After sitting out a year, the hybrid version of the Honda Accordreturns for 2017 with more power, more standard safety and tech options, and better efficiency. Regarding that last point, Honda asserts it is true in reality if not on paper.

The last Accord Hybrid, which joined the lineup only 3 years ago as a 2014 model, touted an EPA rating of 50 mpg for city driving, 45 mpg highway and 47 mpg combined. It was that 50 mpg number in particular that had the automaker and car buyers alike salivating. The 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid, though, is rated at 49/47/48 mpg, respectively. Despite the lower city mpg number on the EPA sticker, Honda says the new Accord Hybrid is actually more efficient than the last one. The reason? Changes to the EPA testing cycle. If this new model used the same test as the last one, Honda says, the new hybrid Accord would match the old 50 mpg city figure, while also earning an extra mpg in combined driving. With that out of the way, let's move on to what this fuel-efficient car is like to drive.

More emphasis on zeal

Even though the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid may be more efficient than the last model, Honda didn't urge any hyper-miling challenges when introducing it to the media, as the automaker did for the last version. Rather, it aimed to show that while yes it's efficient, it also drives like an Accord, which has long had a slightly more dynamic edge than its archrival the Toyota Camry.

For the most part it hits the mark. Our test drive had us energetically piloting the Accord Hybrid on winding 2-lane roads through hill country in California's Napa Valley, as well as straight-shot—and sometimes traffic-clogged—freeways.

But even before we got to the twisties that made up the majority of our driving, it was apparent this Accord is a breed apart. With a total of 212 horsepower, the 2017 Accord Hybrid has 16 more ponies than its predecessor and 27 more than a standard 4-cylinder Accord. At 232 lb-ft, the system also creates impressive torque.

Multi-mode driving

On initial acceleration the 2017 Accord Hybrid pulls strong and quietly, similar to an electric car. And that's because even though it has a 2.0-liter gasoline engine, the Accord Hybrid has been designed to act something like an electric vehicle, in which electric motors power the wheels. While the gasoline engine can power the front wheels, its role is often as a generator.

In that mode, called Hybrid Drive, one of the Accord's two electric motors drives the front wheels while the Atkinson cycle gasoline engine powers a second motor/generator to supplement current from the vehicle's lithium-ion battery pack. In Engine Drive mode, the front wheels are driven by both the gasoline engine and the electric motor. A third mode, EV Drive, allows this fuel-efficient Honda to be powered on electricity alone for short distances and under light loads.

If all this sounds complicated, don't worry: The Accord Hybrid is smart enough to seamlessly transition to the appropriate drive mode depending on need. It all makes for quiet and assertive driving, at least when you're not flooring it. When you do, the gasoline engine tends to drone, and power transmission feels elastic, similar to a continuously variable transmission. Interestingly, the Accord Hybrid does not use a conventional transmission, but rather engages a lockup clutch that connects the gasoline engine to the electric propulsion motor that drives the wheels.

Over a variety of roads, the Accord Hybrid felt buttoned up and comfortable. In harder cornering, though, the efficiency-minded low-resistance tires protested far more than the chassis.  Brake feel, which has a tendency to be "grabby" on hybrid cars due to their dual role for stopping and energy regeneration, felt natural and linear in this initial test.

Value built in

As with the last Accord Hybrid, the new one comes at a price premium. Available now, a base hybrid Accord starts at $30,440, over $6,000 above a base Accord with an automatic transmission. But that's an apples and orange comparison, as the Accord Hybrid comes better equipped and is actually viewed as a top-line trim. One of its biggest attractions is the suite of safety features and driving aids included on every 2017 Accord Hybrid. Collectively called HondaSensing, it includes collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning and forward collision warning, road departure mitigation and adaptive cruise control.

And as we said with the last Accord Hybrid, it may take years of driving to save in fuel costs the extra money you'll initially spend. But again, stellar fuel-efficiency is only part of the equation. You can't put a dollar figure on the satisfaction granted by owning a car with potentially 700-plus miles of range and the knowledge that you can be helping reduce energy consumption without sacrificing drive quality. Through that lens, the latest Accord Hybrid feels like a successful continuation of what was already a highly laudable car.


 

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