Environmentally Responsible and Good Looking, Too!
by Gary Chan
- Excellent gas mileage
- Comfortable seats
- Good driving dynamics
- Quiet HVAC system kept us cool in warm Southern California
- Cabin a bit noisy due to road noise
- Engine a bit noisy when pushed
- Navigation/audio touch screen not intuitive
I wonder what the mileage would be for a weekend road trip from Sunnyvale to Los Angeles, California? And how about with two other people and their gear? We packed up the car, and headed out on Friday, and this is what I discovered about this Civic Hybrid.
I like this car. The Civic has a solid body structure, comfortable seats, and sips fuel. The interior colors mesh well together producing a pleasant visual experience for the occupants (albeit with a futuristic dash design) while the more-than-adequate sound system (love the XM satellite!) completes the auditory experience. The Galaxy Gray Metallic-colored Civic reminds me of a futuristic boat with a rising strake emanating from the front wheel well terminating at the rear bumper. Except for the small spoiler on the trunk lid, there are few sharp edges leading to aerodynamic efficiency. As this was a road trip, I loved the simple cruise controls button located on the 2-spoke steering wheel: on, cancel, and set/decelerate and resume/accelerate. True to Honda form, it accelerates and brakes smoothly while being easy on the pocketbook.
Closing the either the doors or the trunk was standard Honda fair: reliably easy. Never did any of the doors remain ajar when pushed with even a light touch. Driving the car, you can feel the solid construction of the body displaying little flex and no rattles. I owned a 1978 Honda Accord hatchback for quite a few years, and appreciated the open engine compartment which made servicing the engine very easy. Well, almost 30 years of advances in technology, and hybrid technology has filled almost every conceivable void in the engine compartment. However, adding or checking vital fluids remains as easy as it was 30 years ago with improvements such as color-coded dipsticks. The air filter is replaced by simply releasing 4 clips, and checking the battery is even easier due to its location at the front-right of the engine compartment. As far as the interior, the graphite-colored trim surrounding the center-mounted LCD screen blended well with the slightly lighter-colored dash vinyl and ivory (as Honda calls it) fabric (which seemed more like a light-tan than ivory). All of the dash trim pieces fit together well with no variations along seam lines.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
Being contained in a car for 6 hours, I want a car that fits me well. The seats on the Civic are comfortable and supportive, but as we approached Los Angeles, my rear began to ache a little. Driving down with me was my girlfriend’s 5’-7” niece who sat in the back seat. She praised the leg and headroom in the back seat. With regards to the front seat, there are two levers on the left side for adjustment: one is for seat cushion height/angle, and the other for seatback adjustment (as well as a fore/aft adjustment). With these limited adjustments, I quickly found a comfortable seating position for the long drive. The steering wheel also tilts/telescopes. The dash is split with the digital speedometer, temp/mpg, and fuel gauge located above the tachometer, trip meters, gear indicator and battery/charge status meters. It takes a bit to get used to the difference in height between the two, but like my Honda CBR600F4i motorcycle, I looked mainly at the digital speedometer. All of the information is clearly visible regardless of how bright the sun was shinning.
The touch screen is bright and configurable. The navigation worked well and clearly warned me of impending turns or changes in direction with both graphical and audible instructions. I did notice one glitch in the nav instructions: it told us to take an exit (a mile or so before the actual exit in Los Angeles) only to lead us back onto the freeway. One feature on the wish list is the ability to enter a destination starting with a zip code. A small pet peeve was the lag between switching functions (like navigation to audio) … it’s akin to bad shutter lag on a digital camera. I didn’t notice this on the Toyota Prius.
I mentioned keeping cool in Southern California. There are two HVAC knobs: one to control temperature and the other, fan speed. They’re both large knobs that were easy to manipulate to achieve the desired climate. One little nag is the inability to shut off the flow of air to the two center-vents. The two outer-dash vents both have wheels to close the vent … why not the center two?
