Southern California might be known for its sunshine and warmth, but it gets rain and, in the mountains, snow. It wasn’t enough to deter the redesigned 2023 Honda Accord Hybrid from climbing more than 5,000 feet to Palomar Mountain, from the hallmark coastal sunshine to unusual bluebird snow.
The curving ascent showed off the impressive handling of the 11th-generation Accord. Honda ditched the available adaptive dampers that were the secret sauce for an ideal ride-and-handling balance in outgoing top Touring trims, while it made the body of the new version stiffer with brace bars, stiffer brackets, and thicker plates.
Honda badges the four hybrid trims with Sport names to distinguish it from base LX and EX trims powered by a 1.5-liter turbo-4. At least in handling, it’s worthy of the badge.
Whatever the engine, the Accord felt stable and planted, aided by new damper mounts and a wider track of 0.4 inches. A new brake-based torque vectoring system, dubbed Motion Management by Honda, helped too. Based on back-to-back drives with its hybrid predecessor, it steered more directly though the wheel felt lighter; Honda said there’s reduced friction in the steering column.
It made for a much more spirited climb than anticipated, though the Accord Hybrid still lacked power winding out of those esses.
Much like hiking with bad knees, it was easier to climb in a front-wheel-drive sedan than to descend, with the weight pitched forward. The new Accord Hybrid weighs anywhere from 3,468 pounds in base Sport to 3,532 pounds in the top Touring model I tested, representing a marginal weight increase of about 140 pounds and 90 pounds, respectively. It’s 2.7 inches longer and comes better equipped with more powerful engines so the weight gain is muscle, not fat.
Still, ice patches lurked in curves where the sun had yet to break through Ponderosa pines and other fir trees. Other parts of the road steamed with the melt. This was where the Accord Hybrid’s revised regenerative braking system became an unintended but welcome helper.
Honda introduced six regen brake settings accessible through paddle shifters that are much more significant than the four regen settings in the outgoing model. The sixth setting uses both the motors and friction braking to bring the Accord Hybrid to a near stop, like many battery electric vehicles, but not a complete stop for true one-pedal driving. The last 10 feet require a brake, as if it were a gas car in gear.
The different settings helped me get down the hill without taxing the brake pads, but also to control speeds that would’ve had me downshifting into the low gear of a gas car.
Those regen settings help with efficiency even more so. In Econ mode or Sport mode, the 2023 Accord Hybrid averaged more than 53 mpg in similar routes of about 14 miles each with a posted speed limit of 55 mph. Even with variances in stops, modes, and regen settings, it consistently outperformed EPA ratings of 46 mpg city, 41 highway, 44 combined for Sport, Sport-L, and Touring trims.
Those models ride on 19-inch black wheels and tires, whereas the EX-L wears 17-inch wheels. It tops the Accord’s efficiency rating at 51/44/48 mpg. In any trim, it’s 1 mpg more efficient than the outgoing Accord Hybrid. It still trails the 52-mpg combined rating of the Toyota Camry and Hyundai Sonata hybrids, though.
A new Individual mode customizes the default Normal mode to change the powertrain and steering from Econ, Normal, and Sport, but it can only be done through the touchscreen in Park. The changes didn’t amount to much in my limited testing. The coolest part of Individual mode was to change the throttle and braking feel on adaptive cruise control, so you can set it to hustle or increase speed more gradually when the lead car gets out of the way.
One other neat feature about the regen brake system is that when the regen hits the 0.3 g threshold that flashes the brake lights, brake lights appear on the little car in the instrument cluster.
Sport mode adjusts throttle and steering responses to be more sensitive, and Honda programmed the engine’s behavior to approximate gear shifts. They’re blips on the power needle, while Honda pipes in engine noise and simulated shifts through the speaker system. It might be counterintuitive for a system prioritizing efficiency, but it gives the Accord a dualistic nature where it’s muted in Econ mode. You can have your cake and eat it too, just don’t expect it to come quick.
Even with updates to the dual-motor hybrid system and the 2.0-liter inline-4 running on a lean Atkinson cycle, it takes a beat for the power to come on, from a stop and at speed.
The new hybrid powertrain has a more compact layout with two motors mounted beside each other and a larger propulsion motor than before. New cylinder heads and a direct injection system, as well as other changes to the engine, result in fewer rare metals used in its construction, Terumasa Kotada, chief engineer of the Accord, told Green Car Reports. No cargo or passenger space is sacrificed between Accord Hybrids and Accords with the 1.5-liter turbo-4.
Behind the wheel, the changes add up to a modest boost of 204 hp from 202 hp in the outgoing model, and 247 lb-ft of torque from 232 lb-ft.
The Honda Accord Hybrid is effectively an electric car most of the time, with the power to run it coming mostly from the engine, plus the modest battery pack. Changes to the battery management system let it run in EV mode longer than its predecessor, and Kotada said the control system places more priority on the battery. It feels like it, with less noise and the engine kicking on less frequently to generate power.
Perhaps most importantly— for the brand and fellow earthlings—is that the company sees the Honda CR-V Hybrid and forthcoming 2024 Honda Civic Hybrid making up at least 50% of sales for each model as tougher fleet fuel economy standards take hold. It doesn’t help that Honda lacks a battery-electric vehicle until the 2024 Honda Prologue launches sometime in 2024.
The essence of the 2023 Honda Accord Hybrid is refinement. It’s cleaner, smoother, and quieter, and Honda has pared back luxury-leaning elements like fake wood trim and the button gear shifter in the console. It’s a hybrid for the masses, priced between $33,000 for the Sport and $39,000 for the Touring, yet it doesn’t skimp on modern tech.
Every hybrid has a 12.3-inch touchscreen with wireless smartphone compatibility and available wireless charging, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The infotainment display relies on more orderly tiles, and the buttons aren’t wedged into the corners so the user experience is simpler, neater, better. The Touring uses Google built-in for navigation, voice, and other connected car services. The most efficient EX-L grade costs $34,635 and comes with heated front seats, but a heated steering wheel won’t be found anywhere on the options list.
Every 2023 Accord comes with new front seats with more support and better cushions, and the standard driver-assist package includes features that are usually an extra charge from luxury makes. It includes automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitors, active lane control, adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, and automatic high beam headlights.
Honda made a good car better with the 2023 Accord Hybrid, and it’s a good value. It might be a stopgap as Honda climbs the ramp to its electric car portfolio, but for now, and the next few years, it’ll satisfy the multitudes of people choosing HEVs over BEVs.
Honda paid for airfare and lodging for GCR to present this firsthand review.
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