Anyone who may want a little more fun from their hybrid sedan should look no further than the new 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid.
That’s an important distinction because the midsize hybrid sedan segment is a small one, and it’s one that deals with pressures from crossovers on one end, and increasingly adept and well-equipped hatchbacks on the other. Actually, that’s kind of the case for the midsize sedan segment as a whole.
So, the Accord Hybrid needs to deliver a little more, perhaps, to really sway your average hybrid buyers away from smaller, less expensive products such as the Toyota Prius. Or, convince them that they don’t actually need that 7-passenger Toyota Highlander Hybrid they’ve had their eye on. Or, considering the low gas prices, maybe even that non-hybrid Ford Edge.
Simply put, the Honda Accord Hybrid needs to look good, be well-equipped, and offer at least a modicum of performance.
After a one-year absence, the Accord Hybrid returns for 2017 looking bolder and a little more ritzy, in keeping with the non-Hybrid model that made its debut last year.
Base models get standard halogen headlights, but the Touring model gets a set of LEDs that look very familiar to anyone who knows Acura and its “Jewel Eye” headlights. They make for a more streamlined, futuristic appearance and give the Honda’s fascia a stylistic edge over the competition, namely the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid. The taillights, meanwhile, are massive and receive a 3D treatment that adds a layer of modernity, but isn’t quite as advanced as the front end.
The overall effect, however, is what really pleases. Honda has shaped this latest Accord Hybrid to appear squatter and a little more planted than the previous one. There were times where I’d see one of these heading towards me and would actually be genuinely impressed with the somewhat imposing look. For a family midsize sedan, the combination of the front grille, LED lights, and dual-tone 17” rims wrapped in low rolling-resistance rubber is a good one.
Comfort is priority No. 1
Of course, as a family car, the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid needs to be spacious and accessible inside. I can’t imagine many people taking issue with the available legroom and headroom. The car may look low-slung, but that turns out to be a clever trompe l’oeil as the interior actually feels fairly cavernous, even with the Touring model’s standard sunroof. I managed to fit my 6’3” frame in the back, right behind the driver, without even having to jam my knees into the seatback. Plus, the rear seats are heated in Touring trim. It is a shame, however, that they can’t be folded down to allow for longer items to be fed into the trunk. At least the trunk itself is amply spacious (382 litres) despite being partly inhabited by the lithium-ion battery.
I’m not quite as enamoured with the front seats: The available space isn’t the issue, but the relatively high seating position is. I mean, the seats are well-cushioned and comfortable, but the thickness of the padding means you will be perched up there a little. Smaller drivers and front passengers likely won’t complain, though. The quality of the seats is a microcosm of the interior as a whole, which is of high quality. The panel gaps are small, the materials used are top-notch (standard Hybrids get fabric seating; Touring models receive perforated leather), and as mentioned before there’s room to spare.
On the tech front, the infotainment system in the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid features no buttons whatsoever; just a panel with touch-sensitive controls that reveal themselves only once the ignition is in accessory mode. I wouldn’t mind so much if it weren’t for the especially finicky volume control, which is made up of a tiny slider that’s hard to use. There are controls on the steering wheel, of course, but many drivers—myself included—don’t have this built into their muscle memory. The next-gen CR-V has a volume knob, so I have a feeling this will be making its way throughout the lineup in due time.
It’s too bad the controls aren’t quite up to par, as the rest of the interface is very good, especially the navigation system which makes use of a Garmin platform. The graphics are big and bold, it’s fast, and the menus are easy to navigate. There’s also compatibility for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which makes sense, as carmakers are often better suited to farm out development of their infotainment and navigation interfaces to companies that do so as their bread-and-butter.
Remember that “it has to drive” thing?
Output from the 2.0L 4-cylinder Atkinson Cycle engine and twin electric motors is rated at a combined 212 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque, which is enough to get the heavier Accord Hybrid model up and running in pleasingly quick fashion. Or, if you just want to take it easy, EV mode can be activated with the press of a button as long as the battery has sufficient power (you can track this through the main display screen or via the TFT screen between the main gauges), which allowed us to cruise for extended periods at 60 km/h. Unfortunately, the instances where there is sufficient battery power for this kind of work are few and far between.
As a result, we spent most of our time in hybrid mode, which has the two (well, three) power sources working concurrently to provide the most efficient progress. When all was said and done, we saw 5.7L/100km of fuel usage over 177 km of driving.
We might have seen a slightly better report—Honda claims 5.1L/100km in the combined cycle—if the new Accord Hybrid wasn’t such a hoot to really hustle along. The powertrain, even with a continuously variable transmission, is a responsive one, rarely getting bogged down in transitions from EV to gas power and always having enough on tap for highway passes and so forth.
It’s all done so smoothly, too. Be sure to keep your inputs steady so as to not upset the lively steering rack, and you’ll be treated to some almost serene progress that takes advantage of the Accord’s advanced noise cancellation tech and good insulation. Then, when you’ve had enough of testing the acceleration and find yourself entering some twistier territory, the Accord Hybrid initially feels a little heavy (especially at the rear), but does endear itself after some time, providing a responsive front end and a ride that remains pleasingly short on body roll. Yes, you will feel the tire sidewalls flexing under the weight as you really start to push it, but Honda has a penchant for building responsive chassis and you can see some of that DNA repeated here.
It’s not all roses, of course. The combustion engine comes on smoothly, but is a little loud while doing so, and the CVT will never allow for full driver interaction. Having said that, while quiet and smooth as many hybrids are, this car can put a non-hybrid hat on when asked.
How necessary is it?
Does this particular sedan offer enough to sway buyers away from the all-conquering SUVs and crossovers? Honda should hope so since they don’t have an SUV or a crossover that makes use of hybrid tech. If you want a spacious, gasoline-electric Honda, the 2017 Accord Hybrid is where it begins and ends.
As far as the crossover challenge goes, that’s really a question the entire industry is dealing with, and only a select few non-luxury manufacturers actually have a hybridized utility vehicle to go to. When you look at it that way, the Accord Hybrid does seem like a viable option, especially if you seek the comfort of a larger vehicle without the added girth of an SUV or crossover.