2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring vs. 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid vs. 2014 Toyota Prius V: Fuel-sipper showdown.
This week: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
Price: $35,695 as tested (no options). The lowest-level Hybrid starts at $29,155.
Marketer’s pitch: “Start something memorable.” (Also, “50 mpg,” which is fairly optimistic.)
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the “excellent fuel economy; strong acceleration; roomy and high-quality interior; responsive handling; user-friendly interior controls” but not the “smallish trunk [that] lacks depth and fold-down seat; intrusive engine noise at times; firm ride quality.”
Reality: A fairly nice ride, but not as refined as some hybrids.
Better mileage, reserve power: Once upon a time, great mileage meant patience. A tiny engine powered a tiny car. Fuel usage was tiny, but so was performance.
Engineering has come a long way since then, and for 15 years now, the hybrid powerplant has motivated the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, and has been expanded across automakers. Large battery packs store energy from the engine and the brakes to power accessories, and even the vehicle itself at certain speeds. The engine shuts down at stoplights and voila! fuel economy in the 40s.
But the nice thing about hybrids is when you need the pulling out power, it is there, and the Accord’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder (not the same as the 1.3-liter in today’s Insight) certainly motivates the vehicle well. Overdo it and your fuel economy will go up in smoke, but it’s nice to have for the occasional heavy interstate merge.
Varying success: Somehow, Toyota made it all look easy. The Prius has always been a smooth operator, but I’ve driven hybrids from some other makes and some shut off the engine with all the subtlety of a tap-dancing elephant.
And the Honda? The Honda Accord Hybrid lies somewhere in between. I noticed its engine shutdowns distinctly, so I contacted Toyota for a Camry Hybrid to refresh my memory. They also sent along a Prius V crossoverlike hybrid as well. More on them in the next couple weeks.
Up to speed: In hybrids, CVT pitfalls — a golf cart-like acceleration — can be exacerbated by the electric motor. The Accords fall into this category. Under heavy acceleration, the engine almost sounds as if it’s trying to flee and leave the rest of the Accord behind.
On the highway: According to Honda, the system uses a new two-motor hybrid approach that continuously cycles between three different modes — EV drive, hybrid drive and engine drive — to maximize fuel efficiency.
I found the switching on and off of the engine most disconcerting when I was cruising along with the radio on, not expecting the subtle shift. It can appear as if something has gone wrong for a moment. I’m sure it’s something drivers adjust to, but I never got used to it in a week of testing.
Gauging interest: Unlike the space-age Prius, the Accord Hybrid’s dashboard fits in with the rest of the cars on the highway. Information is easy to find and changes are simple to make from the steering wheel controls. But it was difficult to see some of the gauges, as I had to arrange the tilt wheel a certain way.
Driving position: The leather seats in the test vehicle made driving a joy. I never grew tired from driving the Accord.
Friends and stuff: The rear seat offers great comfort as well — headroom, legroom, knee room and foot room are generous — unless you sit in the middle, that is. But the rear seat does not fold down in the hybrid version, and the batteries take up a bit of space in the trunk.
Tuning in: Like almost all Hondas and Acuras these days, the radio has a touch screen up high and then — waaaaay underneath the heater controls — you’ll find a dial and four buttons to switch from navigation to media to other displays on that part of the screen. It always takes me a while to orient myself to this.
The stereo sounds good and offers fairly easy adjustment for the tone controls. A lack of external buttons to switch among modes or stations makes that a little less friendly. If you encounter the correct screen, you can use the dial to change the station, but it still involves too much eyes-off-the-road driving.
Keeping cool: Heater controls are buttons for temperature, fan speed and mode. It functions well enough, even though it’s not my preferred setup. Dials would be more intuitive.
Safety features: The car came with Honda’s new right-turn camera, which shows drivers what’s going on to the right and rear when the right turn signal is switched on. It’s so nice I wish it could function with the left-turn signal as well. It also comes with collision warning, which has a lot of false alarms by trees on winding roads, in my estimation.
Fuel economy: 37 mpg in a mix of highway and suburban driving.
Where it’s built: Marysville, Ohio
How it’s built: Overall Accord reliability ratings are slightly less than average from Consumer Reports. The hybrid is new and has not been evaluated.
In the end: Overall, I’d call this a friendly package that probably improves the fuel economy by about 20 percent.
Next week: 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid
“Wheels,” a special advertising supplement, appears inside today’s Post-Gazette.
Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at email@example.com