Car reviews - Honda - Civic - hybrid
Strong torque, exceptional refinement, thoughtful cabin, easily beat the factory fuel economy claim
Room for improvement
Eye-watering price tag would be better justified if it had a plug-in capability, slightly stiff-legged ride, no spare tyre
Honda’s hybrid hatchback costs heaps, but is made of the right stuff
16 Dec 2022
By TONY O'KANE
IT WAS within recent memory that Honda’s showroom was practically bursting with hybrid product. From the Jazz to the NSX, with the Civic, Insight and Accord in between, Honda used to be the only viable alternative to Toyota when it came to petrol-electric offerings.
Suffice it to say, Honda was perhaps a little too far ahead of its time. Its hybrid options went unloved, arriving well before public appetite for petrol-electrics started to soar.
The climate is different now though, and following on from the arrival of the hybrid HR-V earlier this year, Honda now has another electron-enhanced model to put in front of its customers: the Civic e:HEV LX.
However, just like the existing Civic VTi LX that it’s based upon, the e:HEV variant is offered in just a single highly-featured trim. It’s also a pricey thing, selling for $55,000 drive-away under Honda Australia’s national fixed-pricing scheme.
Considering its chief rival, the Toyota Corolla hybrid, retails for $37,620 in top-spec ZR hatch form, the Honda’s price tag is undoubtedly a handicap.
Subtracting hot hatches like Volkswagen’s Golf R and the Renault Megane RS from the price table leaves the Civic e:HEV LX as the most expensive small hatchback in the mainstream segment, and you can get yourself into a BMW or Audi for less – not to mention Nissan’s eco-warrior Leaf EV, which retails for $50,990.
But can its capabilities offset its asking price? More importantly, does the Civic e:HEV LX offer enough to justify its price premium compared to the non-hybrid Civic VTi LX, which sells for a comparatively reasonable $47,200?
The differences between the two, besides their powertrains and the $7800 gulf that separates them, are largely difficult to pick out.
The e:HEV has a single exhaust tip rather than a twin outlet muffler, a black grille, white rather red footwell illumination, extendable sunvisors, auto up/down windows for all four doors rather than just the front two, power lumbar adjustment for the front seats, a heated steering wheel, a second coat hook, all-black leather upholstery and a map pocket on the rear of both front seats, rather than just the passenger side. Small details, by and large.
There are other hidden advantages to the e:HEV over the regular Civic VTi LX though – its active safety suite is bolstered by the addition of traffic sign recognition and a speed limiter function, with passive safety getting a boost from a centre airbag between the front seats and dedicated side airbags for the rear seats, augmenting the standard head-level ‘bags during a side impact and giving those in the second row the same level of airbag protection as those in the front.
However, there are just three major differences that will be immediately noticeable by drivers changing up from a regular Civic VTi LX: the push-button shifter quadrant, the panoramic glass sunroof that extends over much of the cabin, and the provision of front and rear parking sensors as standard-fit.
While there are arguably enough extra quality-of-life features to justify the considerable premium attached to the e:HEV, the truth is that most of them will go overlooked and unappreciated by tyre-kickers.
But while there are gains elsewhere, there’s also a sacrifice in cargo capacity – though you wouldn’t know unless you lifted the boot floor. There, rather than a shallow 45-litre storage area, the e:HEV instead mounts battery and power management components, trimming 40 litres off total cargo space to bring the e:HEV down to a still-useful 409 litres. The fuel tank is also truncated, losing seven litres of volume to store only 40 litres of petrol.
Beyond all of the above, the rest of the Civic e:HEV experience is near-identical to that of its non-hybrid sibling. The fit and finish is still superb, the cabin presentation is crisp and highly functional, the driving position is low-slung and sport and the rear seat accommodation is roomy is almost every dimension except for perhaps headroom.
