NAPA, CA – The California Air Resources Board and U.S. EPA mandates being what they are, there’s no turning off the green-car spigot, which seems to be responsible for a new alternative-powertrain model debuting every week.
But regular unleaded still is under $3 a gallon in most of the country.
So what’s an automaker launching a new hybrid to do? Pray that somehow, someway, a decent-size subset of American car buyers want to purchase a vehicle getting 48 mpg (4.9 L/100 km).
For Honda, that vehicle is the refreshed ’17 Accord Hybrid sedan, and its employees’ prayers probably are intensifying as CEO Takahiro Hachigo has decreed two-thirds of the automaker’s global sales by 2030 must be electrified vehicles. And mild-hybrid tech like stop-start doesn’t count.
The Accord Hybrid debuted in 2013 as a ’14, but Honda says they couldn’t meet demand sourcing the sedan from Ohio.
So after taking a break for the ’16 model year, the Accord Hybrid is back, now built in Japan and with more horsepower and added safety and creature-comfort technology for ’17.
Nearly all dimensions remain the same from the ’14 and ’15 Accord Hybrid, but the ’17 model does see a slight increase in overall length, to 194.1 ins. (4,930 mm) from 192.2 ins. (4,881 mm), which helps to boost trunk space.
However, curb weight dips by a maximum of 72 lbs. (33 kg) in the EX-L grade, as Honda engineers have taken mass out of powertrain components.
For instance, the car’s power-control unit is 23% smaller and 27% lighter than before, while the new electric motor is 23% smaller and lighter than the one it replaces.
The latter feat is achieved thanks to more densely wound copper wire. Taking a page out of the Chevrolet and Toyota playbooks, the wire is square vs. a conventional round shape.
The Accord Hybrid’s lithium-ion battery pack also shrinks in size (-33%) and weight (-12.8%), thanks to better cooling efficiency and a smaller and lighter DC-DC converter.
These changes, as well as the addition of Honda’s first exhaust-heat recovery system to the car’s 2.0L Atkinson-cycle 4-cyl., boost overall system output from 196 hp to 212.
As with the old Accord Hybrid, the new model slips frequently into EV mode at speeds just below 60 mph (97 km/h), but either on purpose or not, EV-mode duration depends on battery state-of-charge. Our SOC was better in the morning thanks to heavy traffic.
Also similar to the old Accord Hybrid, the new model functions more like an extended-range EV than a conventional hybrid.
In hybrid mode, the 2.0L engine acts as a generator by feeding the Li-ion pack and sending electricity to a traction motor between the front wheels.
At highway speeds, the engine is on and decouples from the electric powertrain with direct drive of the front axle.
It is during these moments we find the car’s power lacking. The 2.0L maxes out at 129 lb.-ft. (175 Nm) of torque in the relatively high 3,500-4,500-rpm range. Scaling even moderate wine-country hills has the engine audibly straining.
But when the battery is charged, the Accord Hybrid is a torque monster, with its driving motor churning out 232 lb.-ft. (315 Nm) from 0-2,000 rpm.
The car’s width and length make for a comfortable, pliable ride, as does its carryover MacPherson-strut front and multilink rear suspension.
The hybrid gets the same improved damping responsiveness as high-grade ’16 Accords, thanks to the addition of Amplitude Reactive Dampers. The 2-piston dampers provide minimal damping on flat, smooth roads and higher levels of damping in more spirited driving or over rougher surfaces. For the ’17 Accord Hybrid, the dampers see piston and end-cap updates that improve responsiveness and result in “subtle” handling characteristics, Honda says.
Maximum regenerative torque is up 25% for ’17 from ’15, while linearity and responsiveness of the electric power-steering system is said to be enhanced in slow- and quick-steering scenarios.
The EPS’ claimed improved winding-road stability seems true based on our test here.
As usual, Honda doesn’t release a coefficient of drag figure, but notes the ’17 Accord Hybrid is more aerodynamic than its predecessor, thanks to a new front inner-fender air slit and changes that cut hub-bearing friction 30%.
Due to a change in EPA hybrid-test parameters, the Accord Hybrid actually sees its overall fuel economy drop a bit, losing city mileage but increasing its highway rating to wind up at 48 mpg combined, which could have been 49 mpg (4.8 L/100 km) under old EPA parameters, but used to be 47 mpg (5.0 L/100 km). Confused yet?
But 48 mpg still is great, considering most midsize CUVs, the U.S. industry’s biggest-selling segment this year, average less than 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km).
In our real-world testing here of the Accord Hybrid, we both exceed and underperform the combined EPA estimate.
