Several minutes after a choppy landing at Austin International Airport, I find myself picking up the keys to the 2020 Honda Accord Hybrid. I’m here to enjoy this city’s fantastic music and food scene, which has been rapidly growing over the past decade. But it’s not just another Friday afternoon; it’s weekend two of Austin City Limits, the music festival that brings people from all over the U.S. and other countries to experience different types of melodies. From country to techno, ACL has become one of the most popular music festivals in America.
As I get comfortable in the Accord Hybrid Touring’s ample cabin, I connect Apple CarPlay to get directions to my hotel. The 8.0-inch screen with the new Android-based infotainment system is quick and easy to use, and soon I’m on the road. The heavy traffic around downtown Austin has Google Maps redirecting me through Travis Heights; with its oak trees and hip homes—from mansions to apartments—this historic neighborhood’s cool vibe is amplified by its proximity to the Colorado River and South Congress, the chic street full of hipster cafés and delicious eateries.
The Accord’s refined ride makes it a good cruiser around Travis Heights’ streets and the freeway. Its two-motor hybrid-electric system is mated to a 2.0-liter engine to produce a combined output of 212 hp, enough to merge quickly onto the freeway. And its CVT is nicely married to the hybrid system, which takes a big part of the credit for the ride’s refinement. But the Accord Hybrid, like the à la mode homes in this neighborhood, stands out most for its design; with its sweeping roofline and wide stance, the Accord’s elegant lines elevate it above other cars in its class. (Pictured below are other efficient Honda sedans including the Clarity and Insight. )
Crossing the Ann W. Richards Bridge gives a glimpse of life in Austin. Runners jog on the trails along the Colorado River, and a few kayakers defy the unusually chilly temperatures that a cold front brought to the heart of Texas in mid-October. Locals told me that just 24 hours ago it was sunny and hot, but today the sky is overcast, and the Accord’s thermometer reads 53 degrees.
It feels ironic to be driving a hybrid car in Texas; this state, after all, is home to Exxon Mobil, Phillips 66, and Valero Energy—three of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world. And pickup trucks are abundant. But at the same time, the Accord Hybrid fits well with the green lifestyle that Austin has; from organizations like Keep Austin Beautiful to Texas Campaign for the Environment, this community has an impulse for a cleaner environment.
I drop off the car at the Line Hotel and see dozens of well-dressed women in the lobby. Like me, they’re here for day one of ACL; the diversity of hats and styles varies, but they all have that Instagram look that gets a lot of attention. I drop off my bags and join the group for dinner. I’m accustomed to seeing car journalists on trips like this, but this time it’s a mix of bloggers, influencers, and journalists on the roster. Tonight’s restaurant is ATX Cocina, a Mexican eatery that offers a long list of tequila and mezcal, along with great seafood with a touch of Austin. A few margaritas later, I start to feel the tone for the night—it’s time to go.
The shuttle drops us off a long way from Zilker Park, the venue for ACL, but we can hear Guns N’ Roses in the distance. The legendary American rock band is headlining tonight, and the whole place goes bananas when the bass starts playing “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Everyone rocks and rolls, and after having a couple more tequilas, we pretend to play the bass as well as Duff McKagan. The concert concludes at exactly 10 p.m.; city ordinances don’t allow concerts to go past that hour, so we head back to the hotel and call it a night. Tomorrow we’re up bright and early.
It’s 9 a.m., and the streets of downtown Austin are asleep. Feels like we were just here a couple of hours ago with a totally different atmosphere, but those who stay up all night must rest. Not us, though. Today it’s all about visiting Austin’s iconic places.
We head toward South Congress and find a different vibe than downtown; the cafés and breakfast places are full of early risers who were probably not partying until 2 a.m. We try to stop at Jo’s Coffee, but the line is so long that we wave adios to Jo’s and it’s big, circular red sign. Somehow we stumbled upon La Pâtisserie, a French bakery and café that one of the best cappuccinos I’ve ever had.