The feature set is mostly the same bar the aforementioned additions, and there’s nothing about the hybrid Civic’s presentation that makes you aware that this is the eco-minded model. Even the e:HEV badge on the tailgate is abstract, and some may prefer the fact that the Civic e:HEV doesn’t shout about its positioning as the ‘tree-hugger’ of the range.
It’s almost a shame that Honda’s versatile 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder isn’t found in the Civic e:HEV’s engine bay. That engine’s slick torque delivery and quiet, vibration-free nature is something that works so well in the purely combustion-powered Civic VTi LX, and one of the things that makes that car so likeable.
Yet, while the 1.5 turbo is replaced by a high-compression, long-stroke, naturally-aspirated Atkinson-cycle 2.0-litre inline four, the combination of that powerplant with an electric drive motor easily gives the hybrid a considerable edge over its turbocharged stablemate.
Peak power is just 4kW more at 135kW but it arrives 1000rpm lower in the rev range at 5000rpm, while maximum torque of 315Nm easily eclipses the 240Nm figure of the VTi LX while also being far more accessible – the full 315 Newtons are available from zero RPM all the way to 2000rpm.
In the real world, that translates to exceptionally effortless driveability. In sedate driving a gentle flex of the ankle makes use of all that electric torque without waking up the petrol engine, while matting the accelerator results in a surprisingly athletic jump off the line and a curiously appealing four-cylinder yowl from the engine as it rises up through the rev range, ascending through artificially stepped ratios in the normally fluid continuously-variable transmission.
It’s no Type R, that much is obvious, but the hybrid has an alacrity that’s missing in the 1.5-litre turbo. The only thing that might turn off a spirited driver is the fact the paddles behind the steering wheel give no control over the transmission: rather, they simply modify the strength of the brake energy regeneration, which can be stepped through four different levels.
Yet it’s in sedate urban driving where the Civic e:HEV is at its best. The cut-in of its engine is more dependent on how much charge is left in its battery than what speed the car is being driven at so its behavior is different to that of a Corolla Hybrid, which tends to fire up its combustion engine more often and with less provocation.
Driven normally the hybrid Civic seems to preference electric power most of the time, making the absence of a dedicated ‘EV-only’ button a non-issue, and is rush-hour logjams it consumes practically nothing.
The only thing that works against this serene drivability is a suspension that can at times feel a little too stiff, mainly when traversing sharp-edged road imperfections or corrugations. Over larger undulations, the Civic actually feels quite plush with great body control.
At suburban speeds in the 60-70km/h region, consumption is still miniscule. An average figure below 3.0L/100km is achievable without even activating the Eco drive mode, and in our experience the Civic e:HEV’s stated fuel economy numbers weren’t just truthful, but were actually rather conservative.
Honda states that the Civic e:HEV will burn 4.2L/100km on the combined cycle, with urban and highway driving yielding 3.2L/100km and 4.9L/100km respectively. When we put it to our 100km/h fuel efficiency loop, which takes in a roughly 70:30 split of urban and highway roads with some CBD congestion in the middle, our total average was just 3.8L/100km – 0.4L/100km ahead of the claim.
As with a lot of EVs and hybrids it was the highway leg really guzzled fuel, as prior to the sustained 100km/h cruise our Civic was sitting on an average consumption of just 3.1L/100km.
Considering Toyota’s hybrid hatchback has a factory claim of 4.0L/100km – which is difficult to come close to in real-world driving – and offers only 103kW and 142Nm, the Honda Civic e:HEV LX outguns it for power, torque and fuel economy. Add on top of that a cabin that’s far more generous for rear passengers and cargo space, and it’s clear that Honda has the better hybrid.
The only real question is whether buyers will see the value in that, or whether that high sticker price will prevent them from ever discovering the Civic hybrid’s charm.
21st of November 2022
Civic e:HEV LX priced at $55,000 drive-away
Honda’s hybridised Civic clocks in from $7800 more than its petrol-powered sibling
18th of November 2022
Honda confirms Civic Type R pricing and spec
Australian details announced for Honda’s latest Civic Type R, priced from $72,600 d/a
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