Back in 2018, I tried out the 10th-generation Honda Accord and came away impressed. Sedans might have lost their allure among the focus groups and tastemakers that influence automakers’ product plans, but there’s still plenty of life in the form factor, as the Accord demonstrated. Honda recently gave the Accord a refresh for model year 2021, and that seemed like a good opportunity to revisit it.
This time there’s no manual transmission, as Honda has sadly dropped that option. Instead, we spent some time with the Accord Hybrid, which starts at $26,370 and offers a rather appealing 48 mpg (4.9 l/100 km).
The Accord’s refresh has been pretty mild in terms of styling changes. The large grille is now actually a bit larger, but horizontal strips of chrome brightwork give it a much less unfinished appearance than before. The front-looking radar sensor is better integrated, and there are new, more powerful headlights (although not on the cheapest Accord Hybrid trim). There are some new wheel designs, again, for each trim other than the basic one. (This will be a theme.)
However, even the cheapest Accords now get the 8-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. You’ll still need to use a USB cable to make that work in a base Accord Hybrid, but these casting apps work wirelessly in EX, EX-L, and Touring models. (Whether you’ll want to use wireless CarPlay is to be determined; regardless of make or model of car, I find it can be quite buggy compared to using a USB cable, and the fact that that’s brand agnostic suggests the problem is with iOS.) The Touring trim also gets you a new low-speed emergency braking system that uses the car’s ultrasonic parking sensors to stop you from hitting obstacles if you’re parking by touch.
The Accord Hybrid’s powertrain combines an internal combustion engine with two electric motors, but no transmission. Under the hood, you’ll find a 2.0 L four-cylinder internal combustion engine that utilizes the Atkinson cycle for higher thermal efficiency; this generates 143 hp (107 kW) and 129 lb-ft (175 Nm). Like the dearly departed Chevrolet Volt, the internal combustion engine almost never directly drives the front wheels. Instead, it works as a generator, charging the Accord’s lithium-ion battery (located under the rear seat) via a permanently connected integrated starter-generator motor.
That electric motor is connected to a second electric motor via a wet clutch, and it’s this second 181 hp (135 kW), 232 lb-ft (315 Nm) motor that makes front wheels rotate under most conditions. Most, but not all—at highway speeds, the wet clutch can engage, and the engine can add a little more power for a peak output of 212 hp (158 kW). The end result is one of the most efficient sedans on the market, with a combined, city, and highway efficiency of 48 mpg.
At least it is if you don’t buy the most expensive version. Our test car was an Accord Hybrid Touring, the fully loaded $34,440 version. This gets you a fair bit of extra equipment: blind spot monitors with cross-traffic alerts, a heads-up display, the already mentioned low-speed braking system, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and built-in GPS navigation. But those additions come with a weight penalty; at 3,446 lbs, the Accord Hybrid Touring is heavier than the cheaper trim Accord Hybrids (although only by 58-120 lbs/26-54 kg).
Big wheels keep on turning
But there’s a bigger weight difference between the basic Accord Hybrid and the Accord Hybrid EX-L—both of which get an identical 48 mpg—than there is between the EX-L and the Touring, which only achieves a combined 44 mpg (5.4 l/100 km), with 41 mpg (5.7 l/100 km) on the highway and 43 mpg (5.5 l/100 km) in the city.
The reason for the decrease in efficiency is simple: the Touring rides on big 19-inch wheels and wide 235/40 tires. By contrast, the three lower trims all come with 17-inch alloy wheels and narrower, taller 225/50 tires. The shorter sidewall of the bigger tires should give slightly better handling, but the combination of more unsprung mass and greater rolling resistance (due to a larger contact patch) are responsible for the 9 percent decrease in fuel mileage.
In practice, I averaged 41 mpg with the Accord Hybrid during our week with the car, mostly spent in Eco mode (there are normal and Sport modes as well). Eco mode is not particularly fast, and I didn’t find the Accord Hybrid as enjoyable to drive as the Accord Sport we tested back in 2018. But people don’t generally buy hybrids for their handling, and in all other regards, the Accord Hybrid was as enjoyable to live with as its non-hybrid sibling. I even managed to transport a 55-inch flatscreen (in its box) on the back seat—just.
That makes the Honda a relatively attractive prospect for the hypermilers out there, although I should note that the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is even more efficient, as is the Toyota Camry Hybrid, although neither are quite as affordable as the Accord.
Listing image by Honda