The poor Honda Civic Hybrid has always had to live in the shadows. It was what I like to call a "second-tier hybrid" that didn't match theor its sibling, the , in green performance or image. However, for 2012, the Honda Civic has been refreshed. Visually, not much has changed. But under its skin the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid is slightly more powerful, much easier to live with, and more fuel-efficient than the previous generation.
We put the Civic Hybrid to the test to see if it's outgrown its second-tier stigma.
Blue is the new green
It's hard to tell a 2012 Civic from a 2011 model at speed. It's even harder to tell a 2012 Civic Hybrid from a standard 2012 Civic at a glance. Only in direct comparison do the changes to the 2012 Civic become apparent.
Externally, the Hybrid model distinguishes itself from the standard with clear plastic trim with a slight blue tint. You'll find this bluish trim atop the grille and in the headlamps up front and the rear light cluster out back.
The Hybrid's upper and lower grilles have also been reshaped to allow the sedan to slip through the air with less drag. The wheel arches are filled with wheels unique to the hybrid model that have been designed to disturb less air with each rotation and have been shod with low-rolling-resistance tires.
In the cabin, Honda seems to have kept intact those attributes of the Civic sedan that make it a safe decision for level-headed adults. The Civic's greenhouse offers exceptional 360-degree visibility, reducing blind spots and making parallel parking a breeze, even without a rearview camera option available. The sedan offers good headroom and shoulder room, with controls that fall nicely into the hand. The bilevel instrument cluster seems less like the bridge of a spaceship now that we've had a few years to acclimate, but the new hard dashboard materials do visually cheapen the Honda's interior, and drew comments from our passengers.
The Civic's bilevel instrument cluster features a massive tachometer. But with a standard CVT, we're not sure why.
If Honda somewhat cheaped out on the dashboard materials, it must have spent the saved money on sound deadening. The standard Civic's cabin was noticeably quieter than its competitors' and the Hybrid was quieter still, thanks in part to its power plant.
Honda's thriftiest hybrid
Where the standard Civic's engine room is occupied by a 1.8-liter, 140-horsepower gasoline engine, the Hybrid has a 1.5-liter gasoline engine that's augmented by Honda's Integrated Motor Assist technology to output a combined 110 horsepower. Interestingly, the hybrid system's torque, at 127 pound-feet, is almost identical to the gasoline engine's 128 pound-feet, so the hybrid doesn't really feel less peppy around town. That's due to the new and more powerful 23-horsepower electric motor supplying 78 of those pound-feet from as low as 500rpm.
As in all IMA-equipped Honda vehicles, the electric motor works in tandem with the gasoline engine, rather than parallel to it. So the Civic Hybrid cannot cruise under only electric power as cars with Ford's and Toyota's hybrid systems do. The IMA does take advantage of a start-stop system that kills the gasoline engine when stopped and fires it back up with the help of the electric motor when it comes time to resume driving. Honda seems to have smoothed the stop-start transition out since we last saw it, as the system seemed more tolerable than it did when we tested the.
Where the CR-Z featured a six-speed manual gearbox and thehad a five-speed automatic, the Civic Hybrid comes with a single-option Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that is able to infinitely vary its ratios over a set range. The transmission has three modes: D is the standard mode that is tuned for fuel efficiency, S is a sport mode that allows the revs to rise and disables the start-stop system, and L is a low-ratio mode for... well, we're not sure what it's for, because we certainly don't think Honda expects anyone to tow a load with a Hybrid. Even at its sportiest, this is not a gearbox that favors performance driving, but its unobtrusive operation makes for a smooth and quiet ride.
If all of that fuel-economy technology wasn't enough, the 2012 Civic Hybrid features a color-coded economy indicator in its instrument cluster that glows green when you're driving economically and blue when not, and an Econ button that tunes the climate control systems, engine characteristics, and throttle response curve to help you optimize your driving style. However, unlike the standard Civic's big green button, the hybrid's Econ button doesn't immediately transform the car into a gutless wimp. Where the standard Civic's Econ mode felt like a massive compromise to cheat a few more miles per gallon out of the EPA's test cycle, the Hybrid's Econ mode feels like a tool to use to help stretch the time between fill-ups.
We were able to touch the Hybrid's rated 44 mpg, but we weren't able to maintain it.
Add it all up and the Civic Hybrid now finishes the EPA's test cycle with a rated fuel economy of 44 mpg city, 44 mpg highway, and 44 mpg combined. It's not very often, if ever, that you see a car with the same scores across the board. In practice we were able to get the Civic Hybrid's trip computer to report 44.1 mpg by about the half-tank mark with testing that emphasized freeway and back-road cruising, peppered with a bit of city and stop-and-go driving. However, by the end of the week with an empty gas tank and quite a lot more aggressive city driving mixed in, the average had dropped to 40.3 mpg--lower than the EPA's average, but still quite respectable.
