Honda Civic Hybrid takes a lot of greenbacks to go green
In one of the leading automotive examples of having your cake and eating it too, Honda has upgraded the 2009 Civic Hybrid with enough high-end options to make it a near-luxury car, but maintained its fuel-sipping status as one of the most economical cars on the road.
Luxury seldom comes cheap, though, and this is no exception: The base-model Civic sedan starts at $15,505 while the Civic Hybrid starts at $23,650, and with the leather upholstery and navigation system found in the test car, plus shipping, the bottom line is $27,520, solidly into Accord territory.
If your sole goal is cheap transportation, the base Civic with the manual transmission, EPA-rated at 26 miles per gallon city driving, 34 mpg on the highway, may be your choice. The Hybrid, which comes only with a continuously-variable automatic transmission - plus a lot of other features the bare-bones Civic sedan doesn't have - is EPA-rated at 40 mpg city, 45 mpg highway. And the base Civic has 140 horsepower, while the Hybrid has 110.
You can buy a lot of gas for the minimum $8,000 extra the Hybrid costs - and while the overall fuel-mileage average for the Hybrid is 42 mpg, compared to 29 mpg for the base Civic, it would take a long time to make up the difference, even if gas prices do go back up.
So you still want the Civic Hybrid? I won't try to talk you out of it. It's a remarkable little car, plenty roomy for four 6-foot adults, thanks to the way the Civic has grown over the years. The 1989 Civic was 166.6 inches long, and now, 20 years later, the new one is 177.3 inches.
The Hybrid looks a lot like the regular Civic sedan, but the Hybrid has special lightweight alloy wheels, and Bridgestone radial tires that have a very high tread-wear rating of 380, suggesting they are made from harder-than-usual rubber, and consequently will roll more easily. There's also a new front bumper for 2009.
With the leather upholstery and very user-friendly navigation system - typical for Honda - plus air conditioning, cruise control, voice-activated controls and full power features, this Civic Hybrid lacked only a sunroof. Stability control is standard on the Hybrid for 2009, as are side and side-curtain airbags and four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock.
The Civic Hybrid is considered a "partial" hybrid, because - unlike, say, the Toyota Prius - it can't move on electric power alone. An electric motor does help the little 1.3-liter four-cylinder gas engine do its job, and when you come to a red light, the gas engine turns off until you press the accelerator. It's smooth and seamless. Despite the small engine, power is entirely adequate. And even with the hard tires, ride and handling are better than you'd expect.
The Civic Hybrid allows owners to be green, but give up nothing - except money, to pay for the Hybrid's extra cost. But get past that, and there's nothing not to like.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 407-420-5699, or through his blog at Enginehead.com.
2009 Honda Civic Hybrid
Base price: $23,650
Price as tested: $27,520
EPA rating: 40 miles per gallon city driving, 45 mpg highway.
Details: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, gasoline-electric hybrid with a 1.3-liter, 110-horsepower four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission.