2012 Honda Civic Hybrid review:

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid

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 Hyundai Elantra GLS.

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.

In sum
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.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid sedan
Trim Hybrid
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
Driver aids n/a
Base price $25,050
Price as tested $26,320

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