Faced by the twin pressures of competition and escalating efficiency standards, automakers find themselves forever falling into the future.
That crossover you bought last week? A team of engineers, designers and product planners is already working on its replacement.
The current crop of gas-electric hybrids is a case in point. With gas prices at historic lows, buyers struggle to justify the technology’s extra costs. Meanwhile, automakers face a future in which hybrids will be merely the starting place.
Honda expects that by 2030, two-thirds of its vehicles will be electrified, a category that includes pure EVs, gas-electric hybrids and plug-in hybrids. And that lineup doesn’t include alternatives like compressed natural gas (CNG) and hydrogen fuel cells.
The company built its first all-electric production vehicle in 1997, its first CNG-powered car in ’98 and its first fuel-cell car in 2008. Before the end of 2016, it will release the latest iteration of its Clarity fuel-cell vehicle. Next year, the Clarity family grows to include a new EV and a plug-in EV.
For now, Honda’s clean-energy flagship is the 2017 Accord Hybrid, which returns to the market following a year-long sabbatical.
The ’17 Accord Hybrid (from $30,344, including destination) carries a refined version of Honda’s two-motor hybrid powertrain, which marries a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a pair of electric motors fed by a lithium-ion battery pack.
The system produces 212 horsepower, 16 more than the 2015 edition — and more than the competition — and delivers it to the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which only occasionally does that crazy CVT thing.
In the face of testing guidelines that have grown more rigorous, EPA-estimated mileage improves to 48 mpg combined/49 city/48 highway.
The hybrid is quick and silent off the line (0-60 comes up in a tick or two over 7 seconds), and can be driven on electricity alone for about a mile at just over 60 mph. Transitions between power sources are essentially transparent.
The trunk-mounted lithium-ion battery pack is smaller this year, boosting cargo capacity to a class-leading 13.5 cubic feet. However, the battery’s location precludes folding rear seatbacks or even a pass-through.
Honda markets the hybrid in three well-equipped trims. The base model runs about $3,000 more than a comparably equipped non-hybrid Accord EX. The mid-level EX-L trim ($33,740) adds leather upholstery and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the top-level Touring ($36,790) gets navigation; LED headlights, with automatic high-beams; heated rear seats; front and rear parking sensors; and a sunroof.
All hybrids get Honda Sensing, a suite of safety and driver-assist technologies, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automated emergency braking. LaneWatch, Honda’s brilliant right-side blind-spot camera, is standard.
The EX-L and Touring come equipped with Honda’s needlessly complex twin-touchscreen infotainment interface.
Malcolm X once famously said, “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.” He wasn’t talking cars but he nailed the automaker’s mission nonetheless. Honda clearly intends to be counted among the prepared.
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2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring
Vehicle base price: $26,905
Trim level base price: $35,995
As tested: $36,790
Options: The Accord Hybrid Touring is a fully equipped trim; our tester included no options.
EPA ratings: 48 combined/49 city/47 highway