Is this the future of the common sedan? Are cars like this Honda Accord Hybrid what will soon be left for family cars, digitized, hybrid-ized, computer-controlled conveyances that collect immense streams of data to share, sell and be used by others?
It is already a fact that our cars are collecting mountains of data on how we drive, where we drive and what we do when we drive. This mega-data is being analyzed by others, some good and some bad, to build better cars, safer cars, but also being monetized for apps, sales pitches, accessories, even for our planned recreational activities. Shell and GM recently linked up a program so that you can “pay at the pump” for your next gas fill-up without even getting out of the car — you do it through the “cloud” in your car. You will still need to slip the nozzle into the fill-pipe, but if you can find a full-serve Shell station, you won’t even do that anymore.
The pace of these changes will only hasten. The race is on; those not strategizing to win will soon be selling, or building, something other than cars. The serenity of a quiet Sunday drive to nowhere, your own private moments in your car, will soon be a thing of the past, like clutch pedals, as your car transmits data from multiple sensors to collection computers that monitor safety, traffic and even the speed of your windshield wipers. Hello, Big Brother.
Twenty years ago, Honda sold its first hybrid car in America — the original Insight two-seater. It got 50 mpg all of the time, often more. Our Accord Hybrid, the third attempt with this popular sedan to crack the hybrid sales success code, got 50 mpg.
And while that number blew away the poor lady claiming 15 mpg in her pickup truck, it illustrates part of the reason why hybrid and electric vehicle sales have stalled at less than 3 percent of the new car market. Regulators and legislators love hybrids and electric cars. The media, fake and otherwise, falls all over itself embracing the latest hybrids and electric cars.
The buying public? Well, not so much. Sales for Toyota’s Prius are down 12 percent again this year after a bad 2017. Hybrid sales overall year-to-date are down 9 percent. The Honda Accord, despite this redesigned model shown, has seen sales drop 14 percent. The buying public is voting with their feet, and their wallets; cars are less popular and hybrids — after 20 years — have reached a ceiling of acceptance that isn’t growing.
On the one hand, that’s a shame. Any consumer ignoring 50-mpg fuel economy in a spacious, five-passenger sedan like this Touring edition Accord apparently likes visiting gas stations, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however there are other uses for your money. With a list price closer to conventional Accord pricing — $23,570 base Accord, $25,100 for base hybrid — Honda has purposefully closed the structural gap with this more sophisticated hybrid.
Moving the lithium-ion battery pack under the rear seat increases trunk space by 25 percent. Mating a torque-rich 181-hp 1.3-kWh electric motor to a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle gas engine creates 212 combined horsepower, enough energy to squeal the tires, pass easily and cruise effortlessly — claims not always evident in too many other hybrids. A one-speed direct drive transmission with paddle shifters (!?) helps regenerative braking, giving the Accord Hybrid instant power. Brake pedal feel is incredibly normal — a good thing with hybrids.
First tank, mostly highway miles, produced 42 mpg, well below the EPA ratings of 47 mpg — for city and highway driving. The next tank, with over 500 miles of range, generated 51 mpg while we stayed away from the super slab.
Fuel-conscious buyers have four Accord trim levels to pick from, topping out with our Touring edition (starting at $34,710, only $900 more than the “other” Touring sedan). Touring trim includes all the usual bells and whistles, plus cooled leather seating, navigation, front and rear parking sensors and a heads-up display. Honda also makes the plug-in hybrid Clarity for $33,400.
While buyers will find that the Accord Hybrid remains true to the chassis dynamics that make Accord owners happy, I couldn’t help but wish that the leather seats were more supportive for longer driving stints (very little power assist for the passenger seat — a real peeve for my navigator), that the car was quieter at highway speeds and that the swoopy, attractive body work included a rear liftgate instead of a tiny opening to the 17-cubic-foot trunk. The liftgate would make this car’s cargo area much more user-friendly.
The Accord is an industry stalwart. Accord buyers are loyal Honda fans. This Accord Hybrid is a winner. Is it an indicator of our driving future?