Interestingly, in terms of EPA reported fuel economy, the 2012 Civic Hybrid is Honda's most fuel-efficient vehicle, besting even Honda's dedicated hybrid model, the Insight. This is likely due to the Civic's more powerful electric motor being better equipped to take the load off of the gasoline engine, but there's nothing stopping Honda from doing the same with the next update to the Insight. If Honda was able to eke 44 combined mpg out of the Civic, we're interested to see how close the lighter Insight can get to the Prius' 50 mpg.
New cabin tech package
We've never really been fans of the Honda Civic's cabin tech package, and at first glance this new model appeared to be more of the same. The maps for the optional navigation package look as pixelated as the previous generation and are just as difficult to read. The menus feature the same dated aesthetic and low resolution. But beneath the surface, the infotainment system is mostly new.
Digging through the menus reveals that most of the screens have been redesigned and reorganized to make browsing audio sources faster and inputting a destination more intuitive. The user interface still requires a bit of effort to learn, but it's much easier to work with than it used to be.
Audio sources for our Hybrid with Nav were AM/FM radio, a single-CD slot with MP3 playback, USB connectivity with iPod control, an auxiliary audio input, and Bluetooth A2DP wireless audio streaming. Regardless of the source, the Civic's six-speaker audio system produced good sound with tight bass despite its lack of a subwoofer. Sound quality was definitely better than in other vehicles tested in the Civic's class, for example the.
A USB port in the center console accepts an iPod connection. There's also an auxiliary input at the base of the center stack.
Located at the top of the dashboard--under the eyebrow that also houses the digital speedometer, fuel gauge, and mpg meter--is the Civic's new I-MID, a secondary 5-inch LCD that interfaces with the trip computer and infotainment system to mirror vehicle information within the driver's field of view. By pressing a button on the steering wheel, you can alternate between displaying audio source information, turn-by-turn directions, trip computer and fuel economy information, and even customizable photo wallpaper that can be imported via USB. We found the I-MID to be extremely useful, particularly for displaying upcoming turns while navigating. Unfortunately, the crisp graphics of this secondary display had the side effect of making the primary display look even worse by comparison.
The Hybrid model's I-MID gains a few screens devoted to monitoring the IMA system. The power screen shows battery charge state and, with the help of animated arrows, displays whether you're expending power from the gasoline or electric engine or whether power is being regenerated by the braking system. There's also the requisite Eco Score-type screen that's all the rage in hybrid models these days, which monitors your driving habits and awards the thrifty driver with little tree icons.
Like most hybrids, the Civic features an Eco Score screen that rewards thrifty drivers with images of leaves.
Bluetooth hands-free calling joins audio streaming in the Civic's bag of tricks. The system features address book sync and, with the aid of Honda's slightly improved voice command system, enables calls to be initiated by voice. The system isn't as seamless as, for example, Ford Sync, but it is more fully featured than Hyundai's system. A new help screen is shown when you press the voice button, useful for those who may have struggled with the previous voice command system.
At the entry level, the Honda Civic Hybrid's MSRP sits at $24,050. Adding leather to the Civic Hybrid bumps the price to $25,250 and adding navigation to that maxes you out at $26,750. Our $25,550 tester sat at the sweet spot with the technology of the navigation package and the savings from skipping the leather trim. There are no more factory options available, so our as-tested price with the $770 destination charge came to $26,320. An equivalently equipped Prius Three with Navigation comes to $27,410. The Honda doesn't have much of a price advantage, so it comes down to the details.
For example, while the Hybrid's lithium ion battery pack intrudes less into the trunk than the previous models, it still blocks the rear-seat pass-through, making it difficult to transport long or bulky items. If you're a skier, for example, you may want to wait and see if Honda updates the hatchback Insight to match the Civic's fuel economy, or consider the Toyota.
Also, while the Civic was able to touch its 44 mpg rating, it was hard work getting there and difficult to maintain. The Toyota Prius hits 45 mpg with little effort at all and does so more reliably. Honda's IMA system still has a ways to go if it wants to take the fuel-economy title from Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive.
Pretty much the only advantage that the Honda has over the Prius is the fact that it's not a Prius. If you don't want to let your green flag fly, the Civic Hybrid does a better job of blending in than the Prius does. By most other metrics, the Civic Hybrid still comes in second, albeit a very close second.
|Model||2012 Honda Civic Hybrid sedan|
|Power train||1.5-liter gasoline engine with IMA|
|EPA fuel economy||44 city, 44 highway mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||40.3 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional w/ FM traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Basic voice command, phonebook sync, A2DP audio streaming|
|Disc player||Single-disc, CD/ MP3|
|MP3 player support||Analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB w/ iPod connectivity|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth stereo streaming, SiriusXM Satellite Radio|
|Audio system||160 watts, 6 speakers, no subwoofer|
|Price as tested||$26,320|