Fun But Ultra-Responsible – A New Midsize Hybrid MPG Leader at 50 MPG.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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A Hybrid That Has It All
By: Lynne Hall and Larry E. Hall
If you believe performance, luxury and fuel economy is an oxymoron, then you haven’t driven Infiniti’s 2013 M35h. The h is for hybrid… and horsepower.
Performance? The 360 combined horsepower of the V-6 engine and electric motor blasts the hybrid sports sedan from 0 to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds, and the quarter mile in a time of 13.9031 seconds—a Guinness Book of World Records (for a hybrid).
Luxury? The interior is detailed, refined and awash in wood trim and high-grade leather with creature comforts befitting its luxury status.
Oh yeah, fuel economy? Considering its performance capabilities, the Infiniti M35h has an astonishing EPA fuel economy rating of 27/32 mpg city/highway, with a combined rating of 29 mpg. That’s a huge leap beyond the gas-powered M37’s (the 2011 replacement for the M35) numbers of 18/26 and 21 combined.
Infini’s M35h Hybrid Has It All–at a price
The hybrid system, called “Infiniti Direct Response Hybrid,” was developed and engineered solely by Nissan, Infiniti’s parent company. This is the Japanese automaker’s first foray into a home-grown hybrid propulsion system and uses technologies developed for the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle, including the lithium-ion battery and electric motor. (Nissan’s first hybrid offering, the discontinued Altima Hybrid, was developed by licensing Toyota’s gas-electric technology.)
Nissan engineers designed the M Hybrid system to fit all of Infiniti’s rear-wheel-drive models, including the G sedan and coupe and the EX and FX crossovers. That suggests a strong hybrid path for the Infiniti luxury line.
If Nissan, the most ardent of electric car champions, is trumpeting the benefits of a gas-electric hybrid, it must say something about the enduring role that hybrids can play in improving the fuel efficiency of faster and more spacious cars that fuel up at the pumps instead of the plug. Its meaning to the green car movement shouldn’t be easily dismissed
Available in a single edition with three option packages, the 2013 Infiniti M35h has a base price starting at $54,200, a $500 increase over the outgoing model. For its sophomore year, the M Hybrid adds standard features including, auto-dimming sideview mirrors and auto-trunk cincher, and the addition of a rear sonar system to the Premium Package.
A “P2” Hybrid System
The Infiniti M35h is the first fully Nissan hybrid
Infiniti’s hybrid system gives consumers another flavor of hybrid technology—to compete against full hybrids from Toyota/Lexus, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Ford and others. Bearing some resemblance to the two-mode hybrids from General Motors, the system design incorporates a single disc-shaped electric motor/generator, two clutches and a standard seven-speed automatic transmission with the torque converter removed. Called a parallel two-clutch system, hence the name P2, it is aimed at a blend of power and efficiency.
The “full-hybrid” architecture allows the M35h to operate on the electric motor only, the gasoline engine only, or a combination of the two depending on driving conditions and driver demands. It also saves gas by automatically shutting off the gas engine when the car is stopped. As in other hybrid vehicles, the motor doubles as both a propulsion unit and a generator that recovers energy otherwise lost during deceleration and braking.
The powertrain embodies the 3.5-liter V-6 engine from the previous M35 and works with the single electric motor and two clutches. The engine uses the Atkinson-cycle valve timing that trades some power output loss for improved efficiency.
The twin overhead cam, 24-valve V-6 is rated at 302 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. The 346-volt motor generates 67-hp (50kW) at 2,000 rpm and 199 lbs.-ft. of torque. Combined output of the V-6 and electric motor is 369-hp. Whether powered by the engine, electric motor or both, the energy is directed to the rear wheels and controlled by the seven-speed automatic transmission.
The first of the two clutches is a dry clutch positioned between the engine and the AC motor, which is in-line with the front of the transmission. This eliminates the need for a torque converter and allows the full decoupling and shutting down the V-6 nearly any time there is adequate battery energy to power the car by electricity alone. The second clutch is a wet clutch at the rear of the transmission that allows the engine to turn the motor/generator to charge the batteries with the vehicle stationary. It also smooths the drivetrain during shifts and when the V-6 is turned on and off.
In addition to manual shift capability for the transmission, the M Hybrid has four driving modes selected by a rotary knob— Snow, ECO, Normal and Sport. Snow is for, well, snowy roads. Eco provides the best fuel economy, but performance is unexciting. Response sharpens in Normal while Sport confirms that the M Hybrid is a sport sedan.
