By on November 10, 2020

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid

When Honda sent out the press release detailing the updates for the 2021 model-year Accord and Accord Hybrid, I shed a tear (figuratively) for the loss of the manual-transmission option in the gas models, and wondered why they were bothering with the hybrid. There didn’t seem to be much changed.

That may be true, but perhaps it’s because there wasn’t much to fix to begin with?

I’m not saying the Accord, which is among the tops of the mid-size class, is without flaws. This particular model gets thrashy when you dig into the throttle, the seats are a bit stiff for long drives, and the steering is a bit too artificial-feeling.

But like its main rival, Toyota’s Camry, the Accord gets a lot of love for being balanced. The Accord has always offered up driving fun for those who care without forcing those who don’t to sacrifice ride quality or comfort or fuel economy, and while the Camry was once dogged for being capable but boring, it, too, has become as well balanced as the Honda.

Well, close, anyway – Honda still does sport just a bit better.

Both cars just work, which helps explain their popularity among the plebes as well as among cynical auto journos. Both feel well screwed together, as well.

And this particular Accord will challenge your bladder on road trips.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid

(Full disclosure: Honda invited me to drive to the Ann Arbor/Plymouth area of southeast Michigan, paid for my hotel and meals, and offered a gift card for trip expenses that I politely declined. I drove a Honda CR-V Hybrid up to return to Honda from the local press fleet and drove an Accord Hybrid back – what’s known in the business as a “drive-away”, naturally. Myself, other attending media, and Honda personnel all abided by COVID19 precautions, including masks. The Accord Hybrid I drove home was the same one I tested on the local one-hour-long drive loop, as well as around town in my home city, and it is the subject vehicle for this review. The CR-V will be reviewed at a future date.)

I’ll admit I screwed up and forgot to reset the trip odo before hitting the local streets around Northville, Michigan, so my numbers will be a bit off, but I did reset the trip meter before booking it home to Chicago and according to the computer, I was getting into the high 30s when it comes to mpg. More on that down below. The fuel tank wasn’t full when I left – I don’t think it was full even when I started the drive loop – and yet, I had not even the slight bit of worry that the 260-ish mile drive would require a fuel stop.

Not for the car, anyway. I do require food and caffeine – aka human fuel. And my bladder has needs, too.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid

Before you dive into the comments to shout at me that most modern cars can make 260 miles without refueling, even if they aren’t electrified in any way, that’s true. But there’s more peace of mind at hand when you glance at the dash and see a large gap in range remaining compared to the miles to home. And more fuel to play around with before stopping to fill up when you finally reach the “around town” part of the trip.

I’ve driven to Detroit or its metro area at least once a year since the late Aughts, on average anyway, and while most vehicles I’ve piloted got me from my home to hotel, or hotel to home, without a stop, there’s more to maximizing fuel economy and range than just one trip. Sure, most vehicles, including some crossovers, could get you from here to there without sweat. In some cases, it’s due to high highway mpg and in others, a large tank gives you long-range (think of trucks that get horrible mpg numbers but have impressive ranges due to mega-size tanks). Sometimes it’s both.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid

Thing is, it’s all about the overall experience, not just road trips. That’s why one buys a hybrid – to maximize their fuel range in all kinds of driving. And the Accord accomplishes that, too. A quick look at the power flow meter shows that in stop-and-go driving, judicious use of the throttle can keep the gas engine from firing, instead using the electric propulsion motor to keep things in EV operation. And there’s an EV drive mode you can select, too, that can keep the car running purely on electric in certain situations.

The transition between gas and hybrid is smooth, too, hardly felt or heard from the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, matting the throttle to pass leads to a level of thrash from underneath that’s a bit unbecoming of a car that otherwise acquits itself well when it comes to NVH.

The two-mode hybrid system puts out a peak 212 horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque, same as last year, but the changes Honda made to the system are meant to make the power available closer to idle, with a more responsive overall throttle. My basis for comparison is limited – I last drove the hybrid at the launch of the current generation, and I don’t recall how responsive the throttle was or wasn’t three-plus years ago. It does feel properly reactive here, though.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid

That doesn’t make the car extra swift, per se. It does weigh over 3,400 pounds (3,415 to be precise). It moves its mass well enough to pass with ease, and you won’t often feel left wanting, but don’t expect to warp time and space. You have the power you’ll need, and that’s likely enough.

