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2017 Honda Accord Hybrid gets a host of updates, 48 mpg

Among 2017 hybrid sedans, the Accord Hybrid remains at the top, with higher fuel efficiency than the hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and Toyota Camry.

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    The Honda logo on the grill of a 2016 Accord 4D LX on display at the Pittsburgh International Auto Show in Pittsburgh.
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The Honda Accord Hybrid was an impressive car when it launched as a 2014 model, but supply constraints frustrated buyers, and the hybrid mid-size sedan actually skipped the 2016 model year.

For 2017, it's back in the lineup, with a slightly improved hybrid system and a host of updates made to the Accord lineup last year.

The hybrid 2017 Accord is EPA-rated at 49 mpg city, 47 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 48 mpg.

As Honda points out, revisions to the EPA's 2017 ratings calculations mean that if the latest Accord Hybrid had been rated the same way as the 2014 model, it would have hit 49 mpg combined and the magic 50-mpg mark for the city cycle.

Among 2017 hybrid sedans, however, the Accord Hybrid remains at the top, with higher fuel efficiency than the hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, and Toyota Camry.

The Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, however, the highest-rated car for 2016, hasn't yet received its 2017 ratings, so it's unclear how it will compare to the 2017 Accord Hybrid.

We drove Accord Hybrids for much of a day through the rolling hills of California's Napa Valley last week, and rediscovered the model's virtues after a two-year hiatus from driving one.

Green Car Reports named the Honda Accord Hybrid its 2014 Best Car To Buy, and we still think it's among the best of the hybrid mid-size sedans.

It's less clearly at the top of the list, though, given how good the Malibu Hybrid is. Despite cheap gas and the rush to SUVs among buyers, it promises to be an interesting sales contest between the two vehicles.

Honda has moved production of the Accord Hybrid to Japan, where all its hybrids are now manufactured.

The carmaker says it can now sell up to 30,000 of the model each year in the U.S. if there's buyer demand, a vast improvement on the 14,000 sales logged for the previous model in its best sales year (2014).

It has made numerous incremental changes to boost the efficiency, power, and electric running capabilities of its second-generation two-motor hybrid system.

Those include a new and more energy-dense lithium-ion battery cell, a motor with denser electric windings that is 23 percent smaller and lighter but increases its power output by 14 percent, and a new exhaust-heat recovery heating system.

Ratings for the 2017 Accord Hybrid powertrain are a combined 212 horsepower between the 2.0-liter Atkinson Cycle 4-cylinder engine and the electric drive motor, which itself is rated at a maximum output of 135 kilowatts (181 hp).

The 2017 Accord Hybrid itself has improvements to its sound insulation and body structures, to reduce noise in conjunction with active sound control to cut engine noise still further.

Other changes applied to last year's conventional Accords include suspension, braking, and steering improvements, the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the optional suite of Honda Sensing electronic active-safety systems.

On the road, the 2017 Accord Hybrid remains a solid, reasonably agile, and mostly quietmid-size sedan with remarkable fuel economy ratings.

Over a couple of short drive legs, we saw trip-computer ratings of 48.5 mpg through some twisty mountain passes—presumably with engine-off operation on many of the downhill stretches—and 40.5 mpg when running back to base on fast-moving San Francisco Bay Area freeways.

While our 2014 Accord Hybrid test car returned mileage in the mid-40s, not all of our colleagues got the same result, so we're eager to test the latest model along our usual drive route. We'll report back in more depth.

Three years can be a long time in the car world, and the 2017 Accord Hybrid is in its midlife as a design, facing new competitors than it did in 2014.

Chevy's hybrid Malibu didn't exist then, and the hybrid models of the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima were previous-generation versions. Only the Camry Hybrid, now somewhat outclassed, remains the same.

With those new competitors, the Accord Hybrid remains a good car and a very smart choice for mid-size sedan buyers who want the highest possible gas mileage.

It's just not quite as good, comparatively, as it was three years ago.

The engine noise is well muffled under normal operation, but it rises to a quite noticeable whining howl when the accelerator is floored under maximum load. As with many modern cars, the sound deadening is so good under light loads that the full-tilt noise is much louder by contrast.

The handling of the Accord Hybrid falls into the middle of the hybrid sedan pack. We still prefer the Ford Fusion Hybrid, but the hybrid Accord is better than the Hyundai and Kia and notably better than the aging Toyota Camry.

The hybrid Accord for 2017 has a bit more trunk space than its 2014 predecessor: 13.5 cubic feet versus the previous 12.7 cubic feet, due to a battery pack that's 13 percent lighter and 33 percent smaller in volume.

The rear seat still doesn't fold down, but we did confirm that the trunk is large enough to hold a full-size adult human with the lid closed. Don't ask.

Overall, we liked the Accord Hybrid for the same reasons that we did in 2014. It combines the well-known virtues of the current Accord sedan with a clever two-motor hybrid system that gives longer and stronger electric performance than most of its competitors, and the fuel-economy ratings to boot. 

We think it deserves to sell well, and finally Honda should be able to provide an Accord Hybrid to every buyer who wants one.

The 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid went on sale in all 50 states on June 15. Prices start at just above $30,000 (including a mandatory delivery fee) for the base Accord Hybrid trim level.

The Accord Hybrid EX-L adds $3,300 to that, giving buyers a bundle of luxury features including leather seats, a moonroof, heated seats, a new display audio system, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The top-of-the-line Accord Hybrid Touring, for a further $3,050 price boost, adds a heated rear seat, automatic wipers, a navigation system, LED headlights, and parking sensors.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best auto bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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