Completing the hybrid system is a 1.4-killowatt lithium-ion battery pack positioned under the trunk’s floorboard. Like Nissan’s electric Leaf, the battery pack uses the company’s proprietary laminated-cell configuration that enhances battery cooling. Infiniti says the M35h can go 1.2 miles on electric power alone.
Most hybrid systems, including those built by Toyota/Lexus and Ford, are parallel systems, but use two motors and a planetary gearset. Since this type of system cannot decouple the engine and motor, efficiency is lower because of engine friction during electric drive conditions.
Infiniti isn’t the only carmaker to employ the P2 type of hybrid system, but its approach is different from the others. For example, Hyundai uses a separate belt-alternator-starter system, Volkswagen (Porsche and Audi) retains a conventional torque converter and BMW’s ActiveHybrid system does use a single-motor, 2-clutch, no-torque-converter system, but also (unlike Infiniti) adds a starter motor.
Lynne Says ….
First, I must extend a mea culpa to Infiniti for questioning their claim that the M35h “is able to drive in electric only mode for as much as 50% of the time.” We selected Eco mode for the first three days of driving, tallied 113 miles of mostly in-town driving and — Wow!, the EV trip odometer recorded 55.4 miles—49.1 percent—solely on electric power.
In town, the hybrid system is an absolute paragon of smoothness, so much so that it is nearly impossible to feel the transition from electric power to engine power and vice versa. It surges impressively under full throttle, even in Eco mode, and delivers more than sufficient power to merge and pass, even with a full load of passengers.
On the highway, the car rides with supple smoothness. It’s neither BMW harsh or Lexus soft-edged comfort, and effectively soaks up bumps, expansion joints and other road irregularities.Call me old fashioned, but I like chrome, and the M35h has just enough to please the eye. Infiniti’s stylists added it like a woman adds pearls to a black dress.
A premium car needs a strong face, and what a face. Infiniti’s signature double-arch, low-slung chrome grille sitting below a bulging hood conveys power when spied in a rearview mirror. Swept-back crystal-look Bi-Xenon headlights soften the grille’s impact.
Its balanced, rear-wheel drive proportions and stance, along with Infiniti’s trademark short front overhang and long hood leading back to a coupe-like slope, says the M Hybrid resides squarely in sport-sedan territory. Viewed from any angle, the styling is decidedly striking with muscular haunches punctuating its powerful stance.
The exterior’s curvaceous lines are reprised inside, most notably the design of the dual-cockpit dash and the swoops on the doors. The dash is a little too busy for my tastes, but control central is blessedly free of complication.
Luxury fills the Infiniti M35h interior
Switchgear feels substantial and operates with a smooth deliberateness. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes and the serially adjustable leather seats are supportive in all the right places.
Like most manufacture-provided test drive vehicles, our M hybrid was equipped with all of the option packages: Technology, Deluxe Touring and Premium. Of all the added luxury and whiz-bang techno features—Intelligent Cruise Control, Distance Control, Active Trace Control—my favorite was the Blind Spot Warning, something every car of the future should include. When other cars are in the lanes adjacent to the M35h, lights in the A pillars appear and will flash, accompanied with an audio alert, if the turn signal is activated.
But there’s more. If a vehicle is in a blind spot and you begin a move towards its lane, the Blind Spot Intervention system automatically applies brakes on the opposite side of the car, prompting you to move back to the center of the lane.
The M35h melds equal measure of power, sport, luxury, technology and exceptional fuel economy—features I think place it on top of the luxury hybrid heap.
Larry Says ….
On a stunning fall Saturday morning, we drove south on I-5 from Olympia, WA, and then headed east for some small town antique shopping. Mostly farmland, the two-lane blacktop roads were nearly deserted and lined with fields of yellow cornstalks, with occasional clumps of maples showing touches of autumn color.
The first sixty or so miles were near arrow straight with a few sweeping curves thrown in. During aggressive driving in the Sport mode, the M Hybrid hunkered down with the agility and enthusiasm of your favorite pooch on a dead run behind a terrified squirrel. The performance wasn’t a surprise, but lifting off the throttle was—the tach needle dropped to zero rpm, indicating that the car was running on electrons while in the Sport mode at speeds of 70-plus mph.
