Even in this era of the Porsche 918 Spyder and its ilk, enthusiasts tend to look down on most hybrid cars as slow, dull, soft, and antithetical to driving fun. The proof that this might be changing comes from the most unlikely of places: the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, a car that exceeded my expectations in every way.
(Full disclosure: Honda needed me to drive the Accord Hybrid so badly that they gave me one for a week with a full tank of gas. I didn't have to put much gas back in it when I was done, and that was nice.)
I hung my head low when I first learned I'd be getting this car to review. It's an Accord, and on top of that, it's a hybrid, I thought to myself. Could it possibly be any more boring?
But it turns out the Accord Hybrid isn't really boring at all, especially in terms of the technology it puts to use. It's also quicker than than you'd think, handles quite well, is comfortable and well-built, has lots of toys, returns excellent gas mileage, and manages to be much more fun to drive than your average family car.
Fun to drive! An Accord Hybrid! Before you demand my Jalop card and order me into emergency rear-engined air-cooled therapy to restore my sanity, hear me out.
Let's talk power first. Opt for the hybrid Accord and you get a 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder (Honda's first) that puts out 141 horsepower. That's coupled with a battery-powered electric motor that gives you 166 horsepower and 226 pound-feet of torque from zero RPMs. A second electric motor works as a generator to charge the battery pack. Honda says "total system horsepower" is 196.
Power always goes to the front wheels, but it's almost always coming from the electric motor with the gasoline engine kicking in only under hard acceleration and on the highway. There are three modes in total: EV, gasoline and hybrid where the engine powers the generator. It uses electric power much of the time, and this is readily apparent from all the torque you get.
And then there's the transmission. Can you guess what transmission it has? Six-speed automatic? CVT? Dual clutch? Trick question because THERE IS NO TRANSMISSION. Well, not in the traditional sense. Here's where the normally boring Accord starts to get really interesting.
There are no gears here, nor is there a roller and belt system like most CVTs you see these days. Instead the Accord Hybrid's wheels are usually driven by one of the aforementioned electric motors. Above 43 mph or so, a multi-plate wet clutch system connects the engine to the wheels, and a computer adjusts the engine load to keep it running in its most efficient operating zone.
Honda calls it the eCVT, but it's not a CVT in the way that we know them, although it is in the technical sense a continuously variable transmission. It's clever and it works pretty darn well.
And of course, it's good on gas, because that's the whole point. The Accord Hybrid is rated at 50 MPG city, 45 MPG highway.
I averaged about 35 MPG in the week I had it, and that was in a lot of city traffic and without really trying all that hard to maximize fuel economy. I drive the same way I make love: hard, fast, angry, and with no regard for human life or property damage. And that's not a good way to get the most out of your hybrid.
Did I feel all smug because I was saving the environment? No, but after more than 150 miles of driving I barely cracked a quarter tank of gas, and my wallet was happy about that.
Exterior - 5/10
When you look at an Accord, the only word that pops into your head is "car." It doesn't look bad, but it doesn't really look striking or memorable either. Visually, it's just a driving appliance, and nothing more.
Extra touches on the Hybrid include the "Hybrid" badges so you can show the car off to your liberal friends and a special blue-tinted grille up front. I do kind of dig those wheels though. Not bad.
Interior - 6/10
It's all function over form on the inside, but it works. Everything is clearly marked and laid out in a way that makes sense and is easy to figure out. New cars aren't always like that.
It's also comfortable, has a lot of headroom, and nice spacious back seat. And thanks to its dual screen infotainment system, which I'll touch on shortly, it's far less loaded down with excessive buttons like Hondas were fairly recently. If I have any criticisms past the generally staid interior design, it's that some of the plastics feel kind of cheap-ish.
Acceleration - 6/10
Here's the surprisingly fun part I mentioned. Most of the time, this sucker's electrical to one degree or another, which means lots of juicy torque at super-low RPMs. At lower speeds around town it feels genuinely sprightly, and on the highway it feels like it wants to fly.
The whole setup is eager and responsive. I'd say it comes within firing range of Honda's lovely V6 engine, though it's not quite as manic as that. Tests I've seen put zero to 60 mph in the lower 7 second range, which isn't bad at all, and it felt a little quicker than that to me.
