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2023 Honda Accord Hybrid First Drive Review: Sleek Sedan With Google Smarts

The top-spec hybrid models are the best way to experience the 11th-gen Honda Accord and they're the only way to play with its new Google Built-In infotainment.

2023 Honda Accord Touring Hybrid
The new Accord's slick, modern design has grown on me.
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Thank goodness the new Accord doesn't suck. Honda's midsize sedan enters what is perhaps the toughest market in its over 40 years in the United States. Between American buyers' ever-growing thirst for SUVs and pickups and an industry racing towards electrification while, simultaneously, battling scarcity, the odds seem stacked against the humble 2023 Honda Accord. Fortunately -- both for Honda and for fans of sporty, practical sedans -- the new Accord is still very good, especially the updated Hybrid models.

Sleek, modern design

The 2023 Accord's sleek look has grown on me since its studio debut last year. Contrasted against automotive design trends that grow bolder and more complicated with each generation, I appreciate restraint shown by Honda's designers and the stylish simplicity of the sedan. Leading the way is a fascia that eliminates the previous generation's chrome brightwork and brow of in favor of dark headlamps and a blacked-out grille with a sharper, minimalist design. 

The new sedan looks lower and more compact than the outgoing model, despite its longer hood and having actually stretched by 2.7-inches from bumper-to-bumper. Around back, the illusion flips and the literally upscaled Accord's growth is instead emphasized by the fastback-inspired roofline, the new horizontal tail lights -- which now stretch across the trunk, coming just shy of connecting in the center -- and the 0.4-inch wider rear track. 

The tested Sport-L and Touring trim levels come standard with glossy black 19-inch wheels wrapped in 235/40R19 all-season tires, a combo that either complements the Accord's dark aesthetic or, in the case of the Touring's machine-cut faces, contrasts nicely. (The rest of the lineup rolls on standard 17s.) Behind the wheels, the Accord's suspension and steering hardware have been revised for a smoother, more compliant ride, but a day spent hustling through the twisting B-roads north of San Diego reveals that the sedan has lost neither its handling edge nor its nimble, playful step.

Honda two-motor hybrid

As with the recently overhauled CR-V, Honda is focusing on its two-motor hybrid system as the optimal powertrain option for the 2023 Accord, aiming for 50% of its sales going to the electrified model. I'm a bit disappointed that Honda isn't launching with a plug-in hybrid variant, but after its previous PHEV experiments and this late in the electrification game, the automaker is planning to leapfrog straight to full-electric starting with the upcoming Prologue SUV next year.

The front-wheel driven Accord Hybrid's fourth-gen powertrain is also nearly identical to that of the all-wheel-drive CR-V Hybrid. This generation's powerful electric traction motor and 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine now output a combined 204 horsepower and 247 pound-feet of torque. Drivers have a choice of four drive modes (Econ, Normal, Sport and Individual) which adjust the properties of the accelerator pedal, climate controls, steering and more to emphasize performance, comfort or efficient driving.

Under most conditions, an electric motor solely drives the front wheels while the combustion engine generates energy.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

In Normal or Econ mode, the engine is so quiet that I could barely hear it under most conditions. Sport mode is noteworthy for making the most use of the gasoline engine to squeeze additional performance from the electric drive motor, but it also engages Honda's revised Active Sound Control. This feature causes the combustion engine's RPM to rise and fall as if mated to a conventional geared transmission for a more "normal" sound than the hybrid's typically CVT-like constant RPM. (The two-motor series hybrid technically doesn't use a transmission.) In addition to the performative revving, Active Sound Control also adds a bit of generated engine noise through the Accord's speakers. The result isn't as bad as you might think -- it's actually fairly pleasant, engaging even -- but it never sounds quite real.

Fortunately, the accompanying performance is real, manifesting in improved midrange torque that makes the hybrid feel much more responsive around town and on the highway. In addition to the drive modes, Accord Hybrid drivers also have access to six levels of regenerative braking which are selected via paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The highest level of regen feels almost like one-pedal driving in an EV when lifting the accelerator -- which makes sense considering Honda's plan for this generation of its hybrids to serve as a gateway towards battery-electric adoption. However, it still creeps at around 5 miles per hour and requires the friction brake pedal to come to a complete stop. 

The EPA estimates around 46 city mpg, 41 highway mpg and 44 combined mpg for the Accord Hybrid Sport, Sport-L and Touring specs. The lighter EX-L trim is a touch more efficient at 51 city, 44 highway and 48 combined mpg. Over the course of 150 hilly miles, my trip computer dipped as low as 34 mpg for the mostly uphill outbound segment and as high as 55 mpg for the long downhill return, averaging 45.3 mpg for the day -- just a smidge better than the EPA's estimate.