After finding a few “treasures” in a delightful small store, we altered our plans and drove northeast toward the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The road quickly narrowed and ahead was several miles of tight, sweeping and off-camber corners with a discernible climb in elevation. The chassis answered each curve, each load shift and lateral thrust that was encountered. The rapid, upward climb brought out the car’s balance and the excellent match of chassis and powertrain. Understeer was faint, and there was enough power on hand to induce some throttle-on oversteer.
Slight body roll showed up during some cornering, but not once did I have to wrestle with the car. Infiniti’s electro-hydraulic steering was accurate, responsive and certain on center. Brakes had a natural feel rather than the pulsing, almost wooden feel of most hybrid regenerative brake systems.
We, reluctantly, said good-bye to the M Hybrid a couple days later after driving 283 miles, 121 of which were on battery power—an impressive 41 percent considering how hard the car was driven. Equally impressive was the gas engine’s fuel economy of 29.6 mpg, a tad better than the EPA’s 29 mpg combined rating.
The M35h is the antidote to the everyday mundane and joyless driving hybrids that poke along the streets and highways. Yes, it’s an expensive alternative, but with this hybrid, performance, luxury and fuel economy is not an oxymoron.
The Luxo Hybrid For You?
More stringent government regulations—lower emissions in Europe, higher fuel economy in the U.S.—are forcing automakers to turn to gasoline-electric hybrids as one of the solutions to meet the new rules. This includes cars in the luxury segment, which is beginning to fill up with powerful six-cylinder hybrid sedans, such as the BMW Active Hybrid 5, Lexus GS 450h, Porsche Panamera S Hybrid, Mercedes S400 Hybrid plus, the upcoming Audi A6 Hybrid and Acura RLX Hybrid, along with some equally fuel-sipping diesels.
The M Hybrid’s closest competitor is the Lexus GS 450h. All new for 2013, the Lexus sport sedan hybrid bests the Infiniti’s fuel economy with an EPA rating of 29 city/34 highway and 31 mpg combined. But sipping a little less fuel comes with a cost. Priced starting at $58,950, the GS 450h is nearly $7,000 more than the M35h. For the extra money you also get a car that isn’t as quick, is less engaging to drive and has a continuously variable transmission that feels like a rubber band when forced to accelerate.
Power is part of Infiniti’s persona, and putting muscle in the M35h doesn’t undermine the raison d’etre of gas-electric technology: saving fuel.
Infiniti M35 Hybrid Price As Tested*
Retail base Price $54.200.00
Technology Package 3.050.00
Deluxe Touring Package 3,900.00
Premium Package 4,200.00
Destination Charges 895.00
*at time of test midyear 2013
2014 Acura ILX Hybrid
In a step back towards its roots, Acura, Honda’s luxury division, is once again offering a less-is-more entry luxury compact car. Slotted below the TSX, the 2013 Acura ILX is somewhat reminiscent of the 1986-2001 Integra, but outfitted with more luxury. This time around Honda’s entry-level car will come with some environmental credentials and therefore deserves a review in Clean Fleet Report.
Like the Integra before it, the ILX shares its platform with the latest generation Honda Civic. However, don’t dismiss the ILX as just a dressed up Civic with an Acura nameplate; there are noteworthy engineering changes and interior refinements. Three models are available — base, Wahoo! and green. The base ILX is priced starting at $26,900 and is equipped with a 150-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission. For lots of Wahoos, the ILX Premium is powered by a 201 horsepower four connected to a close-ratio six speed manual shifter and is priced at $29,200.
The green version is the ILX Hybrid, Acura’s first ever hybrid offering. Ironic considering Honda was the first carmaker to introduce a hybrid, the Honda Insight in 2000. Borrowing the hybrid system from the Civic Hybrid, the ILX Hybrid has a base price of $28,900; add the Technology Package and the price jumps to $34,400.
Honda’s IMA Hybrid System
The 2013 ILX Hybrid employs Honda’s fifth generation hybrid powertrain system that the automaker calls Integrated Motor Assist (IMA). It’s a descriptive name in that an ultra-thin, 17.2-kilowatt brushless electric motor/generator is “integrated” between the engine and transmission and only “assists” the gasoline engine during acceleration, which saves gas. This compares to other hybrid systems where the electric motor can assist the gas engine plus, propel the vehicle on electric power alone. In certain instances, the ILX Hybrid engine does cut off fuel and the car operates briefly on electric power only, but the engine’s parts still move.
Like other hybrid vehicles, the ILX has an idle-stop operation, which shuts off the engine when the car comes to a stop, and then fires up again when the brake pedal is released.
