Honda Civic Hybrid ES
26 August 2006
No compromises. That's the aim of the new Civic Hybrid, the car Honda hopes will finally provoke mainstream acceptance of hybrid technology. The Japanese company's rival to the Toyota Prius is still very much a minority player, Honda has only managed 2000 hybrid sales in the UK between both the previous Civic IMA and the Insight.
The new car is a stand-alone model separate from the rest of the new, more radically-styled Civic range, and the hybrid is the only Civic available as a four-door saloon. That's come about because the Americans prefer a four-door bodystyle, and the States is by far the biggest market for hybrids.
The Civic Hybrid's sober looks certainly won't attract much attention, though it is modern and fairly stylish. The inside is more adventurous and obviously linked to the new Civic hatchback, with the two-deck dashboard promoting the most important information to an upper display nearer the driver's eye-line. Rear passenger space is more than adequate for a car in this class, though packaging the battery and hybrid powertrain means boot space is severely impacted at only 350 litres compared to a Civic hatchback's 485.
Unlike the Toyota system, which can function purely on electric power with light throttle around town, the Civic's Integrated Motor Assist only works in conjunction with the 1.3-litre petrol engine, though the electric motor overrides the engine when the car's static in traffic to cut emissions or at sub-30mph constant speeds.
Driving the Civic, there's no indication you're driving anything different to a standard petrol model, save the small dashboard readout that shows whether the battery is either charging or being used to give a 20PS boost to the engine. That extra push could do with being amplified though, because you have to work the Civic hard to make any serious progress. It's easy to drive around town though, thanks to the light steering and good ride quality, and the 100% discount from London's congestion charge is a welcome financial benefit. And the best news of all for company car drivers is the 12% BIK banding, six bands better than even the cleanest diesels. While diesel has a three-band penalty enforced by the Government, the Civic, like the Prius, get a 2% discount for being a hybrid, plus another 1% off because it's a hybrid below 120g/km CO2 emissions. The ownership proposition is further helped by a low group seven insurance and a claimed 61.4mpg, though experience says hybrid fuel figures are difficult to achieve in the real world without plenty of ultra light-throttle town driving.
Honda has succeeded in making hybrid cars a compromise-free alternative to mainstream hatchbacks. The technology has moved a long way since the early two-seat Insight, and the Civic Hybrid can fill the role of family transport. Fleets looking for a green option should, and will, take note.