The midsize hybrid sedan battle ramps up significantly as Honda next week rolls out the all-new gasoline-electric version of its best-selling Accord sedan for 2014 – with almost unbelievable EPA ratings of 50 mpg city/45 highway/47 combined.That’s getting close to the federally mandated 55 mpg that automakers are supposed to meet within the next decade, and it poses a clear challenge to the other midsize sedan hybrids on the market, including the Toyota Camry (43 city/39 highway/41 combined), Ford Fusion (47/47/47), and Hyundai Sonata (36/40/38). The Fusion is closest overall, but comes up 3 mpg short in the important city rating, which is where the average consumer does most of his driving. The groundbreaking Toyota Prius hatchback still has the edge, at 51/48/50, but it’s not in the same class, and unlike the midsize hybrid sedans, does not have a gasoline-only counterpart or what some people would consider to be conventional” styling.Honda also has an Accord Hybrid plug-in version ($39,780), which arrived earlier this year. It’s similar to the Fusion Energi and Prius plug-ins. The Honda plug-in has EPA equivalent mileage of 115 mpg, compared with 100 for the Energi and 95 for the Prius plug-in.Three versions of the 2014 Accord Hybrid are available, beginning with the base model at $29,155 (plus $790 freight). In the middle is the EX-L model at $31,905, which includes a leather interior.At the top of the line is the fully equipped Touring model, $34,905, which includes leather, new LED headlights and adaptive cruise control, among other extras. This is the one we tested, and with freight and no options, its sticker price was $35,695.The official on-sale date is Halloween, but this car is anything but scary.Honda says the Accord Hybrid’s typical buyer will be age 40-50, male, married, a college graduate professional, with an income of $90,000-plus.The No. 3 Japanese automaker upgraded its Marysville, Ohio, plant to produce the Accord Hybrid alongside the regular Accords on the assembly line there. Under the hood of the Accord Hybrid is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine connected to an electric drive motor through Honda’s “intelligent” multi-mode drive system. The system uses an electric continuously variable transmission, and there is no torque converter. Power is sent to the front wheels.A second electric motor is used to start the engine and run the vehicle’s accessories, and it converts to a generator when the gasoline engine is running or the vehicle is braking, to charge the lithium-ion battery pack that powers the car during electric-only operation.The battery pack is in the front of the trunk, which reduces cargo space by about 3 cubic feet from the regular Accord, to 12.7 cubic feet (12.3 on EX-L and Touring models).Honda says the hybrid’s four-cylinder is the “world’s most efficient” gasoline engine, producing 141 horsepower and 122 foot-pounds of torque on its own. Along with the electric drive motor, total system output is 196 horsepower, which is better than the 185 horsepower of the regular base Accord’s four-cylinder engine. But the electric motor gives the Accord Hybrid a whole lot more start-up power, by itself producing a maximum of 166 horsepower and 226 foot-pounds of torque. That’s a characteristic of electric motors – lots of torque, and all of it available from start-up.The hybrid drive system actually gives the Accord the feel of a V-6, and we had plenty of power wherever we took it, including some twisty hills in the Texas Hill Country. The car starts off every time in electric-only mode, giving it that kick-start that allows it to pull off the line quickly without wasting gasoline. The Accord Hybrid, inside and out, is nearly identical to the regular Accord, which was completely redesigned just last year. There are a few differences, including blue-tinted headlights, taillights and grille on the hybrid, as well as a trunk-lid spoiler, underbody rear air diffuser, and hybrid badges.Inside, the differences include a gloss-black steering wheel, and a multi-information display that gives details of the hybrid drive system.There is room for up to five people, and everyone but the middle person in the back seat has a really comfortable ride. The middle position is OK for kids or a child safety seat, but is tight for bigger teens or adults.All models come with Honda’s really cool LaneWatch system, which uses a camera mounted in the bottom of the right side mirror to project a wide view of the area to the right of the vehicle whenever the right turn signal is activated. The driver can easily see what’s in the lane to the right, with the image on the screen in the middle of the dash.Other standard features on the base model include a rearview camera system, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, USB connection for the 100-watt audio system, keyless entry and pushbutton start, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and taillights, an eight-inch multi-information display, Pandora and text-messaging services, a 10-way power driver’s seat, and heated outside mirrors