2009 Honda Civic Hybrid

It’s everything that’s good about a Civic, with even better fuel economy.

2009 Honda Civic Hybrid

Before Honda launched its dedicated hybrid model, the Insight, there was the Civic Hybrid. But try as Honda might with soft hybrid-specific paintjobs, eco conscious consumers flocked to Toyota dealers to pick up a Prius instead. Honda learned the hard way that looking like an environmentally responsible person is equally important to being one – if not more so.

FAST FACTS

1. Fuel-economy is rated at 40/45 mpg (city/hwy)

2. The Civic Hybrid costs $23,650 ($27,350 CDN) to start.

3. We got 456.6 miles on a tank and it only cost $25.95 to fill it up.

4. The Civic Hybrid uses Honda’s IMA hybrid system with a 1.3L 4-cyl engine, an electric motor and a battery pack, which combine for 110hp and 123 ft-lbs of torque.

And that’s why we now have the new Insight.

Still, Honda has made the decision to continue producing the Civic Hybrid – and that’s a good thing.

FUEL-ECONOMY: 40/45 MPG

It might not have the cache of the Insight or Prius, but then again, there’s a lot to be said for the Civic name. Besides, it gets better fuel mileage than the Insight. Yup, at 40 mpg city it matches the Insight and at 45 mpg highway, it edges it out by two ticks.

In our testing we averaged 41.7 mpg (with a heavier focus on highway driving) and without running the tank all the way down to the fumes we were able to get 456.6 miles in one run. On fill-up we added 10.38 gallons of good old 87 octane, which at an average of $2.50 per gallon works out to $25.95 for a tank. Not bad at all!

A fill-up in the Insight cost just $23 but also only gave 373 miles to a tank. So realistically, the difference is pretty much negligible.

The Civic Hybrid’s real competitor comes from outside the brand, however, with the new Prius and its 51/48 mpg rating.

HONDA’S “INTEGRATED MOTOR ASSIST” HYBRID SYSTEM

The hybrid system that Honda uses is called IMA or Integrated Motor Assist and is quite different from Toyota’s better-known Hybrid Synergy Drive. In the Civic, the IMA system is comprised of a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine, as well as an electric motor and a battery pack. In total the systems combine to make 110hp and 123 ft-lbs of torque – 12 more hp than in the Insight.

The system works quite simply, with the gasoline engine being assisted by the electric motor to propel the car. Energy for the electric motor is stored in battery packs, which are constantly recharged through regenerative braking.

There are, however, two down sides to the Honda system. The first is that because the car can’t operate on just electric power, like in the Prius, fuel-economy isn’t as good as it could be. The second fault is that the IMA setup uses a start-stop system that’s often jerky.

The way the start-stop system works is that every time you come to a stop the gasoline engine shuts off. Then as soon as you lift off the brake pedal the engine is re-engaged before your right foot touches the gas pedal. This way the car saves plenty of gas by not idling at lights or when stuck in traffic. And if you’re really careful you can coast for quite a while with the engine off.

Unfortunately the car can’t recognize when you’re crawling down a hill in traffic. If it could, then the gasoline engine would stay off and save even more gas, but as it doesn’t, every time you lift your foot off the brake to allow gravity to pull the car forward the engine needlessly kicks in.

As mentioned the IMA system is jerky and quick pedal transitions while the car is changing modes can cause it to buck. The Prius, on the other hand, makes the change from gasoline to electric, and vice versa, seamlessly.

It’s important to note here that as driving style is a critical factor when driving fuel-efficiently, to get the most out of a hybrid you have to drive it properly. This often means crawling away from a stop and it also means you’ll be letting plenty of folks cut ahead of you in traffic, rather than speeding up to ride the bumper of the guy in front of you.

Due to the regenerative brake system on the Civic Hybrid, the left pedal (no, not the clutch, this is a continuously variable automatic transmission) is incredibly responsive. In fact, it’s excessive. Just touch the brake and the Civic Hybrid throws out its anchor. Thankfully Honda has fine-tuned this system in the new Insight and hopefully we’ll see that less aggressive brake pedal make its way into the Civic Hybrid soon.

