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The Best of 2021 Honda

What Does the Honda Lineup for 2021 Look Like so Far?

Honda Civic Type R front and rear

The seventh largest car brand in the world and the fifth largest automaker in the U.S. has gone a long way since its humble beginnings. Once upon a time, they only offered inexpensive motorcycles and they’re still the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world in both production volume and revenue, and they also stand out as the largest internal combustion engine manufacturer which is natural considering the sheer number of two and four-wheeled applications they’ve been putting on the market all these years. The 2021 Honda lineup is sure to further company’s proud tradition but with constant mergers in the automotive world, it’s hard to predict which position the brand will find itself in, even a year from now.

Honda’s global sales in 2019 grew by around 2.3 percent compared to previous year. In total, the Japanese have delivered more than 5.3 million vehicles in 2019 and around 5.2 million units in 2018. This is their best result to date and double the amount they’ve been producing at the turn of the millennium, only 15 to 20 years ago. The most important single markets for the brand are the Chinese market with 29 percent of total production being engulfed by it, and the U.S. market where 27 percent of Honda’s cars ultimately went.

Honda is also the only of top five car manufacturers in the U.S. to exhibit a growth in 2019 when compared to previous year. Although this increase amounts to meager 0.3 percent, that’s still a better result than losses experienced by the GM, Ford, Toyota, and FCA. The Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance (since Renault hasn’t been present on the U.S. market for decades now) recorded a 9 percent downturn, effectively allowing Honda to overtake them at fifth spot for 2019.

While most manufacturers are placing large bets on electrified future, Honda is taking a more subdued approach. Not necessarily an opponent of the EV revolution, the Japanese believe people want fuel efficiency first and foremost, and not necessarily one coming from zero emissions cars. Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo confirmed these views in an interview with Automotive News Europe.

“I believe hybrid vehicles will play a critical role,” he said. The objective is not electrification, per se, but improving fuel efficiency. And we believe hybrid vehicles are the way to abide by different environmental regulations.”

Honda aims to reach an electrification renaissance by having two-thirds of its sales volume electrified in one way or another by 2030 but all-electric vehicles are obviously still not a priority for the brand. When asked about the role EV’s would have in this, Mr. Hachiro had the following to say:

“Are there really customers who truly want them? I’m not so sure because there are lots of issues regarding infrastructure and hardware. I do not believe there will be a dramatic increase in demand for battery vehicles, and I believe this situation is true globally.”

It’s obvious that Honda isn’t ready to bet all-in on electric vehicles as that would be a move too radical to justify at this point. Let’s now finally turn our attention to the Honda range for 2021 and what to pay attention when it comes to it.

2021 Civic Type R

After refreshing the Civic sedan and coupe for MY 2019, and Civic hatchback for MY 2020, Honda has immediately turned its attention to the hot hatch. Arriving slightly later than its conventional siblings, the refreshed performance-oriented Civic Type R sports a similar level if upgrades. Although most people called for a performance boost, changes are mostly cosmetic. However, new two-piece front disc brakes and a retuned front suspension should be enough to provide a different driving experience than the one we had in outgoing models.

The redesigned Civic Type R retains its polarizing styling with plenty of things going around, but receives a gaping new grille opening for improved engine cooling. As of 2020, prospective new buyers have also been given an opportunity to order their Type R in the new Boost Blue paint scheme which blends great with hot hatch’s red badging and trim.

Interior revisions are equally subtle, and mostly focus on infotainment and new shifter with shorter throws. A 7-inch touchscreen display now gets accompanying volume knob and other physical buttons which are more than a welcome addition. It retains the red theme which changes face for every single of three different available driving modes (Comfort, Sport, and +R). There’s also synthetic engine noise for each of them but I can already sense this’ll be the black sheep of the family of new upgrades.

The Honda Sensing bundle of advanced driving aids has also been made standard although that’s more of an annoyance in a dedicated performance car such as the Type R Civic. It includes a forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, a lane-departure alert and lane-keeping assist, and an adaptive cruise control.

As mentioned above, the biggest disappointment has to be the fact there’s nothing new in Type R’s powertrain department. The same 2.0L turbocharged inline-four with 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of twist still motivates the hottest Civic but that doesn’t necessarily have to be bad. After all, with both the Ford Focus RS and VW Golf R (scheduled for a return sometime in 2021) gone from the market, the Civic Type R is now the undisputed king of hot hatches in the U.S. And it still goes like hell. Its short-throw proper 6-speed manual transmission allows it to gallop to 60 mph from a standstill in around 5 seconds which is great for a vehicle with family car’s reputation.

The newly redesigned Honda Civic Type R might be resting on its laurels which Honda can’t be blamed for given the current situation with competition. However, it’s still one blistering hot hatchback that’s got plenty to offer at a price point between $35,000 and $40,000. That’s excluding the ludicrously high dealership markups which should at least be reduced now that the new model has finally arrived, and that supply and demand chain has been sorted out.

