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Car reviews - Honda - Civic - Hybrid sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Surprisingly fun to drive, refinement, funky cabin, okay styling, value for money
Room for improvement
Small sedans are still boring, no stability control option

16 Feb 2006

GoAuto in SYDNEY 26/05/2006

CALL us Buddhists, but we love the way the Honda Civic hybrid goes about its business. It’s quiet and serene and from inside the cabin, creating an automotive environment that sooths the jangled nerves.

Fortunately, too, the latest Honda hybrid is a far cry from the two-seater Insight that was hailed in its day – back in 2001 - for the impressive level of technology but lacked any practical sense. My, how far we’ve come.

The latest Civic hybrid is far more competent and user-friendly than the Insight and far better looking than the previous Civic hybrid. It also handles with similar levels of competency to its latest-generation petrol siblings.

Honda expects about 100 buyers a month to slip into the hybrid but with petrol prices growing almost daily, we’d suggest that figure could be higher. At $31,990 it also makes the dumpy $37,000 Toyota Prius look expensive.

The latest Civic hybrid can be distinguished by its butter-plate alloys – which look awful but contribute to the car’s smooth aerodynamics – and the small lip spoiler on the boot.

Inside, there’s little difference to the rest of the range, except for the electric motor read-out to the left side of the tachometer. Everything else is normal, which is how it should be.

Standard equipment is on a par with the Civic VTi and runs to 15-inch alloys, climate-control, cruise control, fog lights, low-rolling resistance tyres, dual front, side and curtain airbags and a leather steering wheel.

Because the battery pack is under the rear parcel shelf, the split-fold rear seat function is lost.

Under the bonnet, however, lurks a 1.3-litre petrol VTEC engine and Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. A nickel-metal hydride battery pack is used to capture and store electricity for the electric motor.

Unlike previous incarnations, the latest fourth-generation IMA system allows the Civic hybrid to drive on electric power alone at speeds up to 40km/h - ideal for the peak-hour crawl.

The petrol engine and electric motor have a combined output of 85kW at 6000rpm and maximum torque of 170Nm at 2500rpm, which - given the car’s 1265kg weight - seems reasonably powerful enough to propel the sedan.

The hybrid also comes with a CVT auto as standard, which uses a steel belt and infinitely variable pulley to change the drive ratio. It proves a worthwhile fit with the characteristics of the engine and, if you need more oomph, the auto shifter can be slotted into "sport" mode.

The whole story with hybrids, apart from reducing harmful emissions, is fuel consumption. Honda quotes the Civic at 4.6L/100km - a saving of 0.6L/100km over the old model.

Over a circuit of Sydney’s mostly city traffic we managed 5.5L/100km, so the claim of 4.6 seems entirely feasible on a long highway run.

For those not familiar with hybrids, it’s worth recounting just exactly how they work. In the case of the Civic, both the electric and petrol engine work in tandem under acceleration.

When cruising speeds are reached the petrol and/or electric engine can propel the vehicle, depending on the conditions. Going up a hill, for example, will activate both engines for the necessary urge.

During braking, the petrol engine is deactivated and the electric motor acts as a generator to replenish the battery pack. At the traffic lights for example, when the car is stationary, the engine can enter an idle stop mode to save fuel and the petrol engine is turned off until you release pressure on the brake pedal.

There are some nifty additions to make sure things like the climate-control works efficiently when the car is stationary and the regenerative braking system is employed, similar to the Prius.

The air-conditioning system uses a dual-scroll twin-compressor system. One is a belt-driven compressor attached to the petrol engine and the other is electric.

The regenerative braking system, as the name suggests, captures kinetic energy under brakes and stores it in the rechargeable battery packs.

In practice, the whole hybrid system works effortlessly and very Honda-like, which means perfectly. Honda also says that servicing costs are comparable to the petrol car, which is reassuring given the high-tech nature of the car.

The hybrid battery pack also comes with an eight-year warranty.

We would have liked some more oomph from the engine under hard acceleration and the low rolling resistance tyres do take some of the crispness off the car’s handling when you press-on around windy roads, but we’re not talking a sports car here. Unlike other Civics, the hybrid also gets a space-saver spare.

The electric steering, like many such systems, lacks feel and is numb. It may be great for parking but its lack of feedback is unnatural.

On a long highway cruise – absent from our drive – we suspect the Civic hybrid would behave as well as its petrol cousins.

There’s plenty of interior room and comfort levels are high both the driver and front passenger seat offer plenty of back and shoulder support and the seat cushion is well shaped. We also prefer the fabric seat material over the leather in the petrol Sport.

In every-day, stop-start motoring, the Civic hybrid makes serious sense. Tree-huggers will also feel good about themselves too, as Honda will plant six trees a year for a three-year period for every Civic hybrid sold in an effort to neutralise CO2 emissions.

It’s a commendable initiative and we really think it is about time Honda takes a less than passive Buddhist approach to righteousness and starts crowing about its technology as much as Toyota does about the Prius.

May the peace of mind be with you.

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