Honda’s Hybrid Civic is a Lesson in Cost-Effectiveness

By dancurranjr On February 9th, 2009

honda-civicOn the premise that one should never buy an umbrella during a rainstorm, this is a good time to consider a hybrid car. As gasoline prices have fallen from last summer’s record high, so has demand for cars like the Toyota Prius and the lesser known and quite appealing Honda Civic Hybrid.

It’s worth considering, even though it hasn’t been updated much since its arrival as a 2003 model and even though it’s no longer eligible for a federal tax credit.

Fuel economy is government-estimated at 40 miles per gallon in local driving and 45 on the highway — 42 combined. The Civic hybrid costs about $3,500 more than a comparably equipped conventional Civic sedan — a difference that no longer is reduced by a $2,100 federal income tax credit, which expired last year.

Miles per gallon benefits
A conventional Civic with automatic transmission averages 29 mpg, according to the EPA. So, the hybrid should use 160 fewer gallons of gasoline in 15,000 miles of driving (357 vs. 517 gallons). At today’s prices of about $2 a gallon, that’s a saving of $320 a year, equating to a payback time for the hybrid of about 11 years.

But, at $4.35 a gallon, last summer’s average high for regular on Long Island, the saving would be $696 a year, reducing the payback time to about five years.

The Civic is one of 16 hybrid-powered vehicles available in the United States for ’09. Honda will offer another in April: the 2010 Insight, redesigned as a four-door.

The Civic’s fuel economy isn’t quite as good as that of the Prius, which is rated at 48 mpg in local driving and the same 45 as the Civic on the highway but that’s mostly because the Civic, unlike the Prius, cannot creep along on its electric motor in very slow traffic. The Civic’s engine does stop when the vehicle does but restarts as soon as the driver’s foot is removed from the brake. Honda says the electric motor sometimes propels the car by itself at cruising speeds but I never detected that.

Smooth moves
The Civic hybrid exacts no compromises from the driver in acceleration or handling but the hybrid’s rear seat back does not fold down to increase trunk room because the hybrid battery pack is behind it. And the batteries reduce trunk space by about two cubic feet.

The interface between the gasoline engine, electric motor and the “continuously variable” or stemless transmission is seamless, although this type of transmission, used only in the hybrid version of the Civic, tends to accentuate engine noise.

Civics got an exterior freshening for ’09 and the Civic hybrid became available with leather-trimmed seating and Bluetooth hands-free cell phone link. Civics have an almost perfect safety rating from the federal government and are deemed a “top safety” pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They are among Consumer Reports’ “recommended” models.

Source: Newsday

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