Although it won't arrive until early next year, the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid Sedan will be the most ambitious variation on the platform theme and also serve as the starting point for a conventional 2014 Accord Hybrid that's due to launch sometime next summer. Based on the top-line Accord Touring Sedan, the new PHEV 4-door boasts its own distinctive exterior and interior styling elements and a host of weight-saving and friction-reducing mechanical enhancements in addition to introducing Honda's first 2-motor hybrid system.

To help set the 2014 Accord Plug-in Hybrid Sedan apart from its conventional sibling, Honda made several exterior changes to the car, starting with a unique grille/front fascia treatment and energy-efficient LED headlamps/running lamps. Available in three colors, White Orchid Pearl, Crystal Black Pearl and a PHEV-exclusive Burnished Silver Metallic, it also nets lightweight, wind-cheating 17-inch forged aluminum wheels wrapped in 225/50 low-rolling-resistance tires and a bespoke rear decklid spoiler. Additional aero enhancements include full fairings beneath the engine compartment and passenger cabin.

Inside, the Accord Plug-in Hybrid Sedan features the same Honda Bio-Fabric seat coverings found in the new Fit EV as well as a dedicated hybrid instrument cluster. It also offers the HondaLink EV smartphone EV app that lets owners remotely check and control various aspects of the battery charging process, as well as advise them on charge station locations and electric driving range.

Beyond its custom alloy wheels - that spin on special low-friction bearings -- the front-drive Accord Plug-in Hybrid Sedan features a number of model-specific components designed to help cut curb weight. Highlighting that list is a front subframe, rear bumper beam, hood and brake pedal made from aluminum. A puncture repair kit also replaces the standard Accord's spare tire.

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Heart of the 2014 Accord Plug-in Hybrid Sedan is Honda's most sophisticated gas/electric powertrain package to date. It matches the automaker's new 2.0-liter/4-cylinder Atkinson Cycle "Earth Dreams" engine rated at 137 horsepower with a new 2-motor EV setup comprised of a 166-horsepower electric drive unit coupled to an ancillary motor/generator unit integrated into the car's CVT automatic transmission whose primary function is to energize the 6.7kWh lithium-ion battery pack mounted in the rear of the vehicle. Collectively, this system develops 196 horsepower and allows the Accord PHEV to seamlessly transition between three different operating modes while earning stellar economy figures. Its PHEV-class-leading 115MPGe combined rating tops the Ford C-MAX Energi (100 MPGe), Chevrolet Volt (98 MPGe) and Toyota Prius Plug-in (95 MPGe). First production model in America to meet the more stringent LEV3/SULEV20 emissions standard, the 2014 Accord Plug-in Hybrid Sedan can travel up to 13 miles in pure EV mode and also will qualify for single-occupant carpool-lane access in California.

On startup, the Accord PHEV's default setting has it operating on pure electric power for the first 10-15 miles. From that point, the car automatically transitions into either "HV mode" or "HV Charge mode." The former has it act like a conventional hybrid, serving up the best mix of gasoline and electric power to max out fuel efficiency while maintaining battery charge level. The latter modifies the controller programming to optimize the gasoline/electric drive balance while helping increase the battery charge level. An electronically controlled hydraulic braking system similar to the one in the Fit EV also provides ancillary electric input in the form of regenerative braking. When the battery pack does need replenishment, it can be brought up to full capacity in less than three hours using a conventional 120V outlet or less than an hour on a dedicated Level 2 240V home setup.

Manufactured in Sayama, Japan, the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid Sedan goes on sale here in mid-January. Pricing will start at $40,570.

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