Cabin tech with Google Built-In

Inside, the new Accord's dashboard is as clean as its exterior design with a horizontal cross-hatched grille stretching from door-to-door, integrating the vents into a single wide element. Below the grill are the climate control knobs and the dual USB type-C connections. Above are the 10.2-inch digital instrument cluster and, for Hybrid models, the 12.3-inch main display. The Accord's largest touchscreen yet is home to the latest generation of simplified Honda's infotainment software. Honda even kept the volume knob for this generation -- though now it's almost too small to use comfortably and awkwardly positioned below the screen.

The top Touring model is the only way to get Google Built-In, but every Accord comes standard with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The top-spec Touring model is the only trim level to feature Google Built-In infotainment software, replacing Honda's OEM navigation with Google Maps, standard voice control with Google Assistant and adding the Google Play Store where users can download and install curated apps for music streaming services, podcasts, news or audiobooks. After logging into a Google account -- either by scanning a QR code with a smartphone or manually entering a username and password -- owners will be presented with suggested destinations based on their saved driving habits or data pulled from their Gmail or Google Calendar appointments. Google Maps can even automatically or manually download and cache maps data for use when the built-in 4G LTE connection is limited.

Google Built-In also enables Google Assistant voice command of vehicle features outside of the dashboard display. I was able to say, "Hey Google, set the temperature to 69 degrees," "set my seat heater to level 2," or "set the volume to 20%" and have the vehicle obey my commands without touching a button or taking my eyes off the road. About the only thing Google Assistant can't do via Google Built-In is send text messages, though it can initiate voice calls.

It's a bit odd that Honda only offers Google Built-In on this single trim level, but I can see how not everyone would want Google handling a near totality of the dashboard experience. If you'd rather stick with OEM software, the Sport, EX-L and Sport-L models still deliver solid, big screen experiences and all hybrid models also feature standard wireless or USB connected Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity.

Honda Sensing safety suite

Almost every feature in the standard Honda Sensing suite of driver aid technologies has been updated in some way for the 2023 model year thanks to new camera and radar sensors with wider fields of view.  Starting with the base model, every Accord now features forward collision mitigation with brake assist, lane keeping steering assist with road departure mitigation and adaptive cruise control that now features Traffic Jam Assist and low-speed following. I was only able to test the adaptive cruise and lane keeping systems for a short interstate segment near the end of my day's drive, but found both to be fairly natural and predictable in their operation. Rounding out the standard suite are automatic high beams and enhanced traffic sign recognition.

The Hybrid's Active Sound Control doesn't quite sound real, but the generated engine noise is also not unpleasant.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Stepping up to the EX-L model adds parking distance sensors, while the Touring spec adds low-speed braking control which can automatically slam the brakes at parking speeds to prevent a collision with an obstruction or pedestrian. Honda has also beefed up the Accord's crashworthiness (particularly for side and offset impacts) and improved its 10 standard airbags for those situations where even modern driver assistance tech can't help.

The non-hybrid option

Near the end of the day, I was able to take a short 10-mile drive in the non-hybrid 2023 Accord. Its 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine persists with only minor improvements from the previous generation, returning the same 192 hp and 192 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is down by a single mile per gallon across the board, now estimated at 29 city, 37 highway and 32 mpg combined. Non-hybrid models also make do with a smaller 7-inch center touchscreen display and lose wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, though thankfully retain wired USB connectivity. 

The non-hybrid Accord (tested in EX trim) doesn't feel like a penalty box and the handling is on-par with the upper trims, but driven back-to-back with the quieter, more responsive, better equipped hybrids, it does feel like a downgrade. And that makes Honda's decision to axe the most powerful 2.0T Sport option for this generation all the more painful.

The Accord Hybrid is a playful and practical midsize sedan.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Pricing and availability

The 2023 Honda Accord's theme of simplification continues into the trim and pricing structure. The new lineup makes the hybrid system standard for all but the lowest trim levels -- which may feel forced to some -- but those top hybrid models feel like the ideal way to experience this generation anyway. Upgrades now follow a single path starting with the $28,390 Accord LX base model (including $1,095 destination charge) featuring the 1.5T non-hybrid engine. From there, the EX ($30,705) adds a few more creature comforts, but the Sport model ($32,990) is where the hybrid powertrain enters the chat and you should start paying attention. EX-L ($34,635) and Sport-L ($34,970) models precede the line-topping Touring Hybrid at $38,985 as tested -- no options needed as it is already fully loaded. 

Leaving a very strong first impression with its sleek modern design, efficient performance and smart tech, the new 2023 Honda Accord is sure to remain one of the best new sedans in its class.

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.