When hybrid cars first appeared almost 20 years ago, their main draw was that they used much less gas than other cars. They were slow, but you saved money. Which made going slow worth it.
Then gas got cheap, and electric cars got fast — without using any gas.
Which made spending extra for a slow hybrid a harder sell.
The latest hybrids offer a new argument: more performance — and better gas mileage — without the practical problems of speedy but range-and-recharge-restricted electric cars.
One of them — the new Honda Accord hybrid — offers something else as well.
What It Is
The 2020 Accord hybrid is the most powerful — and lowest-priced — midsize hybrid sedan on the market.
You can pick one up for $25,620 to start — which is only $1,600 more than the base price of the nonhybrid Accord ($24,020).
It also has a much lower sticker price than its main rival, the hybrid version of the Toyota Camry sedan, which lists for $28,430 to start.
One problem that all hybrids — and electric cars — still have is silent running. It can be a problem for pedestrians in the vicinity of a moving and silent-running hybrid or electric car who aren't looking — and don't hear it coming.
To avoid this, Honda has added an exterior chime system to alert pedestrians to the Accord hybrid's presence when it's operating in electric vehicle mode.
It makes economic sense.
It makes practical sense.
It makes emotional sense.
What's Not So Good
The standard stereo in base trim has just four speakers — and you can't buy a better one a la carte.
Under the Hood
All trims come standard with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired up with a lithium-ion battery pack and two electric motors, the combo generating 212 horsepower and 232 foot-pounds of torque.
A continuously variable automatic transmission is standard.
The nonhybrid Accord comes with a much-smaller 1.5-liter engine and no electric motors or batteries — and makes 192 horsepower.
It also uses much more gas — especially in low-speed city driving, where the hybrid has an 18-mpg advantage: 48 mpg versus 30 mpg.
And on the highway, the hybrid still manages an exceptional 47 mpg — 10 mpg better than the nonhybrid's 38-mpg highway rating.
If you do a lot of stop-and-go driving, the hybrid's much lower fuel consumption could earn back the $1,600 extra you spent on the hybrid in just a couple of years, and after that, the savings could be significant.
Especially if the price of gas goes up.
On the Road
The hybrid Accord is not just quick; it doesn't stop. At least, it doesn't stop as often — or for as long — as an electric car.
A Tesla 3 goes about 250 miles before it needs to be recharged — which takes at least 30-45 minutes, assuming you have access to a "fast" charger. Otherwise, the wait will be even longer.
This is the main practical problem with electric cars.
It's no problem with a hybrid car.
The Accord hybrid isn't tethered to a plug because it carries its own source of electricity. The gas engine provides generating as well as motive power. You only have to stop when you run low on gas — which happens infrequently because of the Accord hybrid's ability to travel 600-plus miles in between fill-ups, whether you're driving around the city or on the highway.
The longest-range electric cars can only travel half as far and make you wait five times as long (at least) to recharge.
At the Curb
The Accord hybrid is not a dedicated hybrid like the Prius, which isn't offered in nonhybrid configuration. Honda adapted a hybrid drivetrain to the Accord, which was designed as a conventional car.
The result is a car that is a hybrid but doesn't look like one — unlike the Prius, which everyone knows is a hybrid. Not everyone wants to wear their green on their sleeves.
The Prius is also a hatchback — and smaller — than the Accord hybrid.
The Accord hybrid has a surprisingly roomy 16.7-cubic foot trunk that's noticeably larger than the Camry hybrid's 15.1-cubic foot trunk.
Another thing the Accord hybrid has over the Camry hybrid is a noticeably roomier back seat: 40.4 inches of legroom versus 38 inches in the Toyota.
One other noticeable thing is the base trim's absence of any options — and its mediocre four-speaker stereo. Eight- and 10-speaker stereos come standard in higher trims, but these also come with a much higher sticker price.
The next-up EX starts at $27,920 — which is a lot to pay to get four more speakers.
It'd be nice if Honda let buyers upgrade just the stereo — for less than $2,300 (the price difference between the base $25,620 trim and the $27,920 EX).
The Bottom Line
With the exception of the stereo upsell, the Accord hybrid sells itself. It's a deal compared with its hybrid rivals — and it's less hassle than its purely electric rivals.
Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.