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2014 Honda Accord Hybrid: First Drive Report

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Does the all-new 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid really get 50 miles per gallon? And does it drive as well as a regular four-cylinder Honda Accord?

To cut right to the spoiler: yes and yes.

For some shoppers who already know and like the Accord, that might honestly be enough—once they run the numbers and see that this is a car for which hybrid ownership will make fiscal sense. Fortunately, we have many more meaningful impressions and numbers to share, as we just returned from spending most of a day with final, production-spec variants of the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, which will be Ohio-built for the U.S. and begins reaching dealerships late this month.

If you haven't read our explanation of how the 2014 Accord Hybrid powertrain works without any conventional transmission, you'll want to. In short, the Accord skips it all—even the torque converter and drive clutch—and moves with a system of two nested motors, of which one is mainly a generator and the other is for propulsion. The generator is always connected to the gasoline engine, while that engine only sends power directly to the wheels at steady highway/cruising speeds, when a clutch pack connects it.

The rest of the time, the propulsion motor delivers power to the wheels either from the generator (run by the gasoline engine), the 1.3-kWh battery, or a combination of both. And energy, of course, is recovered when coasting or braking.

What seems puzzling at first is in truth a remarkably elegant solution. And friction reduction is the real benefit; by eschewing conventional transmissions and relying on direct/gear drives, the setup cuts friction by about 70 percent, overall.

More like a range-extended EV?

So how does such a system drive? The best way to describe it is responsive and linear, like an electric car—sometimes quiet, sometimes with a completely out-of-sync gasoline-engine soundtrack.

Two of typical driving scenarios feel particularly odd at first. One of them is in moderate acceleration. You take off from a stop, and the Accord Hybrid steps off quietly with its electric motors only. Then as speed gathers, you hear (but don’t feel, thankfully) the gasoline engine start up and rev, to deliver (combined with the battery) enough power to the propulsion motor.

From the driver’s-seat, there’s not always a direct momentary connection between those revs and the level of acceleration. Although full-throttle acceleration can bring out a sort of 'motorboating' sound as with a CVT, it's different in most other cases. If you’ve driven the Chevrolet Volt after its charge has been exhausted, it’s closer to that; give the accelerator a push and the vehicle moves forward responsively, with the gasoline engine revving up a moment later; lift off the gas and it’s left revving for a second or two, charging the battery and giving you a buffer to 'get back on the gas.'

The other strange sensation happens when you're cruising at steady speed (of say 60 mph) and you floor the accelerator to pass. You momentarily feel the motor system give the tall-geared gasoline engine a respectable wallop of supplemental torque, but as you keep your foot pegged, a fraction of a second later the gasoline engine decouples from the drive wheels and races to its upper ranges, sounding like a very quick-reacting CVT, all as a much stronger kick of acceleration is felt—as delivered, again counterintuitively, by the electric motor that's connected directly to the wheels.


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