- The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid marks 16 years since the debut of the original hybrid Accord.
- It gets between 43 and 48 mpg combined depending on trim, and it doesn’t need to be plugged in.
- The hybrid starts at $26,570. My innocuous $37,435 loaner taught me blending in isn’t so bad.
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It’s an age-old question: Would you rather fly or be invisible?
You could choose invisibility, letting you be wherever you want whenever you want without the awkward task of explaining why you belong. You’d be unperceived. Unassuming. You’d simply exist and observe things you wouldn’t have otherwise. Or you could fly! You could soar wherever you wanted, wind in your face and airline fares in your rearview forever. You could see the world from a perspective few, if any, ever do. Constant catharsis.
It seems like an impossible choice. But driving a silver 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid for a week taught me that in some ways, a lot of people have already chosen. And I guess I don’t blame them.
The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid: Electrification for the masses
Much like the Toyota Camry, the Honda Accord is a mainstay on the car market. Everyone knows what it is; everyone’s connotation of it is generally “practical and reliable.” It’s a Honda, after all. It might just outlive you.
That reputation translates to sales: Even as SUVs squash sedans and small cars on the US market, American Honda managed to sell just under 200,000 Accords last year (that was down from 267,000 in 2019). Honda sold about 1.2 million vehicles overall in the region in 2020, meaning the Accord accounted for about a sixth of the total tally.
The Accord’s popularity isn’t new, and neither is the existence of a hybrid. The first Accord Hybrid debuted for the 2005 model year, with Motor Trend describing it as a car that “does not flaunt its hybrid status” despite its enticing features and powertrain.
“Instead, it blends into traffic with little more than a diminutive badge to announce its ‘greener than thou’ presence,” Motor Trend wrote. Sixteen years later, that part hasn’t changed.
Details and safety ratings: High value for an average price
The 2021 Accord Hybrid comes with 212 horsepower, 232 pound-feet of torque, a continuously variable transmission, and four trims. For most car buyers, the difference between a CVT and an automatic is negligible.
The base trim, merely called the “Accord Hybrid,” starts at $26,570 and features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, automatic on-off headlights, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The next step up is the $30,520 Hybrid EX, which adds a power moonroof, heated front seats, and a 12-way power-adjusted driver’s seat.
The $32,890 EX-L gets you all of that plus leather seats, a four-way power passenger seat, and 10 speakers instead of eight. Move all the way up to the $36,440 Hybrid Touring – which this review loaner was, plus $995 in fees to total $37,435 – and you’ll add 19-inch alloy wheels (because bigger wheels are fancier), active dampers to make the ride and suspension smoother, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and parking sensors, among other things.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Accord Hybrid five stars in all three of its crash tests and a five-star rollover rating, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave all versions of the 2021 Accord sedan, including the hybrid, its top crash rating in every test.
While the LED headlights on the top three hybrid trims received IIHS’ highest of four safety ratings, the base model got the IIHS’ second-highest rating for minor visibility and glare concerns.
What stands out: The practicality you know and love
If someone in your family had a road trip car when you were a kid – the one where all of the seats were deeply broken in, where you could spend 12 hours you needed to – the Accord Hybrid feels like that car. It might be new, but it feels familiar.
But for those used to cars that rely entirely on gas, that familiarity won’t extend to its driving style. The Accord is a conventional hybrid, meaning its fuel-economy-boosting battery gets charged while driving rather than with a plug.
The Accord Hybrid operates in EV mode on starts and at low speeds, meaning its acceleration pedal has the elastic feel of an electric car before the gas engine kicks in.
Basically, rather than the slight resistance of a typical gas pedal, you feel more like you’re pressing against a stretchy piece of gum. That makes it feel fun! And new! And fancy!
Congratulations. Welcome to our electrified future.
The Hybrid’s Touring trim is also peaceful. Everything inside of it communicates a sense of relaxation: the large seats, the soft color transitions from black paneling to dark wood-look accents, the minimalist design that still features all the buttons you instinctively reach for instead of one big touchscreen from Hell, doors that close with a loud but solid thump, an interior that feels closed off from the outside world.
Adding to that sense of relaxation is a lack of wind noise. If you turn the radio off, you can hear a tiny whistle just above your head. Otherwise, it’s nonexistent.
The steering wheel isn’t too thin or thick, and it has just enough weight when you turn it that it doesn’t feel hollow. There’s enough legroom in the front and back to haul around a few planets in the floorboard, and the sheer amount of trunk space means you’ll never really need a truck, no matter how much you tell yourself you do.
