Mountain Wheels: Uphill travel creates issues for new Honda Accord Hybrid
2017 Honda Accord Hybrid EX-L
MSRP: $32,905; As tested, $33,740
Powertrain: 212-HP combination 2.0-liter four-cylinder/electric motor system; CVT transmission
EPA figures: 48 MPG combined; 49 city, 47 highway
There’s a reason you see so many slightly unusually-plated or disguised vehicles on Loveland Pass — and unlike other out-of-state-plated cars, I’d encourage you not to blindly flip them off or try to run them off the road for raising your rent, ruining your way of life and stealing your girlfriend (part of that very heated out-of-state vehicle/Hard Core Coloradoan battle underway nowadays on the state’s highways).
Rather, that steep and winding pass is used as part of the evaluation and testing process for a litany of car manufacturers, the altitude and the winter conditions being ideal to put a vehicle to the absolute most extreme conditions you’ll find on pavement in the Lower 48.
It’s a spot that I have some doubts Honda’s development team spent much time cruising as they put together the package for an otherwise well-rounded and astoundingly efficient 2017 version of the Accord Hybrid, featuring a two-electric-motor/2.0-liter four-cylinder system which creates a combined 212 horsepower.
That’s plenty for level cruising and a lower-altitude aptitude capable of providing 50 MPG in almost any circumstance. Unfortunately, the Accord is also equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that creates a tremendously unpleasant side-effect: The car can’t go up a steep slope without revving like you think the hood’s going to blow off.
This is especially pronounced as the Accord’s yet-updated hybrid system renders the automobile whisper quiet in so many circumstances, with the engine- and braking-recharged battery system even capable of full electric vehicle (EV) jaunts.
So when headed up a steep, long, steady stretch — and not even the brutal eastbound approach to the tunnel, but practically any really steep mountain road — that CVT starts revving, and revving and revving. Power stays consistent, and happily there’s no red-lining tachometer to watch slipping into the redline the whole way, as hybrids don’t like to focus on the engines they still need to get around, but it’s an unnerving experience, especially on a dry road on a summer day.
Does this rule out the Accord Hybrid as a mountain car? Not necessarily, though you’re going to experience some severe moments of doubt each time you have to leave the mountains and return, with noises like that in the cabin.
Cue my oft-repeated caveat: This is too bad, as the 2017 Accord is indeed a good-looking, comfortable and above all else super-efficient mid-size sedan. It also stretches into territory enjoyed by larger, longer cars such as the new Chevy Impala in that your rear passengers have comfortable room and full foot space, plus passenger-friendly doors and easy-to-access rooflines that allow easy boarding.
The car’s been given a whole raft of aesthetic and airflow modifications, the interior is as modern as they get. Much attention has been given to below-the-bumper air-cutting lips and dams, accentuated by five-lens LED running lights, with additional features such as fan blade-styled wheels and a tall trunk lid.
You can also enjoy a bewildering array of mostly imperceptible safety aids, the more intrusive being a road departure mitigation system that blinks warning lights and rather noticeably brakes and veers you in the opposite direction if you cross highway lines. I’m not a fan of those systems, as you’ve heard; this one’s quite efficient in deciding to do the driving for you, if you are not interested in doing so yourself.
If total efficiency is your mantra, and you can deal with the occasional uphill whining (maybe stick to the Dam Road during your in-county travels), the trade-off here is the impressive mileage, even more impressive as 2017 EPA standards have become more strict with the recent spree of manufacturer malfeasance, duplicity and general laziness.
That gives the Hybrid a combined rating of 48 MPG (49 city, 47 highway) and the reality that is pretty consistent 50-plus MPG journeys, with a 600-plus mile range on a tank of gas.
Inside, there’s a lot going on: Piano black surrounds, chrome highlights, wood-style trim and Honda’s infamous double screen system — if you don’t add navigation as an option (or sync the Apple CarPlay system to do so), you get two large displays basically giving you the same information, which can also be seen for a third time on the mid-instrument cluster.
Whoever also decided that the radio head unit did not need a volume knob (there’s a hard-to-use touch-control slider, or the volume buttons on the steering wheel) should have to drive with you each time you try to go back to Denver. He’ll get the idea soon enough.
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