Versus the competiton:
The Verdict: The 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid keeps nearly all of the qualities that make the gasoline Accord a top-selling midsize sedan, with only minimal concessions for big efficiency gains.
Versus the competition: The new Accord raises the bar for gas mileage versus its rivals, which include hybrid versions of comparable midsize sedans. Its stiffest competition, in fact, may be the less expensive and increasingly efficient conventional Accord.
The Accord Hybrid midsize sedan is back for 2017 after a model year off, based now on the updated Accord unveiled last year as a 2016 model. It’s a key new product in Honda’s declared march toward electrification of two-thirds of its vehicles by 2030; Honda says it will be joined by a plug-in hybrid version sometime in 2017.
The heart of the new Accord is a lighter, smaller, more efficient new generation of the previous hybrid’s powertrain, including a 2.0-liter gasoline engine, two electric motors, a lot of computing power and no conventional transmission.
The hybrid is offered in base, EX-L and the Touring trims. I tested an all-in Honda Accord Hybrid Touring model with an immodest amount of features and technology — costing a relatively modest (these days) $36,790, including destination. The Accord Hybrid is now built in Japan rather than Ohio, where capacity was limited, which Honda says should make the new hybrid available in greater numbers than the old model.
Direct competitors are more numerous than ever, including hybrid versions of the Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Hyundai Sonata and Ford Fusion. Compare them here.
If you like conventional Accords, you’ll like this one, as you’d be hard-pressed to spot the differences. The overall look plays above its price range, though the lower sill trim on top Touring models seems a gratuitous flourish that adds unwelcome bulkiness when combined with the hybrid’s smaller wheels.
As with most of its midsize sedan rivals, this is not a car that shouts to the neighbors that you got a hybrid. Honda cognoscenti will spot the hybrid model’s small, blue-accented badges (blue is the new green for eco-friendly cars) and different headlights. Also specific to the hybrid are a smoother, more aerodynamic aluminum hood and its own 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. Those wheels better be doing some aerodynamic magic, too, because they’re a step back from other Accords, aesthetically speaking. Unseen are more extensive underbody covers to smooth the flow of air.
LED daytime running lights and taillights come on all models; the Touring has good-looking full-LED headlights similar to those gracing cars from Honda’s premium Acura brand.
Among the color choices are four hybrid exclusives, which can set it apart at least to other Honda Accord owners. They include the upscale (but available at no extra cost) Blue Sky Metallic paint on our test car. It responded to varying light with interesting shadow and color shifting and drew comments from passersby.
The new hybrid behaves mostly like a standard front-wheel-drive Honda Accord. The ride is a hair firmer and busier than those of the Camry or new Malibu, particularly on the highway. I expected the hybrid’s smaller, 17-inch wheels to ease this — compared with 19s and slimmer tires on a conventional Touring — but that was not the case. Perhaps any benefit of the tires’ taller sidewalls is offset by a firmer, low-rolling-resistance design.
The typical hybrid buyer won’t expect or want a sports car, and the Honda Accord Hybrid feels satisfyingly solid and adult. The handling isn’t sloppy, the steering is responsive — though it lacks much feel — and understeer is within acceptable limits. Honda says the hybrid’s electronically controlled regenerative brakes were re-engineered for better feel and more linear response. That’s true, and they’re better now than many such systems, but you won’t forget what they are thanks to modest initial response followed by a noticeable “whoa” as you increase pressure. The 2016 Malibu Hybrid is a notable exception, with near-normal brake pedal feel.
The hybrid’s greater overall power and electric motors’ instant torque make it more fun than the gasoline four-cylinder version, but it won’t measure up for most drivers to the more refined power of the V-6 models.
Hybrid buyers are likely more interested, however, in the car’s efficiency. The revised powertrain offers both more efficiency and more power while making the various pieces more compact and lighter. The revised 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine and two motors (electric) combine for a total output of 212 horsepower, up 16 hp from the 2015. Power flows to the wheels through an electric power delivery unit (E-CVT) in place of a conventional mechanical transmission.
The Honda Accord Hybrid can operate variously as an electric vehicle (using battery power and the electric drive motor), as a series hybrid (the gas engine driving the second motor-generator to power the drive motor) and as a parallel hybrid (the gas engine directly driving the wheels with boost as needed from the electric motor). An electric power control unit is the wizard in the system, mixing and matching these modes for maximum efficiency according to conditions and speed. While there is a lot going on, you rarely feel the shifts in power flow. But the engine’s sound doesn’t always correlate to changes in the car’s velocity. It’s not uncommon in a hybrid, but it takes some getting used to.
