Behind the Wheel

Honda Civic Hybrid

By Stuart Schwartzapfel

The Honda Civic is America’s bestselling compact, and in May it overtook both Toyota’s Camry and Ford’s F-150 pick-up to become the bestselling vehicle in the country. It was the first time since the early ’80s that a car—not a truck—won that distinction, a significant milestone in a changing marketplace.

Though an early sign, all this sales chatter signifies a consumer shift toward smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Fuel-efficient compacts and hybrids are likely beneficiaries of this emerging trend. Honda’s Civic Hybrid ($22,600 MSRP) boasts a fuel economy of 40/45 miles per gallon (mpg) city/highway that is bested in its category by the Prius (48/45 mpg) alone.

Looking beyond fuel economy, the Honda is among the better hybrid choices you can make. For the most part, this Civic retains the handsome silhouette and quality interior of its gas-only sibling. However, new design features like a subtle rear spoiler, power side mirrors with integrated turn indicators, and 15-inch lightweight alloy wheels add a slightly futuristic feel. The interior is two-tone, and the main instrument cluster, which has a relaxing blue hue at night, allows you to monitor the effect of your driving on battery charge and fuel economy.

My test model took a group of four on a 400-plus-mile trip (mixed city/highway driving) without a single stop for gas. The navigation system — one of the few optional buys on the car — was intuitive enough to use, but fewer buttons surrounding the LCD display would have helped. Fellow passengers appreciated that this car had almost as many cup holders as a movie theater, and there were also useful cubbies and bins up front for those with more gear than pockets.

The Civic Hybrid’s ride quality is firm, its steering responsive. Honda says that the standard continuously variable transmission [CVT] improves fuel economy and performance, but since there is no actual shifting of gears, which have been replaced by a metal push-belt running between a pair of pulleys, the engine is noticeably noisy when the car accelerates. In addition, the brakes lack a progressive feel, which can make stops unnecessarily abrupt.

But these are quibbles. Not only are compacts like the Civic Hybrid well equipped, safe, and claustrophobia-free, they also represent good value in the marketplace.

Wow gas mileage; attractive interior; Honda quality and reliability; great steering feel

Noisy engine; abrupt braking; paltry power; too many buttons

America’s best selling compact makes for one heck of a hybrid.

Issue 25

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