Honda’s strategy regarding its popular Accord has changed over the years, with one of the biggest moves coming for the 2018 model year when the company dropped both the coupe and the V-6 option for its mid-size model. Instead, it’s all turbo four-cylinder sedans now, plus a gas-electric hybrid version — which Honda views as a suitable option if you’d like something with power and efficiency. For the 2021 model year, Honda has given all the Accords a light refresh inside and out, hoping to keep consumer interest in the waning mid-size sedan class as strong as possible. I sampled the new Accord Hybrid for a brief spin through the Michigan countryside, which allowed me to see how it performs in some everyday driving duties.
Related: Honda Accord: Which Should You Buy, 2020 or 2021?
What Makes an Accord Hybrid?
The Hybrid is a stand-alone variant of the Accord but isn’t a trim level itself, as it’s available in a number of different trim levels, like the non-hybrid. Specify a gas-only Accord and you can choose from LX, Sport, Sport SE, EX-L and Touring 2.0 trims for 2021. Pick a Hybrid and you can choose from the base Hybrid, Hybrid EX, Hybrid EX-L and Hybrid Touring, each with a commensurately increasing level of standard equipment.
But unlike the gas-only Accord, the Hybrids all come with one powertrain only — a variation of the Honda Insight’s two-motor gas-electric hybrid powertrain. In the Accord, it combines a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine with two electric motors — one sandwiched between the continuously variable automatic transmission and the engine, and one that acts as a powerful starter-generator. It makes a system-rated 212 horsepower and 232 pounds-feet of torque, but for 2021, Honda says it’s been tuned a little differently to boost low-end acceleration. It can operate as a full electric vehicle up to limited speeds and conditions, a combination gas-electric hybrid or as a primarily gasoline vehicle with an electric assist, depending on driving style and what mode the driver has selected.
The Accord Hybrid is EPA-rated to get 48 mpg city, highway and combined in its base form, but that drops to 44/41/43 mpg city/highway/combined when you specify the Touring trim due to items like different tires and extra weight from more luxury equipment. My spin in a new Accord Hybrid Touring model was a brief one, only about 38 miles, so my efficiency results weren’t really statistically valid, but according to the trip computer, I achieved only 36 mpg.
2021 Honda Accord Hybrid | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman
How Does It Feel?
Of more importance was how it all felt and operated, given the adjustments Honda says it’s made to the Hybrid models to make them more driver-friendly and appealing. And the answer here is same as it ever was, really. The Accord Hybrid feels like a big, comfortable sedan, quiet and plush in its operation, and very hybrid-like in many of its details. What’s that mean, exactly? Well, despite Honda’s claim that the Accord Hybrid does 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds, outpacing all of its hybrid sedan rivals, acceleration feels much more relaxed than that. You have to really dig deep into the accelerator to get some rapid movement, and it’s accompanied by a hushed electric powertrain and a slightly less quiet four-cylinder drone that’s affected by the way the CVT works. The two-motor hybrid system blends the electric and gasoline powertrains seamlessly for smooth acceleration, and it’s definitely quieter and less frenetic than the last experience I had in a Honda Insight. The mid-size Accord uses a bigger engine than the compact Insight does, but it’s still noticeably different from how most conventional gasoline sedans feel.
Deceleration is unusual in that while it has adjustable regenerative braking to recapture as much electricity as possible into the batteries, it seems that it resets every time you hit the brakes — so if you’re coming to a stop and you want more regen, you have to adjust it with the paddle shifters every time, as it automatically defaults to “very little.” Most electrified vehicles at least keep the regen level where you set it unless you switch drive modes or cycle the engine off and on, but the Accord Hybrid seems to do it a little differently, and not in a good way.
Ride quality is acceptable with a smooth, controlled quality that makes the Accord Hybrid feel like a premium product. The big 19-inch wheels and low-profile tires of the Touring trim, new for 2021, do let more than a few bumps and road imperfections into the cabin — a lesser model with taller sidewall tires might be more relaxed and comfortable. It definitely feels happiest as a cruiser, not a back-roads dancer, as it’s tuned to be a bit soft. Switching the Accord Hybrid into Sport mode does not make for a sporting experience — the most notable change is to the accelerator response, which does get more aggressive, but the car itself just doesn’t feel sporty (thank the CVT and the Accord Hybrid’s weight for that), so leaving it in its normal modes of operation will leave everyone happier. The brakes have an admirably natural feel to them, unusual for most hybrid cars that also employ electric regen, and only in the last few feet when coming to a stop does the ugly traditional hybrid artificial brake feel manifest itself. I can live with that.
Still Comfy and Classy Inside
2021 Honda Accord Hybrid | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman
One area that Honda has been tops in for a while now has been in its interiors, and the latest Accord is still excellent in this regard. Top-quality materials abound: Everything feels and looks suitable to the Accord’s status atop the brand’s sedan lineup. There isn’t much new in the cabin for 2021, with Honda’s changes amounting more to expanding the 8-inch Display Audio multimedia system (that now features knobs) to all Accords as standard equipment, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. The Hybrid EX and higher trims get standard wireless versions of these smartphone interfaces. Other minor interior changes include relocating the front USB ports for all Accords and adding a couple USB chargers for backseat passengers on higher trim levels of gas and hybrid models, making a rear seat reminder standard on all trims, and giving higher trims of both gas and hybrid Accords a low-speed braking control system.
Honda is billing the new Accord Hybrid as something of a premium model, an upscale powertrain option that people might be interested in as an alternative to the more powerful Accord with the turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine. My Accord Hybrid Touring model had an as-tested price of $36,795 (all prices include destination), which seems to fit that idea. But I’m not sure I buy the idea of the Accord Hybrid as a premium piece, as the driving experience just isn’t as pleasant, entertaining or rewarding as the Accord Touring 2.0T. The Accord Hybrid might work better in less expensive lower trims, where the presumed benefit of its fuel economy combines with the value proposition from having a premium mid-size sedan with a comfortable cabin at a more affordable price. With a starting price of $28,280, it makes a bit more sense at the lower end of the spectrum.
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