Below the HVAC knobs/buttons, you’ll find the 12 volt outlet as well as the input for your iPod/mp3 player. I plugged in a 3-way12v splitter into the outlet, and charged two phones, and my portable Magellan GPS device. Conveniently located to the right of outlet/input, is a small shelf that would easily hold your iPod or phone. Below that small nook, is a larger cutout to hold more gadgets, pens, or your Tic Tacs. On the way home, we had to charge a 4th device, and under the armrest is a second 12 volt outlet. Great thinking!
How fast does it go? Well, having my girlfriend and her niece along on the trip, I wasn’t able to test it out, but I did manage to get it over 90mph on Highway 5. At those speeds, the engine and transmission is definitely working hard, but the car remains rock-steady. Slower traffic was easy to overtake and pass, and we never had an issue. Just floor it, and with the increase in noise, your speed increases. If you leave the cruise control on and attempt to climb a steep grade (like the Grapevine), the car has a difficult time maintaining the desired speed. If you cancel the cruise control, and step on the gas, the car (with 3 people plus luggage) had no problem cruising up the Grapevine at 75 MPH. Braking is strong with no surprises.
For an economy car, the suspension is very good. On undulating pavement on Highway 5, the suspension muted it to a dull shudder in the car. Even the road repairs on Sunset Boulevard were easily absorbed. One thing that impressed me the most is the nimble quality of this car. Parking and turning on some of the crowded and narrow streets of Los Angeles was a breeze. The power steering is perfect giving just enough feedback to the driver as to the vehicle’s direction. Driving back to Sunnyvale with cruise control set at 75mph, I momentarily removed my hands from the steering wheel to check it’s tracking ability. Had the highway been straight, I would have made it all the way home with nary a correction.
“Wow, this is a hybrid?” You would be hard pressed to tell. Unfortunately, Honda did little to distinguish their hybrid body from their standard Civic save for the small rear spoiler and badge on the trunk. I wish they had made some changes to let others know that I’m not driving “just” a Civic. I hope the next Civic has more character and excitement in its design.
This model lists for $24,350 (and may still qualify for a $2,100 tax credit) so it’s not that expensive. With the tax credit, it’s very close to a well-optioned Civic EX-L sedan. It performs well, and like most Honda’s, will be extremely reliable. Out of curiosity, I set the cruise control when leaving Los Angeles at 75 MPH, and upon returning to the Bay Area, discovered a 38.5 MPG average for about 385 miles (we did some street driving prior to leaving so I’m sure my actual highway mileage would have been higher). The 12.3-gallon tank showed a little less than ¼ remaining. That’s impressive. For commuting or long trips (with 2-3 people), this will be a perfect choice for transportation.
Editor’s Note: After Gary returned the car I drove the Civic until the warning fuel light came on, drove another 30 miles in afternoon slow-n-go commuter traffic, got the fuel gauge down to one bar and finally pulled into a gas station to fuel up. Capacity of the gas tank is 12.3 gallons according to the owner’s manual and it only took 10.5 gallons to fill up the tank. I wonder if the Civic Hybrid could have gone another 60 miles before running dry.
If you can live with the loud (at times) interior, the futuristic dash, and the bland styling, this is your car. If I was spending $24k, I might consider a more exciting, loaded Mazda 3 or even the standard Civic EX-L sedan (and save a little $). I spoke with my brother a few hours ago, and he has a 4-year old Civic coupe, and he mentioned that he achieved the same mpg (as I did) on his trips to Mendocino. Is the hybrid for you? If you’re environmentally responsible or conscientious, no doubt, this is the car for you, and would have no hesitation in recommending it to you. But seeing that a normal Civic (with a lighter foot) can achieve similar (or slightly less) miles per gallon while costing thousands less, you begin to wonder if it’s worth it.
>> Twain takes the Civic Hybrid for a spin and has a different opinion than Gary’s. Read Twain’s driving impressions of the Civic Hybrid
>> See all of the Honda Civic Hybrid pictures in our photo gallery
>> Read more Honda Civic Hybrid reviews submitted by the CarReview.com community
>> Official website for Honda cars, minivans, trucks, crossover utility vehicles, and hybrids: American Honda Motor Co.