HYBIRD FUEL ECONOMY, PLUS EVERYTHING ELSE THAT MAKES A CIVIC GREAT

As for the rest of the car, well, it’s a Civic… so it’s essentially flawless. Power is modest yet sufficient, it’s well-built, has a pleasant design, is functional, comfortable and even fun… and knowing Honda it’s sure to be impeccably reliable.

As the name suggests, it’s a Civic first and a hybrid second. It doesn’t have a funky design that limits your view, but it does have the advantage of everything being in exactly the right place because the car has been refined for almost 40 years.

As a pricier model, at $23,650 ($27,350 CDN) to start, the Civic Hybrid does come with a decent list of standard goodies. Included are power windows and locks with remote entry, a six-speaker 160-watt AM/FM/CD speed-sensitive audio system with MP3 and WMA compatibility and an auxiliary jack. Tilt and telescopic steering are also standard and the wheel has both redundant audio controls as well as cruise control buttons. There’s also an outside temperature gauge and a 12 V outlet. Exclusive to the hybrid model is an automatic climate control system.

The Hybrid, like all Civics since 2006, features Honda’s two-tier dash, and the Hybrid gauges also have a separate IMA Meter to show when the battery packs are being regenerated and when they are assisting the gasoline engine.

A navigation system is a factory option for $2,000. A leather interior also seems worth the price for an added cost of just $1,200.

In the safety department, the Civic Hybrid gets top crash ratings from the NHTSA and IIHS, while passengers have the added protection of six airbags, front and side for the front passengers and side curtain for all front and rear occupants. The LATCH child seat restraint system is also included and finally, for 2009, the Civic Hybrid comes standard with stability control.

HYBRID MODEL GETS PLENTY OF SMALL EXTRAS

There are a few other differences between the Civic Hybrid and the standard model, but they are mostly minor. About the only area that is negatively affected by the hybridization is in the rear storage room, although it’s minor. Cargo capacity in the trunk is down to 10.4 cubic feet from 12 cu.-ft. The Hybrid model does actually weigh about 200 lbs more, but surprisingly it’s not really noticeable – especially as acceleration isn’t really something to look for in a car like this.

To help make sure the added weight doesn’t damage the driving experience Honda did go through the trouble of adding slightly larger rear drum brakes and a larger 12mm (as opposed to 10mm) rear sway bar. Presumably these rear adjustments were made to counteract the weight of the battery pack located in the rear.

Aerodynamically the car also gets a few tweaks. For starters there’s a small trunk-lid spoiler (the same as the one found on the Civic Coupe) and there are also underbody covers up front to smooth out airflow under the car. Unfortunately, the front cladding scraped every time I entered or exited my parking garage at work. Hopefully it’s strong enough to withstand some wear over time.

The final hybrid-specific feature is the wheel and tire combo. Lightweight 15-inch alloy wheels help reduce unsprung mass while giving the car a nicer look and adding some extra value to the price. Those wheels come with 195/65/15 low-rolling resistance tires that have a very shallow tread depth, making them slightly more prone to aquaplaning in deep puddles.

THE VERDICT

As a stand-alone hybrid model the Civic Hybrid might not be able to compete with Toyota’s Prius, but as a package it’s a winner. The truth is, it doesn’t get quite the fuel-economy of the Toyota and it costs a little more – the Prius listing for $22,000.

Still, there’s a lot right with this car, delivering excellent hybrid fuel economy and everything else that makes the Civic such an incredible platform.

Anyone thinking about buying a Prius really should check out this car.

PLUS

  • 40 city, 45 highway mpg
  • No compromises due to futuristic hybrid design
  • Everything else that makes a Civic great

MINUS

  • Jerky start-stop system
  • Not as fuel-efficient as the Prius
  • More expensive than a Prius

RELATED READING:

2010 Honda Insight – Honda’s first mass-market hybrid does the job, but it’s not up to the company’s engineering standards. 2009 Toyota Prius – Fuel economy in a quality package, but not much else.

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