Hybrid versus hype
Markham, Ontario – Honda may have had the first hybrid to hit North American shores when it released the original Insight, but there was always something missing. It cost less than the Toyota Prius, but the electric motor only assisted the gasoline engine. It wasn’t able to run silently and fuel-free on its battery alone, which was much of the Prius’ appeal.
Disclaimer: A pre-selected drive route was provided to the author by the automaker.
A new Insight released for 2010 could switch to electricity once you hit the sweet spot at cruising speed, but still couldn’t crawl on its battery through traffic. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it hasn’t been a huge seller. And yes, there was an Accord Hybrid model back in 2005, but it also used the IMA, and didn’t break any sales chart records.
But Honda is finally firmly in the hybrid game with an all-new model, the 2014 Accord Hybrid, that can do everything you expect a gasoline-electric car to do, and does it very well.
Two trim lines are available. The base model is $29,590, which includes such features as a backup camera, power driver’s seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, and Honda’s brilliant Lane Watch system, which puts a visual of the right-side blind spot in the centre screen when the right turn signal is activated. The upscale Touring Model adds such things as leather seats, navigation, satellite radio, sunroof, heated rear seats, and auto-dimming mirror for $35,690.
Bye-bye, IMA; hello, i-MMD
Honda’s previous hybrids used an Integrated Motor Assist, or IMA, a “mild hybrid” system that provided electric assist to the gasoline engine. The Accord uses the company’s new Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive system, or i-MMD, which you can expect to see in more models in the future. Unlike vehicles with the IMA, the Accord Hybrid starts off on electric power, and depending on driving conditions, will transition between gasoline, electricity, or a combination of the two.
It starts with a gasoline engine—in this case, a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder that’s basically a downsized version of the 2.4-litre used in the Accord sedan and coupe, and with an Atkinson cycle added to it for additional fuel economy. It’s mated to a two-motor system that stuffs a generator motor and a drive motor into the continuously variable transmission, creating what Honda calls an electric CVT, along with a lithium-ion storage battery.
The gasoline engine produces 141 horsepower, but combined with the i-MMD, the combination is rated at 196 horses. The gas engine also makes 122 lb-ft of torque, augmented by the 226 lb-ft created by the electric motor. In combined driving, the Accord Hybrid is rated at 3.8 L/100 km.
The battery is recharged through regenerative braking. Honda uses an electric servo brake, which it says may be exclusive to the company. Press the brake pedal lightly, and the regenerative braking slows you down. Press more firmly, and the system sends hydraulic pressure to the brake discs. Because the system’s electronic, there’s a “pedal feel simulator” that uses a spring to produce a more conventional sensation. It works well, with none of the artificial numbness that some hybrids have exhibited.
The redesigned Accord is a very good car, with roomy interior and a smooth ride, and the Hybrid is more of the same. It starts off smoothly on battery only, and while it doesn’t take much throttle before it switches over to gasoline, the transition is generally seamless. In most cases, only a power-flow gauge that can be brought up in the instrument cluster is any indication of what’s being used to power the wheels.
The lithium-ion battery is in the trunk, where it does steal a little of the cargo compartment—you’ll find 360 litres of space, versus up to 447 litres in the conventional Accord sedan—and the rear seat can’t be folded down.
But the cabin is well-appointed, with easy-to-use controls, comfortable and supportive seats, and a roomy rear seat.
The Accord’s body is lighter than on the last-generation model, with more use of high-strength steel and aluminum, and the Hybrid benefits from this as well. An active damper system, borrowed from Acura, improves the ride by compensating for the extra rear weight of the battery. It’s supple without being wallowy, and the steering is light but not overboosted.
Honda plugs in
For drivers who want a full-size sedan with small-car fuel economy, the Accord Hybrid is a solid choice for cross-shopping against such models as the hybrid versions of Ford’s Fusion and the Toyota Camry. With its mild IMA system, Honda used to trail the hybrid market, but this new sedan puts it up there with the rest of them.
At the event, the company also showed a plug-in version, which runs exclusively on electricity for a short range after the battery is charged from a wall outlet. Once that charge depletes, the car reverts to conventional hybrid operation. For those with short commutes, it may be possible to run the car almost entirely by plugging it in. Honda reps said the company is still assessing the Canadian market for the plug-in, but given that Ford and Toyota offer cars with similar systems, you may very well see this version offered in the near future as well.