Compare the Civic Hybrid!

If you’re thinking about buying a Civic Hybrid, you might also consider a Honda Insight or Toyota Prius. Compare these vehicles.

As soon as the second-generation Prius arrived on the scene in 2003, the Civic Hybrid was cast in its role as runner-up in the hybrid world. It’s true that the Civic Hybrid is not quite as fuel-efficient, not quite as comfortable and roomy, and not quite as powerful as the Prius. But the gas-electric Civic, like Rodney Dangerfield, deserves more respect than it receives.

In fact, it’s the Civic Hybrid’s un-hybrid-like looks and sticker price that makes it such a compelling proposition. Prius buyers usually spend at least a couple thousand more dollars to buy Toyota’s celebrity hybrid than those who drive off with a Civic. And yet the Civic’s 40-mpg in the city and 43-mpg on the highway, places it right next to the Toyota Prius as two of the three vehicles with average fuel economy in the 40s. The other is the Prius look-alike 2011 Honda Insight.

No Significant Changes For 2011

Honda is on the fourth generation of its integrated engine/motor hybrid design. The system combines a 1.3 liter iVTEC 4-cylinder engine with a 20-hp electric motor to deliver a total of 110 hp. The nickel metal hydride battery pack has a 158 volt output. In addition to turning the engine off at stops, the Civic can save fuel by de-activating all of its cylinders and cruise under electric motor power alone in some circumstances. With the electric motor attached to the engine’s crankshaft, the engine never stops turning when the car is moving, as it does in the Toyota and Ford hybrids, but it can shut off the fuel supply and valves, which has a similar effect. Also, the engine uses eight spark plugs to allow greater flexibility with the firing order for more complete combustion of fuel in the cylinder. Add an improved battery pack and regenerative braking from the previous generation to produce a hybrid with Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions status.

In August of this year, Honda issued a “technical service bulletin” for model years 2006 through 2008 Civic Hybrids. Addressing an issue that could cause batteries to wear out sooner than expected, Honda informed owners to bring vehicles into dealerships to fix a software flaw. Some owners experienced disappointing mileage after receiving the fix. Model years 2009 and 2010 were not included in the software update.

Exterior

The Civic Hybrid looks almost identical to the conventional gas-powered sedan, which was redesigned—to rave reviews—for the 2006 model. Honda has made few changes to that winning design.

Check out that windshield. It sweeps up from the hood with 23.9 degrees of rake. That’s more than any Honda ever built, more even than that uber-sports-car, the Acura NSX. Honda accompanies that bold stroke with abbreviated front and rear overhangs and fenders that cling to the tires with a 50-millimeter gap—narrower, says Honda, than those on a 5 Series car from BMW. A-pillars are virtually over the front wheels, and the large front doors make it easy to get in and out of the car. Motor Trend commented. “When the latest-generation Civic first hit the market, many were surprised by its unusual styling. But the Civic’s looks have proven a hit with buyers and…Honda decided not to mess with success.”

Interior

The long, sloped windshield produces an especially deep dashboard, and designers used that real estate to try something different. They came up with a two-tier dash with upper and lower gauge pods. The top level, in line with the driver’s view above the steering wheel, features a digital speedometer, fuel gauge and engine temperature readout. In the lower tier behind the three-spoke steering wheel is the tachometer, fuel economy readout, and a hybrid gauge—showing how much the hybrid batteries are being recharged (via regenerative breaking) or being used to assist the gas engine. An Idle-Stop indicator flashes when the gasoline engine has completely shut down to prevent burning fuel when the vehicle is at a stop.

In the dark, the gauges glow an unearthly shade of blue, prompting some to dismiss the two-level dash as a “Star Wars” solution. Frankly, though, it’s time for a certain generation to shove over; a new group, with new tastes and expectations is here. To satisfy them, the Civic Hybrid is loaded not just with cool lights, but also with useful technologies. The audio system accepts MP3 and WMA formats. XM Satellite radio and Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity is part of an available navigation system.

While the Civic Hybrid scores high points for style, finish and ergonomics, the cabin doesn’t rank as well for cargo space and comfort in the back seat. The rear-seat legroom was cut by 1.4 inches with the 2006 redesign, making it cramped when loaded with three adults. The Honda Civic Hybrid has 10.4 cubic feet for cargo space. To make room for the hybrid system’s battery pack, Honda has eliminated the rear folding seats on the Civic Hybrid. As a result, storage of long objects cannot be shared between the trunk and the back seats. And, USA Today noted, “Gooseneck hinges on the trunk lid swing down and in, swiping cargo room and possibly pinching your luggage. Plenty of rivals use hinges that fit in the gutter around the trunk opening, avoiding the luggage compartment.”

Standard equipment is on par with the gas-powered Civic’s top EX trim level. The Hybrid comes with: power windows, outside mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry; automatic climate control; tilt-telescoping steering wheel with controls for audio: and cruise control and a 100-watt AM/FM/CD six-speaker sound system.

Honda equips every Civic with anti-lock disk brakes with brake-force distribution, electronic stability and traction control and a full complement of airbags, including curtain-style bags. The Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure weaves the front end’s major structural and suspension elements into a web of components that absorbs the energy created by a front-end collision and directs it away from the cockpit.

On The Road

The Civic Hybrid doesn’t stray too far from its gasoline cousins. It is relatively nimble and tightens up nicely for confident maneuvers at higher speeds. While it certainly won’t win any stop-light drags, once up to speed it’s a solid, smooth performer on city streets and on the highway as well. In a world where economy cars are often just driving appliances, this hybrid is actually fun to drive: it’s peppy, agile and responsive, and you might even find yourself looking for places to go with it.

There’s more. The ride is solid but comfortable without being numb, with less road noise and wind whistle than expected for the compact-car class. It is, simply, a pleasurable car. USA Today commented, “Like gasoline Civics, the hybrid test car had a sturdy, tight feel, as if it were modeled after a sport sedan. It didn’t have the slip-slidey feel you can get when trying to push a Prius briskly through corners. Thus, the Civic was more fun to drive in the normal-to-brisk end of the scale.”

Economics

For 2011, the Civic Hybrid has a suggested retail price of $23,950, up $150 from 2010. A leather-trimmed interior package that includes heated front seats adds $1,200 as does the navigation package. Combine the leather and navigation package and the sticker price is $27,150. In comparison, the Toyota Prius III, the most popular 2010 model with fuel economy rated at 50 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving, starts at $23,800 and includes satellite radio and Bluetooth. The Prius IV with leather trim makes a considerable jump to $26,600 and a navigation system that includes a backup camera (not available on the Civic Hybrid) retails for $2,380.

Even though the price comparison between the Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius tips the scale toward the Prius with its better fuel economy, the Civic Hybrid will satisfy shoppers who value the Honda Civic for its reliability and contemporary look, but really want a hybrid. And, if the Prius design is not your cup of tea, and you can live with a compact rather than a mid-size sedan, then the Honda Civic Hybrid is worth a little respect and consideration.

Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.