2021 Honda Accord First Look: Improved Value, But One Big Loss

There are two plot arcs in the 2021 Honda Accord story. Which one you follow depends on whether you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of buyers who snatch up new Accords year in and year out, or if you’re among the extreme minority who purchase the midsize sedan because of its available manual transmission. To the bigger group, the headline changes to Honda’s Accord for 2021 are its minor restyle and richer standard equipment across the lineup. That’s pretty standard mid-cycle refresh stuff.

To the smaller group that enjoys shifting Honda’s sweet-driving sedan for themselves, bad news. Just as Honda had warned, the Accord’s six-speed manual transmission option is gone. The automaker even wrote what read as an apology to the shrinking number of driving enthusiasts who bought manual-transmission Accords in just enough numbers over the years to keep the stick option alive. If you’re among them, take a moment. In the meantime, for everyone else, let’s turn our focus to how the sedan gets better for 2021—just in time to take on its nemesis, the recently refreshed 2021 Toyota Camry.

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Look Closely, the Accord Has a New Look

The changes Honda made to the Accord’s styling are tough to spot: the grille is wider, the fog lights are smaller, and higher-end models wear new LED headlights. The radar sensor for the Accord’s standard adaptive cruise control and automated emergency braking functions is hidden in the grille better, too. Taken overall, however, the Accord’s face looks pretty much the same as before.

We barely notice any changes to the car’s rear, aside from what looks like some new trim along the up-kicked body crease that runs from under the front and rear doors and wraps around the rear bumper. Honda also tweaked the lower rear valance, near the exhaust outlets. Most impactful among the 2021 Accord’s visual changes are new wheel designs for every trim, ranging from the 17-inch units on the base Accord LX to the 19s on Sport and Touring models.

A Better Base Accord

Since it was last fully redesigned for 2018, the Accord’s entry-level LX trim has been a hair’s width away from a total smoking value. For around $25,000, buyers could look forward to the Accord’s excellent ride and handling, handsome interior, standard Honda Sensing suite of active safety features (it includes the likes of adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and automatic emergency braking), LED headlights, and even automatic climate control. What more could you want? Well, if you own a smartphone . . . perhaps Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration? Those features were previously limited to the next-level-up Sport trim and beyond—but no more. For 2021, the Accord lineup from top to bottom, including the LX, features an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility—a unit that was previously reserved for fancier Accord models.

The 2021 Accord LX now starts at $25,725 and also gains a rear-seat reminder (to nudge you to check the back seat for a child before leaving the car), a rear-seat seatbelt reminder, and improved adaptive cruise control and lane-keep programming for smoother operation. As before, it rides on 17-inch wheels and comes standard with a 192-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission. That same powertrain also is found in the Accord Sport, EX-L (the non-hybrid EX trim is gone for 2021), and the new-for-2021 Sport SE trim that essentially replaces the EX and lives between the Sport and EX-L.

Sitting a step above the Sport without forcing buyers into the much pricier Sport 2.0T, which shares its more powerful 252-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (and 10-speed automatic) with the range-topping Accord Touring, the Sport SE is a welcome addition. The SE wears the same aggressive styling kit as the Sport, including its 19-inch wheels, wider tires, LED fog lights, full-LED headlights (the LX has LED low-beams only), chrome exhaust tips, paddle shifters, and 180-watt eight-speaker audio system, but adds remote engine starting, leather seating, heated front seats, and a four-way power front-passenger seat.

Honda still reserves some must-haves for nicer Accords. For example, to get blind-spot monitoring one must opt for the EX-L, Sport 2.0T, or Touring. Ditto wireless Apple CarPlay functionality (lesser Accords require your iPhone to be plugged in), a wireless phone charger, a 450-watt audio system, and a moonroof. On the gas-fed side of things, Accord Sports, EX-Ls, and Touring models gain dual 2.5-volt USB ports for the rear seats, as do the Accord Hybrid EX, EX-L, and Touring trims. Every Accord sees its front-seat USB ports move from a cubby ahead of the shifter, under the dashboard, to the center console for easier access.

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The Hybrid Remains, With More Natural-Feeling Acceleration

For 2021, the Honda Accord Hybrid receives tuning changes to its gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain that are said to more closely tie the engine revs to the sense of acceleration—a bugaboo on the current model partially by design. You see, in the Accord Hybrid, the gas-fed 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine acts primarily as a motivator for an electric motor/generator, which in turn feeds electricity to the primary electric drive motor; a novel single-speed transmission can feed engine power directly to the wheels at higher speeds. This means that in typical driving, particularly around town, the engine’s revs are often out of sync with the vehicle’s speed and acceleration. Press the throttle pedal down, and the engine might rev higher than you’d expect and then stay at a set level for a time, even as the vehicle’s speed increases. If Honda did find a way to lessen that effect, it’d be welcome.

The Accord Hybrid once again makes a peak 212 hp from its two electric motors and gas engine, along with a substantial 232 lb-ft of torque. EPA-estimated fuel economy looks to stay the same: 48 mpg in the city, 47 mpg on the highway, and 48 mpg combined. As before, the Hybrid is offered in base, EX, EX-L, and Touring trim levels.

2021 Honda Accord Pricing

  • Accord LX: $25,725
  • Accord Hybrid: $27,325
  • Accord Sport: $28,185
  • Accord Sport SE: $29,675
  • Accord EX Hybrid: $31,275
  • Accord EX-L: $32,865
  • Accord Sport 2.0T: $32,865
  • Accord EX-L Hybrid: $33,645
  • Accord Touring Hybrid:  $37,195
  • Accord Touring: $37,655

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