By Jon Rosner, Thu, 14 Apr 2005 08:00:00 PDT
What's the difference between a Honda Civic and a Honda Civic Hybrid? One small badge and about ten miles per gallon. The more gasoline prices are going up, the more that ten miles per gallon is going to mean.
The exterior lines on the Hybrid are identical to those of the standard Civic and are pleasing to the eye. The interior dash gauges, radio, heat and air conditioner controls fit the Honda pattern of simplistic design.
My only grip about the instrument panel was that I had to take my eyes off the road to figure out how fast I was going. The red needle on the speedometer points to a blue dial with closely matching blue numbers and, at first, I had to stare at it to read the speed. I got used to it, but at first it was a distraction.
The balance of the interior is made up of brushed aluminum and soft touch plastics. One nice touch is that the vents are made of a strong but flexible plastic and track smoothly from one extreme to the other, pouring pour heat or cool air in any direction - typical Honda.
The seats are nice to look at and feel great, with full support for the entire torso, and nice cushioning front and back. The child safety-seats went in with ease and fit perfectly. The window buttons and door locks are made of inexpensive plastic, but are nicely shaped and have a style that makes them attractive. Grab handles in the roof aid entry are rarely seen in a car that starts at around $20,000, but the Civic Hybrid has them.
In the last few years Honda has moved the Civic away from being a sporty car to being more of a comfortable car. Even so, the Civic Hybrid rides on harder compound, low-rolling resistant tires. On dry roads this was fine, but on a rain-soaked highway the combination did not inspire quite as much confidence as past Hondas have instilled.
The Civic Hybrid's system is akin to having an electric supercharger to add thrust to a lower powered engine during periods of high demand. The hybrid system absorbs power that would be otherwise wasted during periods of lower demand. The combination of a high-torque electric motor and a smaller, fuel-efficient gasoline ultra-low-emissions motor, with power recovery for charging the batteries, makes the Civic Hybrid one of the greenest cars available.
The simplicity of the Honda design will mean that individuals who tend to purchase cars and keep them for 10 or more years won't end up fighting to repair the complex systems that are being introduced to many new cars, hybrid or not.
Honda has followed its corporate mantra of simplicity, economy and durability in the Civic Hybrid. Gasoline cars are not going away, but hybrids are getting more comfortable, more efficient and more powerful. You have to look for the badge on the trunk to see if the Civic next to you is part of the revolution, and that's just the way Honda wants it to be.