Like a confirmed urbanite who never strays far from the city, the Honda Accord hybrid isn’t taking well to rural New Hampshire. Nearly two decades since the first Honda Insight hit our shores, hybrids still struggle when traveling uphill. Cars like this Accord hybrid are better suited to environments with lots of elevators, not lots of elevation.
The all-new 2018 Accord is a standout sedan in any of its gas-only variations. Like so many of its predecessors, it feels and drives like a more expensive machine. But that hasn’t translated to success for the hybrid versions. The first Accord hybrid was a higher-performance V-6 trim that arrived for 2005 and lasted three years. The hybrid came back for 2014 with a four-cylinder-based powertrain and was sold alongside a plug-in variant. The PHEV was promptly axed after one model year, and the regular hybrid took a sabbatical for 2016 before returning last year. The 2018 version is new, although mechanically it’s largely a rehash.
Like the previous Accord hybrid, the new car revs high, groans, goes quiet, and shoots to high revs all over again like it’s packing a continuously variable automatic (CVT), despite the fact that this Honda doesn’t have a transmission at all (it employs direct-drive gearing). The Atkinson-cycle, port-injected 2.0-liter inline-four musters 143 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque to turn a generator, while a 181-hp electric motor provides most of the tractive force. Maximum combined output is 212 horsepower. Both powerplants can drive the front wheels independently or—when the throttle is matted at higher speeds—in concert. Honda says our test car was from early in the production run and that it was essentially “built by hand,” and officials claimed the hybrid’s driving behavior might improve by the time it goes on sale early next year. But for now, it’s not much different from what we found in our test of the 2017 Accord hybrid.
Downhill, the hybrid provides a calmer and more pleasurable experience. Much like the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the electric Hyundai Ioniq, Honda has added four levels of regenerative braking that become progressively stronger with each tap of the left paddle, located behind the steering wheel. In max regen, the Accord hybrid comfortably slows while negotiating steep grades without any engine racket or friction braking. It’s a smooth, utterly quiet experience that’s unlike the situation in most hybrids when they’re shifted into the gear selector’s higher-regen position, which sends their gasoline engines into juice-blender mode, desperately spinning the engine to provide extra braking effect. Click the right paddle a few times, and the Accord seamlessly dials back to more traditional coasting when lifting off the accelerator. One-pedal driving isn’t possible, but at least the brake-pedal feel is natural, surprisingly firm, and progressive for a hybrid; it’s near perfect.
Honda also nailed the suspension tuning. Here, the hybrid delivers the same creamy, unperturbed ride and alert handling of the other Accord models. When driven in stop-and-go traffic under moderate throttle, it may be the best version for appreciating the Accord’s quiet interior and upscale finishes. Better still, there’s no longer a cargo-volume penalty for choosing the hybrid. The lithium-ion battery pack fits in a 32-percent-smaller package, which means it’s now packaged solely underneath the rear-seat cushion instead of also taking up space behind the seatbacks. The outgoing Accord hybrid had only 14 cubic feet of trunk space and a small pass-through, while this one has the same 17 cubic feet of space and 60/40 split-folding seatbacks as other Accord models.
To make the hybrid more affordable, Honda will offer it in a new base trim level that sits below the EX, EX-L, and Touring. The base hybrid is essentially equivalent to the LX version of the Accord 1.5T, with 17-inch aluminum wheels, LED low-beam headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity entry, remote start, and Honda Sensing, the company’s bundle of automated driver assists. Additional features such as heated seats, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, leather upholstery, and a head-up display come as you climb the price ladder through the Accord hybrid’s higher trims.
Aside from a few discreet hybrid badges, specific wheels with flush spokes, and a digital gauge cluster that always shows the car’s power and charge status, nothing announces this car as the green version. Honda hasn’t announced the hybrid’s EPA numbers yet, although we’d expect the new Accord to at least match the outgoing model’s 49-mpg city and 47-mpg highway EPA ratings—there is a possibility it will hit 50 mpg in the city.
As before, the Accord hybrid is entirely a numbers game for people who probably won’t ever press the accelerator past halfway. But Honda’s remarkable powertrains—the two turbocharged four-cylinders, the freakily good CVT, the six-speed manual, the 10-speed automatic—are a big part of what make the latest Accord so enjoyable to drive. That’s on all types of roads, even those that go uphill.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, front-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
ESTIMATED BASE PRICE: $27,000
ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter inline-4, 143 hp, 129 lb-ft; permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor, 181 hp, 232 lb-ft; combined output, 212 hp; 1.3-kWh lithium-ion battery pack
TRANSMISSION: 1-speed direct drive
Wheelbase: 111.4 in
Length: 192.2 in
Width: 73.3 in Height: 57.1 in
Passenger volume: 103–105 cu ft
Trunk volume: 17 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D est): 3350 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 7.1 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 21.0 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 15.7 sec
Top speed: 115 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
Combined/city/highway: 50/50/49 mpg