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2021 Honda Accord Hybrid first drive review: The right amount of smooth

Honda's midsize hybrid sedan is thrifty as heck, comfortable and still fun to drive.

It won't break any necks on the road, but the Accord Hybrid isn't going to break your wallet, either.
Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Midsize sedans are about as exciting as buying a new brand of chicken stock for the first time, and their ultra-efficient hybrid variants aren't much more riveting. They are, however, hugely important vehicles. Midsize sedans were long the staple of families across America, and while crossovers have eaten into that segment in a large way, this segment is still a hotbed of competition. In the last year we've seen new or refreshed midsize hybrids from both Hyundai and Toyota, and now, it's Honda's turn with the updated 2021 Accord Hybrid.

Most folks are going to look at the 2021 Accord Hybrid and say, "Well, it looks the same as before." But there's actually some newness hidden in that front end. Namely, there's a wider grille that leads into a set of LED headlights (on most trims), which are redesigned to better illuminate the road, hopefully launching the Accord Hybrid to the top of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ratings, an issue the car had in the past. That's it, though. Oh, wait -- the radar emitter is tucked away slightly differently toward the bottom. OK, now that's it.

Inside, there isn't much different, at least in terms of the visuals. I've always liked the current Accord's interior, and that story stays the same in the 2021 model. The layout is simple but not necessarily boring, with some interesting angles on the dashboard and, on my Touring-trim tester, some nice matte-finish wood trim between the dark upper dash and the white leather beneath.

The lower half of the interior has cubbies and pockets galore for stashing all my stuff, the cup holders are large enough to accommodate most large-format bottles and the back row has legroom aplenty, even for my lanky, 6-foot frame. Directly under the climate controls, EX trims and up have a wireless device charger, but it can be switched off and used for regular junk as desired. Out back, there's a positively cavernous trunk, its 16.7-cubic-foot capacity out-swallowing the Toyota Camry Hybrid's 15.1 and the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid's 16.

While the interior itself is largely unperturbed for 2021, the tech tucked within gets an update. From base to Touring, all 2021 Accord Hybrid models now come standard with Honda's 8-inch Display Audio infotainment system. On EX trims and above, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be used wirelessly. Display Audio is a solid getup, with a straightforward home page of tiles for quick access to media, navigation (Touring only) or a phone connected via Bluetooth. There are also some hybrid-specific pages, like one that tracks the flow of power from the battery through both electric motors to the wheels. There's also a trip computer that tracks fuel economy if you want to nerd out over mileage.

The car industry's addiction to screens means the middle of the dashboard isn't the only place you'll find 'em. The Accord Hybrid's gauge cluster also includes a large digital display on the left side that houses a power meter showing the car's current output, as well as a variable portion that can tell you what's playing on the radio or show the turn-by-turn directions. It'll also give you a reminder that something might be in the rear seat, which is a new addition for 2021.

Display Audio isn't a perfect system, but it's much better than what Honda used to use -- and still uses in some models.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Speaking of safety, Honda's still on top of its game here. The Honda Sensing suite of active and passive driver aids remains standard on all Accord Hybrid trims, comprising adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning and automatic emergency braking. There are some small adjustments, though. The adaptive cruise control is now smoother on deceleration, and the lane-keeping assist no longer feels like it wants to give my forearms a workout when it centers the car in the lane. A new low-speed braking setup uses the parking sensors to cover automatic-braking cases between 1 and 6 mph, too. Finally, Honda is using industry-standard icons on its switchgear to represent these systems. I'll be honest, it was always strange getting into a Honda and imagining how many people would be confused by the "CMBS" or "LKAS" buttons, considering those aren't industry-standard abbreviations, either.

Like the tech, the Accord Hybrid's powertrain is largely the same, albeit with a few minor tweaks here and there. The formula pairs a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle I4 with Honda's two-motor hybrid system to produce a net 212 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque. That's enough to out-perform the standard Accord's base 1.5-liter engine while still returning an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 48 miles per gallon city and 48 mpg highway (for the base, EX and EX-L trims; Touring models earn 44 and 41, respectively). The motors can power the vehicle for small stretches on electricity alone, and the gas engine connects directly to the wheels at higher speeds while cruising.

Honda made a few adjustments to the car's power delivery, and I think they made a smooth operator even more effortless. Acceleration feels brisker than before -- not quick by any stretch, but more than sufficient for this segment -- and there's far less of a rubber-band feeling when jamming on the gas; the engine bumps its revs a bit and doesn't leave me feeling like the rest of the car is waiting several seconds to follow suit. Its demeanor is much closer to that of a gas car, which should help win over buyers not entirely convinced by the sky-high EPA figures. Higher revs do incur some audible whinnying from under the hood, but it's relatively quiet and doesn't distract from the experience.

48 miles per gallon is nothing to sneeze at.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Sport mode gives the car a sprightlier nature, not only boosting throttle response but also stiffening the adaptive dampers found only on Touring trims, like my tester. It doesn't turn the Accord Hybrid into a Civic Type R, but it does make the sedan more exciting to toss into a corner, likely at a speed your passengers won't enjoy. In normal operation, the dampers are softened to return very little cabin jostling, but it never feels discombobulated, always composed. It's not as pillow smooth as the Camry Hybrid, but it's close. The brakes feel great, too, seamlessly blending the line between friction and regeneration. My only issue there stems from the adjustability of the brakes; while I can boost regen braking with the left shift paddle, it only stays at that level for a short period of time, requiring me to smack the paddles over and over every time I decelerate. That's dumb. Just let me set it and forget it, please.

Best of all, the 2021 Honda Accord Hybrid remains eminently affordable. The base model will set you back $27,325 including destination, with the EX at $30,320 and the leather-lined EX-L commanding $33,645. Even the top-trim Touring stays under $40,000, landing at $37,195. That puts its toe to toe with the Camry and Sonata hybrids. With new, approachable technologies and a hybrid powertrain that likes to keep it smooth, the Accord Hybrid should help keep this segment a hotly contested one for some time to come.

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