened wheelbase to provide abundant front passenger room.

In-cabin storage space is plentiful, and 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.

A step up to the EX-L model adds Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Warning systems, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a moonroof, premium audio and the new HondaLink that connects the car via the

Honda-Accord-Hybrid-quality-MPG

Still Right To the Touch

owner’s smartphone to music and media resources such as Aha by Harman, Internet apps, roadside assistance and more.

The high-feature Touring model adds adaptive cruise control and a voice-recognition navigation system.

Standard features on all Hybrid models include Honda’s double-pane Expanded View driver’s mirror, cruise control and a tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio controls.

Behind The Steering Wheel

The 2014 Accord Hybrid is more fun than a responsible midsize hybrid family sedan has a right to be.

A characteristic of the Hybrid’s handling package is torque steer, which plagues many overpowered front-wheel-drive cars. Put your foot to the floor 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.

But who thought that would ever be said about a five-passenger hybrid family car?

OK, a 0-to-60 time of 7.1 seconds isn’t sport sedan quick, but it beats the four-cylinder gasoline Accord with a CVT by a half a second. Oh, it is also quicker than those other hybrid family sedans. You know, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.

Of course rapid starts and exuberant driving takes a toll on fuel economy and isn’t what the Accord Hybrid is about. After a couple of hours and 67 miles of “having some fun,” the instrument panel readout was 37.2 mpg.

A week with the Hybrid and the odometer had added 362.3 miles. Part of our time spent was in Seattle where we logged 63 miles with its steep hills and often narrow streets. The balance of our driving included 167 miles of Interstate and two-lane highways plus, 65 miles of the typical in-town daily errands in our hometown of Olympia.

With the exception of our having-some-fun time, we engaged the Eco mode that 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 and careful braking, our 65 miles of in-town driving yielded 59.8 mpg. At week’s end, our combined mpg tallied 51.1 – 4 mpg better than the EPA rating.

Honda is the uncommon mainstream carmaker directed by an engineering mindset, and the engineer’s desire for mechanical parts to operate in harmony pervades the Accord Hybrid. There’s a distinct natural feel to the control effort – turn the steering wheel and response is smooth and linear. What you ask the car to do, it does, and in just the doses you request.

A new front suspension employing vertical struts communicates the tires’ interaction with the pavement to further boost confidence. But it’s really a matter of degree, because the Hybrid is not embarrassed by a twisty road.

No midsize car beats Accord’s firm but composed ride quality. A new mechanical damping system uses two pistons. One is tuned to small imperfections on smoother roads; the other tames rough roads, potholes and sudden steering or braking action.

Engineers crafted a more efficient regenerative braking system called Electro Servo Braking. It’s a hydraulic system activated by an electronic actuator, and regenerative braking begins the moment the foot is lifted from the accelerator. In addition to the payoff in efficiency, the brakes stop the car with reassuring quickness without the mushy feeling associated with regenerative brakes.

Using the electric motor as the transmission, like an all-electric car, the motor’s instantly available torque accelerates the Hybrid rapidly from stop. The E-CVT replicates the feel of a traditional set up quite well, however while accelerating at around 28 mph, engine revs wanted to catch up with actual speed much like a conventional CVT. This was a little disconcerting at first, but after a couple of days wasn’t noticed.

The overall handling and ride quality of the 2014 Accord establishes new standards for the midsize class. Add to that an interior that is pleasantly hushed with only appropriate feedback of road noise and the package is likely sending competitors back to their drawing boards.

Bottom Line – Competition/Pricing

At first glance Honda’s pricing of $29,945 for the base model 2014 Accord Hybrid is anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 more than midsize hybrid competitors. Hyundai’s Sonata Hybrid is the lowest priced starting at

Honda-Accord-Hybrid-MPG-fuel economy

Fun & 50 MPG – Honda Accord Hybrid Hits It!

$26,445. It’s followed by the Kia Optima Hybrid, $26,700; Toyota Camry Hybrid, $27,140; and the Ford Fusion Hybrid, $27,990.

Take a close look and you will find that Honda doesn’t offer options ala carte. Instead, it favors a model hierarchy in which equipment multiplies as you ascend the price ladder. This can make the Accord Hybrid’s prices appear higher than those of direct competitors, but optioned similarly, bottom lines among the group aren’t usually far apart.

If you’re comparing the Hybrid with the standard Accord, the base Hybrid is equipped similarly to the Accord EX, priced at $26,470, which makes for around a $3,000 price differential compared to the standard Accord.

Once upon a time, we all figured extreme fuel efficiency would be the modern hair shirt – righteous but painful.

Honda gives lie to those dire expectations with the 2014 Accord Hybrid. With it, we have entered a new world of mainstream motoring: Look around at all the inefficient, uninspiring cars on the road. Given the option of driving the one that is ultimately efficient and surprisingly fun, who wouldn’t come up with the extra three bills?

Photos from the manufacturer

Posted Jan. 24, 2014

Other related stories you might enjoy:

My Top High-MPG Cars of 2013

Top 10 Best-Fuel Economy Cars of 2014

Honda Plug-In Accord Hits Emission Milestone

Honda Plug-In Accord Review

 

 

The new Volkswagen Beetle – 40 mpg blast from the past

The new Volkswagen Beetle – 40 mpg blast from the past

clean diesel, 40 mpg, Volkswagen Beetle TDI

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.

clean diesel, Volkswagen, TDI

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.

Fiat 500, high-mileage

Fiat 500

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.

clean diesel, Volkswagen, Beetle, TDI

VW Beetle TDI

2013 Fuel Economy – Real World MPG versus Automakers and EPA

2013 Fuel Economy – Real World MPG versus Automakers and EPA

Ford C-Max Hybrid

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:

Volt in Red

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.

Jetta TDI 300x200 18K

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.