with built-in turn signals.With the EX-L, leather seats and steering wheel are added, along with heated front seats, a power moon roof, a self-dimming rearview mirror, lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems, touch-screen audio system, XM satellite radio, memory for the driver’s seat, and four-way power adjustment for the front passenger seat.Moving up to the Touring model brings the EX-L extras, along with a hard-disk-drive in-dash navigation system, the LED headlights and adaptive cruise control, and a universal garage/gate opener.As for the regular Accord, the base, midlevel and top models are essentially equipped the same as the Hybrid, and there is a choice of the 185-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine or a 278-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The Accord is also available in a two-door coupe, but that model will not have a hybrid version. For 2014, regular Accord four-cylinder sedan prices begin at $21,955 for the base LX with a six-speed manual gearbox, and $22,755 for the LX with a CVT. The Sport sedan is $23,715 with the manual, and $24,515 with the CVT.The fancier EX, but without leather, lists for $24,880 with the manual and $25,680 with the CVT. The EX-L (leather) model is $28,270, and comes only with the automatic; and the top four-cylinder version is the EX-L with navigation, for $30,045. It has only the CVT, as well.V-6 sedan models, which all come with a conventional six-speed automatic, begin at $30,345 for the EX-L; $32,120 for the EX-L with navigation; and $33,480 for the Touring model – equivalent to the Hybrid Touring.Four-cylinder Accord Coupe models range from $23,625-$30,120, while the V-6 coupes run from $30,625-$32,400. With the coupe, a six-speed manual is offered even with the V-6 engine.Honda had an Accord hybrid from 2005-07, but discontinued it because of poor sales. It emphasized performance over fuel economy, featuring a V-6 engine instead of a more-efficient four-cylinder, and was expensive – about $3,000 higher than the top V-6 gasoline-only model.The new Accord makes more use of high-strength steel to help reduce its weight, and the body has more-aerodynamic styling. Both of these changes help improve fuel economy. Regular Accord four-cylinder models with the CVT have EPA ratings of 27 city/36 highway/30 combined, up 11 percent from the best mileage of the previous generation model. With the manual, the EPA ratings are 24/34/28. The engine has 181 foot-pounds of torque.The optional 3.5-liter V-6 engine, with 252 foot-pounds of torque, has mileage ratings of 21/34/25.Among other Accord features is the HondaLink system, which “lets drivers put away their smartphones and still stay connected to the people, music and social media they love,” Honda says. The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com .
2014 Honda Accord sedan/Hybrid sedan
The package: Midsize, four-door, five-passenger, front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder, V-6 or gasoline-electric hybrid-powered sedan.
Highlights: Honda’s best-selling vehicle was been completely redesigned for 2013, with all-new styling, more standard and available technology, and improved fuel economy. For 2014, a hybrid version has been added to the mix.
Engines: 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder (two versions); 3.5-liter V-6; 2.0-liter four-cylinder Atkinson cycle gasoline engine and electric motor (hybrid only).
Transmission: Six-speed manual (standard, 2.4-liter LX, Sport); continuously variable automatic (optional, 2.4-liter LX, Sport; standard, EX, EX-L); six-speed automatic (V-6); electric CVT (hybrid).
Power/torque: 185 HP./181 foot-pounds (base 2.4-liter); 189 HP./182 foot-pounds (Sport version, 2.4-liter); 278 HP./252 foot-pounds (3.5-liter); 141 HP./122 foot-pounds (2.0 gasoline, hybrid), 166 HP./226 foot-pounds (electric motor, hybrid), 196 horsepower total output (engine plus motor, hybrid).
Length: 191.4 inches (gasoline); 192.2 inches (hybrid).
Curb weight: 3,192-3,559 pounds (gasoline); 3,550-3,602 pounds (hybrid).
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; side-curtain for both rows.
Trunk capacity: 15.8 cubic feet (gasoline-only models); 12.7 cubic feet (base hybrid); 12.3 cubic feet (EX-L, Touring hybrids).
EPA fuel economy: 24/34 mpg (2.4-liter, manual); 27/36 (2.4-liter, CVT); 21/34 (3.5-liter); 50/45/47 combined (hybrid).
Fuel capacity/type: 17.2 gallons/regular unleaded (gasoline models); 15.8 gallons (hybrid).
Major competitors: Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Volkswagen Passat, Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Malibu, Subaru Legacy, Mitsubishi Galant, Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Mazda6, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima. Hybrids: Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, Lincoln MKZ, Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata.
Base price range: $21,955-$33,480, plus $790 freight (gasoline models); $29,155-$34,905 (hybrid).
On the Road rating: 9.1 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.