Better fuel efficiency…at a price in performance
by Twain Mein
- It’s a hybrid!
- Honda reputation for quality and reliability
- Head clearance and rear seat room is exceptional
- Noisy under acceleration
- Abrupt stop-start
- Boring to drive
I was really looking forward to road-testing Honda’s answer to the Prius. I was expecting sporty handling and a peppy feel that is the heritage of the Civic line up. Boy was I disappointed.
The Civic hybrid is Honda’s entry level hybrid car. Unlike the Toyota Prius, the electric engine is incremental to the gas one, adding only 20 horsepower to the 4-cylinder’s 93 (the Prius adds 67 to the 4-cylinder’s 76). As a result, it doesn’t have the same eerie quietness of the Prius or the abundance of torque.
The fit and finish is typical Honda-excellent. Doors were solid; paint was “deep” and lustrous. Interior was a little gimmicky (long dash with separate binnacle for MPH) but the instrumentation and controls had a luxurious feel. For around $20k, Honda quality is impressive.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The interior is surprisingly roomy, especially for the driver. There is remarkable head room; I am 6’ tall and there was at least another 5 inches to spare. I also like to “spread out” a bit while driving, and there was plenty of “knee room”. It felt like a much larger car. In the back, there is also commendable rear seat room with plenty of toe room to enhance the feeling of spaciousness. The only place room comes up short is the trunk. While it’s fairly deep, it isn’t very long. Unfortunately, the seats don’t fold down to carry larger items.
Interior amenities like the center console and cup holders were spacious and thoughtfully done. Cigarette lighters were well located for easy access to charging devices like cell phones.
The seats don’t offer a lot of bolstering and aren’t very comfortable; this was disappointing. The dual stage dashboard—with speedo out front and RPM/gear selection up front—was form without function. I didn’t see or feel a benefit in having the speedo “out there” while the tach was where you expect all the info to be. The GPS/Sound System had way too many buttons and was difficult to use. Sound quality on FM and XM was quite good and the built in amp has impressive power. However AM radio sound quality was TERRIBLE.
Two additional interior nits-the handbrake is on the left of the transmission tunnel. Your leg rests against this “irregular shape” while driving. It would be nice if the handbrake was on the RIGHT side, allowing a more seamless shape to rest against. Additionally, shifting from park to drive, it was very easy to over shift to S (sport) or L (low). A stronger detent between Drive and the lower gears would improve drivability.
With nearly 3,000 pounds to haul around and only 113 combined horsepower, the Civic Hybrid is no speed demon. Car and Driver recorded 0-60 in 10.8 seconds – which isn’t horrible, but it’s 30-50 times of 6 seconds and 50-70 in 8.4 demonstrate the lack of power when it counts. The real world acceleration needed for maintaining position on our local highways requires anticipation for passing in this car. Merging on to highways requires full throttle, CVT whining as noise builds directly in relation to velocity. Shifting to the “S” sport mode seemed to increase noise but not really speed. There really is no strong power band in this car. As a result of my heavy-footedness, I averaged just 30 mpg over 100 miles of driving. Good but certainly not even close to the claimed 49/51 mpg.
Steering feel is better in this Civic than the Prius or Camry hybrid. And there is very little body roll-it’s actually remarkable how stable the Civic feels. But that stability, coupled with the lack of “oomph” do make the car feel heavy and ponderous. The front wheel drive and hard compound tires make it too easy to screech the tires in tight turns. With stickier tires, the Civic would be more entertaining.
The shape of this car is actually quite impressive. Despite its very aero packaging, it comes off as much more appealing than the odd-looking Prius. The 2-door Civic SI coupe is gorgeous and the 4 door carries off much of the it’s attractive styling. I vastly prefer the wheels on the Civic SI to these aero caps, but all in all, it’s a good looking car. One annoyance is the tiny “sail” window in front of the door windows. Are those really necessary?
The Civic Hybrid offers a lot of content, high quality, good styling, and hybrid efficiency at a reasonable price. For comparison, at $24,350 as equipped, the hybrid tacks on about $1k to a similarly equipped Civic Si sedan. The Si has 197 horsepower with an EPA estimate of 21/29. A Toyota Prius offers similar fuel efficiency and supply has caught up with demand so pricing is in line with the Civic Hybrid. Bottom line, if you want something sportier, the Si is likely a lot more engaging and fun to drive. If you are set on saving on fuel, the Prius is roomier, more practical and has more available torque which makes it easier for daily driving.
I was really looking forward to driving this car. But during 100 miles of use, I never looked forward to the driving experience. The underwhelming power train and ho-hum handling made for a sadly boring driving experience. For comparison, a few days later, I drove a 1998 Civic coupe. That car, while lacking the luxurious appointments of the Civic Hybrid, was light on its feet, had fantastic handling and was fun to drive. The Civic Hybrid wasn’t.
>> Read Gary’s counterpoint: 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid Review
>> 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.