Acura ILX Hybrid
When the car is coasting or brakes are applied, the motor performs as a generator and charges the 20-kilowtt lithium ion battery pack located in the trunk.
The 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine features Honda’s i-VTEC intake and exhaust valve control system. The engine produces 90 horsepower and 97 pounds-feet of torque. Powered by the lithium ion battery, the electric motor makes 23 horsepower and 78 pounds-feet of torque for a combined system output of 111 horsepower and 127 pounds-feet.
Completing the IMA system is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that directs power to the front wheels. The CVT consists of a drive pulley and driven pulley that are linked by a steel belt, and operates somewhat like a 10-speed bicycle. It combines the fuel economy of a high-gear ratio manual transmission, the performance of a low-gear manual and the step-less shifting of a conventional geared automatic transmission.
Unlike the Civic, the ILX Hybrid has paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which lets the driver to manually choose seven fixed shift points for the CVT. Manual shifting can be used in either the Drive mode — ideal for most driving situations, or Sport mode — for more performance-oriented driving. For maximum fuel economy, an ECON mode provides increased battery assistance.
Surprising, and puzzling, the ILX Hybrid’s fuel economy rating is 39 mpg city/38 highway and 38 combined while the Civic Hybrid bests those numbers with 44/44/44. The IXL does weight around 100 pounds more than the Civic but…. ?
Styling, Cabin and Features
Styling won’t have you running to the closest Acura dealer; however, the ILX is quite handsome, albeit a tad conservative. Kudos to the designer who toned down Acura’s current overly large, nefarious chrome grille that certainly grabs attention, but for the wrong reasons. The new face has a slender version of the grille that is accented with thin, tapered lower air intakes and gets attention for the right reasons — it’s good design.
Distinct hood creases, pronounced side character lines and shapely rear wheel arches project a sculpted appearance that quietly says luxury. There is little to distinguish the Hybrid from the other two models, just a small rear deck lid spoiler and the now obligatory discrete hybrid badges.
The ILX cabin coddles its passengers in typical Acura fashion. That means comfortable and well equipped. The dash design follows the larger TL sedan’s curved shapes that give the interior a well-crafted appearance of
Acura ILX Hybrid Interior
understated luxury. White on black conventional gauges are well lighted and easily readable. For a quick glance at the myriad infotainment features, a five-inch info screen is placed atop the center stack.
Front seats are supportive in the right places and a standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel makes it easy to find a comfortable driving position. The rest of the ergonomics are straightforward, the switches and controls are high quality and everything is assembled perfectly.
This is compact car so, two rear seat passengers have adequate room, but nix a third person. And, since it’s a hybrid, the battery robs trunk cargo room, reducing it to 10 cubic feet versus 12.3 for its gas-only siblings.
Following Acura’s tradition, the base ILX Hybrid is very well equipped: keyless access with push-button ignition, heated exterior mirrors, speed sensing wipers, leather steering wheel and shift knob and of course, power windows and outside mirrors as well as cruise control. There’s no need to upgrade to the Technology package for features like Bluetooth, a USB port and voice text messaging because they are standard.
Acura doesn’t offer a list of options, rather the company bundles them into packages. The Technology Package is the only upgrade available for the Hybrid model. It includes a navigation system with voice recognition, AcuraLink communication system, leather seating, driver’s eight-way power seat, heated front seats, Xenon HID headlights and rearview camera. For music aficionados with long commutes, the ELB surround sound system alone is worth the additional $5,100 price.
On The Road
With the Honda Civic’s ride and handling reputation of being among the very best in class, engineers had a leg up in tweaking the chassis to conform with Acura’s tradition of overall driving fun with a refined feel in ride and handling. Acura reworked the rear multi-link rear suspension’s geometry, revised bushings and added dampers with two-stage valving at all four corners. The ILX also has a quicker steering ratio for a crisper steering response and body tensional rigidity is increased for added control during cornering.
The upgraded suspension tuning and more rigid body provides a refined ride comfort while delivering agile and responsive handling. Steering is nicely weighted and executes sharp cornering in an effortless manner.
When accelerating rapidly from a stop or merging into fast moving traffic, the ILX doesn’t exhibit much gusto. This can remedied by using the paddle shifters — hold after downshifting two or three gear settings and acceleration quickens. In ordinary driving conditions, however, the powertrain absolves itself well enough and the car becomes a solid performer on the highway.
