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First drive: Honda's Prius predator takes aim

Slippery: Civic sedan’s drag co-efficient figure is 0.31Cd, dropping to 0.27Cd for the sleeker-underneath Hybrid.

Honda’s second-generation Civic Hybrid aims right at Toyota's petrol-electric Prius

Honda logo16 Feb 2006

HONDA’S eighth-generation Civic sedan has spawned a Hybrid version. On sale with the rest of the Civic range since February 23, the new UH series is searching for some of the hybrid environmental goodwill created by Toyota’s hugely successful Prius.

However, unexpected demand for the model abroad – currently there’s a four-month waiting list in Japan, where the Hybrid is made – means that supply will be tight until June.

Honda is pricing the UH series Civic Hybrid at $31,990 - $2000 more than its predecessor, yet over $5000 below its only rival in Australia.

Like before, there are two sources of power – a petrol engine and an electric motor assisting it. When the car is braking or cruising the electric motor is recharged automatically.

The petrol engine is a 1.3-litre i-DSI single-cam four-cylinder unit (similar to the one found in the smaller Jazz 1.3 GLi model) that’s mated with Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) electric motor, but from here the differences begin.

For starters, there is now a three-stage i-VTEC engine system that Honda says reduces inefficiencies such as pumping losses by 66 per cent by idling all four cylinders when braking.

The regenerative braking is variable rather than fixed it now can run on electric-only power during cruising under certain conditions such as at below 40km/h, and features a dual air-conditioning compressor – one for each engine – for uninterrupted climate-controlled flow.

A thin brushless unit mounted between the engine and gearbox, the IMA’s power is up by 46 per cent and torque by 14 per cent, providing up to 15kW of power and 89Nm of torque.

This results in a combined output of 85kW at 6000rpm and 170Nm at 2500rpm. Previously it was 69kW at 5700rpm and 146Nm at 2000rpm.

More importantly fuel consumption falls, to a combined 4.6L/100km reading. This is 0.6L/100km better than last year’s Hybrid despite a 75kg weight gain – to 1265kg.

An improved CVT automatic gearbox delivers drive to the front wheels with a wider gear range and higher clutch capacity than before.

Honda has implemented aerodynamic aids such as a rear spoiler, specially designed alloy wheels, front and rear strakes and a flusher underbody. These help drop the Cd figure from 0.31 to 0.27.

15 center imageLike all eighth-generation Civics, the Hybrid is built on an all-new base Honda calls the Global Compact Platform. It utilises 50 per cent high-strength steel even though the model is bigger overall than before.

Honda also redesigned the Civic inside and out, developing new engines, gearboxes and suspension for a model it dubs the ‘Global’ model.

Compared to the old sedan, the latest Civic is 4550mm (+70mm) long, 1750mm wide (+35mm) and 1430mm high (same). It sits on a 2700mm wheelbase (+80mm), with 32.5mm and 62.5mm wider front and rear tracks respectively.

More cabin space is the immediate benefit, enabling the fitment of larger seats (similar to the Accord’s), while the steering wheel tilts and telescopes.

Most obvious though is the Odyssey-style dashboard pioneering what Honda calls a ‘Multiplex’ meter concept with a two-tier instrumentation display aligning the main dials directly within the driver’s field of vision.

These, along with a panoramic windscreen and ergonomically sited switches and controls – including having a lower-console situated transmission and handbrake levers – are key cabin changes in the latest Civic sedan.

Meanwhile the Hybrid, like the Civic 2.0 Sport sedan, uses an electric power rack and pinion steering system.

Honda promises that it is a sport-oriented system that increases assistance at low speeds and reduces it at higher ones for greater feel and linearity.

On all 2006 Civic sedans, Honda has carried over the previous model’s MacPherson strut-front and rear multi-link double wishbone set-up, but with detail alterations aimed in improving steering, handling and ride properties.

To this end the chassis is now stiffer, with a 35 per cent increase in torsional rigidity. The Hybrid also gains unique suspension tuning and a thicker (by 2mm) rear anti-roll bar.

Noise/vibration and harshness levels have been tackled with the inclusion of a torque-rod damper to the subframe, reinforced engine mounts and better seals, insulation and lining in the cabin.

This results in a six-decibel noise drop inside. Together with a two-decibel reduction in the 1.8 engine’s operation, Honda says it has produced a much quieter car.

On the safety front all Civics receive dual front and front/rear curtain airbags, ABS/EBD, anti-whiplash front seat head restraints, lap-sash seatbelts all-round and seat belt pretensioners.

ABS anti-lock brakes with EBD Electronic Brake Force Distribution, air-conditioning, cruise control, CD audio, electric windows, power mirrors and remote central locking are included.

Pedestrian impact trauma can be lessened through the new Civic’s impact absorbing bonnet, bumper and windscreen wiper assemblies.

It achieves six-stars in the Japanese NCAP crash-test ratings – equal to five-stars in the Australian NCAP equivalent.

Honda is providing an eight-year battery warranty on its Hybrid.

The lightweight alloy wheels are shod with 195/65 R15 91H low-resistance tyres.

Honda is forecasting selling 100 Hybrids a month, compared to 25-30 of the last-generation model.

It will also plant six trees per year for every Civic Hybrid sold in Australia, for three years.

Calling it a Climate Care warranty, the program is conducted with Greenfleet Australia, and aims to neutralise the carbon dioxide emissions created by the car.

Honda says the tree planting will re-establish native forests where they’re most needed, restore habitat and help protect the land from salinity and erosion.

2006 UH Civic Hybrid sedan pricing:

1.3 IMA Hybrid: $31,990 (a)

GoAuto can help you buy a new Civic

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