-Alanis King (@alanisnking) March 31, 2021
Then there’s the fuel mileage! The EPA rates the Hybrid Touring trim at 44 mpg in the city, 41 on the highway, and 43 combined. It takes a lot of driving to make a dent in the fuel gauge, which is better for both wallets and climates.
What falls short: Confusing controls
The Accord Hybrid might be a familiar car, but it comes with a lot of confusing controls.
There’s an “EV mode” button that seems promising – why not be all EV all the time? – but when I tried to turn it on, a message told me it wasn’t available while the cabin was being heated. It didn’t tell me whether that meant seat heaters or my 79-degree climate control, so I cut both off. (Listen, we all have our preferences.)
EV mode lasted about 45 seconds before the message said battery charge was too low, which felt like more of a letdown than the button was worth. Honda describes EV mode as “electric up to a mile depending on charge, throttle input” in its press materials, but the car itself didn’t tell me that.
The car’s messages didn’t direct me to further information or reading about what EV mode actually consisted of, which was mildly inconvenient for me since I was going to do my research on the car anyway. But it could easily discourage a normal driver from using the controls at all.
If you’re building hybrids, you want people using the more efficient modes – not ignoring them because they can’t figure out how.
The Accord also has regenerative braking to help recharge the battery, and paddle shifters on the wheel let drivers choose just how intense they want the braking (thus charging) to be. But that setting, too, disappears after a few seconds without any explanation.
While the Hybrid Touring trim has barely any wind noise, that isn’t the case with road noise. Drive on a smooth section of pavement and you’re numb to the world around you, but hit rougher stretches and a rugged drone will bring you back to reality. The radio can cover most of the noise at a modest volume, but not get rid of it entirely.
Fingerprints don’t mix well with the Accord’s shiny infotainment screen, which is fine if you’re like me and only use the physical controls. Its visors, visor mirrors, light gray headliner, and orange-yellow interior lights that could’ve been swapped for clean LEDs also don’t fit the classy vibe of the rest of the car; they feel pulled from something cheaper. Keep your eyes down, though, and you might not notice.
Rear passengers get seat heaters and good radio quality, but they don’t have their own climate controls – only two vents blowing the temperature preference of the people up front. And while two average-sized people can ride back there like royalty, three would be a squeeze.
The back seat also features a problem that plagued the $25,000 Honda Civic Si: a rear armrest that flops down and bounces off the seats instead of descending in a controlled movement, making it feel like a cheap afterthought.
Look, these folks already lost out on shotgun. We don’t need to make it worse with a floppy armrest.
The Accord Hybrid versus its competitors: The cheapest, but not by a lot
The Accord and Camry are longtime frontrunners in the American sedan market, but there’s also a stunning new Sonata Hybrid.
The Accord Hybrid has the lowest starting price of them all at $26,570, but not by a lot – a hybrid Camry starts at $27,270, while the base hybrid Sonata runs $27,750. They’re all front-wheel drive, and the Sonata features a six-speed automatic compared to the CVTs in the Accord and Camry. The Accord leads in terms of horsepower with 212, while the Camry has 208 and the Sonata 192.
Crash ratings from the IIHS are consistent across all of the cars, but headlight ratings aren’t. While all of the Accord and Camry hybrid trims have one of IIHS’ top two ratings – “good” or “acceptable” – for their headlights, the Sonata is an iffier bet. Its $35,300 top-tier Limited trim has a “good” rating from IIHS, while its bottom two trims got the second-worst rating of “marginal.”
Fuel economy for each varies based on trim, with the EPA rating the base Accord Hybrid at 48 mpg combined, the top-level Hybrid Touring at 43 mpg, the base Camry at 52 mpg compared to 46 mpg for the rest of the trims, and the base Sonata Hybrid at 52 mpg compared to 47 mpg elsewhere in the lineup.
Our impressions: Going with the safe choice isn’t a bad thing
The Accord Hybrid is everything your stereotypes think it is. It’s familiar. It’s comfortable. It’s the easy choice that’ll leave you worried about anything other than the quality of your car. All the while, it gets great gas mileage.
During my week with a silver Accord Hybrid, no one noticed me. Not a single person looked in my direction. Its styling was just as subdued as any Accord’s, and its hybrid badges were more like freckles than anything. It was rolling anonymity with the benefit of fewer trips to the gas station.
In the Accord Hybrid, you’re not choosing to fly. You’re choosing to be invisible, and that’s just fine.