Around town the Hybrid has a smooth, fairly well damped ride and it’s easy-to-drive and easy-to-park. The highway ride is firm, controlled and pleasant, not harsh. Bumps and those pesky expansion joints have a negligible impact.
One thing that sets the Acura apart from the Civic that lets you know it is in the entry luxury class is the quiet ride. This is accomplished by the use of laminated glass and the audio system’s noise cancellation feature.
But, there is one thing Acura didn’t overcome. When the gas engine restarts after shutting down temporarily at stops, the car shudders as it gets up to speed, just like the Civic Hybrid and that’s a luxury demerit.
Hybrid cars are all about fuel economy and the ILX, like most cars, gas-only powered or hybrid, can deliver fuel economy results that are better than the EPA numbers if driven properly, and I don’t mean hypermiling techniques.
Our travels during a week with the ILX Hybrid racked up 379 miles, 187 miles on Interstates, the balance was mixed in town and some highway miles. Results? Our combined fuel economy was 41 mpg, three mpg more than the EPA’s estimate.
ILX Hybrid in the Marketplace
Acura says the target customers for the new ILX are the younger members of Generation X and members of Generation Y— successful 20- and 30-somethings moving into the luxury car ranks but looking for high-value propositions in their purchases. The automaker is counting on this group of buyers to become longtime Acura customers.
The ILX Hybrid’s only direct hybrid competitor is the Lexus CT 200h. It’s $3,150 more than the Acura but the 43-city/40 highway fuel economy bests the ILX. However, Lexus will soon be dropping the 200h from the lineup, leaving the ILX as the least expensive luxury hybrid.
Acura considers Audi’s A3 a competitor, even though it is not a hybrid. Indeed, the A3 TDI diesel offers excellent fuel economy — 30 city and 42 highway — and has a base price of $30,250, $1,350 more than the ILX.
The ILX fills a gap in Acura’s lineup that has been missing for some time and opens door for new buyers wanting to step up to a premium car without a premium price. The added bonus is there’s a premium hybrid without a premium price.
Acura ILX Hybrid
Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.
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ILX’s Evil Twin — The Premium 6-Speed (a comparison drive)
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2013 Lexus RX450h continue to lead hybrid SUVs
Even though the luxury hybrid was somewhat of a novelty when Lexus introduced the RX400h in 2005 as a 2006 model, it quickly followed its gasoline counterpart and became a top-selling model. At the time it was the closest thing to a guilt-free sport-utility vehicle we’d ever seen: luxurious with an impressive assemblage of features and technologies, powerful and more fuel-efficient than its gas-powered sibling, the RX 300.
Since the beginning the RX hybrid has been in the top ten hybrid sales column and was the most popular hybrid sport utility in 2012.
In 2010 Lexus rolled out an all-new RX hybrid, the RX 450h. It not only featured a new exterior and interior design, it offered more power and significantly improved fuel economy.
For 2013 Lexus has given both the gasoline and hybrid RX models a refresh. The most obvious change is a new facelift and includes slight revisions to the backside and a modest interior makeover. Additionally for the RX hybrid, the power liftgate is now standard as is a USB interface for connection to external devices such as iPods. Also, the Sport mode is standard rather than optional for 2013.
The 2013 RX 450h is offered in a front-wheel drive (F-WD) model with a base price of $46,310, an increase of $1,075 over the 2012 model, and an all-wheel drive (A-WD) version starting at $47,710, up $885.
With an EPA combined fuel economy of 30 mpg — 32 city/28 highway — the RX 450h front drive model is the most fuel-efficient sport utility on the road. And the second best? The all-wheel drive version with a rating of 30 city/28 highway/29 combined.
Carryover Hybrid Powertrain
Pop the hood and you’ll find a repeat of the hybrid powertrain introduced in 2010. The system combines a gasoline engine with two electric motors for the front drive model and three motors for the all-wheel drive version. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) and nickel-metal hydride battery pack complete the system.
Like other Lexus hybrids, the RX 450h can operate in electric-only or gas-engine-only modes as well as a combination of both. And, the hybrid system can shut off the engine when the car is stopped, and then turn it on again when the brake pedal is released.
The gas-electric RX is outfitted with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 245 horsepower and 234 pounds-feet of torque. Like many engines used in hybrid vehicles, the RX hybrid’s runs on the Atkinson cycle rather than the conventional Otto cycle. In simple terms, the Atkinson cycle uses less energy to compress fuel and air together, and makes relatively more energy when that mixture explodes. Lexus says this contributes fuel savings of 12 to 14 percent.
