Accord Hybrid

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2021 Honda Accord Hybrid Test Drive Review

As Americans flee the midsize sedan segment in favor of crossover SUVs, the freshened 2021 Honda Accord continues to set standards for a family-sized four-door.

8.2 /10
Overall Score

Midsize sedan buyers have never had it better. Across the board, in one way or another, nearly every model is worthy of your consideration. But the 2021 Honda Accord is a standard-bearer in the segment, the car to beat in most respects. This year, Honda updates the 2021 Accord with a handful of changes intended to keep it at the top of its class and puts more emphasis on the hybrid version of the car, which is the subject of this review.

Look and Feel

9/ 10

For the 2021 model year, the Accord Hybrid comes in standard, EX, EX-L, and Touring trim levels. Prices range from $26,370 to $36,240, the hybrid powertrain amounting to a $1,600 premium except with Touring trim, where the Hybrid represents $460 in savings. The Accord Hybrid still is not, and never has been, available with Sport trim.

Fundamentally, the Accord is a great looking car, displaying a flair for proportion, stance, style, and detailing that Hondas rarely get right. Whoever is responsible for penning the current-generation Accord should be put in charge of all Honda designs.

This year, minor front styling changes include a new grille with better integration of the Honda Sensing radar unit, a revised bumper, and new headlights. The Touring trim level also gets new 19-inch aluminum wheels to replace the standard 17s, and Sonic Gray Pearl is a new paint color.

Our test vehicle was an Accord Touring in Lunar Silver, which has a fantastic dark undertone to it that helps to avoid the drab brightness of a typical silver metallic paint job. The new wheels look terrific, too, but are no fun at all to clean. The gloss black inserts show lots of dirt and splatter, so you need to work harder to make them appear pristine.

Lunar Silver comes only with a Black interior. If you want a high-contrast Ivory-over-Black two-tone appearance, you'll need to select Platinum White Pearl or Radiant Red Metallic.

Regardless of the interior color, the Accord's cabin looks remarkably upscale. Lower panels are plastic, of course, but they don't look or feel cheap for this vehicle segment. The simulated matte-finish wood trim is classy, as are the robust controls and polished metallic accents throughout the cabin. If Honda stumbles concerning quality, the hard plastic upper rear door trim is a disappointment.

Logically arranged controls are easy to understand and use. Blessedly, Honda provides both a volume knob and a tuning knob for the 8-inch touchscreen infotainment display. Outward visibility is excellent, and the driver can see plenty of sculpted hood forward of the windshield, making it easier to place the car when parking and maneuvering.

Performance

9/ 10

Honda's two-motor hybrid system pairs a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine with a generator/starter motor and includes a separate electric drive motor powered by a lithium-ion battery pack. Rather than employing a traditional continuously variable transmission (CVT), the generator/starter motor essentially serves as an electronic continuously variable transmission (eCVT), and Honda assembles it using magnets that do not contain heavy rare-earth metals.

Together, these components produce a combined 212 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque. The torque is available right away and remains constant to 2,000 rpm, making the Accord Hybrid feel quick from a standing start. Honda estimates that it accelerates to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and, with most trim levels, returns 48 mpg in combined driving. The Touring earns a 43-mpg rating due to its larger and less aerodynamic wheels and tires.

The car's powertrain control module determines which of three separate operational modes is appropriate at any given time.

EV Drive: The Accord Hybrid uses electricity from the battery to power the electric drive motor. It works at low speeds and for short distances.

Hybrid Drive: The gas engine activates the generator/starter motor eCVT to supplement battery power and drive the front wheels through the electric motor.

Engine Drive: Connects the gas engine directly to the electric propulsion motor, and together they power the front wheels with the gasoline engine taking the lead.

Additionally, drivers can hand-select EV Mode, Econ Mode, and Sport mode to tailor drivetrain characteristics to personal preferences.

If that all sounds like gibberish to you, don't fret. What you need to know is that, aside from steady-state droning under full-throttle acceleration, you'd never guess how complex and sophisticated this electrified powertrain is.

Better yet, for 2021, Honda has refined its two-motor hybrid powertrain with improved throttle response and a more natural sound and feel as the car accelerates. It is better than last year, and given the effortlessly good fuel economy, we're willing to live with the occasional droning.

Remember, the Accord Hybrid Touring takes a hit in terms of fuel efficiency due to its bigger wheels and tires. We averaged 42.8 mpg with this car, effectively matching the EPA's official rating of 43 mpg.

With its 19-inch wheels and 235/40 tires, the Accord Hybrid Touring boasts newfound grip-and-grin capabilities. It whips around corners with ease, and Honda tunes the suspension for athletic handling combined with a compliant ride. Best of all, you can't feel any of the added weight in terms of the battery and electric drive motor, and the brake-by-wire regenerative braking system is excellent in terms of feel, modulation, and response.

One of the secrets of the Accord is how much fun it is to drive, and this extends to the Accord Hybrid. It is simply terrific to pilot no matter the situation, unless the situation is traveling over speed humps in the road, which you must take slowly in this car.

