We haven't seen a Honda Accord Hybrid since the mid-2000s — and Honda might want to forget its seventh-generation effort, which eked out just 22/31 mpg (city/highway) in adjusted 2006 EPA figures. Two generations later, the Accord Hybrid is back, this time based on the redesigned Accord. It uses a four-cylinder, not the old hybrid's V-6, and it comes in regular and plug-in form. The Accord Plug-in Hybrid hits dealerships in early 2013, with the Accord Hybrid following later in the year.
Honda is mum on full details for either car — or any details at all on the Accord Hybrid, for that matter. But at last month's media drive for the Accord, the automaker had a plug-in hybrid prototype available for short drives.
Already, reactions on Twitter to the car's styling range from "sick" (as in good, not bedridden) to "really, really ugly." The sentiments are more negative than positive, but the vitriol doesn't begin to approach what happened when Honda introduced the Accord Crosstour three years ago. The Crosstour subsequently made the list of Cars.com's 10 ugliest cars from the past three decades.
The Accord Plug-in Hybrid is no Crosstour redux. In person, it looks OK. The styling departs from the regular Accord, with a unique grille that sort of tumbles into a lot of black bodywork below. It's a little overdone, perhaps, but far from an eyesore.
Inside, unique gauges flank the speedometer, with power and charge meters on the left and battery and fuel range on the right. Like in many plug-in cars, you can set the charging to occur during overnight electric rates via the center display or a smartphone app. An information display within the speedometer shows various screens: a real-time "efficiency" coach, accrued gas mileage, remaining EV and gasoline range, power flow and more. Still, it isn't as elaborate as the LCDs in the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Energi. Honda has yet to give trunk specs on the Accord Hybrid and Accord Plug-in Hybrid, but it's clear that the battery pack takes up a big chunk — and does away with the folding rear seat that competitors like the Ford Fusion Hybrid have.
The plug-in hybrid pairs two electric motors with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that runs a more efficient Atkinson cycle. It can run on electric or gasoline power, or a combination of the two, and in my brief drive, it accelerated stoutly, with little delay. Combined output is 196 horsepower and 226 pounds-feet of torque.
The brake pedal feels bricklike, something Honda may iron out by production time. Our test car rode much firmer than the non-hybrid Accord, which boasts competent, though sometimes busy, ride quality. The payoff comes in handling, however, where the trunk-mounted battery pack virtually eliminates the regular Accord's nose-heavy proclivities.
The Plug-in Hybrid uses a 6.7-kWh lithium-ion battery and 124-kW electric motor to travel up to 15 miles on electric power alone, Honda says. That beats the Toyota Prius plug-in (11 miles, according to the EPA) but falls well short of the 2013 Chevy Volt (38 miles). Honda says the battery charges in less than three hours on a household 120-volt outlet and less than an hour on a 240-volt (Level 2) outlet.
If you still have some EV range left in the Accord Plug-in Hybrid, an "HV" button below the transmission puts the car in hybrid operation to preserve said range for, say, the remaining distance from the off-ramp to your house, chief engineer Yasuyuki Sando told me. The Accord Hybrid's final EPA ratings will decide if the button makes sense — or if you're just robbing Peter to pay Paul. EV range tends to diminish faster on the highway, but many hybrids also get worse highway fuel economy.
Those EPA figures are still pending, but Honda expects the Accord Plug-in Hybrid to beat 100 mpg equivalent – something Ford anticipates for its plug-in-hybrid Fusion Energi – with a total driving range of 500-plus miles.
Pricing is still pending, but the Accord Plug-in Hybrid seems ready for primetime, and it's one of many darts Honda threw at the board for the ninth generation of its popular family car. Given our prototype's drivetrain refinement, I suspect this one will stick.