Honda can boast just as much hybrid history as Toyota, yet Honda's hybrid cars have not met with the same level of success. Where the Prius can drive under pure electric power at low speeds, especially useful when creeping along in traffic, Honda's hybrid system was not as robust, its motor merely giving extra boost to assist the engine.
For a time, Honda offered an Accord Hybrid with this system, but it only lasted three years. Now, Honda is ready to bring a Accord Plug-in Hybrid and Accord Hybrid back, with an entirely new hybrid drive system.
The new Accord Hybrid will be based on Honda's Accord midsize sedan updated for the 2013 model year. Honda released details about the Accord Plug-in Hybrid, and is reserving further information on the Accord Hybrid until later. However, the differences are likely to be a smaller battery pack and less pure electric range for the Accord Hybrid as opposed to the Accord Plug-in Hybrid.
The new hybrid system in the Accord Plug-in Hybrid consists of a 2-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine under the hood making 137 horsepower, and a continuously variable transmission with an integrated 124-kilowatt electric motor. Rather than assist the engine, this motor will be the primary driver of the front wheels. Honda rates the total system output at 196 horsepower.
Honda fits a 6.7 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack in the trunk, just behind the rear seats. It takes up a good portion of the trunk space, but it also can drive the car under pure electric power for 10 to 15 miles, according to Honda. Total range is over 500 miles, when taking into account a full tank of gas. A standard electric car charging port on the front left fender lets the battery be recharged in under 3 hours from a 110-volt source, and less than an hour from a 240-volt source.
Although official EPA estimates have not been released, Honda expects the Accord Plug-in Hybrid to get over 100 miles per gallon equivalent for its electric mode. No estimates were given for what it might achieve with the engine running. Real-world fuel economy will differ wildly, depending on how frequently drivers recharge the battery.
The Accord Plug-in Hybrid has three drive modes, which activate automatically or can be chosen by the driver. With a full charge in the battery, the car will drive as an electric vehicle, although the engine may start up at high speeds or under heavy acceleration.
The car's hybrid mode is more intriguing. Similar to the Chevrolet Volt, it uses the engine as a generator, creating electricity for the drive motor. The battery pack will also contribute, using electricity from the grid and whatever it can garner from the car's regenerative braking.
In the Accord Plug-in Hybrid's third mode, the gas engine mechanically connects to the drive wheels, giving additional motive power to what the electric motor can supply.
The regenerative braking for the Accord Plug-in Hybrid is similar that developed for the Fit EV. It not only converts kinetic energy from braking to electricity, but activates a type of grade logic when going down a hill. On a descent, it will hold the initial speed the driver sets with the accelerator and brake, automatically engaging regenerative braking. As we saw on the Honda Fit, the driver does not need to touch the pedals to maintain a steady downhill speed.
Owners of the Accord Plug-in Hybrid will also get access to the same HondaLink EV telematics system used for the Fit EV. This smartphone app lets owners remotely schedule charging times and helps find public charging stations.
The Accord Plug-in Hybrid will have the same cabin tech features as the high trim 2013 Honda Accord, such as the navigation system and LaneWatch blind-spot monitoring system, which uses a camera to look out the right side of the car. It will also get LED headlights, which help save electricity for the drive motor.
Whether the plug-in version will really catch on depends on pricing and final EPA fuel economy. However, this new hybrid system is an exciting new development for Honda that could see use in other models.