Someone who wants maximum fuel economy and the lowest exhaust emissions in a compact 5 passenger sedan
Comparable models in this class:
Gas prices are on everyone's minds these days. And the outlook for the future is not any brighter. Working people who must commute to their job and salespeople who must use their own vehicle to get to a client are being hit the hardest. More and more people are looking toward the new hybrid vehicles for relief. Manufacturers are hearing that call and cranking out more new hybrid cars each year to meet the growing demand.
Currently, there are two compact sedans that have hybrid power, the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid. Other hybrids currently available are found in SUV's or larger sedans. There is also a small two seat runabout by Honda called the Insight. In fact, the Insight is the car that started it all and has the best gas mileage. However, for this report we will be talking about the Honda Civic Hybrid.
Like the caterpillar that turned into a butterfly, the Honda Civic line has gone through a complete metamorphosis. The styling of the all new 2006 Civic is light years beyond what anyone expected and it is apparent that Honda stylists took a number of risks to move the style this far forward in one giant step. The fact that they did this on a compact economy sedan is doubly impressive.
The risk taking didn't stop with the exterior design either. Sit behind the wheel and you will think that you were just transported to Tomorrowland. Honda engineers completely rethought how the interior of a compact sedan should look and work. And they didn't do it just to be different, this design actually works well. There is an airy feel inside this car with excellent visibility.
The first thing that catches your eye when you slide behind the wheel is the dash. This split instrument cluster is a masterstroke of design. Sight above the rim of the steering wheel and you will see the digital speedometer sandwiched between the fuel gage and fuel economy meter. The speedometer is pushed forward and sits near the base of the windshield, which itself is a foot or so further forward than a conventional windshield. The fact that the speedometer is so far forward means that you don't have to refocus your eyes as much while you're driving. Also, since it's a large digital display, you won't need your reading glasses to see how fast you're going.
Below the rim of the wheel, where the speedometer is normally located, sits the tachometer and, in the case of our Hybrid, the energy monitor for the battery. The steering wheel of our hybrid had an array of controls neatly laid out along the horizontal spokes. On the left were radio controls and on the right, the cruise controls. There were three bumps along the steering wheel rim positioned at 10 o'clock, 2 o'clock and 6 o'clock. I normally dislike grip bumps on a steering wheel, favoring a nice fat grip all the way around, but these weren't so bad.
The front seats were comfortable with manual driver's seat adjustments for height, reach and seatback angle. The rear seat had a good amount of room for a compact sedan and, as an added bonus, Honda eliminated the hump in the center for a completely flat floor.
Steering feel is one of the best parts of driving this Civic. Honda always made great handling cars and this one is no exception. Narrow country roads that snaked around Long Island's north shore brought out the best in this car's persona. Steering was sharp and direct giving a good feeling of control. The brakes felt powerful and responsive with no hint of the disconnected brake pedal feel normally associated with a Hybrid. Unfortunately, I couldn't say the same for the go power of this hybrid powertrain. Acceleration was lethargic at best with 0 to 60 times of 12.4 seconds. Initial throttle response is good, but the car runs out of steam at about half throttle.
Besides being underpowered, I thought the ride was a bit too stiff. Potholes and broken pavement transmitted into the car a little more sharply than I thought they should. Also, because of the position of the hybrid battery, the rear seats are fixed and do not fold down to allow the trunk floor to extend into the rear seat area.
Exactly what is a hybrid car and how does it save gas? Hybrid vehicles take advantage of a huge source of energy that is normally thrown away on ordinary vehicles. Every time you step on the brake pedal to slow down, you are converting the energy of a one or two ton rolling vehicle into heat caused by the friction of the brake pads and tossing that heat to the wind. Not very efficient.
What if we could recapture some of that energy and feed it back into the car to be used to get the vehicle moving again? That would save lots of gas, wouldn't it? Well that is exactly what a hybrid vehicle does.
Hybrid vehicles are powered by a conventional internal combustion engine just like any other vehicle. The difference is that on a hybrid, that engine is supplemented with an electric motor. In Honda's case, the system is known as Integrated Motor Assist (IMA).
Both the gas engine and the electric motor are used to propel the car. The electric motor on the Civic Hybrid is sandwiched between the engine and the transmission. The engine and electric motor are directly connected together and turn as a single unit. Unlike the Toyota Prius which can run for short distances on the electric motor alone, the Civic engine is always turning while the car is moving. The advantage to the Civic IMA is that it is less complex and feels more natural than the Toyota system.