The two electric motors are a propulsion motor and a starter/generator. The gas engine that’s part of the hybrid setup is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder.

Here’s how it works – in EV mode, the gas engine takes a rest, and the propulsion motor feeds power to the wheels using juice from the battery. In hybrid operation, the engine powers the generator which then sends electricity to the propulsion motor, as well as to the battery to charge it. The gas engine can also connect directly to the wheels via a clutch, which it does during high-speed cruising. Braking and deceleration create regenerative energy.

This means there’s no conventional automatic transmission, although of course there’s still park/reverse/neutral/drive selections.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid

The EPA numbers are 48 mpg city/highway/combined for all Accord Hybrid models save the Touring, which comes in at 41/44/43. I achieved just over 37 mpg, according to the computer, driving from outside Detroit to Chicago, with that number dropping by about half an mpg when I returned home and started running errands.

That’s below the EPA number, obviously, but it should be noted that I have a heavy foot, I don’t use cruise control, and while that drive was mostly highway it also included some suburban and urban driving. Furthermore, EPA test cycles tend to be optimistic compared to real-world conditions. That number may be shy of the sticker, but it’s still pretty dang good.

Handling-wise, the steering feels a tad less light than I recall from that first spin, but it still feels distant, as too many cars do these days. Though not so artificial that you can’t place the wheels just right or make a mid-corner correction easily. It’s a pretty good setup, especially for a family car – just not quite natural-feeling enough for my tastes. Sport mode does make the steering feel tighter. Conversely, Econ mode apparently dulls the throttle response – select this mode only on the highway, and only once up to speed and not needing to pass often.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid

Steering-wheel paddles allow the driver to control regeneration.

The ride is mostly pleasant – there’s a bit of lean to the stiff side, but that really only reveals itself on the worst pavement. Interstate 94 cutting across Michigan was tackled with ease and almost no float, wallow, or any other nastiness of that sort. The Accord Hybrid is a comfortable interstate cruiser that doesn’t give up much handling ability. Body roll is mostly controlled. The Sport mode that tightens up the steering doesn’t seem to stiffen the ride too much.

Ah, comfort. The same can’t be said of the seats. They’re fine for most driving – but hard enough that after an hour or two, my back started to complain. To be clear, I am not someone with the kind of balky back that acts up easily, so I take notice when seats cause me to grumble. At least the amount of time that passed before I perceived discomfort was over an hour – meaning commuting or errand running shouldn’t be an issue.

The rest of the interior is upscale feeling, with nice materials. The return of radio knobs is appreciated, and the infotainment screen’s tiled layout is easy to work with. The big news here is the addition of wireless CarPlay and Android Auto. The button shifter is still weird, but you get used to it. I still don’t like infotainment screens that “sail” above the dash, but that’s personal preference more than anything, and it’s easy to reach at least. My phone and the wireless cell-phone charger did sometimes fail to connect, and I also lost connection at times as the phone shifted around while I drove. Best to have a wired USB connection for backup if you like to charge while you drive.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid

I also had some issues with CarPlay playing particular songs. Siri claimed not to find songs that were in my library because they weren’t on Apple Music, which I haven’t signed up for. Yet, the songs are there, on my phone. Some investigation with Honda showed this is apparently an issue with Apple pulling from Apple Music instead of a user’s library.

As a workaround, a driver can use their phone manually to call up the desired tune, though that sort of defeats the purpose of using voice recognition to keep your eyes on the road. The car I’m testing this week has the same issue and it’s not a Honda or Acura product, so this appears to be something Apple may need to address with the next software update.

Those of you who have been reading this site since the latest Accord has been on the roads panned its looks, mostly the grille. For ’21, all Accords have a wider grille with what Honda says, correctly in this scribe’s opinion, is better integration of the necessary electronics for Honda Sensing driver’s aids. The fog-lamp openings shrink. Hybrids get special badging and gain 19-inch wheels on Touring-trim models, like the one I tested.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid

Touring is the top of four trims. Base cars start out with remote start, wired CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry, 17-inch wheels, Honda Sensing (adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, traffic-sign recognition, collision-mitigation braking, and road-departure mitigation), dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, USB, and LED lighting all around (except the low beams).

