With the redesign of the Civic for 2006, Honda rolls out a new version of its Civic Hybrid that, with EPA gas mileage estimates of 49 mpg in the city and 51 on the highway, is more fuel-efficient than the prior-generation model. It uses a new version of Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system, which the company says allows the car to operate on the electric motor alone when cruising conditions are right.
The redesigned Civic sedan looks futuristic compared to its predecessor. The hybrid takes the look even further with disc-like 15-inch alloy wheels fitted with low-rolling-resistance tires. The A-pillars are practically over the front wheels, and the large front doors make getting in and out of the car easy. In addition to the wheels, a rear lip spoiler, hybrid badges and redundant turn-signal indicators in the side mirror housings serve to differentiate the Civic Hybrid from conventional models.
There's room for five in the Civic Hybrid, which has two-tone cloth seating surfaces. Air conditioning, cruise control, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, a CD stereo, and power windows, locks and mirrors are standard.
The Civic Hybrid has an interesting-looking instrument cluster that's similar to the regular Civic's. It features a digital speedometer that's positioned near the base of the windshield, and a large tachometer in front of the steering wheel that's within its own housing. There's also a battery meter and a charge/assist gauge that monitors the electric portion of the powertrain.
The hybrid's 10.4-cubic-foot trunk is slightly smaller than the regular sedan's 12.0-cubic-foot cargo area. Unlike the regular Civic sedan, a 60/40-split, folding rear seat — which expands the cargo area — isn't offered.
Under the Hood
Featuring a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine teamed with an electric motor, the Civic Hybrid makes 110 horsepower and 123 pounds-feet of torque. A continuously variable transmission is standard.
Standard safety features include antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. In the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests, the Civic received the highest overall rating.
It's amazing how putting a few hybrid system readouts on a dashboard can alter driver behavior. While driving the Civic Hybrid, the battery meter and charge/assist gauge provided instant rewards in exchange for efficient driving. Beware: Watching those two gauges is highly addictive.
Though it's not especially quick, the Civic Hybrid accelerates adequately. The car has an engine auto-stop feature that turns off the engine when the car is stopped for traffic, in order to save fuel, and restarts the engine once it's time to accelerate. Auto-stop works fine, but it can catch you off guard sometimes; the engine occasionally needs to be started even when you're not moving, which can make the car creep forward if your foot isn't firmly on the brake pedal.
The Civic Hybrid has a taut suspension and body roll is well-controlled, but the ride can get a bit jittery at times on uneven concrete highways. The steering is responsive, though the non-linear brakes can make smooth stops tricky. All-around visibility is exceptional.