Ah, the much-beloved hybrid sedan, the car that has so shaped the automotive landscape these last 10 years. What started out as an off-beat compact (think Honda Insight or Toyota Prius) has become an entire segment unto itself, with compacts, sedans like these, and SUVs and crossovers.
The mid-size sedan, however, really is the segment where a hybrid powertrain should work. Compacts like the Prius are great, but they have their limitations with regard to comfort and practicality. Crossovers can be expensive, and the jury is still way out whether or not hybrid tech can meet the towing/hauling/power needs of those who buy full-size crossovers and SUVs (think Nissan Pathfinder or Chevy Tahoe).
So, we come to these two mid-sizer sedans: the Honda Accord Hybrid Touring, and Toyota Camry Hybrid SE. This is the segment where hybrid tech is perhaps best applied, and considering the popularity of the segment, where it has to work.
As close as the race between these two wound up being, if there’s one clear-cut category winner in the looks department, it’s the Honda. The differences are as black and white as the colours of our two combatants.
Some folks I talked to found the blue tint ‘round the headlights and taillights off-putting, but I think it adds a nice level of flare and does well to differentiate Hybrid models (there are two: Accord Hybrid, and Accord Hybrid Touring, seen here) from other Accords.
Not to mention that the Accord is a good looking, well-proportioned car in its own right; I’m especially a fan of the LED DRLs and those two-tone low-drag 17-inch wheels, which are a Hybrid exclusive.
Credit where it’s due when it comes to the Camry: the current generation is a massive leap forward over the outgoing model, thanks to some smart tapering of the front end, a less paunchy rear end and nice detailing around the headlamps and foglights.
That’s kind of where it stops, though.
Too much here still looks awkward; the Accord could maybe do with some 18s, but the Camry’s 17s look tiny compared to the massive panels that surround them. And those rocker panels look like aftermarket add-ons, to me.
Inside, however, the Camry actually brings itself more in line with the Accord on the stylistic front, and above it on the functionality front.
For starters, while the seats are a little flatter than the Accord’s, there’s more room in the back and equal amounts up front; there’s a good reason why so many of these are taxi cabs—it’s cavernous in here.
Another feather in the Camry’s cap is the fact that it maintains a pass-through to the trunk, while in the Accord, a shallow trunk with some underfloor storage is all you get. It should come as no surprise, then, that the Camry has 370 litres of cargo room to the Accord’s 348, and that the Accord loses 91 litres to its non-hybrid counterpart, the Camry just 66.
Boy, does it look nice inside the Accord, though. The glitzy instrument cluster, dual-screen infotainment (top tier for your navi, bottom your radio, Bluetooth and climate) and lighting is, in general, very modern. The Camry, while not quite as bright, has a nice executive air to it, especially when you consider the nice leatherette dash topper with contrasting white stitching.
Interior accoutrements be darned; it’s in this department that these cars have to shine.
And shine they did: both are excellent examples of how easily a hybrid powertrain, when properly engineered, can be exploited by even novice-level drivers.
Both run Atkinson Cycle gas engines (2.0-litre for the Accord, 2.5 for the Camry) mated to EV motors powered by a bank of lithium-ion (Accord) and nickel-metal hydride (Camry) batteries. Power for each is about equal, with the Accord making 196 hp and the Camry 200.
Both feature two screens that let you know how the power is flowing, one nestled between the two main gauges in the instrument cluster, the other in the centre stack.
Of the two, the Accord was the easier to keep in full-EV mode, and we were allowed to cruise at higher speeds that way. The Camry was a little more strict, here, with a press of the “EV” button often resulting in a message scolding us for not allowing the EV system to ready itself for action before we went for it.
Strange thing is, even though the Accord’s on-board computer noted that we spent more time in EV mode over our 270-kilometer journey (with a mix of highway and city driving) than we did in the Camry, it was the latter that won the battle at the pump: we saw 6.0 L/100 km with the Accord, and a paltry 4.8—four point eight—L/100 km with the Camry.
