When the new generation of the Honda (NYSE:HMC) Accord Hybrid was revealed on paper, things were looking quite positive for the sedan, which reportedly offered a combined fuel economy rating of 47 miles per gallon, thanks to a stellar 50 mile per gallon city rating from the Environmental Protection Agency.
However, on its recent outing with the new car, Consumer Reports found that the Accord wasn’t able to live up to its promised 47 miles per gallon, instead settling around 40 miles per gallon — still commendable for a car in its class, but well off the mark advertised.
“Testers found the Accord Hybrid has a very impressive hybrid system that smoothly transitions between battery and engine power,” the publication said. “To save fuel, even at highway speeds, the engine willingly shuts off as soon as drivers lift their foot off the gas pedal.” The site, which is well known for its hands-on approach to testing, was careful to emphasize the testing procedure of the EPA over Honda’s own claims for the capabilities of the car. After all, it’s not the first time that the EPA’s methodology has fudged the results.
Somewhat recently, Ford (NYSE:F) was forced to lower the official fuel economy ratings on its C-Max hybrid, from 47 to 43. After playing with the software and employing other tricks to bring fuel economy up, it was determined that the EPA’s policy of allowing vehicles on similar platforms to share statistics was to blame, as the number had been assigned since it shared its underpinnings and guts with the Ford Fusion hybrid — a sleeker, more aerodynamic car that actually does achieve 47 miles per gallon.
“We’ve found that the EPA tests often exaggerate the fuel-economy of hybrids,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing at Consumer Reports. The Honda Accord is one of Consumer Reports’ highest-rated vehicles in its class, but even with fuel economy aside, the hybrid version had trouble besting its gasoline-only sibling in CR’s battery of tests.
First off, the hybrid system adds about $6,500 onto the cost of the conventional four-cylinder Accord. That’s to be expected since hybrids are often more expensive, but it pushes the MSRP close to $30,000 — and while a leap to 47 miles per gallon makes it seem more worthwhile, 40 miles per gallon, not so much. Also, the Hybrid lost points for a rougher suspension setup, loss of cargo space (because of the battery packs), emergency handling, quietness (or lack thereof — the engine has a tendency to whine, it seems), and overall ride comfort (again, related to the suspension).
On Fuelly.com, a site that allows drivers to contribute their real-world MPGs and share their data with other like-vehicle drivers, the few — forty-eight – 2014 Accord Hybrids were averaging slightly more, at about 42.2 miles per gallon. That’s not quite a significant enough sample to draw conclusions from, but illustrates that different driving and testing styles can alter results, sometimes substantially.
Generally speaking, hybrid vehicles struggle to keep up with their EPA estimates, while diesel vehicles often over-achieve. Hybrids excel in city settings, where the cars can take more advantage of the electric power, but their economy is generally bruised by highway driving at higher speeds. This factor alone — the percentage of highway to city driving — varies wildly by individual and can be a substantial factor in deciding real-world fuel economy. The EPA assumes a ratio of 55 percent city driving and 45 percent on the highway, but that’s obviously not always the case.
Discrepancies between the EPA and manufacturer recommendations versus actual real-life driving have been a point of contention for many. Several — most, really — likely see their ratings come in lower than was quoted, while others may exceed. Edmunds devoted a lengthy but educational and helpful blog post to describing the process that the EPA uses and why these discrepancies occur. As for the Honda, it may still be too early to tell for sure what the overall real-world experience will be, but as more of them hit the road, we’ll get a better idea of what the real-world consumption will look like. Take a look below for Consumer Report’s video review.