Currently, a few factors are working to transform the auto market faster than ever before. The most notable is the growing acceptance of hybrids. No longer firmly in the realm of the ecologically-minded, hybrid powertrains are now found in everything from commuter cars to hypercars. And while gains in fuel economy, torque, and acceleration can be felt in the real world, hybrids are also unlocking another world of engineering possibilities.
Like the long-awaited Acura NSX, which combines a twin-turbocharged V6 engine with a trio of electric motors for 576 horsepower, 476 pound-feet of torque, a 3.1 second zero to 60 time, and a 191 mile per hour top speed. It’s not just Buck Rogers stuff that redefines what performance powertrains look like, it also reestablishes Honda as a player in the supercar segment. And like with any good halo car, this can be felt across the rest of Honda’s hybrid lineup.
Another major factor is the disappearance of the midsize sedan. Like the polar ice caps or LeBron James’s hairline, the once mighty segment is receding year after year amid rising crossover and SUV sales. On the one hand, it means that there could soon come a time when cars like the Mazda6, Toyota Camry, Ford Fusion, and Honda Accord cease to exist. On the other hand, the shrinking pool means that stronger models are weathering the storm better than others. After all, the Chrysler 200 is no longer among us, while the Camry is still the fourth best-selling vehicle in America. The numbers may be down year after year, but the cars in the segment are as competitive as they’ve ever been.
Part of the Toyota Camry’s charm (if you can call it that) is that it’s studiously inoffensive. It does everything it’s supposed to, but it doesn’t do anything great. And for 41 years, its biggest rival, the Honda Accord, has shown the world that you can build a sedan that appeals to the middle-of-the-road class without being, well, too middle of the road.
For 2016, the Accord got a comprehensive refresh, but Honda decided to hold back until 2017 to release the hybrid model. This is the company’s second pass at a semi-electric Accord; a model was built and sold in the United States in 2014 to 2015, but it gained little traction in the marketplace. The Honda Accord Hybrid may not be as technologically impressive (or fast) as the Acura NSX, but in terms of everyday transportation, we doubt many people will find much to gripe about. It benefits from all of the gas powered Accord’s big gains, while getting fuel economy that puts most cars — including the Toyota Camry hybrid — to shame.
The ninth generation Honda Accord has been around for five model years now, but thanks to the 2016 refresh, you only really see traces of the older design from the sides. The front and rear fascias do an admirable job at keeping the car look current, and the standard 17-inch alloy wheels are a great design that help give the car a clean, sporty look.
Up front, the Accord is unmistakably part of the larger Honda lineup — hell, you can see everything from the Honda Civic, to the Honda CR-V, to the Acura NSX in its mug. But as attractive as it is, don’t think the beak-like front end and hybrid powertrain mean it performs like one.
Exterior pros and cons
+ The Big H badge aside, attractive front end design ensures that you won’t mistake the Accord for anything other than a Honda.
+ Its 2016 refresh and detailed touches, like the LED daytime running lights, keep the aging Accord looking young.
+ It provides us with even more proof that Honda’s design language works in almost every segment.
– A significant downside is that the car shows its age in profile.
– Also, the bright trim and body creases can’t help the fact that it’s a bit slab-sided. And as attractive as those 17-inch alloy wheels are, all that space in the wheel wells doesn’t help it either.
If you want a good-looking, comfortable hybrid built to withstand the grind of the daily commute, look no further than the Honda Accord Hybrid. The EPA gave the car a combined rating of 48 miles per gallon. And, wouldn’t you know it, that’s about what we saw throughout our week with one. In its segment, the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid comes in a close second with a combined 46 miles per gallon, while the Ford Fusion Hybrid claims a combined 42 miles per gallon and the Toyota Camry Hybrid a paltry 40 miles per gallon.
With the Atkinson-cycle 2.0 liter inline-four engine working with a single electric motor, the Honda Accord Hybrid has 212 horsepower and 129 pound-feet of torque to play with. And with a zero to 60 time of 6.9 seconds, it’s also the quickest midsize hybrid. But while it can be quick off the line, thanks to its electric motor, any serious pressure on the throttle seems to confuse the continuously variable transmission, which in turn makes the car feel slow when accelerating on ramps or merging.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ It gains plus points from us for reaching 710 miles on a full tank, and also for its class-leading fuel economy.
+ Another positive? Its 2.0 liter four-inline engine and electric motor work together seamlessly.
– Unfortunately, its engine noise under acceleration leaves a lot to be desired.
– Despite being quick off the line, stepping on the gas delivers diminishing returns.
– It’s a shame that the engine and CVT can’t play as nicely together as the engine and electric motor do.