Whenever you step on the brake pedal of a hybrid, or even just let go of the gas, the computer switches the polarity of the electric motor turning it into a generator to recharge the battery. The brake pedal regulates how much current is sent back to the battery. The harder you step on the brake pedal, the more drag the generator places on the forward motion of the car thereby slowing the vehicle. If the vehicle is not slowing enough, the regular brake system takes over seamlessly to stop the car. When we are ready to go again, the computer will send battery voltage back to the electric motor to move the car. This amounts to free energy, so we need less power from the gasoline motor, hence less gasoline is needed. Since we do not need as much power from the gasoline engine, it can be made smaller and more fuel efficient.
Another way that the Civic Hybrid saves gas is by shutting the engine off whenever you come to a stop. As soon as you remove your foot from the brake pedal, the engine comes back to life without skipping a beat.
That, in a nutshell, is how a hybrid vehicle works. The major advantage is, of course, the gas mileage which, in the Civic Hybrid's case, is rated by the EPA at 49 miles per gallon in the city and 51 mpg on the highway. Impressive numbers to be sure, but is it worth it? A normal Civic with an automatic transmission will give you 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway and run from 0 to 60 in 10.1 seconds, more that 2 seconds quicker than the hybrid's 12.4 second time.
The Civic Hybrid costs $2,790 more than the top of the line Civic ES. $2,790 will buy an awful lot of fuel, even at today's prices, so it could take years to offset the extra cost of a hybrid. The Federal Government knows this and has stepped in to ease the sticker shock by offering a tax credit of $400 to $3,400 (depending on gas mileage of the vehicle) to people who purchase a hybrid vehicle. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 will be in affect from 2006 through 2010, but will be phased out in July 2006 if the manufacturer sells 60,000 vehicles before April 2006. If you want to know more about this incentive, visithttp://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/tax_hybrid.shtml
Another thing to consider when weighing whether you should spend the extra money is that when you are ready to trade the car in, it will most certainly be worth more than the conventional Civic. How much more remains to be seen. Consider that a 2002 Toyota Prius has a book value at this writing of $16,500. Four years ago when this car was new, it cost about $20,000. True, this is the only hybrid sedan you can purchase used at this time, so don't expect this kind of resale value when the market has a number of hybrid choices, but resale value of a hybrid is bound to be up there for the next few years.
In case you are concerned about the cost of getting the Hybrid system repaired down the line, you should know that there is an excellent warranty on the hybrid components. To start with, there is the standard 3-year/36,000 mile warranty on the entire car. The powertrain is covered for 5 years or 60,000 miles. This includes engine, transmission, drive axles, etc. The hybrid components have different coverage depending on where you live. For most of the country, the hybrid components, which include the electric motor, hybrid battery and electronics, are covered for 8-years or 80,000 miles.
If you live in CA, MA, NY, NJ, VT, ME, NH or RI, you are in luck. In order for a vehicle to conform to the California Air Resources Board emission standard of AT-PZEV, which those states have adopted, the hybrid components (except for the battery) must be covered for 15 years or 150,000 miles! The hybrid battery is warranted in those states for 10 years or 150,000 miles. That should give you some peace of mind and help you make a decision. For those of you who do not live in those states, don't despair, The cars that you get are the same and are designed to last just as long.
Another important advantage to ecology-minded people is that hybrid vehicles are among the cleanest running vehicles made today. The Civic Hybrid receives an AT-PZEV rating (Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emission Vehicle) from the California Air Resources Board, which is as good as it gets for a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.
The week that I had the Civic Hybrid, Honda asked if I would drive into Manhattan to make the car available for a last minute segment on the Today Show on NBC. Aside from the fact that I had to be there at 5am, I had a blast watching how a live TV show came together. In the segment, they talked about hybrid vehicles and the tax credits that were available. So if you thought that this car looked a lot like a car you saw on TV, you were right.
The styling and handling of this vehicle really turn me on. I especially like the interior and build quality, not to mention Honda's reputation for bullet-proof reliability. If you feel this way as well and you are looking for a car that gives exceptional fuel economy and you don't mind the leisurely acceleration and firm ride, then put the Honda Civic Hybrid on your short list.