EX trims add more USB charge points, wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, heated front seats, power moonroof, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, satellite radio, power driver’s seat, LED fog lamps, and LED high beams, among other items. EX-L additions include a leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather seats, power passenger seat, driver-seat memory, two more speakers (bringing the total to 10), auto-dimming rearview mirror, courtesy lights, and turn signals in the sideview mirrors.

A Touring model like the one I drove adds 19-inch wheels, low-speed braking control, navigation, adaptive dampers, a head-up display, HondaLink, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, rain-sensing wipers, ambient lighting for the doors, sideview mirrors that tilt when the car is in reverse, and parking sensors.

Base cars start at $26,370, EX at $30,320, EX-L at $32,690, and Touring at $36,240. Destination is $955.

2021 Honda Accord Hybrid

Honda’s press materials breakdown trim-level take rate thusly: Base 20 percent, EX 20 percent, EX-L 30 percent, and Touring 30 percent. Those are projections based on 2019’s sales numbers.

The flaws I picked up on are mostly small potatoes, and the overall experience isn’t ruined. It’s more positive than negative, and I can see why the Accord remains so popular. Honda hasn’t always gotten the Accord right – it’s been, at times, criticized for being too comfortable to the point of flirtation with the dreaded s-word (“soft”) – but the current-gen car is well-balanced, and the tradeoffs often made with hybrid models to maximize fuel economy don’t change that.

Honda PR told us the hybrid Accord is the one to get – it’s even in the press release – but I don’t know about that. I’d need to drive the gassers again to compare. That said, if it’s the Accord you do get – and many people have a good use case for hybridization – you’ll be buying a comfortable-riding four-door that sips fuel and is engaging enough, if not a pure sports sedan.

Well-rounded machinery almost always gets high marks from me, and despite some flaws that stick out, this Accord grades well.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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32 Comments on “2021 Honda Accord Hybrid First Drive – High Mileage Family Hauler...”

  • avatar

    From wikipedia:

    “Structural adhesives are employed for the first time on the Accord with 115 ft of adhesive bonding applied to the body.[62][63] The body in white (BIW) is 42 lbs lighter with improved structural rigidity.”

    Lighter, yet stiffer. How interesting.

    • 0 avatar

      Still not making the newer Accord better than an older Malibu in handling, fuel economy, or lower NVH.

      Even Motor Trend got 37 mpg highway with a Malibu 2.0T 9-speed in their testing.

      • 0 avatar
        Dave M.

        It’s urban driving where hybrids really shine.

        Great review. This is a strong overall package; finally hybrid wheels that don’t look dorky.

        • 0 avatar

          In principle I agree, and I suspect urban driving is still where the greatest gains are realized.

          But in my ’17 Accord Hybrid (basically the same drivetrain as here), urban mpg still typically comes in below the EPA estimates. Driving around the city, stop and go with speeds generally between 25 and 40 mph, I would typically get low 40s mpg, maybe 41. Honestly, where it seems to best is on country highways with cruising speeds around 55 mph and few stop signs or traffic lights, on which I’ve gotten over 50 mpg.

          • 0 avatar

            Yeah the Accord Hybrid system was optimized for that 55-60mph speed. Just fast enough to link the engine directly to the wheels at a RPM where it operates efficiently. Go much faster than that and it is like the old days of driving a vehicle w/o overdrive.

            Overall this system was designed to be a great plug-in Hybrid, why they haven’t taken advantage of that I don’t understand.

          • 0 avatar

            They tried a plug-in HAH on the last generation, and it only lasted three model years, 2013-2015, and didn’t survive the mid-model cycle (MMC) changes, although arguably, its grille carried over into 2016-7.

          • 0 avatar

            Sgeffe, the plug-in Accord Hybrid was actually only for one year–2014–and IIRC, they only sold about 3000 of them in the US. (Fun fact: all ~2 million ninth generation Accords sold in the US came with a mounting point for a glovebox light, but the ~3000 2014 plug-in hybrids were the only ones to actually come equipped with a glovebox light.)

            After the 2014, the plug-in Accord became the Clarity. Someone must have decided that plug-in buyers needed their cars to look weird so as to establish their eco-cred from a distance.

          • 0 avatar

            I have a 2014 Fusion Energi, which is the PHEV version. With the cruise on 75, I get 37 mpg very consistenly. I can go five hours without stopping if need be. Mine’s the Titanium trim level, and the standard sport seats are excellent, it’s a great highway cruiser, but very limited on trunk space.

