Honda, not Toyota was the first Japanese vehicle manufacturer to bring hybrid power to the United States market, importing the two-seater Insight coupe to U.S. shores in December 1999. While it never gained the popularity Toyota’s Prius did, Insight had a different type of engine/motor/battery theory: it used the motor and battery pack to extract acceptable power from its 1-liter gasoline engine. That was fairly simple to do with a vehicle weighing under 1900 pounds, even with the added hybrid equipment.
This type of hybridization set the tone for Honda’s early Civic hybrid, but by the time Honda produced a new hybrid engine for the latest Accord, Honda’s technological thrust had certainly changed to a more traditional hybrid platform.
The 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring, driven here in modern steel metallic with a businesslike black leather interior is, as the color choice says, exceptionally modern. It’s powered by an inline four-cylinder, 2-liter Atkinson cycle engine that makes 143 horsepower at 6,200 rpm, extracting 129 lb-ft of torque at 4,000. Redline is 6,700 rpm but the driver would never know, as the four-door, front-wheel-drive sedan lacks a tachometer. The engine works in tandem with dual synchronous permanent-magnet electric motors and lithium-ion battery pack. The motors exert 181 horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque, giving this Honda hybrid a total of 212 horsepower at 6,200rpm.
Honda has recently moved from traditional automatic transmissions, instead adopting the use of electronically controlled continuously variable transmissions (CVT) for its cars and trucks. The primary rationale for this is efficiency, mostly fuel efficiency. While CVTs have certainly improved over the years, a direct transmission with a good schedule of gearing options can be just as efficient as CVT and, in general more pleasing to drive. Honda has included a Sport mode on its 2017 Accord Hybrid Touring, but aside from changing the display surround from green to blue and making the gear-change a bit more rough, I fail to see the need.
MacPherson struts and multi-links are the suspensions of choice for this unit-body-constructed sedan, while electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering helps to keep the car pointed in the direction one wishes to travel, with a reasonable 38.2-foot turning diameter. Disc brakes all around stop the Accord precisely but without much feel. Curb weight of the top-of-the-line Touring model is 3536 pounds, which isn’t bad when you consider all of the running gear and the variety of safety and luxury equipment throughout. Nearly 60 percent of the Accord Hybrid’s weight is allocated to front wheels. Honda kindly fits 17-inch Michelin 225/50R all-season tires (on 10-spoke polished/gray alloy rims) that don’t feel like they’re made primarily for fuel economy.
The updated 2017 Accord dovetails nicely as a larger brother to the Civic – and both are fairly large (compared to earlier versions) and the family resemblance is right there with the outstretching tail lamps. Honda puts a slight lip to the Accord Hybrid Touring’s trunk lid and accents the flow of the body front-to-rear with bright grille and trunk surrounds, as well as brightwork around all four doors and on their latches. There are “hybrid” badges on both sides and rear, and those swirling spokes on the alloys give the Accord Hybrid Touring a very fashion-forward look. An upper body strake at door-handle level and a lower body strake complete the cohesion.
Inside the Accord Hybrid Touring is all business, from its leather trimming to its handsome, if fake wood accents to bright chrome and black accents. Both front seats have power operation (no lumbar for the passenger) and are exceptionally comfortable for longer drives; there are two memory settings for the driver. Honda uses dual screens in the 2017 Accord Hybrid Touring: the bottom screen accesses the navigation system, audio choices and sources, is easy to reach and navigate. The upper screen can be toggled to show a variety of options, including trip information, efficiency, a compass, camera and is set using buttons on the steering wheel.
This particular car traveled to San Diego from Long Beach for a business meeting – in severe rain. Now, California drivers are not known for their expertise in wet weather, but this Honda sure does fine, even when visibility is minimal. Wipers sped up on intermittent settings or reverted as the rain flowed and ebbed. Safe as houses with LED running lights, auto lights engaged when the rain caused us to turn on wipers, a nice touch. There are auto high beams, LED headlights, tail lamps and fog lights, making the Accord Hybrid highly visible.
The bright screens and gauge cluster can be a bit daunting at first look but you become accustomed to using them. While Honda rejects the in-mirror dots and beeps for blind-spot monitoring, it does have a wide-angle left-side mirror and a camera in the right-side mirror when that turn signal is activated; it’s also in the upper screen. For the light dip on lane changes, the very crisp camera executes just as quickly as the maneuver. The gauges, as it were, offer power/charge/gear-engaged to the left, a traditional speedometer at the center and, on the right lie gauges for charge/battery supply and a fuel gauge.
The steering wheel’s operations include information pages, audio controls, menu and phone operation on the left, with cruise and lane-change mitigation on the right. The main cruise control stays on through countless ignitions, which can be convenient, and one can change the following distance. As for the lane-change mitigation – it freaks me out to have the steering wheel move when I don’t want it to do so. So I turned it off and stayed within the lanes all by myself. And the big orange BRAKE light in the speedometer? Um, no thanks.
Among the things I really liked about the information display was being able to ratchet up and down between screens without having to go through all of them to find one thing that mattered. Trip odometers are accessed the old-fashioned way, through an extended push pin in the gauge cluster. Honda continues to have a push/pull lever on the floor by the driver’s door to access the trunk and fuel filler. There is a 12-volt plug at the base of the center stack with a grippy floor below; there is another 12-volt and a USB plug in the small central storage and covered USB above the open 12-volt area.
This vehicle has a true proximity key, as opening the vehicle requires the key to be in-pocket and the holder’s hand at the latch. Ignition is by pushbutton at the lower right of the dash. At the end of each drive, the operator receives an ECO score; I received the maximum five flowers after each trip, whether I used the normal, Eco or Sport modes. There’s also a button on the tunnel to activate fully-electric driving, which one can access at low and higher speeds. This Honda Accord Hybrid Touring has no issues traveling at highway speeds on electric power.
With standard gasoline engines becoming more efficient by the day, the question is always whether a gas-electric hybrid is the way to go? To get to the bottom of that, one needs to examine cost, and this is one area where the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring does well. This vehicle has zero options and a list price of $36,790. This price includes all the driver-assistance features like lane-keeping, adaptive cruise control, Honda Lane Watch™ and auto high-beam LED headlights. Another highlight is the 360-watt premium audio system with seven speakers – and a subwoofer – accented by the ability to access Pandora, Apple CarPlay, AndroidPlay, SiriusXM satellite radio, voice recognition for audio, navigation, climate and phone. A one-touch, two-way sunroof is standard, too.
Balance these niceties against efficiency and this is an excellent package: Honda’s two-motor gas-electric hybrid achieves 49/47/48 mpg in the EPA/DOT fuel economy tests, from its 15.8 gallon tank. Even with more than 5,000 miles on the odometer, our mileage ranged in the mid-40s throughout the week. The federal figures give this hybrid the best mileage of any mid-size hybrid sedan. The fact that the battery pack intrudes lightly into the 13.7 cubic-foot trunk is a definite plus – and that cargo hold is beautifully finished, albeit without a spare tire. A repair kit suffices.
Finally, this 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring is a good, relatively honest sedan, with buckets of quiet comfort and ecological/economical skill over the road. It’s not a great deal of fun when driven hard but that’s not really its intent, which is to be a good road warrior capable of hyper-mileage while keeping its occupants in both luxury and comfort. At that it excels.
Words and photos by Anne Proffit