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2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

The man in the parking lot took a quick glance at my Honda Civic and then stopped to talk once he noticed the Hybrid nameplate on the trunk.

The man in the parking lot took a quick glance at my Honda Civic and then stopped to talk once he noticed the Hybrid nameplate on the trunk.

 

"That's one of those cars you plug in, right?" he asked.

 

For all the publicity they receive, hybrids are still saddled with misconceptions. They use electricity, but aren't plugged in. The engine stops at idle, but the lights and air conditioning still run. And most important, they're fuel-efficient, but they're not necessarily the best choice for every driver.

 

Buyers should analyze their use and driving conditions thoroughly before taking the plunge.

 

The Hybrid shares the 2006 makeover given the entire Civic line, including driveline improvements over the 2005 Hybrid. It comes only as a sedan, and in a single, well-optioned trim line priced at $25,950.

 

With the upcoming retirement of the two-seater Honda Insight, the Civic becomes Canada's least-expensive hybrid — Toyota's Prius starts at $31,280.

 

While other Civic sedans use a 1.8-litre engine, the Hybrid starts with a 1.3-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes just 93 hp and 89 lb.-ft. of torque.

 

But it's mated to an electric motor — Honda calls it Integrated Motor Assist — that combines with the gasoline engine to produce a peak of 110 hp and 123 lb.-ft. of torque. The torque kicks in at a mere 1000 r.p.m., so even with its pint-sized powerplant, Civic feels relatively peppy off the line.

 

Unlike the previous-generation Civic Hybrid, this version is capable of running solely on its battery, although it's not as spectacular as the Prius, which I was able to run for a couple of kilometres on battery alone with some featherweight footwork.

 

Instead, Civic always starts off on gasoline, but will deactivate the engine if you're cruising along at a steady speed. It happens so seamlessly that I was unable to detect it unless I watched the indicator display.

 

Equally smooth is Civic's continuously variable transmission, the sole shifter choice. It's probably the best I've driven, with none of the "rubber band" feel that these cone-and-belt versions can often exhibit.

 

Stop for a light and the gasoline engine shuts off — a rather smug feeling when you're sitting in midsummer's steamy heat, with cars all around you belching fumes.

 

Lights, stereo and heater or a/c will continue to run (except if the defroster is on or the a/c is on high, in which case the car stays running), and since the Integrated Motor Assist restarts the engine, there's no danger of premature starter wear.

 

But when it does restart, which it does when you release the brake, there's a slight jolt, and it's worse if you're quick getting back to the throttle. It gets tiresome after a while.

 

From a standstill, you need to reach about 12 km/h before the stop-at-idle will work again. That's a welcome lower threshold than in the previous generation. That model kept running in stop-and-go traffic when I drove the crowded Don Valley Parkway. Now, it's possible to do that highway in rush hour with the engine running only enough to cover the distance.

 

 

Fuel-wise, much will depend on your driving habits and conditions. Throw in hills or a heavier foot, and it's tougher to make your fuel savings cover the Hybrid's extra cost. It's rated an average 4.5 L/100 km, but the best I could do was 6.0 L/100 km in mostly hilly rural driving.

 

Many commuters would do better with a small diesel engine. You have to adapt your driving to a hybrid. Expect the hybrid to adapt to you, and you'll probably be disappointed with the fuel results.

 

The brakes are regenerative, capturing energy that is fed back into the system, and they take some getting used to, as they're stiff and tend to grab. There's considerably more road noise than with other Civics, much of which can be pegged on the fuel-saving, low-rolling-resistance tires.

 

And the Hybrid makes other odd sounds, too, including a recurring buzz in the dash that appeared to be related to the electrical system, although I never figured out exactly what it was.

 

The new Civic is slightly larger than the model it replaces, and there's plenty of room to stretch out in the front seat, with adequate legroom for rear-seat passengers.

 

But unlike other Civic models, the Hybrid's battery pack is behind the rear seat, which can't be folded to accommodate longer trunk cargo. As for the seats themselves, they're quite comfortable, but they're covered in plush velour fabric reminiscent of my 1976 Buick.

 

The two-tiered dash is gradually growing on me, and while I still don't like the digital speedometer, the blue and white cluster is attractive, and the colour scheme continues on the big-buttoned, easy-to-use stereo and heater controls.

 

There's no animated hybrid system display as on the Prius, but that isn't a bad thing. The Civic's conventional appearance may be a selling point for more conservative buyers.

 

All buyers, though, need to know all about hybrids before making a decision. It may be the cheapest hybrid, but it's still the most expensive Civic sedan available. Spend wisely.

 


wheels@thestar.ca; jil@ca.inter.net

 


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