            If I have to do intown driving on gasoline, I get 42-44 mpg, a little less on hot days in the summer because of the amount of electricity the car has to generate to run the A/C. Ford’s hybrid system is much like Toyota’s, with an electrified CVT, so that when the engine is running it is powering the wheels rather than generating electricity and sending it to the electric motor.

          • 0 avatar

            I had a 17 Accord Hybrid as well. As you note, its the same engine / battery set up as in this car. I’d get low to mid 40s around town, which is pretty damn awesome for such a sizeable car. As you noted, could get over 50mpg in when driving below 60mph.

            On long highway cruise at 75-80, mileage really dropped, not much more efficient than a regular 4 cyl accord.

            Was really a good car, I had leased it and was pleased with it for the 3 years I had it.

          • 0 avatar

            @ Former FF, The Toyota/Ford power split design always sends some of the engine’s power through the starter generator to the traction motor. It is the act of changing the ratio of the power flow between mechanical and electrical that allows the gear ratio between the engine and wheels to vary.

            The original Ford Hybrid transaxle had a provision for a clutch that would lock the starter generator to provide a fixed gear ratio and 100% mechanical power flow. However even though the case is designed for it they did not implement it in production.

            The Accord Hybrid does create a 100% mechanical link between the engine and wheels at certain loads and speeds.

          • 0 avatar

            RE: HAH plug-in: interesting! And I noticed the mounting points for a glovebox light in my old 2013 Touring.

            I really wish that Honda would program the control software so that when you start the car cold, it would vary the engine speed a little when the car’s placed into gear; it’s a little off-putting to back the car out of the garage and the 2.0L engine is SCREAMING even though the car is barely moving! I had a 2018 HAH as a dealer service loaner a month or so ago, and nothing changed from a previous 2017 version of the same car!

            Otherwise, the review is spot-on! I don’t have any issues with the seats in the Accord, but everything else matches my experience with my 2019 gas Touring 2.0T, as well as my limited HAH experience.

          • 0 avatar
            Professional Lurker

            I think Scoutdude’s comments address your observations.

            The Honda hybrid system, based on what I read, doesn’t connect the engine directly to the wheels except under rather high speeds, where a clutch can couple the engine and allow it to drive the wheels directly at a particular RPM. I don’t think this happens anywhere under highway speeds.

            And it sounds like this system is really designed around a PHEV such as the Clarity. It so happened that I test drove a 2021 model in Virginia, which could be the only one on the east coast as far as I know. I really liked the feel of it. Too bad I couldn’t get the wife to go along with it; ES 300h it is.

    • 0 avatar

      “Lighter, yet stiffer.”

      That’s what she said!

      Michael Geary Scott

      My apologies – I’m watching The Office with my kids.

    • 0 avatar

      I wonder what that does to repairability in case of an accident.

  • avatar

    I wish I liked the styling more. The awkward looks of a function-over-form liftback with none of versatility simply doesn’t work for me. Neither does that homely face. No real surprise though … I can’t remember the last Honda I found genuinely attractive.

  • avatar

    That mpg as tested is . . . not great. Knowing I-94, I’m going to assume you were keeping a brisk pace.

    I have a 2017 Accord Hybrid; the prior generation, but I believe the drivetrain is pretty much identical (the specs are all the same). I have found that mpg drops very quickly over 70 mph, much more so than in any other car I’ve driven. Now I tend to cruise around 73 on the highway and typically get mpg in the low 40s, depending on terrain. I should note that my car is actually somewhat heavier than the one tested here (3483 lbs), as the tenth generation Accord lost some weight across the board. But mine does have aero 17-inch wheels, not the massive 19s from the touring model here that I expect hurt both economy and ride quality.

    Over about 15K of ownership, my Accord has averaged about 41.5 mpg. Part of that is accounting for noticeably lower mpg in the winter. I haven’t figured out how much of this is because of the cold and how much results from running snow tires. Economy in the winter months tends to be about 38-40, whereas the rest of the year a typical tank is around 43-44 mpg.

