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First drive: A comfortable way to help save the environment

Why on earth would I beat around the bush? The fact is, after a few hours behind the wheel, I can report that the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid is well-engineered, fuel-efficient, comfortable, tight, interesting to drive and a darn good car.

Honda says its fuel economy, rated at 3.7 city/4.0 highway/3.8 combined litres/100 km, ranks the Accord No. 1 among four-door sedans. That's good. Equally important, the Accord Hybrid ($29,950-$35,690) moves quickly away from stoplights and 50:50 weight distribution front to rear (achieved using lightweight materials in the hood and front subframe) makes for a car that carves apexes and handles emergency manoeuvres like any normal family sedan. On top of that, Honda happily points out that this new hybrid boasts class-leading cabin space and a decent-sized trunk (360 litres versus the 447-litre trunk in the normal gasoline Accord).

The heart of the story is hidden away under the hood (electric motors, controllers, gas engine) and behind the rear seat (where the lithium ion battery pack lives). Honda's latest hybrid powertrain has two electric motors, in fact, and both are located where a traditional transmission would be found. Yes, you read correctly: there is no mechanical gearbox on board. And the gas engine is a small, 2.0-litre four-cylinder that uses the Atkinson Cycle.

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Perhaps the most interesting part of the story is that the gas engine can be decoupled from the rest of the hybrid powertrain. It automatically shuts down even during acceleration when it's not needed, and starts automatically when it is.

A computer brain makes these decisions based on a variety of inputs such as the state of the battery charge and the needs of the driver. The point is, this latest Honda hybrid moves from drive mode to drive mode to drive mode as needed: EV Drive is 100 per cent electric motor; Hybrid Drive (electric motor and the gasoline engine driving the generator motor; and gasoline Engine Drive.

So when you start from a stop, cruise gently or brake, the gas engine is off and decoupled from the drive train. In Hybrid mode, the electric motor drives the front wheels, while the gas engine acts to power the battery pack or drive a second electric motor – the generator motor – to supplement the first propulsion electric motor. At medium to high speeds, the gas motor does the work, sending power the front wheels via the two electric motors that are effectively connected.

The engineering that has gone into this system is remarkable and awe-inspiring. How did they figure it all out? I am sure many Honda engineers suffered sleep deprivation during development – especially the ones writing the algorithms that make this thing transition between three driving modes without any fuss or muss. The end product is a dual-drive car with crisp acceleration and power that's right there, the moment you hit the throttle. And when you hit the brakes, a regenerative system uses the electric motor drive to recharge the battery pack.

Your neighbours will know you've got the Accord Hybrid by the car's modest badging, blue-tinted headlights, and blue-accents around the grille and LED taillights. You can tell from the inside by the gloss-black steering wheel finish and a gauge cluster that tells you the state of the battery charge and shows the hybrid system's energy flow.

Even the most basic Accord Hybrid is well loaded. The combined 196-horsepower hybrid system may not sound like a luxury car powertrain, but the response is lightning fast and strong. Electric motors are like that. The base car comes with a long list of safety features, along with dual zone climate control, a trunk spoiler, rear camera and more. The Touring model ($35,690) is a true luxury car: leather seating surfaces, navigation system, premium audio, power moonroof, heated rear seats and satellite radio.

So if your vision of a luxury car is one with creature comforts and a space-age powertrain designed to save fuel and reduce emissions, then the Accord Hybrid should be on your list. It's that good.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More


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