When you go to Honda‘s retail website and click on “Environmental” you’re presented with the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid, the Fit EV and the hydrogen-powered Clarity Fuel Cell vehicle. That’s it.
Kudos for their EV and fuel cell initiatives, but for the first automaker to ever produce a modern-day hybrid for consumer sale, not to mention a company that’s created two different versions of that dedicated Insight compact hatchback (1999–2006 and 2009–2014), a long-running Civic Hybrid compact sedan (2002–2015), and another dedicated CR-Z hybrid sports model (2010–2016), it’s strange to see just one HEV in the current lineup.
Click on the “Hybrid” pull-down menu at Toyota’s site and you’ll find eight completely different HEVs, including four that wear Prius badges (subcompact, compact, near full-size, and plug-in), two SUVs, the Camry Hybrid that does battle with this Accord Hybrid, and the full-size Avalon Hybrid, not to mention a Camry/Accord-sized hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle dubbed Mirai.
Then skip over to Toyota’s luxury division, Lexus, and you’ll find six more, including the entry-level CT 200h dedicated hybrid, the ES 300h, the GS 450h, the NX 300h, the RX 450h, and new LC 500h (the LS 600h appears to be temporarily discontinued… who knew?).
To be fair, Acura shows off its fabulous new NSX Sport Hybrid on its site, plus the excellent albeit somewhat sedate looking RLX Sport Hybrid, and the brand new MDX Sport Hybrid. Yes, things are looking a lot better for electrification at Acura than Honda.
The 2017 model shown on this page is actually the second Accord Hybrid, the first introduced in 2005 and sold only through 2007, which sported (literally) a powerful 3.5-liter V6 combined with extra electrical boost that provided 255 net horsepower and 232 net lb-ft of torque for a 6.5-second sprint to 60 mph. It was a fun car to drive and plenty efficient with better fuel economy than the four-cylinder Accord, but the market wasn’t interested in paying nearly $35k to have their cake and eat it too (especially after the cheaper and more efficient Saturn Aura Hybrid and Nissan Altima Hybrid arrived at the party), so therefore it was killed after just two model years. Truly, if Honda had dropped this power unit into the Acura TL of the era it might’ve been a hit, or at least something similar might still be around to fight against Lexus’ GS 450h.
After introducing the superb 2014 Accord Hybrid (I named it “one of the best hybrids yet”) and following that up with an even more advanced Accord Plug-in Hybrid (driven and reviewed by yours truly and left duly impressed again—albeit this model was cancelled after 2015), Honda seems more tuned in to the electrified market these days, especially because this new-generation Accord Hybrid has been focused more on saving at the pump than leaving its competitors behind at the stoplight (although, as you’ll soon find out, it still does that quite handily). This 2017 model is even more efficient than the 2014–2015 one (Honda took a year off the model for 2016), its hybrid powertrain updated with more power and better economy.
It’s $2,800 and change pricier than its main Camry Hybrid competitor, mind you, starting at $29,605 plus freight and dealer fees, which might affect the decision of some, but to my mind it’s a moot point because the Accord, on the whole, is a much more enticing prospect.
It starts out with a 500-cc smaller 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder making just 143 horsepower, but the 181 horsepower electric motor connected to it increases total output to 212 net horsepower resulting in 12 additional horsepower over the Camry Hybrid (and 16 more horsepower than the old 2015 Accord Hybrid) and therefore more oomph off the line, while its claimed 49 mpg city, 47 highway and 48 combined fuel economy is much better than the Camry Hybrid’s 42 city, 38 highway and 40 combined rating as well.
One of the reasons the Accord Hybrid beats most competitors at the pump is its ability to drive on full EV power at higher speeds for longer. The power unit is dubbed “three-mode) for its ability to run in real EV mode at city speeds of up to 60 mph (not even remotely possible in the Camry Hybrid—more like 12 mph), Hybrid mode most of the time, and Engine mode so you don’t drain the lithium-ion battery (the Camry still uses NiMH) when traveling at highway speeds. This allows you to theoretically drive from your house to the highway on 100-percent pure electric power, motor to work at high speed on gasoline-propulsion alone (providing you don’t commute at the same time as everyone else) and then get back into EV mode before arriving at the office.
It uses an innovative electronically variable automatic transmission to sort everything out, allowing for smooth, linear acceleration even when pressed hard, or alternatively you can push the “SPORT” button on the lower console for more immediate thrust.
As has long been the case, the Accord is a more capable mid-size four-door through the corners than the Camry too, its agility revered since arriving on the scene in the late ’70s and still among the best in its class. This poise under pressure continues with this hybrid electric version, which even includes a front strut tower brace to increase torsional rigidity so as to make the most of the fully independent MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension, while it also delivers a nicely sorted ride with ample comfort over wayward city streets and long forgotten alleyways, while it’s effortless on the highway.