2021 CR-V Hybrid

In line with Mr. Hachiro’s comments about the electrified future in auto industry, Honda has decided to release another new hybrid instead of a fully-fledged EV. The second best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for 2019 (not counting the big trio of full-size pickup trucks) with 384,168 units delivered is thus getting ready to seriously tackle the Toyota RAV4 which sits on top with 448,071 units sold. Of course, the RAV4 has been available in hybrid form all this time and that’s probably the biggest factor in such a wide sales gap between the two most popular models.

The all-new 2021 Honda CR-V hybrid actually arrives in early 2020 as an in-betweener (neither truly a 2020 nor 2021 model). The first-ever CR-V hybrid coincides with a mid-cycle revamp of fifth-gen models introduced for MY 2020. Needless to say, the hybrid too benefits from them. Aside from new wheels, and slightly revised frontal and rear fascias, and side skirts, the hybrid differs from the rest of the conventional range by adopting a hidden exhaust setup, foglights, and badging.

Inside, the refreshed Honda CR-V gets a new digital gauge cluster and a more spacious center console. Also, the Honda Sensing system is from now on standard from the get-go. It includes the most common advanced driver assistance features like automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and lane-keeping assist.

While the conventional lineup carries along without the discontinued 2.4L 4-cylinder engine and with a 1.5L turbo four now standard, the Honda CR-V hybrid utilizes an Atkinson-cycle 2.0L naturally aspirated inline-four similar to that in the Accord hybrid. It combines with dual electric motors for a combined output of 212 horsepower. Although the EPA still hasn’t gotten a hold on one and Honda itself hasn’t released its official fuel economy ratings, the Japanese did state it improves upon conventional models’ ratings by some 50 percent. This puts the hybrid CR-V’s final figure in a region between 40 and 45 mpg combined which is more than its main rival RAV4 can boast, being rated at 40 mpg flat.

The Honda CR-V hybrid is one of the most practical compact crossovers ever assembled as it takes all the conventional model’s traits like abundance of cargo space and plethora of standard gear, and improves upon them by throwing in the best in-class fuel economy as well. What else could you possibly want from a crossover that starts from around $27,000?! What’s more, now that its lineup is finally complete, the CR-V is expected to have become the best-selling non-truck vehicle in the U.S. by the time 2021 has said its part.

2021 Pilot

The mid-size crossover with three rows of seats is one of favorite family options on the market with 135,008 deliveries throughout 2019. This is actually a considerable drop compared to 2018 when company had marketed 159,615 units in spite of the fact they’ve also facelifted the Pilot during the same period. With no meaningful changes in 2020 and similar approach expected to be taken in 2021, the Pilot is in jeopardy of losing quite a chunk of market share Honda’s worked so hard to achieve. However, with the next-gen models likely to arrive in 2022, the mid-size shouldn’t have any issues bouncing back straightaway – if a need for bouncing back should arise, that is.

A somewhat boxy shape diverges from a modern perception of crossovers but in a good way as the Pilot is actually a handsome SUV with plenty of strong points. Although design hasn’t been updated for 2020 and 2021, the  Pilot does offer the new Black Edition package already available on the Ridgeline pickup, which provides a blacked-out theme outside.

Inside, the Black Edition adds contrasting red stitching. The rest of the Pilot range makes do with what it’s got and it offers a lot bang for your buck indeed – from trivialities like no less than 16 cupholders spread across all three rows to advanced driver assist features like adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist; all of which are standard. Although most models feature an 8-inch touchscreen display, base LX models still cling to an outdated 5-inch unit – an issue that’ll likely be rectified by 2021.

Power comes from a single 3.5L V6 engine which cranks up 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. Although the range-topping Elite, Touring, and Black Edition trims come with a standard 9-speed automatic transmission, the base LX, EX, and EX-L models still cling to an outdated 6-speed auto. This too is expected to be rectified come MY 2021’s time. The Elite and Black Edition also add mandatory all-wheel drive which is optional across the rest of the range.

The Honda Pilot is close to being the best in its class although a few shortcomings deter it from actually being one. The mentioned outdated 6-speed automatic is one of them, and lack of space in third row can be characterized as another. Prices start from a little over $31,000 and go all the way to just shy of the $50,000 mark.

2021 Accord

One of the best-selling and best in-class all-around mid-size sedans money can buy is available in both the conventional and hybrid forms. The long-lasting sedan’s sales have dropped from recent peak’s 388,374 units in 2014 to 267,567 units in 2019 and this negative trend isn’t showing any signs of stopping. That, however, is to be expected considering how sedans have been losing battles against sedans all across the board.

From design’s standpoint, nothing has changed for the Accord for the past three years and we expect the mid-size sedan will undergo a mid-term facelift for MY 2021. That’s always been the case in what was once the most competitive segment in the U.S. The changes, however, will likely be subtle and keep with the conventional script. In other words, expect slightly revised front and rear fascias, but not much beyond that.

Inside, the Accord offers something for everyone depending on price range, but overall, provides a well-appointed interior with plenty of features to go around. Prices which range from just under $25,000 (hybrids start from $26,500) to $37,000 confirm that. Sadly, Apple CarPlay and Android auto integration are only reserved for the larger 8-inch touchscreen display, whereas the entry-level 7-inch one makes do without them. This is another one of Accord’s issues we expect to be rectified for MY 2021.