Either way, the fact that we used no more than 20 litres of fuel in either car during that time is the real takeaway here; say you drive an average of 20,000 kilometers a year, you’re looking at about $1,250 a year for gas for the Camry and $1,560 with the Accord, assuming an average fuel cost of $1.30/litre.
Although the Camry makes more power, the Accord wins in the torque department, its 226 lb.-ft. beating the Camry’s 156. The Accord’s steering is a little weightier, the power comes on sooner and the transmission—both cars use continuously variable automatics—allows for more responsive bursts of speed.
Now, I’m not saying you should be taking either of these cars to the race track, but power, especially in hybrid models that are heavier but similarly powered to their non-hybrid counterparts, can be a sticking point. The big question is whether these cars can cope with high-speed highway work, and while they can, it’s the Accord that had me loosening my grip on the wheel during highway passing situations. The Camry feels a little wheezy, like it’s always working harder, to the point where I was more reluctant to attempt passes in it than I was in the Accord.
While both cars feature regenerative braking, neither suffers from that all-too-familiar stickiness you get with similar set-ups. You do have to prepare yourself for a slightly mushier pedal feel in each, but this tech has come a long way.
In the end, though, it’s the Accord that just pips the Camry on the dynamics front. That’s not a huge sticking point with efficiency-above-all sedans like these, but if you can have a little more fun with your hybrid, why not go for it?
The Accord was the better-equipped of our two testers, being that it was the Touring model. The Camry Hybrid, however, gets three trims to the Accord’s two, and if you look at the top XLE trim with all the options, the features inside are similar and it costs about $800 less than the Accord.
What you don’t get with the Camry, however, is less trunk space depending on which trim you choose; in the Accord, you lose 11 litres with the Touring thanks to its standard trunk-mounted subwoofer. When you’re already down on space and there’s no pass-through, that’s a real bummer.
However, the Camry—and every other car in the segment, for that matter—doesn’t get Honda’s smart LaneWatch system (standard on both trims) that turns the eight-inch console-mounted TFT display into a giant blind sport camera as soon as you flick the right indicator. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s a great system that does wonders both in town and on the highway. Oh, and the Camry’s main display gives an inch to that in the Accord, if that kind of thing matters to you.
You get more speakers in the Camry XLE, though: 10, compared to the Accord’s seven.
The Accord also wins in the driver aids department; you get forward collision warning and lane departure warning systems in the Accord Touring, two features that you won’t get with your Camry no matter the trim.
If the styling section was as easy to call as a behind-the-plate foul ball, than the value section was tougher than a checked swing.
In the tech department, the Accord presents its value by having more features in both the top and entry levels, but its pricing is undercut a little by the Camry.
The Camry is also the larger of the two cars, and when fuel economy is paramount, the fact that it did better in that department is worth some points.
As much as many may miss the driving aids the Camry doesn’t have, I have to give it the win in this department, but only by a hair from Ron Burgundy’s moustache.
As much as these two cars are peas of the same pod, they provide two compellingly different options in the mid-size hybrid sedan segment, and almost surprisingly so.
You get the sporty near-rambunctiousness of the Accord, and the steadfast, surefooted confidence of one of the vets in this game with the Toyota Camry.
Not too long ago, the Camry would win easily, but that’s mostly because it didn’t really have that much competition. Now that the Accord’s here, with its brash styling, space-aged interior and driving dynamics that are decidedly un-hybrid, well, the Camry finds itself where it hasn’t previously: in the ring with some very tough competition.
The Accord has the dynamics, the style and just a little panache, and though it lost out ever-so-slightly in the size and efficiency departments during our test, those dynamics and the available tech are enough win this battle.
Sure, the economy thing may seem to make this the obvious choice, but consider this: in order to fully recoup the cost (in fuel savings) of opting for the hybrid version of either car over their standard counterparts, you‘re going to need to drive the cars for a long while. The question then becomes: which car will be more rewarding over the long haul? Considering the tech on-hand and the manners it displays, the answer is obvious: it’s the Accord.