Stalwart fans will probably find plenty to love in the 2012 Toyota Prius but that’s because little is different in the tried-and-true flagship hybrid. While “Prius people” probably shudder to think of driving anything else, there is a (somewhat) viable competitor this year: the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid.
It’s true; the Civic Hybrid can’t claim the same mileage with 44/44 mpg city/highway to the Prius’ 51/48 mpg figures. Still, some may find allure in its indistinct styling — not everyone wants their green showing.
Honda went to lengths this year in improving over last year’s model, going so far as to implement its first lithium ion battery. That, in tandem with the larger 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine (up from the previous 1.3) is good for 110 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque.
|Vehicle||2012 Toyota Prius||Advantage||2012 Honda Civic Hybrid|
|Engine||Gas/Electric I4, 1.8L||Prius||Gas/Electric I4, 1.5L|
|Horsepower||134 @ 5200 rpm||Prius||110 @ 5500 rpm|
|Max. Torque||105 @ 4000 rpm||Civic Hybrid||127 @ 1000-3500 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||51 MPG city / 48 MPG hwy||Prius||44 MPG city / 44 MPG hwy|
|Head Room (front)||38.6"||Civic Hybrid||39.0"|
|Leg Room (front)||42.5"||Prius||42.0"|
|Shoulder Room (front)||54.9"||Civic Hybrid||56.6"|
|Trunk Space (cu-ft)||21.6||Prius||10.7|
While that isn’t enough power for spirited driving, it’s still close to the 134-horsepower Prius that only makes 105 lb-ft of torque. That said, power probably doesn’t matter much when there’s such abundant gas mileage on the table.
That mileage is translated from engine to road in both cars via continuously variable transmissions, so stick shift enthusiasts need not apply. We did note during our reviews of both cars that the Civic’s engine is particularly jarring compared to the Prius when it kicks in behind the electric motor. This is due to Honda’s more rudimentary Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system, compared to the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive, which does allow you to drive a certain distance (roughly a mile) on pure electric power.
Mileage aside, both cars are easily recognizable: one as a hybrid, the other as a Civic and the same stays true for both interiors. Sitting in the Civic you’ll notice a dash-mounted screen that delivers data like fuel consumption, the type of power you’re using and more. Fuel-use gimmicks and tools aside it still feels like a familiar Civic, so most people will feel comfortable driving it.
On the other hand, driving a Prius is decidedly distinct and might require acclimation for newcomers. The gear shifter isn’t like anything in other cars. It’s too small to wrap your hand around — more of a knob, really. There’s also no “park” setting, instead the car has a button for that.
All the critical data in a Prius comes from its Starship Enterprise-esque center-stack displays, including speed, fuel level and oodles of gas data to satiate its diligent drivers.
The same isn’t true of the Civic Hybrid, which has a screen to give real-time fuel information built into the digital dashboard as well as a large infotainment screen in the center stack.
Both cars come with standard features like air conditioning and power windows, though you’ll have to pay extra in either to have satellite navigation. Honda offers optional leather seating, which isn’t available in the Prius. Then again, the Civic’s leather is nothing to write home about.
Ultimately, the choice between this year’s Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius comes down to aesthetic preference. Prius drivers will enjoy somewhat better mileage, but there will also be people willing to sacrifice a little to blend into the crowd. At $24,050, the Civic Hybrid is a wash financially with the $24,000 Prius, so the choice is yours.