The Good: The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid includes the best voice-recognition system we've seen in a car. It has futuristic styling both inside and out, and the audio system accepts PC cards and has an auxiliary input jack. The Bad: Acceleration is decidedly underwhelming in the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. The car doesn't let you forget that it has a hybrid power train, and there is no Bluetooth cell phone integration. The Bottom Line: The cabin of the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid catapults the driver into a cool future where voice commands operate navigation and audio, but the rackety engine and the less-than-smooth power train serve as a reminder that hybrid development is still in its early stages. 2006 Honda Civic HybridThe exterior of the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid looks radically different from its predecessor's, and that's not all. The interior gets a similarly heavy makeover, and the hybrid system has been reengineered for more efficiency, delivering an EPA-tested 49mpg in the city and 51mpg on the highway. The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid's cabin boasts an impressive array of technology for Honda's lowest-end car--a position soon to be occupied by the Honda Fit, which will push the Civic up a notch. The $1,500 navigation option includes an impressive voice-recognition system that we found very useful. The standard 160-watt stereo in our test car sounded good; it was clear but lacking depth. The stereo comes with an auxiliary input jack and is prepped for XM Satellite Radio. The touch-screen LCD makes for easy access to both stereo and navigation controls.Although the hybrid power train is an improvement upon the previous model year's, we still weren't overly impressed by Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. The small, 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine has a rough feel, and the IMA is noticeable, especially in traffic. The continuously variable transmission lends itself to smooth acceleration, which is mitigated by engine noise. And the power train doesn't exactly rocket this car forward, making some freeway merges on the dicey side.The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid is equipped with standard antilock brakes, as well as electronic brake-force distribution, to help avoid accidents. Air-bag coverage is complete, with dual-stage front, driver and front-passenger side, and curtain bags. This, in addition to the front and rear crumple zones and the side-impact door beams, all contributes to the Civic's five-star front and four-star side-impact ratings.The base price for the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid is $21,850. Our test car, which included the navigation and voice-recognition system, came in at $23,350. Possible upgrades include an eight-disc CD changer ($569), a bass speaker system ($364), and iPod integration ($214).The dashboard of the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid, and the entire 2006 Honda Civic family, has a very futuristic look. A big, backlit tachometer sits in the center of the main instrument pod, and off to the side are gauges for battery charge, charge level, and motor assist. A second tier of gauges sits above the main panel, and these show a digital-speedometer readout in the center with a fuel gauge on the right. The left gauge can be set to show engine temperature or instantaneous fuel economy. This setup works well because, similar to a heads-up display, the speed readout is at the bottom of the driver's field of vision. However, we did notice that, with the sun behind us, the readouts became washed out and difficult to see. Pushing the voice button puts the car into voice-command mode.Buttons on the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid's steering-wheel spokes handle cruise control, the audio system, and voice commands. The voice-command system is very usable, though a bit stilted. Pushing the voice-command button mutes the stereo and sets the system to accept commands for controlling audio, climate control, or navigation. It's a pretty smart system, able to recognize strings of numbers for, as an example, an address. It doesn't need any training to recognize its set of preprogrammed commands, but the driver will need to get familiar with which commands access which systems. Because it can take only one command at a time, it can feel a bit choppy when entering a route destination, as you have to push the button, choose to enter a destination, then push it a few more times as each part of the address gets entered.The navigation system itself works well, although it doesn't really stand out. We like the visual representation it gives of upcoming freeway junctions, with a large arrow showing which way to go. Its points-of-interest database is well populated; it includes restaurants, stores, gas stations, and ATMs. In our testing, the nav system acquired a satellite fix quickly and showed no problems holding on to it. When it plots a route to a destination, it lets the driver choose from four possibilities, which include maximum freeways, minimum freeways, or shortest distance. We especially like that it can display all the routes on its map screen. While the voice-guided directions don't call out street names, it does say the freeway number.Slots for CDs and PC cards sit hidden behind the motorized LCD.The base stereo system, with which our test car came equipped, is good but not excellent. The quality of the sound is crisp, but better bass speakers would give it more depth. Beyond AM and FM, it's also prepped for XM Satellite Radio, a $444 option. The CD player plays MP3 CDs, displaying ID3-tag information on the LCD. To access the CD player slot, a button on the dash causes the motorized LCD to open up, revealing a panel with the CD slot, the navigation DVD slot, and a PC Card slot--something we haven't seen on any other car. Although flash-memory PCMCIA cards are not all that common, there are cards that work as adapters for SD or CompactFlash memory, which would allow for up to 2GB of music. For MP3 players or other devices, an auxiliary input jack is set into a shelf at the bottom of the center stack with a power point right near by. iPod integration is available as an option.The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid lacks Bluetooth cell phone integration, even as an option, which is disappointing, as it would have really rounded out the excellent tech offerings in this car.Honda's IMA hybrid system works by having an electric motor integrated with the engine, as well as powered by a battery pack and regenerative braking. In the case of the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid, the engine is a small 1.3-liter four-cylinder with a single overhead cam and Honda's i-VTEC variable valve timing. The engine produces 110 horsepower, which is complemented by the electric motor's 20 horsepower. The electric motor gives it a boost during acceleration and, at low speeds, can power the car entirely. During our driving, we never noticed the car working under electric power only, although Honda's specifications insist it will happen. While you're stopped in traffic or at a light, the engine turns off. If the fact that this fairly noisy engine becomes silent isn't notice enough, a green light that reads autostop will flash on the instrument panel. Although the light was designed to assure the driver that nothing is wrong, the flashing feels like a warning. The instrument cluster on the Civic Hybrid has a very futuristic look.We found the bar gauges indicating battery charging and motor assist to be mesmerizing. While you're going downhill or slowing down due to freeway speeds, the regenerative braking provides electricity to the battery, and a green bar gauge indicates how much energy is getting fed into the system. It makes hitting the brakes almost enjoyable as energy is reclaimed. The same can't be said for the motor-assist bar gauge, which shows how much boost the electric motor is contributing, as well as how much electricity is being used. The electric motor gives the car only adequate acceleration. That said, the Civic travels well at freeway speeds of 70mph to 80mph.The shifter's podlike appearance fits with the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid's futuristic look. It pushes the CVT into drive, sport, or low. The CVT makes acceleration smooth, without any feel of popping through gears. However, the sport setting didn't feel significantly different from the drive setting.The shifter controls a continuously variable transmission, which gives the car smooth acceleration.MacPherson struts in front and a double wishbone in the rear make up the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid's stiff suspension, which has a feel appropriate for a car at the low end of Honda's model line. Steering is precise, although it's not taxed much by the car's lack of power.The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid gets a PZEV rating, meaning it qualifies as a partial zero-emission vehicle. The EPA rates its mileage at 49mpg in the city and 51mpg on the highway, but we observed only 36.2mpg in combined city and highway testing.The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid's five-star front-impact and four-star side-impact ratings speak for themselves. The car's air-bag coverage is very complete, with dual-stage front and side bags for the driver and front passenger, along with curtain bags for all occupants. The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid's front disc brakes and rear drums include a regenerative system and are helped by antilock, electronic brake-force distribution (which adds braking power to the wheels that need it most), and brake assist--a technology that pumps up the hydraulics ahead of time so that the driver gets instant braking power.For the 2006 Civic Hybrid, Honda offers a five-year\/60,000-mile limited warranty, along with an eight-year\/80,000-mile warranty on its battery pack.