Honda’s Civic Hybrid has been further refreshed along with its fairly sophisticated 2014 Civic siblings and is one of the most fuel-efficient sedans sold in America.
The mild updates follow an inside-and-out redesign for 2012 which boasted bigger engine, more powerful electric motor, and li-ion propulsion battery. Improvements in 2013 helped rectify de-contenting that disappointed critics and customers, and again Honda has tweaked the Hybrid and siblings to fortify the Civic line’s place among competitors.
Rated mpg this year for the otherwise well-equipped Civic Hybrid is 44 city, 47 highway, 45 combined – up from 44 city/highway/combined for 2012 and 2013. The 2014 Hybrid is also the only Civic model this year to receive an Insurance Institute of Highway Safety Top Safety Pick+ designation due to a technicality of its inclusion of a forward collision warning system.
However, not all is ideal. Due to insufficient sales, Honda is discontinuing the Insight sibling, the Acura ILX Hybrid, and hints have gone forth that Honda may eventually axe the Civic Hybrid too. The Greenville, Indiana-built car constitutes about 1.5 percent of Civic model line sales, and its numbers pale next to Toyota and Ford full hybrids.
Common to the Honda and Acura hybrids is the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) mild hybrid, front-wheel-drive powertrain. It’s been evolved and updated since 2001, it won design awards early on for its elegant efficiency, and the current Civic Hybrid is still an awarded car, but Honda now has more effective hybrid systems.
Being a compact-class vehicle, the Civic could benefit from a variant of the Japanese and European-sold Fit/Jazz hybrid’s system. Honda has not said it would do this, but is assessing more vehicles to transplant-in its two-motor system as found in the more-efficient new Accord Hybrid, and for now, the Hybrid is its ultimate Civic fuel sipper.
That’s the state of the union in brief, but despite some perceptions and how it’s doing in the popularity contest, the Civic is not a bad car, in fact, it’s rather good.
Honda’s fifth-generation Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) design uses a 1.5-liter inline-four gas engine, and thin “pancake” motor to “assist” the gas engine propelling the car via a CVT transmission. The li-ion battery replaces a nickel-metal hydride pack – a chemistry Toyota still uses for the regular Prius – and is to address reliability issues with Honda’s NiMH pack from late last decade and early this decade.
The hybrid system does work, and exceeds even the plainer Civic HF’s 35 mpg combined mpg. It does not however decouple from the engine – as seen on full hybrid competitors and Honda’s own non-U.S. Fit/Jazz Hybrid – but under light load conditions its ECU allows some pure EV operation. Engine parasitic loss is minimized by its computer-controlled i-VTEC system but the engine does spin along at all times.
Combined gasoline and electric horsepower is 110 and torque is 127 pounds-feet.
An expanded driver’s side mirror is one subtle added feature. Via the now-7-inch in-car touch screen, a LaneWatch display enhances the driver’s surrounding view.
Initiating a right turn via the signal switch gives a right-rear-side view of traffic.
The 7-inch touchscreen also lets you pinch, swipe and tap like a smartphone. It gives access to audio, phonebook, media, vehicle information and navigation.
Also included is a next-generation HondaLink system accessed via the touchscreen. This application-based platform integrates the car with a smartphone and allows access to online and cloud-based content and other info.
Standard as well are Smart Entry with push button starting. The remote opener has a metal key that can be pulled out and used if you manage to douse, destroy, or run the remote’s batteries down – a useful feature.
The Civic Hybrid builds on lines redrawn last decade and updated in 2012. It’s a sensible look that’s sleek but doesn’t overly stand out with look-at-me pretensions. A rear spoiler, blue accents, clear LED taillights, and hybrid badging set it apart from otherwise similar Civic sedans.
Inside, the now-familiar two-tier instrument layout continues. This design positions the digital speedometer in the top level above an analog tachometer.
While innovative, it’s a more-conventional arrangement than that of the Prius which focuses the eye more to the center. Data readout includes a hybrid power-flow meter, and the steering wheel has controls for audio and other functions.
Dash materials are decently textured – but not soft-touch – plastic. Our vehicle with navigation and leather included front heated seats.
The cabin is pleasant, contemporary, and functional, overall. Seating space is comfortable up front though those over 6-feet-tall with long legs may wish for one extra detent on the seat rearward adjustment. Rear space is sufficient also.
If you’ve not noticed, Honda’s vehicles have dimensionally crept upwards over the years so a Civic today is close to an Accord of a couple decades ago and a Fit is more like the original Civic.
The 2012 overhaul saw three more inches of front and rear shoulder room and 1.6 inches more rear legroom.
Trunk space at 10.7 cubic feet is not bad – certainly better than some compromised plug-in hybrids – but the rear seat doesn’t fold down due to the battery occupying that space.
Acceleration is OK. An Eco button can reduce effective propulsion, but there’s never a concern that the Civic Hybrid is under-powered and once underway, it zips nicely.
In common with other Civic sedans, the Hybrid delivers a compliant ride and competent handling. Its independent four-wheel suspension, a shorter wheelbase and stiffer body since 2012 have further refined ride and comfort.
This is a car that is satisfying on the highway, around town, even backroads, though a sportster it is not.
Cornering is at least agile and responsive and the electric power steering is like Goldilocks’ porridge – not too loose or vague; just right.
Braking however is another matter. While no cause for safty concern, the regenerative brakes are not silky smooth, and a bit of juddering can be felt. One gets used to it, and the effect is only sometimes, not always. The car’s stop-start system works alright, and did not make the car shudder as could the 2012 model we reviewed.
As for mpg, typical for hybrids, the car may dip below its ratings if driven hard, and without care. Drive in a way to maximize its hybrid system and it can meet or mildly surpass its numbers. If you want to hyper-mile, it can well-exceed official numbers, and our Larry Hall saw almost 69 mpg in the lower-rated 2012 model on a 10-mile mileage test course of mostly country lanes, some highway, and four or five stoplights along the way.
Four trim levels are offered: Civic Hybrid Sedan, $25,425 (this and following prices include $790 destination); Civic Hybrid Sedan with Navigation, $26,925; Civic Hybrid Sedan with Leather, $26,625; Civic Hybrid Sedan with Leather and Navigation, $28,125.
We gave you the worst news in the opening paragraphs, but adding to its competitiveness, the Civic Hybrid benefits from a decade-and-a-half of evolution. In respects it may be the best it’s ever been.
And sales perceptions can be misleading. Though Prius sales dwarf it, Honda spokesman Chris Martin in April said Honda avoids fleet sales that Toyota goes after, it is not pushing in the marketplace as aggressively, and is content with sustainable growth while striving for high customer satisfaction.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy named the Civic Hybrid one of the “Greenest Vehicles of 2013,” but because there are more-efficient hybrid systems in Honda’s arsenal – and in competitors’ showrooms – this has been a turn-off for some.
But that doesn’t automatically rule the Civic Hybrid out. For those who like the whole package delivered with Honda automobiles, or don’t want a car with design that screams hybrid, the Civic Hybrid compares favorably to stablemates.
Next to the Prius however, the total calculated cost of five years of ownership tends to see the Toyota edge out the Honda.
So, the argument for the Honda centers on the sum off several considerations, including intangible benefits.
That it’s an enjoyable and effective car is without question, and we do think it is worth a closer look.