Honda adds Accord Plug-in Hybrid to 2014 lineup

The 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid sedan doesn't amaze and daze with its mainstream looks, nice cloth seats and pleasant ride. Its "wow" factor is, simply, how few times a driver may need to stop at a gasoline station in a year.

This most fuel-thrifty Accord four door — the first with an electric plug — is propelled by stored electric power on most short trips of up to 13 miles.

It carries along a 141-horsepower, four-cylinder engine for when trips go longer. But even on the longer trips, the engine and regenerative brakes help replenish the onboard electric supply for short spurts of electric-powered driving and supplemental acceleration.

As a result, emptying this Accord's gas tank can be a challenge.

For example, even with some long trips added, the test car averaged 54.1 miles per gallon with a mix of all-electric driving plus city/highway on the gasoline engine. In fact, the federal government's website estimated the tester would only need to stop at the gas station about nine times in a year if driven at its current pattern.

New for 2014, the Accord Plug-in Hybrid competes against other plug-in hybrid models such as the Chevrolet Volt and Ford Fusion Energi.

But the Accord's longer size — it's more than 16 feet long from bumper to bumper — and generous interior set it a bit apart.

Its high price does, too. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2014 Accord Plug-in Hybrid is $40,570. This includes a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that a driver operates like an automatic transmission.

The Accord Plug-in is mostly a loaded model.

It comes standard with dual, automatic climate control, rearview camera, navigation system, 16-gigabyte audio storage hard drive, keyless entry, heated front seats, lane departure warning and forward collision warning, among other things.

This plug-in price is $10,625 more than the starting retail price for a base, 2014 Accord Hybrid sedan with no plug attached and with no navigation, frontal collision warning, lane departure warning, heated seats or dual climate control,.

Note the "regular" Accord Hybrid is rated by the federal government at a combined 47 mpg for city/highway travel, while the Accord Plug-in's ratings are 115 mpg-equivalent on all-electric short trips and 46 mpg for city/highway travel with the gas engine.

The Accord Plug-in also has a higher starting retail price than the 2014 Ford Fusion Energi, which starts at $35,525 with plug, leather seats, rearview camera and dual-zone climate control.

The federal government rates the 2014 Fusion Energi at 98 mpg-equivalent in all-electric mode and 37 mpg for city/highway travel on the gas engine.

The 2014 Chevrolet Volt is a hatchback, rather than a sedan, and it has an even lower starting retail price — $33,995, including standard cloth seats and single-zone climate control. The Volt has the same ratings from the federal government that the plug-in Fusion has.

The Accord Plug-in looks mostly like other Accords, save for a bluish tint on headlights and at the top of the grille and a new "fuel filler door" on the front fender on the driver's side where the car gets plugged in. The gasoline fuel filler door remains on the back side fender.

Inside, some might be surprised to find light-colored fabric seats and not leather in a $40,000 car. In 100-degree temperatures, the seats in the tester were soft to the touch and comfortable, not scorching the way some vinyl and leather seat coverings can be. Honda officials say the seat material is bio fabric, derived from the leftover sugar cane stalk fibers once the juice is extracted.

The Accord Plug-in was noticeably quiet in all-electric, hybrid and all-engine modes, and it was hard to detect when propulsion power went from electric to the engine. The transitions were amazingly smooth.

The car is weighty at nearly 3,800 pounds, but quick torque from the electric motor and decent response from the 2-liter, double overhead cam, Atkinson-cycle four cylinder made the Accord Plug-in feel sprightly.

There wasn't a brawny power sensation in the test car but swift and progressive acceleration. Because the electric motor's torque comes on immediately, the Accord Plug-in tester frequently beat other cars away from stoplights.

Electric power is stored in a lithium-ion battery pack behind the rear seatbacks. This limits trunk space to 8.6 cubic feet, but it's more than the 8.2 cubic feet of the Fusion Energi.

Because the Accord's battery only provides for a 13-mile all-electric range, it takes a full charge in just three hours via a household 120-volt outlet. It's just a one-hour charge from a 240-volt connection, so having the Accord ready for all-electric travel doesn't take much time. And an Economy mode, activated by a button on the dashboard, helps stretch every bit of electric and gas power.

Rear-seat legroom of 38.5 inches and headroom of 37.5 inches makes comfortable space for many adults. Driver and passengers drop down, though, onto the seats, and forward views are often blocked by taller vehicles such as trucks and sport utility vehicles.