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2014 Honda Accord PHEV Quick Drive

It's a Honda Accord. That doesn't use gas.

The newest Honda Accord is the best car in its class. We've already established that. But Honda's not content to sit on its laurels, and has introduced two hybrid versions of its sedan. One is a standard hybrid; an electric motor helps move the car around, fuel economy's vastly improved, etc. It's called (obviously) the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, and we already have a bunch of words you can read on that.

The car you see here is different though, and we're not just talking about the crazy chrome grille, either. No, this is the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle, or PHEV. It's a version of the Accord that can run for up to 13 miles without burning a drop of gasoline. All the good stuff about the Accord, without burning gas? This we had to see for ourselves.

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Model and Price

There's only one model of the Accord Plug-In Hybrid, and there aren't many options. The car costs $40,570 including the $790 destination charge, and that gets you a lot of car. Astute readers will note that it's more expensive than a Chevrolet Volt. While that's true, the Accord can also seat one more person than a Volt, considerably widening its appeal. Also note that the Accord PHEV qualifies for a $3,626 tax credit, plus a $1,500 tax rebate in California; it also qualifies for single-occupant status on California's urban freeways, which is a darn good incentive all by itself for traffic-addled commuters.

Safety and Key Features

While the 2014 Honda Accord PHEV hasn't been crash tested separately from the rest of the Accord lineup, it probably doesn't need it. The Accord has already earned a five-star rating from the NHTSA, and is one of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick + models. It comes standard with front, side, and curtain airbags, as well as stability control. A backup camera makes life easier when reversing, and the Accord Plug-In Hybrid also comes with Honda's LaneWatch, a camera mounted on the passenger side mirror that lets you peer at traffic alongside the car. It's super handy, and comes on automatically whenever you use the right blinker.

The Accord PHEV distinguishes itself from other Accords through styling, and not all the changes are successful. We get the blue Hybrid badges here and there, but what's up with that crazy nose? It's like looking at Owen Wilson vs. Luke Wilson; they're both handsome enough, until you look at Owen and wonder whether or not he won the bar fight that gave him that lumpy nose.

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Family Friendliness and Utility

The 2014 Honda Accord PHEV shares its basic interior with the rest of the Accord lineup. That means it's comfortable, quiet, and roomy for all five passengers. There are two screens, one of which is touch-capable and used for radio functions, air conditioning, etc. If you like touch screens, it's pretty good; if you don't then you'll dislike it. The seats in this car, despite its price, are covered in cloth, but it was soft and warm, and felt durable. The rear seats are among the best in class, and the only way to tell there's anything different about this Accord is the vents mounted on the sides of the rear seats which allow cooling for the battery.

But it's the battery that's this car's biggest problem. It takes up an enormous amount of trunk space, cutting the available cargo area in half, and leaving only a small area for about eight or so grocery bags; the standard Accord can hold more than 20 bags. Granted, you're getting much better electric-only range with the Accord PHEV than you would with a traditional hybrid, and amazing fuel economy, but the tiny trunk definitely impacts day-to-day livability.

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Comfort and Quality

Honda has worked hard to make all models of the current-generation Accord as quiet and comfortable as possible, and none are better than the Accord PHEV. The relative lack of engine noise makes this one of the quietest cars around in EV mode, and it whispers even when the engine is running. If you like silent running, you'll love it. The interior is also high quality throughout, with soft touch plastics on the dash and doors, padded armrests, high-quality switches, and an overall sense that you're getting more than you're paying for.

However, if you like leather seats or a sunroof, you're out of luck. The Accord PHEV comes only with cloth chairs, and while they're very soft and comfortable for long and short drives--they're even heated--cowhides aren't an option. If you want a hole in your roof, better get out your Sawzall. We also weren't too fond of the weird sparkle finish on some of the interior trim pieces. We get that Honda wants to differentiate the styling of the PHEV from the rest of the Accord lineup--just look at that nose!--but the bass-boat quality metal flake inside was too much.

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How it Drives

There are two factors that primarily limit electric vehicles of any sort: range, and recharge time. On the first, the Accord is no long-distance champ. Honda claims about 13 miles of range, and that's about what we managed to get. However, that range was surprisingly easy to max out. Even when we were more lead-footed than we should've been, the Accord soldiered on, trying every trick in the book to keep itself running on electrons instead of gasoline. When it did eventually give up and turn on its gas engine, the Accord was just as willing to shut it off again and resume EV mode as soon as it was able to. Even the hybrid mode--activated when the battery is depleted or at the touch of a console-mounted switch--seemed to favor battery operation over gasoline in most circumstances. If you still have memories of the old Accord Hybrid, with its old-school integrated motor assist system, you'll be surprised by what a good hybrid this really is.

It's no slug either, although truth be known, it's not particularly fast, either. The Accord PHEV can move out when you prod it, but the extra weight of the batteries and soft suspension don't encourage quick driving, and the dash display frowns on such shenanigans, and will reduce your eco score the more aggressively you drive.

Of course, the advantage of the Accord PHEV over electric-only vehicles is that it has a gasoline engine, making the EV part of the equation suitable only for short-distance runs. As for fuel economy, it was excellent. Around town, and with a full charge, we'd easily top more than 75 mpg per trip; our overall average with the car was an excellent 63.3 mpg total, and we didn't even come close to using an entire tank of gas. With proper recharging, at least two staffers would rarely, if at all, use gas during their daily commute.

Speaking of recharging, it was quick. On our high-capacity charger here at our offices, the Accord would go from fully depleted to fully charged in about an hour. But what was really surprising was how quickly it would recharge using the standard 110-volt charger; we recharged a nearly depleted battery back to full in about three hours. That quick recharge means there's no need to install a costly high-capacity recharging station in your home.

As for the rest of the drive, it loses pretty much none of its Accord-ness. That's a good thing.

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Summary

This is not a car for a die-hard EV fan, and for that matter, it's not even a direct competitor against something like a Chevy Volt. It lacks the range to attract pure EV lovers, and it doesn't even have a third of the range of the Volt.

Instead, the Accord PHEV goes head-to-head with the likes of the Ford Fusion Energi, a similar plug-in version of that company's midsize sedan. Both cars are aimed at buyers who want outstanding fuel economy--since they won't burn very much of it--and don't want to give up what makes both of these cars excellent choices anyhow. While we haven't had a chance to compare the Ford and the Honda back to back, in our last comparison test, the standard Accord beat out the Fusion thanks to a better rear seat, better driving dynamics, and bigger trunk. We're guessing it's about the same story here. Besides, if you like the Accord, but hate burning gasoline, it's the only game in town.

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Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $40,570
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 47 mpg
EPA Highway: 46 mpg
EPA Combined: 46 mpg; 115 mpge
Cargo Space: 8 grocery bags
Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Excellent
Estimated Combined Range: N/A
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: N/A

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Notebook Quotes

"Call me a cynic, but I have a hard time believing that a plug-in car with anything under 30 miles or so is really worth it. So the Accord PHEV can go 13 miles on all-electric mode. It also costs $40,000. Unless there's some screaming lease deal out there, I'm not seeing the value proposition. Our car doesn't even have satellite radio. Not cool. Not cool at all." -Jacob Brown, Online Editor

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