The next-generation Honda Civic arrived late in 2005 as a 2006 model, and as with the previous generation, it is available as a coupe, 4-door and as a hybrid. Although Honda has since discontinued the Accord hybrid, they continue offering it in the Civic. Over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to road test Ford, Lexus and Toyota’s take on the hybrid, so I was long overdue to give the Honda hybrid a work-out. Visually, the only way to tell the hybrid from the regular Civic is by the 15” full-face aluminum rims that look like wheel covers and the tiny wing on the trunk lid along with the hybrid badge on the back.
Unlike Civics of the past, I think this is a great looking car whether in the coupe or the 4-door version. The hybrid is only available in the 4-door configuration, so that’s what I got. My previous experience with the new Civic was both thrilling and disappointing – the sole negative for me were the painfully uncomfortable seats in the Si coupe. Fortunately, the hybrid had different seats, so right away I was happy. Climbing into the Civic brought back memories of the Honda character with their very low seat height, but this version offers height adjustment, so I was able to easily get comfortable in a more traditional seating position. The interior was a big surprise – I’d expected a cabin swathed in slight variations of the same grey or black color – this particular interior however, was bright and airy dressed in a bright blue and a light beige making the whole interior look more like the first-class section of an airplane, than a Honda Civic! Even the fabric used to cover the seats felt different. The perfectly contoured and bolstered seats are very comfortable and the support is perfectly placed. The cloth material offered plenty of grip, encouraging you to push the car deep into the corners without the fear of sliding around.
The now familiar bi-level instrument panel features a blue luminescent instrument and tachometer combo. The fuel gauge, digital speedometer and temperature gauges are located in the upper housing further from the driver, out towards the bottom of the windshield. Having the speedometer and fuel gauges in the upper-level makes it almost a heads-up display, it’s perfectly placed – right in the driver’s sight-line. The tachometer, multi-information digital display and odometer with trip meter and the warning indicators are housed in the lower level instrument panel, just above the steering wheel – like traditional layouts. The small, thick steering wheel is nice and chunky in the hands, with the electric steering being perfectly weighted. The wheel tilts and telescopes and has the audio and cruise control buttons within the spokes. Although it’s not leather wrapped, the wheel isn’t the traditional plastic either – it felt more like a rubber steering wheel, the big advantage being that it didn’t slip through your hands as would a plastic wheel.
I like the dashboard arrangement Honda have chosen – it makes the Civic completely different from the mainstream layout of all the other cars today. One surprise was a tachometer – something I’ve never seen in hybrids – til now. For some reason all other hybrids have eliminated the tach and replaced it with a re-generation gauge or something redundant. Honda has placed the little re-generation bar-graph inconspicuously down on the left of lower level so it’s there if you really want to watch the re-generation of the battery, but not obtrusive or buried in a menu within a small screen on the dash – well done Honda!
Starting a hybrid is always different and each model seems to have their own unique manner of coming to life. In the case of the Civic, turning the key as you normally would results in a split-second delay and then the sound of a tradition engine starting up. I waited a few seconds for the on-set of silence, a dead giveaway of a hybrid, but it never came. In fact the Civic is more like a traditional car then any of the other hybrids I’ve driven – there’s no way to tell other than the label on the trunk.
Partly because I’ve driven this generation of Civic before, and partly because Honda have done a terrific job in designing the interior of the Civic, the second you get behind the wheel you feel completely at home with no time needed to familiarize yourself with the car, because everything is so logically placed. The automatic climate control buttons are very legible and easy to operate with a small screen and a dial that is utilized to toggle through the selections – simple and very effective – wow, when was the last time I said that about an automatic climate control system?