Buttons by the shift lever let the driver select an EV mode, which keeps the car in electric-only drive for short distances — given modest accelerator pedal application — as long as the battery has enough charge. There’s also a Sport (yes, Sport) mode, which both increases the gas engine’s throttle response and sends a little more juice to the electric motor. It makes the driving only slightly sportier, with a cost in efficiency. It seemed superfluous and went mostly unused in my testing.
Along with more power, the 2017 edition of the Accord Hybrid boasts increased fuel economy — though it won’t look that way if you compare EPA estimates. The EPA has tightened testing procedures for 2017 models in a way that disproportionately affects hybrids. That means the 2017 Accord Hybrid is rated 49/47/48 mpg city/highway/combined, which appears to be down from the 2015. Honda, however, estimates that the 2015’s 50/45/47 mpg rating would be 48/45/47 mpg under the EPA’s 2017 rules, “indicating a +1/+2/+1 increase for the 2017 model,” it says.
The new figures are also high enough to best theHonda Accord Hybrid’s closest rival. The new Chevrolet Malibu hybrid is EPA-rated 47/46/46 mpg even though the Accord’s 212 hp tops the Malibu’s 182 hp. Compare the Accord and Malibu here. It tops its other rivals in power and fuel economy, as well, handily beating the mileage ratings 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).
We tested the Accord’s mileage rating in real-world driving that included a 640-mile run from Washington, D.C., to western Michigan and back, as well as in about 125 miles of city driving in between. For the highway runs, the accessory-loaded Touring test car was further weighed down by about 600 pounds of people and cargo. With heat in the high 80s both ways, we used the automatic climate control, as well as the adaptive cruise control, as traffic allowed. We stayed with traffic, meaning generally driving a bit above posted limits. We used neither the Econ mode, which makes throttle response more gradual, nor Sport mode one way, while on the return trip we pushed the big, green Econ button to see if that made a difference on the highway. It didn’t much, except to make the adaptive cruise control less satisfying when accelerating back to speed after slowing down.
Results were surprising given the load, speeds and terrain: We saw mileage of 44.3 mpg outbound over 642.5 miles on the trip computer — less than 6 percent below the EPA highway rating of 47 mpg, without really trying. Our gas-pump calculation was 43.8 mpg. The trip computer clocked our 644-mile return trip at 44.7 mpg, while our pump calculation was 45.
Achieving the EPA city rating proved more of a challenge for the Honda Accord Hybrid. In about 128 miles of short trips and small-town traffic with no cargo and mostly just a driver, the trip computer showed 34.8 mpg over 127.9 miles, while our pump calculation (more accurate, given we were using the same pump) was higher, at 35.7 mpg. That’s very good for a midsize sedan but nowhere near the Accord Hybrid’s eye-popping 49-mpg city rating. In fact, we rarely saw an individual trip clock much over 40 mpg despite liberal use of the EV button and Econ mode, and placing the shift lever in the B (Brake) setting for boosted regeneration. See more details here.
As in other Accords, the hybrid’s interior features quality materials and fit, plus a layout that’s mostly logical and spacious. The rear seat has ample headroom and legroom for two adults and, thanks to a minimal hump in the middle of the floor back there, comfort is adequate for a third adult on shorter trips. All trims have standard two-zone automatic climate control; the backseat gets its own vents, though not controls.
The base hybrid has cloth upholstery while the EX-L and Touring add leather, and all offer all black or an ebony and ivory combination. Our test car had the latter scheme, adding to the car’s feeling of airiness. The Touring’s seats were comfortable and supportive for a 10 hour-plus drive, which is no small feat. The front and rear seats are heated on the top trim.
The feel and look of the interior materials doesn’t degrade in less conspicuous areas, such as closer to the floor or on the front seatbacks, like they do in some midsize sedans. A standard-size moonroof is included on the top two trims, and increased sound insulation and active noise cancelation make the Honda Accord Hybrid a quiet cruiser, though the engine intrudes with a somewhat coarse drone under load.
The Accord Hybrid’s overall upscale feel is competitive with top trims of its hybrid rivals — and even with an Acura TLX midsize, if it comes to that.
A 7.7-inch upper-dashboard screen is standard, as is HondaLink Assist emergency crash notification and SOS via any Bluetooth-paired phone. The EX-L and Touring have a two-screen layout, adding a new 7-inch lower multimedia touch-screen for settings, audio, map and other functions; the upper display handles turn-by-turn navigation, backup and blind spot cameras, and other information. The two-screen system also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, including navigation apps, as well as HD radio, satellite radio capability, Aha via HondaLink, Pandora compatibility and upgraded seven-speaker audio; the Touring adds Honda’s in-car navigation.