The engine runs on exceptionally free-flowing 0W-20 oil. In modern engines, lighter oils are an important fuel economy factor, with less energy lost to friction. For the RX hybrid, less friction allows an oil pump that operates on less power.
In addition, two electric motors join this powertrain. One is an engine-driven generator that operates as an engine starter and can charge the battery pack or power other electric motors as needed. The second is a 155 horsepower motor that works with the gas engine to deliver power to the front wheels. Total output of this pairing is 295 horsepower.
The CVT is charged with managing that output and directing the power to the front wheels. The CVT uses a belt-pulley system instead of a finite set of gears in conventional automatic transmissions. It continuously adjusts gear ratios through a planetary gearset that more precisely matches engine output with acceleration and fuel economy. The driver can “downshift” and “upshift” via the shifter, but these are programmed virtual shift points, not actual fixed gears.
Completing the hybrid system is a 288-volt nickel metal hydride battery pack tucked neatly under the second-row seats. When the vehicle brakes, some of the energy is captured and sent to the battery pack.
The all-wheel drive RX hybrid adds a third, rear-mounted motor-generator. Since it aspires to all-weather mobility instead of all-terrain capability, the motor simply adds more torque automatically to the rear wheels if wheelspin is detected. A dual-range transmission is not offered.
For greater emphasis on efficiency, Lexus has outfitted the RX 450h with both EV and Eco driving modes. In EV, this hybrid functions solely on electric power, but only at low speeds and short distances. The more practical Eco mode works to limit throttle response in order to promote greater fuel economy. In other words, it restrains the engine’s ability to operate at its full potential. The ideal time to use this function is during in-town driving or stop-and-go traffic.
Updated Outside And In
To call the 2013 RX 450h an all-new design is a stretch, but it gains a notable face lift. Like all Lexuses, the RX hybrid has a version of the automaker’s new distinctive grille design. Hourglass in shape — Lexus calls it a “spindle” shape — it has horizontal rather than vertical slats with a center bar in between the upper and lower sections. Headlamps are thinner, almost blade-like highlighted by beaded LED running lights underneath. The net result is a slightly more aggressive face.
Aside from these changes and tweaked taillamps, the RX hybrid continues its sleek, aerodynamic look from front to back. Its raked windshield flows effortlessly into a gently sloping roofline. In other words, it continues to look like an RX.
The no-detail-overlooked interior of the RX 450h is sumptuous with soft leather meeting fingertips at nearly every touch point. Changes for 2013 are subtle, like a redesigned steering wheel that Lexus says has a more
Lexus RX450h – High Tech Insides
comfortable and relaxing grip. The glove box has new metallic accents, while a redesigned center console provides improved accessibility and more storage space.
As expected, front seating is all-day comfortable with an abundance of head, shoulder and leg room. This carries to the rear where passengers — three comfortably — will find seats that recline and move fore and aft.
There’s also generous cargo space: 40 cubic feet behind the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats that expands to 80 cubes when they’re all lowered. If you are looking for a third row seat you’ll have to look elsewhere.
While the RX 450h does offer all the high-tech gizmos that have become synonymous with luxury class vehicles, many are an extra cost. Yes, the hybrid does include standard features such as a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, ten-way power front seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, a nine-speaker sound system, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity and an iPod/USB audio interface.
If you want the full-meal-deal luxury experience, you’ll pay extra. Leather seating is optional as is a moonroof and roof rails that each are part of option packages.
Want a blind spot monitor, a marvelous safety feature? That’s a $500 option. It’s standard on the $23,650 Mazda3 Grand Touring.
How about a backup camera, another excellent safety device? You have to purchase the $860 Display Audio and Camera package. It’s standard on a $24,980 Honda Accord Sport sedan.
Granted, there are some very nifty options: a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, heated and cooled leather seats, dual screen rear entertainment and the superb 15 speaker Mark Levinson audio system. But it all adds up. Our all-wheel drive test vehicle was equipped with every available option with a sticker price of $63,385 plus $895 destination charges.
If you need to be connected, the $2,700 Navigation package is a must. It includes the Lexus Enform application suite. With it you can tap into Internet search engines, apps such as OpenTable, Pandora, and Yelp by pairing a smart phone via Bluetooth or a physical connection.
When you opt for the Navigation system you get the Lexus Remote Touch system, a mouse-like controller that allows moving among a variety of icons on the large dash-mounted screen. It takes a little practice to get the hang of it, but from then on it’s a breeze to operate.