Likewise the audio controls are perfectly placed and easy to operate. Everything can be adjusted at a quick glance without having to take your eyes off the road to study the little diagrams that have become to prevalent in many of today’s cars. There’s no need to scroll through a selection of options to get what you want – just push the clearly marked button. The cruise and audio controls on the steering wheel are illuminated, but only the driver’s window button is illuminated. Both the driver’s and passenger’s good-sized vanity mirrors are lighting-challenged as well! Very odd. There’s a decent sized glove box and a great set of auto-adjustable cup holders that accept bottles, cups and cans of all sizes.
The ride, fit and finish are very sporty – with the suspension bordering on being very stiff. The suspension absorbed all of the nasty pot holes that the city of Toronto could throw at it with aplomb. Likewise the seats are quite firm, but not in a painful way. As is usual with CVT transmissions, there are no gears, so shifts are completely seamless. However, the Civic hybrid transmission is outstanding in that it propels the car to illegal speeds with great gusto – it “shifts” at the 6,300 rpm redline and just keeps going breathlessly – all with no increase in noise or vibration – it’s exhilarating! For the entire week I had to keep reminding myself that this was a hybrid! So perfect is the transmission, I wouldn’t even bother with a manual if it were offered. I noticed though, that the 1.3 litre gas engine was always running. Other hybrids I’ve driven – the Camry comes to mind – you could drive around at low speeds in complete silence using the electric motor and then the gas engine would kick in when needed. With the Civic I don’t remember a time where the electric/battery was ever working without the gas engine also running in conjunction. Braking is traditionally an odd feeling in hybrids because of the re-generative nature of the system, and the Civic is no different in that regard. My wife hated the brake feel, but I didn’t find it an issue once I’d gotten used to it – it’s similar in feeling to pressing on a 2×4 piece of wood, instead of the typical movement of regular brakes.
Rear seat accommodation is spacious and comfortable, and with a completely flat floor, there’s plenty of room for 3 sets of feet. I thought the middle seat would be a little uncomfortable, but after testing it out – it’s almost a comfortable as the outboard seats. There’s plenty of knee, foot and leg room for all rear passengers, and unlike some previous generation Honda’s, the rear seat angle is perfect. Ones in the past tended to tilt too far back, making for a somewhat uncomfortable ride after 30 minutes or so. Also, because of the old angle, getting in and out was a considerable issue – especially for older folk. Thankfully the new generation Civic is far superior in that respect. The rear doors open wide and there’s no problems getting in and out of the rear of the Civic. Head room is also plentiful, with hip room abundant for two, but naturally less-so for three passengers. The rear seat is fixed, so there’s no pass-through or folding seats to increase the generous trunk space, however the hybrid only gives up 1 cu-ft of space over a regular Civic (10.4 vs. 11.5 cu-ft).
The electric motor is only 2.5” wide and resides behind the rear seats. Access to the trunk is via a lever on the floor down by the drivers left leg, otherwise you have to use the key to gain entry. Most cars’ fobs today have the trunk release button on them – that’s why this stood out as odd. When you get used to using the fob to open trunks and doors, it gets annoying having to remember to do it a different way, especially when it requires fumbling with keys when your arms are full.
The factory audio system is very good in the Civic, with 6 speakers, 160-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3/WMA compatibility, the unit is more than up to the needs of most people. There is an optional 8-disc CD changer. Below the stereo unit there’s a power outlet and a jack for running your MP3 through the sound system along with a little shelf for storing your MP3 player. There’s an additional power outlet inside the arm rest/console.
The Civic hybrid comes in only one variation: 4-door, with the only major option (U.S. only) being the SatNav at $1,750. The only engine available is a 1.3 litre i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine, combined with Integrated Motor Assist IMA® DC electric motor driving the front wheels through a 2-speed CVT automatic transmission with overdrive. According to Honda: “The IMA™ System adds extra power when you need it, and under certain cruising conditions the IMA System can take over entirely, allowing the vehicle to run on the electric motor alone.”
