2009 Honda Civic Hybrid Review: Honda's gas sipper goes upscale

Expert Reviews Honda

Driving Impressions
Like other hybrids, the Civic Hybrid drives the same as any regular car and if you weren’t aware of the extra technology under the hood, you might not even notice. Unlike full hybrids like the Toyota Prius, the Civic Hybrid doesn’t run on electric power alone. It does have an idle stop feature, which kills the gas engine when the car isn’t moving and your foot is on the brake pedal. The moment you lift your foot off the brake, the engine fires up and you’re ready to roll.

Although Honda’s hybrid system works quite well, it suffers a bit in terms of refinement, with a somewhat clunky transition between when the electric motor provides thrust and when it recharges the battery. Rumor has it that Honda will abandon its mild hybrid setup for a full-blown hybrid-electric powertrain in the next few years. But even without the most advanced technology, the Civic Hybrid delivers commendable fuel economy. We were able to achieve 43 mpg over 550 miles of mostly highway driving, matching the EPA numbers with impressive accuracy.

The Civic Hybrid is powered by a 1.3 liter 4-cylinder engine with Integrated Motor Assist, Honda’s moniker for it’s hybrid-electric system. Combined output is a fairly meager 110 hp, but the car also features a continuously variable transmission that helps maximize both power and efficiency. Stand on the gas and the electric motor provides noticeable torque, but even with this assistance acceleration is modest and you have to wait until the CVT spins the motor up past 5,000 rpm for any real thrust. The batteries also run out of juice quite quickly, lasting only half a mile or so under hard acceleration. Once the batteries are spent, you’re left with a 90 hp engine for a car that weighs almost 3,000 lbs, a less than favorable power-to-weight ratio, to say the least.

The Civic hybrid shares the same refined chassis as other Civics, including the high performance Civic Si. Throw the Civic Hybrid around some turns and the car displays a level of stability and neutrality uncommon for a front-wheel drive car, much less a relatively cheap one. Helping things is a suspension that is tuned more firmly than you would expect, although not to the point of sacrificing ride quality. In fact, the chassis and suspension are so poised that the Civic Hybrid rides more like a sports sedan than a compact car.

Unfortunately, stepping on the gas brings the driver back to the reality that this is no sports sedan, making us wonder why Honda didn’t soften things up a bit, so as not to create such a split personality. Adding to the schizophrenia is a set of high-profile, low rolling resistance Bridgestone tires that start squealing the moment you throw the wheel. We do realize that most hybrid drivers aren’t looking to hit a twisty stretch of back road at high speed, but it’d still be nice to have tires that don’t wimp out so quickly, especially when the rest of the car is up to the task.

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