I’m just as surprised about finding a traditional French bakery in Central Texas as I am with the interior of the Accord Hybrid Touring; the quality, looks, and overall design make me think this is an Acura and not a Honda. For its $36,070 price, this interior feels like a step above. The quality of the leather and the selection of the trims really stand out. The fake wood, for example, looks and feels real, and the interior’s overall design feels like it was taken out of an Acura. The absence of a shifter frees up space in the center console, and even in the rear seats, there’s plenty of legroom and headroom. If there’s anything I’d prefer, it would be a different color for the leather; although the Radiant Red exterior paint looks sharp, I’d like to see more attractive choices for the interior instead of this ivory dual tone.
I grew up in Texas and was always exposed to Austin culture. But the “Keep Austin Weird” slogan no longer resonates. Austin isn’t the same city it was back in the mid 2000s; back then, you could see all types of weirdness on the streets. Today, the Texas capital has more of a cool and young vibe that’s far from weird. It has that innovative appeal that has brought thousands of people to the area from out of state, and although you can still find some weirdness, the ambiance has evolved from its pre-recession era.
The same goes for the Accord. Back in the 2000s, Honda’s midsize sedan wasn’t known for its upscale looks or elegant interior; it was a reliable car for American families. And the contrast couldn’t be more real—today, one can choose between the Accord Hybrid or the sportier 2.0-liter turbo engine for more power at the wheels.
Austin’s country roads are not your stereotypical flat and boring Texas country roads—the small hills allow roads to have elevation changes and sweeping curves. It’s on this roads where the Accord really shows its strengths. The suspension does a great job keeping the movements in the cabin to a minimum, and body roll is pretty low. Although its steering is quite soft, it feels well balanced. And although the Accord Hybrid might not be the most fun car you can take on roads like these, it was enjoyable to drive on the corners. And for a car that goes from 0 to 60 mph in about 6.7 seconds, it’s impressive to see such good fuel economy numbers. The 2020 Accord Hybrid delivers 48/47/48 mpg city/highway/combined.
Those country roads took us to Quill Ranch, which is located about 30 minutes from downtown Austin and offers a great setting for those in the music industry. The beautiful property is owned by Harper and Jimmy Quill, a pair of musicians who have a recording studio overlooking a slick courtyard. It’s here where they have set enough tables for our group while Jonny and Carley Wolf from the Ghost Wolves delight us with their vocals. Their rock songs give us enough energy to head back to Zilker Park for the rest of the day.
It doesn’t matter if its Billie Eilish and her captivating vibe or Rosalía’s dance moves, the Honda Stage at ACL draws huge crowds. This is Honda’s 11th consecutive year at ACL, and this time around the brand set up a colorful experience with more than 600 seat belts hanging from the top, which allowed perfect opportunities for Instagrammable moments.
The night ends with Childish Gambino and his catchy songs; his performance that night was extraordinary despite his not wearing a shirt during the whole concert.
A 10:30 a.m. Sunday brunch doesn’t seem like the best idea right now, but because of Stubb’s Bar-B-Q’s reputation, everyone is down in the lobby on time. You can’t say no to Stubb’s. A short walk from the hotel, Stubb’s is known for its brisket, sauces, and Sunday Gospel Brunch. The buffet has everything—different kinds of eggs, enchiladas, and traditional Texas BBQ. But the real show is happening on stage. Everyone there, regardless of religion, is there to sing, dance, and praise God. It’s essentially what gospel music is about, and when you add great food and the ambiance of Stubbs, you won’t regret the early wake-up call.
I can’t think of a better way to close the weekend than to see Mumford & Sons perform live at ACL. The four musicians put up a more relaxing show that’s almost perfect for a Sunday night.
And in a move that stunned everyone, Austin High School’s marching band made an onstage appearance to play a couple of songs with Mumford & Sons. The incredible performance came to an end just as the moon broke over the Austin skyline.
I bid Austin adios as I get on the back of a bicycle to avoid the nearly 2-mile walk back to the hotel. It’s been a long weekend, but the food, music, and cars have all made up for it.