The horsepower numbers are very deceiving. The hybrid is rated at 93 hp @ 6,300 rpm (110 @ 6,000 rpm with IMA) and the lb-ft of torque is 89 @ 4,500 rpm (123 @ 1,000~2,500 rpm with IMA). Don’t look at the horsepower or torque numbers – the hybrid feels WAY more powerful than that – it feels more like 150 – 175 hp. While testing the 0 – 60 time, if felt slow initially, but then once it started rolling along the speed picked up considerably.
On the safety side, the Civic hybrid has plenty of features. For example: auto door lock/unlock, ABS, Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD), reinforced side intrusion beams, side seat-mounted air bags, side curtain air bags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, active head restraints and an immobilizer system all come standard.
I’ve always liked Hondas and in particular Civics, but I’ve never loved them – this version of the Civic however, has changed that. I love this car. The styling of the Civic is quite a departure for Honda – it’s more attractive than past models. The standard features are plentiful and Honda is leading the way in the safety department too. Some may think that in order to get a hybrid they have to give up too much to a traditional car – what would that be in the case of the Civic? The rear seats don’t fold for added cargo capacity – that’s it, in fact I hasten to say that the hybrid is much faster off the line than its traditional counterpart. The transmission is terrific, it’s faster and it saves you gas at the pumps – that’s a hardship for some? Hondas are renowned for being extremely reliable as well one of the cheapest cars to repair and maintain. Gas mileage wasn’t as good as I expected, but then again I wasn’t trying to get the best gas mileage, I was having too much fun! Still, I think it was more than acceptable for the type of driving we were doing. Most people will get much better mileage than I would out of any vehicle. If I had another opportunity to test the Civic hybrid, maybe I’d try to get the maximum fuel economy – just to see how well it could do.
Pricing for the 2008 Honda Civic hybrid
Base/As Tested Price: $22,600 [$26,350 Cdn]
Destination & Delivery: U.S. – $635 /Canada- $1,295
A fully comprehensive bumper to bumper warranty covers 3 years/36,000 miles [60,000 kms], with a 5-year/60,000 miles [100,000 kms] powertrain warranty. The IMA Battery Warranty covers 8 Years /80,000 miles [160,000 kms]. Roadside assistance is also included.
Fuel Consumption: [Regular Unleaded]
The hybrid is rated at 50 mpg [4.7 L/100 kms] City and 54.7 mpg [4.3 L/100 kms] Highway
I averaged 32.7 mpg [7.2 L/100km] in mostly highway driving and suffering from a lead-foot
Honda’s usual outstanding quality fit and finish
Silky-smooth CVT transmission mated to an equally glorious engine that goes all the way to the red line
Huge trunk for a small car
Superb gas mileage
I honestly can’t think of one!!
Would I Spend My Money On It?
Yes, I would. Even with my heavy foot, it returned very good fuel economy.
Hybrid: Nissan Altima, Toyota Prius & Camry
BTW – GM vehicles are not REAL hybrids, they are marketing hybrids.
Regular Car: Honda Civic Si, Dodge Avenger, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3, Mitsubishi Lancer, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla, VW Golf/Jetta
By The Numbers…
Powertrain: 1.3-litre i-VTEC® 4-cylinder with IMA®; 2-speed CVT automatic transmission with overdrive; FWD
Horsepower: 93 @ 6,300 rpm (110 @ 6,000 rpm with IMA)
Torque: 89 @ 4,500 rpm (123 @ 1,000~2,500 rpm with IMA)
0-60 mph: 11.8 seconds
10 – Quality
10 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
9 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
7 – Special Features (Sat Nav/Heated Seats/ Sunroof, etc)
10 – Ease of Entry/Exit
10 – Front Roominess
10 – Rear Roominess
10 – Driving Position/Controls
8 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish
10 – Engine
10 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling
10 – Bang for the $$
10 – Fuel Economy
144 Total / 150
Copyright © 2008 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Honda/Iain Shankland
Also Published at: PaddockTalk.com