Also included with the lower touch-screen are unfortunate flat, touch-sensitive buttons for functions including home, back, menu and volume that are in place of, not in addition to, the physical controls in the base model. Trying to poke the little “+” and “-” audio volume icons on the road is maddening; at least the driver has an alternative thanks to steering-wheel controls.
The system was a little slow booting up; I had to learn to wait a couple beats after connecting my iPhone 6 via a USB cable to use CarPlay for audio from the phone. Hurrying the system gave me dashboard control but left the sound still coming out of my phone.
There’s a 1.5-amp USB charging port and smartphone interface in a convenient covered cubby with space for the phone in the lower dash. Below that is another cubby with a 12-volt power outlet. EX-L and Touring models have another 1.0-amp USB port in the console bin, along with another 12-volt outlet.
A driver information display in the center of the big speedometer offers a large menu of options, including a power flow display, and the hybrid also offers a battery charge indicator, along with a fuel gauge and power/charge gauge. And what hybrid could be without visual rewards for efficient driving? Eco Assist arcs of light around the speedometer go from white to green when you’re being good and the Honda Accord scores you with little green trees after a drive.
There’s always a trade-off in the trunk for the higher gas mileage of a hybrid sedan, but that’s less true in the new Honda Accord Hybrid. The denser lithium-ion battery pack behind the rear seat not only is lighter, it’s also nearly a cubic foot smaller. That has improved trunk space from 12.7 cubic feet on the 2015 model to 13.5 cubic feet now. That’s still more than 2 cubic feet less than a regular Accord four-door, and even about a foot-and-a-half less than a Honda Civic sedan. Among hybrid rivals, though, it beats the Sonata (13.3 cubic feet), Malibu (11.6), Fusion (12.0) and Camry (13.1). The Accord Hybrid’s trunk was enough to swallow a couple of big suitcases during our test, with room for other gear or small bags packed around them. Honda says it can hold a foursome’s golf bags (golf bags being a common but inexplicable auto trunk benchmark). Seems a stretch to me; maybe four travel bags. You do give up the fold-down rear seat and pass-through in the Accord Hybrid; the Sonata, Fusion and Malibu hybrids manage to keep theirs, though their pass-through openings are downsized.
The 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid sedan has a five-star overall crash safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as does its conventional gasoline counterpart. It has not been rated for rollover protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says the 2016 Accord’s top crashworthiness scores, and its top score of superior for its electronic front crash prevention system (which is standard on all hybrid trims), will apply to the 2017 Honda Accord. IIHS rated the performance of the halogen headlight system on most Accord trims acceptable and the LED headlights on the Touring trim rated marginal. When available, the 2017 Accord Hybrid’s safety test results can be found here.
The 2017 Accord Hybrid has a full array of standard electronic driver assistive and safety aids, including a multi-angle backup camera (narrow, wide or downward view) with dynamic lines, as well as Honda LaneWatch, which uses a camera on the passenger-side mirror to display the right-hand blind spot on the dashboard screen. Also standard is the Honda Sensing Package, which includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and prevention, and road departure prevention. The Touring model adds rain-sensing wipers, automatic high beams, and front and rear parking sensors. See a full list of active and passive safety features here.
The Accord offers a lot of value for buyers who put a premium on a marked fuel efficiency advantage and the intangible satisfaction they get from owning a hybrid — but still want a full-throated mainstream sedan with amenities (a decadent level, even, if you opt for the Touring trim). The audience for that kind of hybrid may be constrained in these days of SUV love and low gas prices but, for those folks, the Honda Accord Hybrid meets or beats the competition in capability, features and driving feel.
As with other midsize hybrids, however, it’s harder to calculate their value against that of their conventional gasoline siblings for all but hybrid loyalists. There will be other, less-complicated Accords in the same showroom that wrap respectable efficiency and lower prices in essentially the same package. The cheapest 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid starts at $30,440 (all prices include destination); a base four-cylinder gas 2017 Accord sedan, while offering fewer features, can be had for $23,990 with the automatic transmission. It’s rated 27/36/30 mpg and you can add the features you can afford. The top-level Hybrid Touring we drove carries about a $1,100 premium over a 2017 Accord Touring V-6 (21/33/25 mpg) at $35,665 — about $5,000 more than the top non-hybrid four-cylinder: an EX-L with comparable multimedia and safety tech options that can be had for $31,655.