Everybody's talking about hybrids, and Honda has them. The 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid Sedan MT lists for $19,800 ($20,315 as tested) with a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty. With four doors and a five speed manual transmission, the EPA estimates that the 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid Sedan MT will deliver 46 mpg in the city and 51 mpg on the highway a significant increase over the conventionally propelled Civic LX, which sips fuel at the rate of 32 mpg city/38 highway. Is Hybrid the way to go? Yes - and no.
Evolution has been very kind to the Honda Civic Sedan. Over the past 32 years, the Civic has grown and changed in so many ways that it bears little resemblance to the tiny econobox of 1973. Today's Civic Hybrid Sedan is elegant and mature, with conservative lines and few surprises. Rather than advertising its engine with a futuristic body like the Honda Insight or Toyota Prius, the Civic Hybrid shows restraint, featuring a tasteful chrome "Hybrid" logo on the right rear of the car and a small spoiler on the trunk lid as the only external indicators of its special powers. Honda is so good at fit and finish that the Civic looks like a car that costs way more than $20,000. The paint and details on the car are first rate. My girlfriend took one look at the Civic and said "Ooh, thats pretty!" I sneered and said "Its a Civic," but then I had to step back and take another look and you know what, she was right (as usual). With its shiny Opal Silver Blue Metallic paint, my test car was downright pretty. With body lines that emphasize length, the Civic Sedan has a great sense of proportion. It doesn't look tiny, though it is a compact. There's plenty of visual interest around the car without excess. Economy doesn't mean ugly anymore.
In the Driver's Seat
Like all Hondas, the Civic's dash makes sense the moment you sit down. But plastics are sorta cheap.Jason Fogelson
I usually write off compact cars as a possibility because of my size. Im 6'2" and I'm wide, exactly the proportions that test the limits of comfort in a compact. The Civic Sedan swallowed me comfortably, even leaving room for passengers. The manually adjustable seat features height adjustment as well as inclination, and I was able to find a sweet spot that made driving an actual possibility.
The price point begins to show a bit in the Civic's cockpit. There's lots of plastic, and it's not the best quality. The cloth on the seats is an ugly pattern and cheap texture. Cabin insulation and door insulation is a little flimsy, so the doors sound tinny when closing. Don't expect the whisper-quiet of an Acura when you sit in a Civic, because you'll be disappointed.
The instrument panel of the Hybrid is well-laid out, clear and easy to understand. Hybrid technology adds a few details beyond mph and rpm. Honda's Integrated Motor Assist display tells you when the Hybrid is charging its batteries, when it's getting an assist from the electric motor and real-time information about fuel economy. My one complaint is that the display is too dim when the headlights are on during the day, a pain if, like me, you use daytime running lights.
On the Road
The Civic Hybrid's reason for being is to get you from one place to another with the greatest efficiency possible, without sacrificing too much comfort, convenience or utility. If you hope to get some driving satisfaction out of your ride, you may be barking up the wrong tree. The Hybrid's gas engine puts out just 85 horsepower. When the electric motor kicks in to offer assistance in high demand situations, it adds another 8 hp, for a total of 93, versus the Civic LX's 115 hp.
The torque figures are a little less depressing 87 lb-ft with gas, 115 with gas and electric together. Peak torque is available at just 1500 rpm, which is characteristic of electric motors.
These figures have a direct effect on how you drive the Hybrid with a manual transmission. The instrument panel has a shift indicator in the center of the tachometer. It tells you when you should shift up or down to achieve the best efficiency out of your vehicle. The shift points keep the revs very low, usually between 2000 and 3000 rpm. The ideal rev range is so narrow that you have to do a lot of rowing through the gears to keep the engine in the sweet spot. There's barely enough power on tap to do the job, especially merging onto the freeway or climbing inclines.
The back badge on the passenger side gives away the Civic's green tendencies.Jason Fogelson
Gas is expensive, and saving gas is going to save you money. The Civic Hybrid Sedan MT is priced $3,190 more than the comparably equipped gas Civic, the LX. If you drive 12,000 miles per year on the highway, you'll use 80 gallons less fuel every year in your Hybrid than you would in a Civic LX. Even at $5.00 per gallon of gas, it would still take you almost eight years to make up the difference in base price between the two models. And that's assuming that you get the maximum estimated fuel mileage out of your Hybrid. Some states do have a tax credit for Hybrid owners, which may ease the bite, but the math is still brutal. Of course, driving a Hybrid, you're doing your part for the ecology, right? Well, you're certainly putting out low emissions when you burn gas. But what about the energy and pollution created during the manufacture of your Hybrid?
The performance you get from the 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid Sedan MT will constantly remind you about the sacrifice that you're making, trading off driving satisfaction for fuel efficiency. If you choose to buy one, you can feel good about that. But don't do it on my account. I wouldn't do it for you. Give me more fun for my twenty grand, or give me a really cheap, reliable car for less.