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First Drive: Honda’s Plug-in Hybrid Takes On Volt and Prius

Honda offered drives of its mid-size two-motor plug-in hybrid prototype on the “Everyday Fun” part of a media event held on Nov. 29, north of Tokyo. (Photos: Brad Berman.)

Nearly all the media attention in the plug-in car world goes to pure electric vehicles, while plug-in hybrids mostly escape notice. That was true during the press days at last week’s 2011 Tokyo Motor Show, and during the media unveiling by Honda of its new powertrains prior to the show. The Honda Fit EV, as I reported on Monday, deserves a spotlight—based purely on the impressive amount of acceleration it delivers. But after five minutes behind the wheel of Honda’s Accord-sized plug-in hybrid, I believe it could be the breakthrough electrified vehicle that Honda needs.

Five minutes is not a lot of time to experience a car. For about four of those minutes I was trying to figure out when the gas engine was or wasn’t on. I started my drive in all-electric mode. When I eased up to 35 miles per hour, it was still purely electric. From there, I stomped on the accelerator and detected a very slight vibration from the 2.0-liter gas engine—but within a few seconds, it was quiet again as I continued to accelerate with more restraint. Is it on? Is it off? Except for a full throttle-down take-off from low speed to max speed—as if ramping up to a highway—I couldn’t tell.
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