Great powertrain, lacklustre finish

Honda’s been holding out on us here in Canada.

South of the border, it’s possible to buy a gas–electric CR-V – a fuel-efficient entry in one of Canada’s hottest segments. With Canadian-made CR-Vs sold here exclusively, however, and the automaker’s plant that pumps them out lacking the tooling to build hybrids, we sadly go without it.

You’re not totally out of luck if you’re looking for a hybrid at your local Honda dealer, though, with a couple options to choose from. The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid in particular features an excellent powertrain, but it’s also up against some stiff competition in this segment of gas–electric midsize sedans.

Styling: 7/10

Hybrid or otherwise, the Accord received some mild styling updates for 2021 including a redesigned grille and new standard LED headlights. Exterior styling is classic and flies under the radar, unlike its closest competitors with hybrid powertrains including the Toyota Camry and (especially) the Hyundai Sonata. The interior is less appealing, with wood-look inserts that are artificial if convincing, and an all-black interior that feels heavy on plastic. While the gas-only Accord comes in a variety of exterior colours, the hybrid is restricted to exactly two choices: black and white.

Safety: 9/10

Like all Accords, the hybrid version includes Honda’s suite of safety technologies as standard equipment, which incorporates forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition, and adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow. On hybrid models, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high-beams, driver attention alert, and automatic emergency response are also standard. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the 2021 Honda Accord as a Top Safety Pick+, and with the upgraded headlights included on this Touring grade it receives the best possible marks across the board.

Features: 8/10

Standard equipment in the hybrid models starts at a level above the gas-only Accord, but it also starts at a higher price. Heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, keyless entry, and remote start are included in all hybrids. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality is a new addition for 2021 and pairs well with the standard wireless phone charging pad.

The Touring grade is well-equipped, but it needs to be in order to be competitive at this price point. Ventilated front seats with memory on the driver’s side and power adjustments for the passenger are included, as are heated outboard rear seats, rain-sensing wipers, onboard navigation, a head-up display, and a subscription-based in-car Wi-Fi hotspot. Surprisingly, it’s also necessary to pay for the Touring grade to access SiriusXM satellite radio. The sunroof is in the smaller, single-pane style, which is typical of mid-size sedans but not nearly as cool as the Sonata Hybrid’s solar-panel glass roof feature.

User Friendliness: 8/10

For a while, Honda’s infotainment systems were rightfully panned for going too far into the realm of touch-based operation and giving up too much usability in the process. The automaker has reversed course on this, and most functions that the driver needs to access regularly are now within reach and well laid-out. My short arms have a hard time reaching some of the buttons and dials on the right side without leaning in, but the most important functions such as volume and skip buttons are positioned on the driver’s side of the screen, which makes up for it. The screen could be larger and needs to show more than four presets at a time, but otherwise this system forms a large part of a driver-focused cabin that prioritizes putting the right features within reach.

Practicality: 7/10

The practicality issues posed by the Accord are shared by every midsize sedan. While I greatly enjoyed a week of sedan seat positioning that put me closer to the road and the great handling that comes along with that, there’s merit to the taller seating and easier ingress offered by SUVs. As midsize sedans go, the Accord’s 473-L trunk holds more than that of the Camry (428 L) and the Hyundai (453 L).

Comfort: 8/10

If you don’t mind getting down into these seats, they’re pleasantly comfortable once you’re in them. There’s nothing special about the bolstering or cushioning, but they’re supportive enough for longer drives, and the heated and ventilated front seats and heated outboard rear seats in this Touring grade offer a good variety of temperature control. Note that while all Accords include air ducts under the front seats that channel air to the rear, not all models offer second-row air vents on the back of the centre console – though all Hybrid models include them.

The ride is a little on the rougher side, with a lot of road feel making it through to the driver’s hands, and a relative lack of noise insulation around the engine lets in enough exterior sound to make the cabin feel noisier than it ought to.

Power: 9/10

Those reading the Accord Hybrid brochure and focusing solely on the gas engine’s power figure might wrinkle their noses: on its face, the 143 hp and 129 lb-ft of torque from the 2.0L four-cylinder looks unimpressive to say the least. But the magic of this powertrain is in the electric motor, which delivers 181 hp on its own along with 232 lb-ft of torque, the latter being fully available on the first hit of throttle from a stop. In total, this system has a combined output of 212 hp, which is plenty to get this 1,567-kg (3,454-lb) sedan around and have a hoot doing it.

Driving Feel: 8/10

With all the SUVs on the road these days, it’s easy to forget that great handling is one of the hallmarks of a midsize sedan. The Accord Hybrid comes with 19-inch alloy wheels and an adaptive damping system that’s probably more capable than a lot of people would ever notice: it keeps the car flat and relaxed during manoeuvres without ever becoming too compliant or bouncy.

Fuel Economy: 9/10

As is to be expected, fuel efficiency is where the Honda Accord Hybrid excels. This powertrain likes to spend a lot of time in EV mode, even when cruising along the highway. I finished the week at 6.0 L/100 km, a half litre above the official combined rating of 5.5 L/100 km combined from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), though it’s still an impressive figure.

Value: 7/10

There are two ways to consider the value here: comparing the price of the Accord Hybrid to the gas-only Accord; and the hybrid’s value versus its direct competition. On the point of choosing the hybrid over the gas model, this Accord Hybrid Touring’s as-tested price of $46,726 is on the high end; however, the value here is as much in making up the fuel use as it is in upgrading to the very enjoyable hybrid powertrain. Comparing the starting prices of the Accord Hybrid Touring ($44,605) with the Accord Touring 2.0 ($43,870), the difference is $735; going by NRCan fuel cost estimates, the increased efficiency of the hybrid can pay for itself in under a year.

Relative to the Camry Hybrid or Sonata Hybrid, feature content and power output are similar, while the Accord Hybrid’s styling is by far the more understated – this could be good or bad, depending on your perspective – and the 19-inch wheels in combination with an adaptive damping system is a unique offering. However, both the Camry and Sonata hybrids undercut the Accord in their top trims, with prices of $41,580 and $42,124 before tax, respectively. Then there’s the base version of the Accord Hybrid that rings in at $37,905 before tax, which is substantially more than its cheapest rival from Toyota ($32,680).

The Verdict

The 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring may not catch anyone’s attention while it goes zipping past on the highway, but its excellent powertrain and handling character make it more fun and engaging to drive than onlookers might suspect. This hybrid system belongs in a compact SUV where more Canadians are likely to consider and appreciate it. As it stands, more interesting exterior colour choices and a more attractive interior would go a long way in increasing its overall appeal next to its flashier midsize sedan competition, but those who can look beyond appearances will find the Accord Hybrid Touring worthy of sleeper hit status.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
Engine Cylinders I4 hybrid   Base Price $42,805
Peak Horsepower 212 net hp   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque N/A   Destination Fee $1,700
Fuel Economy 5.3 / 5.7 / 5.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $46,726
Cargo Space 473 L  
Optional Equipment
$2,121 – Aero Kit Package, $1,821; Colour Charge, $300