Honda's Hybrid Remade
The redesigned Honda Civic Hybrid is more powerful and sophisticated with improved fuel economy.
by Jim Gorzelany, ForbesAutos.com
The Honda Civic Hybrid has been redesigned along with the rest of the Civic line for 2006. It's larger in every dimension than before with a fresh appearance inside and out, and an improved gas/electric power train that generates more power with enhanced fuel economy and reduced exhaust emissions.
The Civic Hybrid debuted in 2003. The new version is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency at 50 miles per gallon for a combination of city and highway driving. Honda suggests that 43.6 miles per gallon might be more realistic.
Honda expects the new Civic Hybrid to account for about 10 percent of total Civic sales in 2006, amounting to 28,000 units. The company projects that hybrid buyers will skew older (ages 35 to 50) and be more affluent ($55,000 to $85,000 annual household income) than buyers of other Civics.
The Hybrid is powered primarily by a 110-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine with i-VTEC technology. This acronym stands for "intelligent variable valve timing and lift electronic control" and refers to technology that increases the engine's power and efficiency.
A 15-kilowatt electric motor/generator provides supplemental power and runs off a battery pack that recharges itself by capturing energy that is dissipated while coasting and braking. The continuously variable automatic transmission has been revised for better performance. It now approaches the efficiency and performance of a five-speed manual transmission, which is no longer available on the Civic Hybrid.
The Hybrid qualifies as an Advanced-Technology Partial-Zero-Emissions Vehicle in all 50 states. This EPA designation is a mouthful, but enables California owners, for example, to use the carpool lane even with only one person in the car.
Tax deductions for gas-electric hybrid vehicles will drop from the current $2,000 to $500 for all hybrids purchased starting in January 2006. More information can be found at the Internal Revenue Service website
Unlike the previous version
, which drew power continuously from both the gas and electric motors, Honda's latest Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system runs exclusively on electric power under certain conditions — typically at moderate cruising speeds — to further conserve fuel. Honda's technology still differs from Toyota's hybrid system found in the Prius, which runs the vehicle wholly on electric power from a standstill to low speeds.
As before, the Civic Hybrid's gasoline engine shuts down completely when the vehicle stops . This is because an idling engine gets zero mpg and creates some of the highest levels of exhaust emissions.
The IMA system provides seamless acceleration on a par with the standard Civic's larger 1.8-liter gasoline engine. But a new accelerator design requires drivers to put the pedal all the way to the floor more than they might expect in order to get the vehicle quickly up to speed.
The Civic Hybrid looks almost identical to the conventional gas-powered sedan, which has been completely restyled, along with the Civic coupe. A new cab-forward design, which pushes the passenger compartment as far to the front of the vehicle as possible, features bolder front-end styling with a steeply raked windshield and sweeping roofline.
Inside, a two-tiered instrument panel employs a digital speedometer, fuel gauge and IMA readout at the top of the dashboard, conveniently in the driver's line of sight. The tachometer, which displays engine speed, and other gauges are housed in a lower tier behind the tilting and telescoping steering wheel.
The Hybrid's interior treatment includes exclusive two-tone seating. Compared to the conventional sedan, trunk space is minimally compromised to accommodate the hybrid system's battery pack.
Standard equipment is plentiful and on a par with the gas-powered Civic's top EX trim level. A navigation system is the only factory option.
Excluding any tax rebates, the Civic Hybrid's $2,000 premium over a comparably equipped conventional Civic EX could take about three-and-a-half-years to recoup, considering the money you'd save at the pump while driving 15,000 miles per year and paying $3.00 per gallon. After that point, you'll be saving money — not to mention polluting less, which is a significant factor — and covering more miles per tank of gas than any other Civic and most other automobiles on the market.