The conventional Accord models offer a choice between a standard 1.5L turbocharged inline-four engine with 192 horsepower and a larger optional 2.0L turbo four which develops 252 ponies. The former pairs with either a 6-speed manual or a CVT gearbox, whereas the latter comes with a contemporary 10-speed automatic transmission.

The Honda Accord hybrid, on the other hand, pairs a 2.0L 4-cylinder running on lean Atkinson cycle with a duo of electric motors and a 1.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack for a combined output of 212 horses. It also returns up to 48 miles to the gallon combined which is impressive for a vehicle of its class.

The Accord might have not been the hottest of Honda’s in recent years, let alone will it be one of the most popular 2021 Honda models which is certainly a newfound situation for it. Still, the versatile mid-size sedan is a fine choice for every prospective new vehicle buyer – especially to those willing to buy within its segment.

2021 Clarity

Available as a plug-in hybrid, all-electric vehicle, or fuel-cell vehicle, the Clarity represents one of the most dedicated and complete alternative fuel vehicles on offer in the U.S. One of the “greenest” cars around isn’t available in all of its guises across all 50 states, however. The fuel-cell model is only available in 12 select California dealerships where the hydrogen station infrastructure is most widespread. The EV is only available for a three-year lease (much like fuel-cell) in California and Oregon, while the most common PHEV is technically exclusive to California-based dealerships, but Honda will deliver it to all 50 states by order.

From design’s standpoint, the Clarity exhibits very little differences across the range. What’s more, precious few updates have and will be conducted in the future due to low demand for what’s a competent and affordable car; at least for its class. The Honda Clarity basically carries over into 2021 without any changes after receiving a new Ultrasuede interior trim and an updated Acoustic Vehicle Alert System which alerts pedestrians and cyclists to Clarity’s approach due to its zero-noise levels.

The original Honda Clarity fuel-cell vehicle is powered by an electric motor rated at 174 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque that’s fed by a 103-kW fuel-cell stack and a small 1.7-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. This is good enough for a commendable 360 miles of range, but due to obvious infrastructure shortcomings, the Clarity fuel-cell is a viable option only if there’s a hydrogen-refueling station near you. Even with upgraded winter performance. With infrastructure issues, rapidly dropping prices of EV’s, and Trump denying the federal EV tax credit extension (applicable to fuel-cells), there’s precious few arguments in favor of Clarity, and its competitors Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo.

The Honda Clarity EV, on the other hand, uses a 161-horsepower electric motor and a smallish 25.5-kWh battery pack which provides only 90 miles of range. Needless to say, this makes it a very poor choice nowadays, whereas it might have been a viable option a few years back.

The Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid is the best of the bunch as it provides up to 47 miles of all-electric range alongside 42 mpg combined. It’s also eligible for full a $7,500 federal tax credit (while it still lasts) plus another $1,000 in state rebate in California. The PHEV combines a 1.5L 4-cylinder engine running on Atkinson cycle with dual electric motors and a 17-kWh battery pack for a combined 181 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque.

2021 Ridgeline

The compact Ridgeline was never one of the better-selling pickup truck in the U.S., but with 33,334 units delivered in 2019, it’s close to its record year of this decade in that regard. No significant changes are planned for 2021 and precious few have been conducted in 2020 as well. The base RT or the RTL-T trims have been dropped and the entry-level Sport models now start from $35,000.

Furthermore, the Ridgeline now comes with a new 8-inch touchscreen-based infotainment system. Sadly, Honda failed to throw in a much-needed volume knob in 2020, thus Ridgeline’s infotainment remains frustrating to use. It’s possible they’ll rectify this issue in 2021. It’s also worth noting that Ridgelines now come with more features than before. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across all trim levels, but the most interesting of features has to be the optional cargo bed audio system which uses actuators that vibrate the box. Also standard are adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist.

All Ridgeline’s are built in dual cab configuration and feature a short 5.3-foot bed. With 34 cubic feet of cargo space, its volume is the second lowest on the market. However, there’s another 7.3 cubes hidden in a separate in-bed segment which is also protected from the elements.

Regardless of chosen trim, all Ridgelines come with the same 3.5L V6 engine delivering 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. The engine is mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission which sends the power either to the front or all four wheels. Towing rating stands at either 3,500 or 5,000 pounds depending on whether you opt for front or all-wheel drive respectively.

The Honda Ridgeline might start from $35,000 with destination charges included, but the range-topping Black Edition models cost a whopping $44,600. They do add unique interior and exterior trim pieces, and mandatory all-wheel drive but it’s still hard to justify such a high price tag for one of the least capable pickup trucks on the market – no matter how well-equipped it is.

About Nikola Potrebić

Despite driving a piece of junk, Nikola still manages to survive the harrowing experience called "A road trip in a Yugo," day in, day out. On the other hand, precious few things move him as muscle cars do. Especially those from the bygone golden era, which makes him wonder why wasn't he born a few decades earlier? Well, at least he's been given the opportunity to enjoy the likes of the Pontiak Aztek, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Fiat Multipla, and other lovely millennials, right? Come to think of it, I'll stick with my Yugo. Thank you very much!