Behind The Steering Wheel
We spent the long President’s Day weekend in Phoenix, where we quickly remembered why people become snowbirds — sunshine, endless blue skies and 75 degrees in February is difficult to beat.
On the top of our to-do list was to revisit Sedona and its red rocks, about 120 miles north of Phoenix. A few minutes after 8:00 a.m. as we loaded a few things in the Stargazer Black RX, the temperature was already nudging 60 degrees. We headed east on I-10 and then north on I-17 through greater Phoenix’s western sprawl, into the city itself, and then up the entire length of the ever growing northern sprawl.
Once suburbia gave way to saguaro, the speed limit increased to 75 mph, which was mainly ignored. So, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Tackling on-road duties is the RX hybrid’s forte. On the highway it acts much like the vaunted ES 300 sedan, just with a higher ride height. The interior remains quiet at speed and the vehicle is stable on the road, regardless of how broken the pavement.
There’s a bit of body lean in turns that lets you know this is taller than a sedan. But it grips the road like a well-designed automobile.
While the RX hybrid may mimic the ES 300, it doesn’t have the same suspension. It has longer travel that soaks up the big bumps particularly well and virtually preventing the small impacts. The ride isn’t quite firm enough to put the “sport” into sport-utility, but it’s plenty comfortable to firmly plant the RX 450h into the realm of luxury vehicles.
The famous red to orange-colored sandstone “Red Rocks of Sedona” seem to appear from nowhere as we round a curve. Choose an adjective —spectacular, astounding, wondrous, incredible, etc., etc. None seem adequate to describe their splendor. Sedona’s elevation is around 4,500 feet, with some rock formation ascending to more than a mile-high.
The red rocks aren’t the only attraction that draws more than four million visitors annually to Sedona (half of which seemed to be there on the day of our visit). The town is a major arts center with art galleries lining Sedona’s two main thoroughfares.
Slowly scouring the streets in search of a parking space, the hybrid powertrain performed its role as an electric vehicle flawlessly. Light-footed driving saw the RX deliver its power in a smooth, virtually noiseless manner and, of course, no nasty exhaust emissions.
Our previous experiences with the Lexus RX hybrid have yielded fuel economy that was at or exceeded the EPA estimates. However, keeping up with the flow of traffic in the far left lane on I-17 took its toll. A fill up after 312 miles of travel resulted in 25.3 mpg, nearly 4 mpg less than the EPA’s combined average. But, that was somewhat consoling when I thought about the fuel mileage of the full-size SUVs and pickups that whisked past us when our speedo was planted at 85 mph.
The 2013 RX 450h is pricey, $6,650 more than its non-hybrid sibling, the RX 350. The question is, is the fuel efficiency boost of 14 mpg city and only 3 mpg highway worth the additional dollars? With the current price of gas at $3.75 per gallon according to AAA, if most of your driving is city or urban, the hybrid is a pretty good choice. If you do more highway driving than city, the gas-powered RX may be a better choice.
Lexus pioneered the luxury hybrid SUV segment, but there are a couple of other hybrid choices.
Audi’s 2013 Q5 Hybrid is a tad smaller inside than the RX and its 30 mpg highway fuel economy equals the Lexus. However, city driving can only muster 24 mpg in town. The starting price of $50,900 is $4,590 more than the RX but it comes standard with all-wheel drive, leather interior, navigation and a sunroof.
If performance and handling trump fuel economy, then Porsche’s Cayenne S Hybrid with a price starting at $69,850 shouldn’t be overlooked. And if you need an SUV that can seat seven or even eight passengers and can tow up to 5,800 pounds, the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid is your only choice. It starts at a hefty $74,425, but bear in mind that it has a truck-based chassis platform and won’t provide the smoother ride quality as the Lexus.
Bottom line: In general, the 2013 Lexus RX 450h is the perfect all-purpose vehicle as an everyday hauler of full-size people and their stuff. It’s at its best around town, picking up people and delivering people and doing so in all kinds of weather. Plus, it delivers the best fuel economy of any sport utility.
Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing
Some related articles of competitive vehicles you might find interesting:
2013 Honda CR-V Road Test
2013 Toyota RAV4 EV First Drive
Top 10 AWD/4WDs with the best MPG
Leading the way in plug-in sales
The enthusiast group Plug In America noted that U.S. sales of plug-in electric cars (either pure electrics or plug-in hybrids) will pass a significant milestone this month (May 2013). The 100,000 sales mark was reached just two and a half years after their introduction to the market in December 2010. Plug In America is commemorating the “historic” moment with an award contest and by launching a counter on its website that tracks EV sales. The counter is updated using sales data from the most recent published reports.