Most would probably agree the Accord Hybrid is finished to a higher degree than the Camry Hybrid too, from the outside where my $35,955 Touring tester was fitted with a gorgeous set of jeweled full LED headlamps for a near-premium look, to the interior where its glossy woodgrain trim has more density for a more genuine feel. Overall fit, finish and materials quality is fairly good with both, the Accord getting plenty of high-grade soft-touch synthetic surfaces front to back, some even detailed out in stitched and padded leatherette. Likewise the Accord’s switchgear is as good as in any premium car, while its bright and highly legible color gauge cluster is eye-catching and highly functional thanks to various hybrid-specific meters substituting for the tachometer on the left and a useful display at center, and its dual-display infotainment setup on the center stack is very similar in design and execution to those found in top-line Acura models.
If you’re new to this setup give yourself time to get acclimatized, as the top display is controllable by a big dial and set of buttons below the lower display, the latter a touchscreen that most should find easier to use. It gives you the benefit of showing multiple functions at once without splitting screens, and now comes well stocked with the latest features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for seamless smartphone integration, Siri-Eyes-Free, Wi-Fi tethering, SMS- and text message capability, seven-speaker 360-watt audio, and more in mid-range EX-L trim.
I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself, however, because the Accord Hybrid’s standard equipment needs to be tallied up first. It includes 17-inch alloys on 225/50 all-seasons, auto on/off projector-beam halogen headlamps, LED fog lamps, LED brake lamps and taillights, a rear deck lid spoiler, heated power-adjustable side mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, remote start, proximity-sensing keyless access, pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, a tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, illuminated vanity mirrors, a sunglasses holder, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone auto climate control, a 10-way power driver’s seat, a multi-angle backup camera with dynamic guidelines, Honda’s (love it so much) LaneWatch blindspot display, Bluetooth phone with audio streaming, four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA 160-watt audio with RDS and speed-sensitive volume control, two USB ports, active noise cancelation, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, automated emergency response telematics, security and immobilizer systems, plus more.
Along with all the tech upgrades noted earlier, $32,905 mid-range EX-L trim adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, satellite radio and Pandora, perforated leather upholstery, a powered front passenger seat, heatable front seats, a powered moonroof, and more.
My Touring tester was further trimmed out with goodies like those LED headlights mentioned earlier with auto high beams no less, plus LED front turn signal indicators, side sill extensions, rain-sensing wipers, active guidelines for the backup camera, accurate navigation with detailed mapping, voice recognition, HD radio, Song by Voice, heatable rear seats, front and rear parking sensors, etcetera. My car also came with a wireless phone charging, $290 from the accessories catalog.
All of this equipment comes in a large, accommodating, well-groomed interior that’s capable of hauling four sizable adults in total comfort, with three across the back in a pinch. As for the trunk, it’s abbreviated from the conventionally powered Accord’s 15.8 cubic feet to just 13.5 due to having the battery housed in the rear bulkhead. This means it loses the regular Accord’s split-folding rear seatbacks, making a roof rack necessary for trips to the ski hill (or alternatively an HR-V, CR-V or Pilot for the second car). This is one of the only reasons you might consider a Camry Hybrid over this Accord Hybrid, but then again who am I to say what you should or shouldn’t prefer.
At the end of the day it’ll come down to brand and styling preferences, money, and other details that will or won’t line up with your tastes and priorities, and that’s just fine. I drove (and reviewed) the Camry Hybrid recently and couldn’t complain (much), and the Camry’s massive lead on the sales charts makes it clear that most people disagree with my evaluation.
I should also mention the Accord Hybrid and Camry Hybrid aren’t the only HEVs available in the mid-size sedan segment, with others including the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid, and since last year the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid. What’s more, some of the others offer plug-in hybrid capability, both Honda and Toyota dropping the ball in this respect, although Honda is adding the Clarity Plug-in Hybrid and Clarity Electric to market soon.
All in all, I believe those who take the time to compare will agree the extra expense needed to drive home the Accord Hybrid is money well spent. You get a more advanced, more powerful and more fuel-efficient hybrid powertrain that can travel much faster and farther in EV mode, a longer overall range of up to 758 miles between fills (that’s class leading by the way), more entertaining driving dynamics, more advanced and therefore safer LED headlights, an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating (as does the Camry Hybrid), an arguably more refined interior, and to my eye at least, more agreeable styling.
As you can probably tell, the new Honda Accord Hybrid’s got my vote.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press