CARS.COM — After taking a year off, the Honda Accord Hybrid is back for the 2017 model year boasting the midsize hybrid sedan class' highest mileage ratings: 49/47/48 city/highway/combined mpg under the updated EPA ratings procedures for 2017 models. But do the hybrid Honda Accord's lofty fuel economy figures measure up to real-world driving?
We put the new Accord to the test over about 1,400 miles, including a 640-mile run from Washington, D.C., over the Appalachian Mountains and across the upper Midwest, to western Michigan and back, along with about 125 miles of city driving in between. And we didn't make it easy: The car was a fully loaded Touring trim with lots of accessories and a moonroof (sticker price $36,790 with destination). We then loaded the sedan up with about 600 pounds of people and cargo, the rough equivalent of a couple of refrigerators.
The new Accord Hybrid uses an updated version of the previous model's powertrain, with a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine, two electric motors (one generating power and the other driving the wheels) and a lithium-ion battery for a total system output of 212 horsepower. The system can operate on electric power alone, in hybrid mode where the gas engine drives the generator to power the electric drive motor, or on gas engine-only power. The system's computer decides the most efficient mix for the load and speed.
For the outbound drive, temperatures were in the high 80s with a slight crosswind for much of the route and about a half-hour of rain. We used automatic climate control the whole way and the adaptive cruise control for about half of the turnpike-heavy route as traffic allowed. While the Honda Accord Hybrid does not invite being driven like you stole it, we stayed with traffic, which moved generally a bit above the posted limits. We used neither Eco nor Sport modes, leaving it to the computer to do the thinking and mix the power modes for normal driving. You can select an instrument cluster graph to watch the power flow.
The result was surprising given the load, speeds and terrain: 44.3 mpg on the trip computer for 642.5 miles at an all-in average of 60 mph. That's down less than 6 percent from the EPA highway rating of 47 mpg without really trying. A verification measure at the gas pump (not a true backup since it used different pumps) came in at 14.66 gallons for a close 43.8 mpg.
Was it a fluke? The drive back says no — same load, similar temperatures, gustier crosswinds through Ohio, same trial by Pennsylvania Turnpike, but no rain. This time, we tried the Eco mode to see if that would have an effect in highway driving. It didn't much except to make the adaptive cruise control less satisfying in accelerating back to speed after braking. The trip computer clocked the 644-mile return trip at 44.7 mpg, while the pump calculation came in at 14.31 gallons for 45.0 mpg - impressive for a high-speed trip in a large car loaded with gear.
Approaching the EPA's city mileage number proved more of a challenge for the Accord Hybrid. Small-town city driving with trips mostly under 5 miles in South Haven, Mich., proved more typical of our hybrid experience of getting very good mileage that nonetheless fell short of EPA ratings. The trip computer showed 34.8 mpg for 127.9 miles; the pump calculation (more accurately using the same pump) was 3.58 gallons for 35.7 mpg.
The number is very good for a midsize sedan in city driving but well shy of the car's 49-mpg city rating. In fact, we rarely saw an individual trip clock more than 40 mpg overall and not for lack of trying. We used the electric vehicle button, which can keep the car in electric-only mode for short distances when the battery has enough charge. We also used Eco mode and kept the transmission lever mostly in the B (Battery) setting for boosted regeneration when slowing down.
Against the Alternatives
How do the Accord Hybrid's figures compare with the model's alternatives? The hybrid had more overall power and was more satisfying, particularly for a long drive, than the four-cylinder Accord that finished midpack in our recent 2016 Midsize Sedan Challenge; it's EPA-rated at 27/36/30 mpg for 2017. But the hybrid can't match the refined power of the V-6 Accord (21/32/24). In price, my test Accord Hybrid Touring's $36,790 with destination is about a $1,100 premium over the Accord Touring V-6 at $35,665, but more than $5,000 costlier than the top 4-cylinder model, an EX-L trim with comparable multimedia and safety tech options at $31,655.
While the 2017 Hybrid model's numbers appear lower than the previous 2015 model's ratings, Honda says the new model actually is more efficient. Using the 2017 rules, Honda estimates that the 2015's 50/45/47 mpg rating now "would be 48/45/47 ... indicating a +1/+2/+1 increase for the 2017 model." Although that's short of the (marketing) magic 50-mpg number, the 2017 Accord Hybrid's ratings still edge out its closest electrified midsize rival, Chevrolet's new 2016 Malibu Hybrid that's EPA-rated at 47/46/46 mpg. Compare the two here. And both are far ahead of Hyundai's 2017 Sonata Hybrid SE (39/45/42), Ford's 2017 Fusion Hybrid (43/41/42) and Toyota's 2017 Camry Hybrid LE (42/38/40).