Honda plug-in hybrid a work in progress

Of the four plug-in vehicles I’ve long-term tested over the course of the past two years as part of the Sun’s ongoing Driving … Unplugged feature, the 2014 Honda Accord PHEV has been the most challenging on a number of fronts.

And so I turn in the key fob today to the plug-in sedan, and with it a sense of dissatisfaction absent from my previous test vehicles (including the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and Mitsubishi i-MiEV).

I think that’s mostly from the fact that the Accord PHEV is in essence a research and development platform for Honda Canada.
Apart from two states — California and New York — it’s not for sale anywhere in the world, and its presence in Canada was simply Honda dipping a toe in the proverbial plug-in waters.

2014 Honda Accord PHEV is in essence a research and development platform for Honda Canada.

2014 Honda Accord PHEV is in essence a research and development platform for Honda Canada.
Andrew McCredie,

As such, it was difficult to fairly assess the vehicle in the same way we put the Leaf, Volt and i-MiEV under the microscope.
All three of those are in showrooms throughout B.C., so critiquing them in a real-world setting was useful for readers and prospective buyers. But since the Accord PHEV was not for sale, finding fault with it always seemed a tad trifling.

Those faults included a battery pack that stored about as much electrical energy to go 30 kilometres or so before the gas engine took over, and a CVT transmission that was very un-Honda-like in its refinement (though at the best of times CVTs are still left wanting in terms of noise and harshness).

And after putting just under 3,000 kilometres on the Accord PHEV since taking delivery in early December, I achieved an overall fuel consumption rate of 5.7 L/100km, well above the purported 4.0 rating, but more importantly, also above other regular hybrid sedans available for sale right now.

That includes the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid.
And that very fact alone, according to Honda Canada’s product planning manager, means the Accord PHEV is not coming to a showroom near you anytime soon.

“We do not have any plans to bring it in,” Hayato Mori told me earlier this week on the phone from Honda Canada HQ in Markham, Ont. “The problem is that the price we would have to put on the Accord PHEV would probably be about $10,000 more than a comparable Accord Hybrid.”

Given that price difference, he says that the company’s expectations of the number of Accord PHEVs that would be bought by Canadian consumers does not justify bringing it to market.

“We just don’t see a market for this,” Mori-san said.

2014 Honda Accord PHEV

2014 Honda Accord PHEV

That said, it’s certainly not a bad thing for Honda Canada when their hybrid version outperforms their electric plug-in version of the same model, but it does indicate some work needs to be done on their plug-in hybrid technology.

Noting that Honda was reluctant to hop on the “plug-in bandwagon,” Mori-san explained the company is moving ahead with the technology very carefully.

“When we’re ready to bring it in, we want to make sure that it makes sense to bring it in. For us to bring out a plug-in hybrid, it has to be better than this.”

Simply put, “we don’t think (the PHEV) will meet customers’ expectations in its present form.”

After my four-month test, I wholeheartedly agree.

But the product planner added that the Accord PHEV experiment is far from a failure.

“We’re using the data and the experience we received from the Accord PHEV over this past winter, particularly in the cold weather, to develop a future model, that I cannot talk to you about right now.”

Final readout from 2014 Honda Accord PHEV driven in longterm test.

Final readout from 2014 Honda Accord PHEV driven in longterm test.
Andrew McCredie,

In other words, the next generation of the Accord PHEV propulsion system is already under development and will be installed in a soon-to-be-released Honda vehicle. My bet would be in a Civic or possibly a CR-V.

In addition, other elements of the Accord PHEV have resonated.

In Japan, the body of the Accord PHEV is used as the body for the Accord Hybrid, and Mori-san expects some of the PHEV’s exterior styling cues to migrate over to other Accord models in the future.

“For instance, the PHEV’s wheel is a very practical wheel design in terms of aerodynamics and will be used on future models.”

Kudos to Honda for handing over the key to a work-in-progress to a journalist, but also for admitting it’s not quite there yet.

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