Form and Function

9/ 10

Get into a 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid, and you'll be amazed by the amount of space. This car competes as a midsize sedan but is actually a full-size sedan.

From the 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat to the positively enormous back seat, a Honda Accord is nothing if not roomy. All that's missing is a front passenger's seat height adjuster. Aside from the sheer amount of space, each seat provides good leg support, and Touring trim equips the car with heated and ventilated front seats as well as heated rear seats.

Interior storage is generous. The center console bin is accommodating, and a covered compartment forward of the transmission controls and cupholders contains hidden storage and an available wireless smartphone charger. Large door panel bins also stand ready to accept whatever you'd like to place there.

Not long ago, when you bought a hybrid sedan, you'd need to compromise when it came to trunk space and overall utility. That's no longer the case, as evidenced by the Accord Hybrid's enormous 16.7 cubic-foot trunk. It's the same size as other Accords, and it is larger than any competitor in the segment.

Plus, it's deep enough that you can store full-size suitcases on their sides, just as you can in a crossover SUV. And 60/40 split-folding rear seats expand the car's utility even more.

Tech Level

8/ 10

For 2021, Honda makes its 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system standard on the base Accord Hybrid. Previously, the EX trim was a requirement.

This change means every version of the car (including the base model) includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Choose EX trim, and these smartphone mirroring platforms offer new wireless connectivity. Honda also improves USB port access for the front-seat occupants and, on EX trim and higher, includes standard 2.5-amp quick-charge USB ports for rear-seat passengers. Wireless smartphone charging is standard with EX trim and higher.

Upgrade to EX-L trim for a premium sound system. Touring trim equips the car with navigation, HondaLink subscription services, and a WiFi hotspot. This setup works well, but if you plan to use voice commands to control the system, know that it won't respond to natural language commands. You must use specific prompts and take specific pathways to achieve success.

When we went down the "Navigation" pathway, we were unable to locate the closest hospital. That's a vital task for a voice-activated navigation system to perform, especially when you're in unfamiliar territory and don't know the nearest medical facility's exact name.

Safety

8/ 10

In 2020, the Honda Accord did not get a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That's a critical accolade to earn, especially for a family car.

The problem was the Accord's headlights. The standard ones didn't meet requirements, and the available LEDs cast too much glare. So, for 2021, Honda has redesigned the LED headlights and made them standard for every trim (full LED from EX trim up). The goal? Get that Top Safety Pick+ rating.

Additionally, the 2021 Accord Hybrid includes a standard rear-seat reminder and rear seatbelt reminder system. The Touring model also gains low-speed braking control, a front and rear automatic emergency braking system that works at speeds up to 6 mph to prevent bumper bumps while parking.

Finally, the Honda Sensing collection of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) boasts refinements to the adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist systems for smoother and more accurate operation. Honda also makes it easier to call up the Honda Sensing menu by adding a button on the lower left part of the dashboard that brings up the settings in the left portion of the digital instrumentation cluster.

Are the changes to Honda Sensing effective? Yes, but there remains work to be done. The driver remains all too aware of system operation. It should be more transparent and less intrusive. Also, the lane departure warning should be a steering wheel vibration instead of a steering wheel wobble.

Honda also needs to consider a recalibration of the low-speed automatic braking. When exiting my angled driveway alone, the car behaved normally. With my entire family aboard, the change in payload apparently made the rear sensors eager to identify the street as an obstacle, in turn slamming the car to a stop. Unfortunately, each time you start the vehicle, this feature's default setting is "On." I'd have preferred to turn it off and leave it off.

Cost-Effectiveness

6/ 10

There are few downsides to choosing a 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid. It needs a front passenger's seat height adjuster. It needs a way to turn off the rear automatic braking system and keep it off. It needs soft-touch upper back door panel trim. It needs a handle on the inside of the trunk lid to make it easier to swing shut. And it needs a natural language voice recognition system.

That's a pretty short list of flaws. And while Honda Sensing could use some further adjustment, the technology works, so we won't ding it for the occasional hiccup.

Clearly, the 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid is a terrific sedan. But is it a cost-effective purchase?

If you select standard, EX, or EX-L trim, it will take years to recoup the added cost in terms of the added purchase price. And, unlike with the standard Accord, Honda typically does not offer lease deals on the Accord Hybrid. But, when it comes to Touring trim, the Accord Hybrid makes terrific financial sense unless you absolutely must have the standard car's powerful turbocharged engine.

Unfortunately, Honda is a bit stingy when it comes to warranty coverage. It also doesn't offer much in the way of freebies like paid maintenance or lengthy trial periods to HondaLink subscription services. But, when you are the retail sales leader in your segment, you don't need to further entice customers to buy your product.

There is plenty about an Accord Hybrid to entice you. Especially in Touring trim, it is a car we'd buy for ourselves if we were shopping for a new family-sized four-door sedan.

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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