    • 0 avatar

      FWIW there is such a thing as LRR winter tires. My Michelin X ice Lattitudes (now superceded by a new model) are LRR. I believe it because in optimal conditions a few months ago in warm weather I made a 10 mile trip with no net loss of elevation, and scored 77mpg with my 2020RAV4 hybrid, and 70mpg on the same route another occasion. That is the best of the best. My overall average is 43mpg.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s a great tip. Thanks! May have to look for those next time I buy winters (which won’t be for a while). Got serious winter tires for both cars (VikingContact 7s and Blizzak WS-80s), and of course now have had virtually no snowfall for the last couple of years. Really wishing I had instead gotten something that retained a bit more dry-road ability given how rarely I have actually driven them in snow.

  • avatar

    On paper, it’s a “best of all worlds” type of vehicle. I want to like it. But with the apparently uncomfortable seats and disconnected steering, it doesn’t seem like the kind of car you connect with. More like the kind of car your company procures for a fleet.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    As you can see with Alex Dykes’ test of the CRV Hybrid, under certain kinds of driving, the Honda hybrid system is a big fail, as compared to Toyota’s. That is where you have a long enough uphill climb to exhaust the battery, forcing the engine to supply 100% of the power moving the vehicle through a comparatively inefficient generator>motor setup and, incidentally, having to lug the dead weight of the battery up the hill along with the vehicle, its contents and passengers. Under those circumstances, fuel economy is actually worse than the gas engine only car and greatly inferior to the Toyota hybrid system.

    So, if mountain driving is a major part of what you do, this is probably not the hybrid for you.

    • 0 avatar

      Long high speed ascents do seem to be the Honda hybrid system’s Achilles’ heel. Alex also mentioned that the motor was screaming. I’d guess that it was running flat out WOT and redlined.

  • avatar

    Honda shrank the already small tank in these to just 12 (!) gallons in the hybrid trims so despite the good mileage you’ll still be stopping to gas up every single week.

    This is starting to take hold across the board and can only be intentional, stretching the tank a couple inches costs literally nothing and cutting out a third of your fill ups is a great convenience and sales point. I believe that they’re getting ready for the mandated transition to EVs with 200 mile batteries and that will be an easier sell when the last couple cars you had were a pain in the rear to keep full too.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s one of my biggest complaints with the Accord in general this go-round! I could get 450 miles on a tank on my 2013 Touring which had the V6 and six-speed automatic. I could maybe squeeze 375 miles out of my 2019!

      And adding insult to injury, I could get 35mpgs+ while blasting down the interstate at 82mph with the A/C blowing ice cubes, but on the 2019, if I can eke out 32mpg (the EPA estimate) under those circumstances, I’m lucky!

  • avatar

    How is the ride? The 19″ wheels on the 2018 accord made the ride really rough. A small pothole felt like hitting bare metal. I love the wheel design (still love the 2016-2017 touring/spott wheels more) but wish they were 17″ with more sidewall.

  • avatar

    As much as I really do like Honda’s….

    I think their hybrid system is inferior to Toyota and Ford.

    Maybe if all you do is drive urban/suburban it isn’t bad. But is it any better than Toyota or Ford? Not really from what I can tell.

    But the highway is where it really seems to be vastly inferior. Every single review of Honda’s hybrid on highway drives the MPG has been complete garbage. Looks like probably here too. Again, while hybrid’s don’t shine on the expressway, Toyota and Ford don’t take anywhere near the hit of Honda.

    Frankly, if I wanted a hybrid I’d shop elsewhere. If I wanted gas-only, Honda is a strong contender.

    • 0 avatar

      What it mainly comes down to is that the Honda system was designed from the get go to work well as a Plug-In Hybrid, which they have failed to really utilize. It was also optimized for the HWFET that doesn’t seen the vehicle go over 55mph. The mechanical link between the engine and wheels eliminates losses of converting mechanical energy to electrical energy, transmitting it and then converting it back to mechanical energy, at higher speeds which the Ford and Toyota suffer from. It also reduces frictional losses over the Ford/Toyota across the board. However since it is optimized for the obsolete HWFET system it definitely suffers from the engine turning at a less efficient RPM once you start driving at today’s real freeway speeds.

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    A 787-9 can go over 14,000 km on one tank, putting all these ‘will go xxx miles on a tank’ claims to shame.
    I look forward to getting out of a car and stretching after 200 or 300 miles and don’t understand what is so great about this range thing.

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