Braking - 7/10
Like most hybrids, regenerative braking is used to recharge the battery when you slow and come to a stop. And like those hybrids, the brakes feel stronger than your average car, but the pedal is much less grabby and much more linear than your average Prius. That's a good thing. The brakes here are strong and natural-feeling.
Ride - 7/10
It's an Accord! Of course it's supposed to be comfortable. And it is. The ride isn't as cushy or floaty as your average front-wheel drive luxury car, but it is quite smooth while still being too floaty. Some reviews have dinged this car for a somewhat harsh ride quality, but I found it to be pretty nicely balanced.
Handling - 6/10
For years, the Accord and the Mazda6 have been the kings of midsize sedan handling. This continues with the latest generation of Accord, even in hybrid form. It's an agile car with electric steering that, while not being particularly full of feeling, is incredibly direct, responsive and precise.
What keeps me from bumping this car to a 7, and putting it on par with the Mazda6, is the body roll. It's there perhaps in the name of comfort, but it keeps the Accord from feeling truly athletic. Still, this car is good handler, much more so than most sedans in its class.
Gearbox - 8/10
Alright, so what's that magic gearbox (if we can call it that since it has no gears) really like to use? It's smooth, it's seamless, and it eliminates the jerky shifts that come with some automatics all while giving you the power you want when you want it. It's like the best damn CVT you've ever used, everything those transmissions have promised us for years and have never really delivered. This is a seriously impressive piece of kit, both in technology and in practice.
Well, one thing about giving you that power when you want it — it seemed a bit hesitant to do so on the highway. You put your foot down and then you wait a little while for the power to come on, though you get plenty of it when you do. I suppose that wait time isn't really any worse than pausing for your average autobox to kick down a few gears at high speeds.
Toys - 7/10
You get a two screen setup on the Accord Hybrid. The lower one is touch-based and used mostly for audio controls and dialing in addresses for the nav. You also get a knob for selecting things on both screens.
Graphically, the bottom touch panel isn't great; to me it looked like those menus you got on the first PlayStation when you fired up a music CD instead of a game. But it's lightning-fast responsive, so who cares? There's no lag to speak of and the menus are intuitively laid out. The screen, phone syncing system and Bluetooth calling all worked great.
Besides the standard hybrid toys like EV mode and a "B mode" on the shifter that ramps up regenerative braking, this car had a rear backup camera AND a right hand side camera that clicks on when you activate your right turn signal. This was great for watching your behind during merging as well as parallel parking.
Audio - 6/10
Well, this is kind of hard to rank because there's not much audio to speak of. The electric motors whine along almost silently, and when the gasoline engine does kick in, it's kinda grunty, but not especially notable.
I pushed it up to a 6 because I generally liked the 360-watt seven speaker sound system. It's not gonna blow you away, but it is clear, crisp and has decent bass. I've certainly heard worse, including on more expensive cars.
Value - 9/10
My top-level Accord Hybrid Touring tester, loaded with heated leather seats, sunroof, navigation, side and rear cameras, satellite radio and other goodies came in at $35,695. For that price you're getting a practical, fun and gas-sipping family sedan with bulletproof Honda reliability. That strikes me as a pretty good deal.
If I bought an Accord, it would still be the V6 coupe with a manual. It's more my style. But the Accord Hybrid stands as the best hybrid I've driven yet, although if I get some seat time in a P1 my mind could change.
You know what else this car does? The Accord Hybrid makes other, more conventional cars feel kind of dated thanks to its efficiency, its liberal use of electricity and its fancy gearless gearbox. I'll chalk that up as a win for the technology in place here.
If you can find a better hybrid car, buy it. I'm just not sure you will.
2014 Honda Accord Hybrid
Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC Atkinson-cycle inline four/6.7-kWh battery pack with AC permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor
Power: 196 HP (combined)/141 HP, 122 LB-FT (I4 engine)/166 HP, 226 LB-FT (electric motor)
Transmission: Electric motor driven continuously variable transmission
0-60 Time: 7.0 seconds (estimated)
Top Speed: Unknown
Drivetrain: Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,575 pounds
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 50 City/45 Highway
MSRP: $34,905 (As tested $35,695)