When we first drove the Honda CR-V Hybrid, a funny thing happened: we liked it more than the gas model, arguing at the time that it was the better CR-V for most customers. Now Honda is making the same pitch with the facelifted Accord Hybrid, taking the improvements introduced with the CR-V Hybrid's powertrain and applying them to a perennial-favorite sedan.
The difference here is that the Accord Hybrid has a renewed focus, evident in the car's more refined driving character and more complete set of standard equipment. But Honda hasn't lost the plot – the Accord Hybrid is a big improvement, but it still maintains the same reasonable premium over the volume 1.5-liter engine. As good values go, the Accord is hard to ignore.
What's Old Is New
The Accord Hybrid's output is unchanged for 2021, with 212 total system horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque, slotting this fuel-sipper in between the non-hybrid base 1.5-liter and the sporty turbocharged 2.0-liter models. But while this facelift keeps power levels fixed, Honda did replace the magnets in the electric motor with units that don't require rare-earth metals such as neodymium. Mining these materials produces grotesque pollution – expect to hear a lot from automakers about how they're avoiding the stuff in their EV motor magnets over the next few years.
You won't notice the polar bear–friendly electric motors in the Accord Hybrid, but drivers might feel the changes in throttle response and the interplay between gas and electric sources during hard acceleration. Honda also updated the Accord's brake-by-wire system, with the promise of more natural pedal feel.
Despite the unpleasant noises, the Accord Hybrid's performance is adequate, with Honda reporting that it's a full second quicker to 60 miles per hour than the 1.5-liter model.
You'll need to pay attention to notice these changes. The brake pedal remains predictable and easy to modulate, not just for a hybrid with regenerative brakes, but full stop. And the hybrid system manages power delivery predictably.
At around-town speeds, EV mode is easy to maintain with responsible pedal inputs (there is a separate button to force it, though) – the gas engine kicks in quickly if you call for more speed, although the power goes to the generator motor and in turn the propulsion motor. Only under heavy throttle and high speeds does a clutch engage, at which point a single-speed transmission sends the gas engine's grunt directly to the front wheels.
That results in some weird situations occasionally where the engine speed doesn't match your throttle application, but we learned to ignore this after just a few minutes at the helm. And on the upside, the Accord keeps the revs low in most circumstances, so the 2.0-liter's note rarely intrudes in the cabin. Under wide-open throttle, though, this four-pot is on the buzzy side.
Despite the unpleasant noises, the Accord Hybrid's performance is adequate, with Honda reporting that it's a full second quicker to 60 miles per hour than the 1.5-liter model. With the car relying on the electric motor, acceleration off the line is strong. At the same time, passing and merging maneuvers are easy when the gas engine kicks in. Honda is trying to push the Accord Hybrid and its added power as a more refined choice than the base 1.5-liter, and we get why – it's more pleasant, especially when the gas engine shuts off and the car starts recuperating energy.
Unsurprisingly, the Accord Hybrid remains a thrifty choice for fuel consumption.
While most of that regeneration happens via the brakes, Honda added a little bit of the EV life to its Accord Hybrid. Like the CR-V, drivers can adjust the amount of regeneration while decelerating via the wheel-mounted paddles – there are four stages, and while none of them approximate the feel of one-pedal driving an all-electric vehicle offers, the system can nearly bring the Accord to a halt and should expose drivers to a hallmark of modern EVs. Our main annoyance is that as soon as you apply any throttle, the regen system shuts off entirely – you'll have to tap the paddles again once you start decelerating again to increase regen.
Unsurprisingly, the Accord Hybrid is one of the most fuel efficient hybrids around, achieving 48 miles per gallon city, highway, and combined in the base, EX, and EX-L trims. That compares very favorably to the standard 1.5-liter, which nets 30 city, 38 highway, and 33 combined. The Touring we tested, with its flashy 19-inch wheels, earns 44 city, 41 highway, and 43 combined compared to the Accord Touring 2.0T's 22 city, 32 highway, and 26 combined ratings.
The hybrid powertrain makes a strong case for itself relative to the Accord's base engine, although overarching changes keep the midsize Honda feeling fresh and friendly at a time when consumers are avoiding sedans.
The safety suite remains top of the line, with the latest version of Honda Sensing boasting standard full-speed adaptive cruise control and a more evolved version of lane-keeping assist, which is gentler about correcting the driver. Low-speed braking control, standard on our Touring trim, expands the automatic emergency braking so that it works between one and six miles per hour. LED headlights come standard on all but the base car, while every Accord Hybrid features a rear-seat reminder system.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Honda Accord
There are tech upgrades in the cabin too, where Honda's latest infotainment system operates on a now-standard 8.0-inch touchscreen (you could only find the larger display on the EX, EX-L, and Touring in 2020). Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, but if you skip the base variant, you'll get standard wireless CarPlay and a wireless charge pad. Upgrading beyond the base trim is an attractive proposition for more than that, though.
The Accord Hybrid demands a very modest premium over a comparable 1.5-liter model, with prices starting at $26,370 (not including a $955 destination charge) – just $1,600 separates the gas and the gas-electric model. That difference is constant, too, aside from the Accord Hybrid Touring trim we tested, which is $460 cheaper than the only gas-powered Touring variant, powered by the 2.0T engine. Bottom line: if you go with the Accord Hybrid, there's a fair chance that you'll recoup the $1,600 premium before the car is paid off (especially if gas prices go up). But if you’re interested in non-fuel rationalizations, we can play that game too.
See, the Accord Hybrid comes with equipment that you'll only find on nicer versions of the gas-only car. The $30,320 Hybrid EX, for example, includes Android Auto, wireless Apple CarPlay, a wireless charge pad, a sunroof, blind-spot monitoring, heated front seats, and HD/satellite radio – you’ll get Apple CarPlay on lesser trims, but you won’t find the wireless variety and the rest of goodies until you get to the $31,090 Accord EX-L. It's a similar story with the base model, which adds proximity entry, remote start, and 60/40-split rear seats. You'd need the Sport ($27,230) or Sport SE ($28,720) to snag that stuff. There's genuine value here.
Honda's strategy to reorient the Accord Hybrid as a more refined sedan that also happens to offer improved efficiency and more potent performance for the same amount of money isn't complicated. And as we said, it's the same approach that left us enamored with the CR-V Hybrid. No longer a vehicle just for misers or eco-warriors, the 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid is a powerful, responsive, and pleasant option for any kind of sedan buyer.
Gallery: 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid: First Drive
2021 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring