Family sedans may be passé in this increasingly crossover SUV-dominated market, but they still offer the best blend of practicality, drivability and economy for your typical small family. And that's why they still dominate the sales charts. Now, with fuel prices on the rise again, efficiency is returning to prominence. For 2018, the Honda Accord Hybrid offers that efficiency without compromising the other parts of the package.
In earlier Accords, selecting the Hybrid model meant making do with a trunk that yielded to the demands of battery packaging. Those big, heavy cells that provide the electric part of the driveline equation need to live somewhere, and on the 2017 and earlier models they only fit behind the rear seats.
The 2018 Honda Accord hybrid, inside and outSee all photos
For 2018, the Accord rides on a new chassis that makes room for those batteries beneath the rear seats. The new, smaller lithium-ion battery pack now disappears into the structure of the car, meaning exactly the same 16.7 cubic feet of trunk space as the normal sedan. That's 0.9 cubic feet up over the 2017 Honda Accord -- the non-hybrid. And, with the batteries situated beneath the seats, the Hybrid also gets the same 60/40 split rear seatback.
Up front, a new 2.0-liter, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine provides 143 horsepower and 129 pound-feet of torque, delivering an incredible 40 percent thermal efficiency. That may not sound like much, but it's Honda's most efficient production engine ever. That's paired with an electric motor that boosts total system output to 212 horsepower, 20 more than the base Accord's 1.5-liter turbocharged four.
Interestingly that hybrid system is configured in series, meaning the car can run entirely on the electric motor and use the gasoline motor just to recharge the batteries, a la the Chevrolet Volt. But, when engine speed or acceleration demands, both motors can work in parallel to provide maximum performance.
But don't expect too much on that front. I was able to drive an early version of the 2018 Accord Hybrid and found the acceleration to be on the relaxed side, more than acceptable but lacking the EV-style rush of torque that we've come to expect from cars like the Volt. But, this was just a hand-built prototype that had spent the day getting flogged by journalists, so a fresher car with a full battery pack may very well perform better.
The big question, of course, is overall economy and, sadly, that we don't have an answer for yet. The 2018 Accord in its most efficient configuration, with the 1.5-liter engine and CVT, offers a combined 33 mpg. The 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid manages 48 combined, so don't be surprised if the new car pushes that figure well into the 50s. Despite that, we should actually see a decrease in price. For 2018 the Accord Hybrid will be available in the base LX trim, losing some interior niceties in exchange for a lower MSRP.
The 2018 Accord Hybrid hits dealers early next year and, while I was quite impressed by my time behind the wheel of the traditionally powered sedans, if you're not in a hurry I'm inclined to think the Hybrid will be well worth the wait.