If there’s one constant throughout the Honda Accord’s 41 year history, it’s an interior that offers more than what you’d expect for the price. Shiny wood trim on the dash and doors aside, there’s little here that feels anything less than premium. High quality switchgear, a nice piano black and satin trim, soft touch materials, and leather seats helped make our Accord Hybrid feel nicer than its $36,790 sticker price would suggest (base price: $35,965).
In the back, there’s plenty of room for adult passengers, though the rear seats offer little in the way of support. The front seats are fine for driving around town, but after a few hours, the driver and front passenger will be wishing for more support, too.
Like the exterior, a number of minor upgrades have gone a long way in making the aging car feel current, and bold touches like the dual-screen infotainment system and digital-analog hybrid instrument panel work really well here.
Interior pros and cons
+ One plus of the Honda Accord Hybrid is that it finds the balance between being seen as technological and familiar. Instrument cluster design is one of our current favorites, too.
+ Steering wheel controls for the stereo and infotainment system are simple and intuitive.
+ Front and rear seats are comfortable, giving the perfect amount of support for all but the longest drives.
– One negative of the Honda Accord Hybrid is that the piano black trim is a magnet for smudges.
– The shiny wooden trim on the dash and doors isn’t fooling anybody in 2017.
– Plus, a simple volume knob would’ve gone a long way.
Tech and safety
From a safety standpoint, the Honda Accord delivers with a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the IIHS, and a five-star overall rating from NHTSA. The Honda Sensing safety suite comes standard in the Hybrid, and includes a Collision Mitigation Braking System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning, and Road Departure Mitigation — all options that rivals charge thousands for.
The front leather seats are heated, which was a plus in our winter test. We also liked Honda’s HondaLink infotainment system, though the seven inch touchscreen felt small in the dash, and we would’ve loved some redundant physical controls.
But where the Accord really shows its age is in its small, simple, mostly black and white MID, housed in the speedometer hub surrounded by the kaleidoscopic instrument cluster. While the 3-D layout reminded us of an early 1980s Honda Prelude (or to be less obscure, a late model Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan), this little screen stood out as a throwback to the car’s introduction in 2013, and felt out of place in the otherwise modernized interior.
Tech and safety pros and cons
+ We love the out-the-door pricing for safety systems in the Hybrid.
+ The steering wheel mounted control placement is busy, but it’s intuitively placed.
+ Plus, the HondaLink is simple and easy to use.
– With that said, some physical controls would’ve been nice to augment the small touch panel on the left side of the screen.
– Also, the seven inch touchscreen felt small in its big bezel.
– And if it weren’t in front of our faces, we probably wouldn’t have minded the aging MID. After a week, it really started to bug us, though.
On the surface, the Accord Hybrid does what Honda’s practical cars have done from the beginning — getting from point A to point B, and on weekends, point C. But here’s what’s easy to forget: It does it while returning 45-plus miles per gallon in virtually any situation. That’s on purpose; the 2.0 liter four-inline engine and electric motor work together so seamlessly that, after a little while, you don’t feel the power switch anymore.
Gone are the goofy electric blue trim accents and badges everywhere. Aside from the power gauge to the left of the speedometer, there isn’t much here to let you know that this is a hybrid. For the continued normalization of these powertrains, this is a very good thing. Hybrids are starting to mature, and as far as everyday sedans go, the Honda Accord Hybrid feels about as mature as you can get in 2017.
Our biggest disappointments, however, came from an overall lack of pep. V6-powered Accords have long been known for delivering more excitement than you’d expect. While we were hoping that the electric motor would give it some more speed off the line, the Accord felt less than an electric torque machine, and more like a 3,500 pound family sedan. Coupled with firm but vague brakes, and a relatively numb steering feel, it left us wanting more in the performance department. But that’s what the Honda Accord EX-L is for. For drivers looking for comfort and maximum fuel economy, the Honda Accord Hybrid is an all-around winner.
Wrap up and review
For 20 years now, mass market hybrids have been synonymous with one brand: Toyota. But here’s a fun fact: Honda’s hybrid, the Insight, beat the Toyota Prius in the American market. The brand has a long, interesting history with hybrid power plants, and after years of stops and starts in the U.S., it’s finally settling in to duke it out with the existing competition. The Honda Accord Hybrid doesn’t just feel like a half-baked hybrid version of an existing car. It’s a refined, fully-realized green car that doesn’t broadcast it to the world. It does what hybrids do — goes further with less fuel — without forcing drivers to sacrifice much of anything else. It also happens to have the advantage of being an Accord.
So within a few years, Toyota might not have that intellectual monopoly on hybrids anymore. With the Acura NSX doing what the million dollar LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 were doing a few years ago for under $200,000, it makes Honda the highest-profile hybrid supercar builder in the world.
And on a level that’s closer to earth, the Accord Hybrid beats the tar out of the competition in both performance and fuel economy. The gas powered Accord may be a big fish in a sinking pond, but in the growing green car market, the Accord Hybrid has all the earmarks of a rising star.