The midsize hybrid sedan segment got a real boost this year with the introduction of the all-new 2014 Accord model, with impressive fuel-economy ratings of 50 mpg city/45 highway/47 combined.While that’s not yet at the nearly 55 mpg that automakers will be required to meet by 2025 under new federal standards, it’s a good start, particularly for a car that’s attractive, roomy, comfortable and not at all weird (as some hybrids clearly have been).It measures up to key competitors such as the 2014 Toyota Camry (43 city/39 highway/41 combined), Ford Fusion (47/47/47), and Hyundai Sonata (36/40/38).While the Fusion is closest overall, it’s three mpg short in the important city rating, which is where the average consumer drives the most.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. It’s a bit weird-looking, too.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.The top model of the regular hybrid 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.But the most-expensive version is the plug-in model ($39,780), which is 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.Honda says the regular Accord Hybrid’s typical buyer is age 40-50, male, married, a college graduate and a professional, with an annual income of $90,000-plus.The automaker upgraded its Marysville, Ohio, plant to produce the hybrid alongside the regular Accords on the assembly line there.Under the hood 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. It 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 to run the vehicle’s accessories, and it converts to a generator when the gasoline engine is running or the vehicle is braking. That in turn charges 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 three 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. The electric motor gives the car 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.With the electric motor, the car actually has the feel of an Accord V-6, and we had plenty of power wherever we took it, including some twisty roads. 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. Inside and out, the hybrid model 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.The differences in the cabin include a gloss-black steering wheel and a multi-information display that gives details of the hybrid drive system.Up to five people can ride in the Accord, and everyone but the middle person in the back seat has a really comfortable seat. 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 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.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.Regular Accord 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 does not have a hybrid version.This is the re-introduced Accord hybrid. Honda offered one in model years 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 helped 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.