“Our current estimate, based on monthly sales figures from automakers, is that the 100,000th highway-capable plug-in vehicle will be sold on May 20,” said Tom Saxton, Plug In America’s chief science officer. “We are calling this the #PIA100K mark, and we are excited to see the continued growth of the market.”
The group also cited other side notes of the sales milestone:
- More than a quarter-million people are exposed daily to the benefits of electric transportation.
- Nissan dealerships in some select markets have reported that the Leaf has outsold all other Nissan models for particular sales periods this year.
- Tesla’s Model S is outselling the Mercedes-Benz S-Class (as noted in the Clean Fleet Report story from May 19) and other luxury competitors–the BMW 7 series and the Audi A8–for the first four months of the year.
- Chevy Volt drivers alone have logged over 187 million electric miles.
- The plug-in vehicle market is approaching 48 percent annual growth with both Battery Electric (BEV) and Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) vehicles finding growing interest.
- The plug-in vehicle adoption rate exceeds the adoption rate of hybrid vehicles over the same time frame in their early market introduction.
- The domestic EV fleet now offers over 2,000 megawatts of battery storage, which may offer significant opportunities for the future management of our electrical grid and the increasing role of intermittent renewable energy sources
- Manufacturers making EVs now include Nissan, Tesla, GM, Ford, Honda, Mitsubishi, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes, and Fiat (see CFR article, The Top 10 Electric Vehicles You can Buy-Finally). These plug-in cars have received a wealth of consumer and industry awards.
Plug In America board member Barry Woods offered his take on the 100,000th sale in a recent Plug In America blog post. Here are some of his thoughts:
Ford Fusion plug-in enters growing market
“Even as recently as six months ago, when I would go into auto dealerships to sell (electric vehicle) chargers, they would listen politely and tell me they had sold very few Volts or Leafs and their customers weren’t interested in charging stations.
“Now when I go into auto dealers, they invite me back to speak to their sales staff and discuss charging as an issue and what their customers will need to make better use of the car’s range capabilities. Anecdotally, in March in Portland’s metro area, Nissan dealers collectively sold more 2013 Leafs than any other model- including the Altima- over 65 units between the four major dealerships. Tesla’s stock is up over 50% since the beginning of the year. 24,551 PEV shave been sold this year through April, practically matching the entire PEV [plug-in vehicle] sales for all of 2011.
“Over 95,000 PEVs have now been sold. We were correct about the prospects for growth of PEV technology, as their sales progress outpacing the growth of the hybrid vehicle over its first three years. We were correct in believing that the American consumer would accept an alternative choice besides gasoline if the technology delivered performance and savings over the long haul. A virtuous market- and policy-based cycle has developed to bring down prices and spur R&D. We appreciate that these vehicles are not just “green,” they are advanced vehicle technology creating better transportation choices and superior driving experiences.”
The sales are exciting, particularly for the enthusiastic early adopters of this technology. But, to keep the achievement in perspective, after more than a decade on the market hybrid vehicles account for only about 3% of the overall automotive market. Some analysts questioned whether plug-in models would take away sales from the non plug-in hybrid segment, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. While Toyota’s vast array of hybrid vehicles have seen decreased sales, the slack has been picked up by other entrants in the category, including Ford, Kia and General Motors as well as new models from VW and BMW. Additionally, it should be noted that the vast majority of plug-in sales are in California, the state that has mandated automakers to produce zero or near-zero-emission vehicles. Some of the plug-ins are not even available in other states while others are available only as lease vehicles, but not for sale.
Still, the 100,000 sales mark is significant, but it’s only the first step in a long road toward a mass market for plug-in electric cars. Keep in mind that the best-selling vehicle in America, the Ford F-Series pickup, sells that many models in less than two months, not two years. And keep in mind that traditional engines are getting more and more sophisticated and efficient, posing another challenge until purchase prices on electric cars come down. So celebrate, then buckle down for the task is just beginning.
Other related stories you might find interesting:
Battle of the Esses–New S-Class Mercedes vs. Tesla Model S
Top 10 Best-Selling High MPG Cars of 2013 (April)
Top 10 Pure Electric Cars You Can Buy–Finally.