A morning route, mostly on low- and mid-speed surface roads with plentiful braking, nails the city rating of 49 mpg.
For an afternoon route that had some highway and overall less traffic, we net 42.7 mpg (5.5 L/100 km).
This scenario is similar to one we experienced with the original ’14 Accord Hybrid, which did well on a media drive, but an autumn test route around Detroit by yours truly returned 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km).
Owners of ’14 and ’15 Accord Hybrids reporting to fueleconomy.gov also say their numbers are closer to 40 than 50.
The discrepancy here may be explained by more intense air conditioning in the afternoon than in the morning, when ambient temperatures are cooler.
To be clear, AC affects fuel economy across the board, not just in hybrids. But fuel economy tends to be more closely watched in the latter category of vehicles.
And as stated earlier, we are heavy on the brakes in the morning drive for plentiful regen. So, as the old adage goes, your mileage may vary.
During our drive, we test as many of the car’s advanced-safety features as we can, within reason.
As Honda has been one of the more aggressive mainstream automakers in this field, all ’17 Accord Hybrids get standard the Honda Sensing package of technologies (collision-mitigation braking, road-departure mitigation, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise control).
The automaker touts the Accord Hybrid as the only model in its class, which includes the Hyundai Sonata and Chevy Malibu hybrids, to feature LKA and ACC.
But, as is the case with most driver-assist technologies in market today, they don’t work properly all the time.
On one especially winding stretch of road, steering-torque inputs sometimes try to nudge us in the opposite direction, i.e. over the center line. It is difficult to tell if this is LKA at work, RDM or the standard motion-adaptive EPS, which helps steer the car in corners based on information from cameras.
We can’t emphasize enough the need to stay alert while driving and not solely rely on any safety or driver-assist technology to protect you or your occupants. In-vehicle cameras don’t yet see everything the human eye does.
However, we admit to not always following our own advice. FCW saves our bacon with a bright orange BRAKE! warning displayed between the gauges in one moment of distraction.
Few buyers purchase an Accord for reasons of style, but the car is at least clean-looking and uncluttered inside and out. Interior controls are ergonomically arranged, and fit-and-finish is Honda-typical great. The B-pillar trim fit is exceedingly tight.
Keep a microfiber rag handy to clean the abundant piano-black trim inside the hybrid sedan. The sparkly, glossy-black trim around the shifter does a better job disguising dust and fingerprints and adds a bit of bling.
There are a lot of things to like about the Accord Hybrid, but we can’t help but wonder if the car is too green for utility-vehicle lovers and not green enough for eco enthusiasts. Honda’s goal of 30,000 sales annually seems too rosy.
The folks flocking to showrooms for RAV4s, Explorers and CR-Vs aren’t thinking about higher fuel prices, let alone reducing emissions.
And today’s greenies seem to be finding plug-ins most appealing, judging by 2016 sales data.
Out of the four alternative-powertrain categories WardsAuto tracks, only PHEVs have seen sales climb this year, up a healthy 55.1%. Hybrid and battery-electric-vehicle sales are down; hydrogen fuel cells tally a paltry 239 units.
Still, if you’re one of those rare folks in the market for a hybrid vehicle, especially one that offers lots of room, safety and technology features, and isn’t a CUV or SUV, this model deserves thorough consideration.
The refreshed ’17 Accord Hybrid is on sale now at U.S. Honda dealers.
'17 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring Specifications
|Vehicle type||4-door, 5-passenger front-wheel-drive car|
|Motor||Permanent magnet AC synchronous/ 2.0L inline DOHC 4-cyl., all aluminum|
|Power (SAE net)||181 hp @ 5,000-6,000 rpm/143 hp @ 6,200 rpm (212 total system hp @ 6,200 rpm)|
|Torque||232 lb.-ft. (315 Nm) @ 0-2,000 rpm/129 lb.-ft. (175 Nm) @ 4,000 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||81 x 96.7|
|Transmission||Electronic continuously variable w/ sport mode|
|Wheelbase||109.3 ins. (2,776 mm)|
|Overall length||194.1 ins. (4,930 mm)|
|Overall width||72.8 ins. (1,849 mm)|
|Overall height||57.5 ins. (1,461 mm)|
|Curb weight||3,536 lbs. (1,604 kg)|
|Price||$35,955 (Hybrid $29,605, EX-L $32,905) not incl. $835 destination and handling|
|Fuel economy||49/47 mpg (4.8-5.0 L/100 km) city/highway|
|Competition||Chevy Malibu, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Toyota Camry hybrids|
|48 mpg combined||If you can get it|
|Lots of standard safety tech||Doesn’t always work|
|Roomy, well-appointed||Not a utility vehicle|