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Road Test: 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid

Posted on March 24, 2009
Filed Under Honda Civic, Test Drive | Leave a Comment

2009-honda-civic-hybridA little more than a year ago, Honda’s president and CEO, Takeo Fukui, said that 10% of the vehicles the company sells worldwide would be hybrid by 2010. Even to those who appreciate the drivetrain for what it is and what it can accomplish, this seemed a little ambitious. A week with the Civic Hybrid proved the goal may not be as pie-in-the-sky as it seems.

The Civic Hybrid uses Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. The design teams a 1.3-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine with an electric motor. The gasoline side pushes 93 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor contributes another 20 hp and 76 lb-ft of torque. When the engine and motor are giving their all, the Hybrid boasts a net system output of 110 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque. The latter arrives anywhere between 1,000 and 2,500 rpm. Yes, it does take all of 12.9 seconds to run from rest to 100 kilometres an hour, but the Hybrid feels so much faster — credit the torque characteristics and the car’s light 1,304-kilogram mass. The combination also has enough snap to pass a slower vehicle, and, on the highway, it hums along at the usual 120 km/h without missing a beat.

The beauty of the design is that while prowling suburbia there’s a certain smugness that comes from knowing that one is polluting the planet less than the car ahead. The fact the Hybrid delivers stellar fuel economy reinforces the clean notion. A week with the car returned an overall average of 5.2 L/100 km. This and the fact it consumes a diet of regular fuel means the pain at the pump is minimal.

The manner in which the Civic Hybrid drives feels a little different at first. To begin with, it takes a much larger stab at the gas to get the expected response, at least when compared with a regular Civic. Likewise, the fact all is quiet whenever the Hybrid comes to a halt (because of the idle stop feature) also makes it seem different. However, spend some time with the car and it all becomes second nature.

The power is fed to the P195/65R15 front tires through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). As is common, the CVT forces the engine to run at the top of the rev range under hard acceleration. The good news is that the sound it makes at wide-open throttle is not as shrill as most, which makes it less annoying.

The Hybrid’s handling is also a cut above the norm. The tendency is to think of green cars as being less sporty. The Civic managed to carve a corner while delivering a plush ride. The stiff body and suspension combine to deliver a flat attitude and less body roll than is typical of family sedans. Likewise, the response to steering input is quick, and this in spite of the tester’s winter tires.

The braking feel is, again, a little different. The need to capture otherwise waste energy through regenerative braking (to keep the main 158-volt battery charged) means the pedal feels a tad spongy. This is not a complaint as it is a common hybrid trait.

The Civic’s interior also takes a little getting used to, and it boils down to the split dashboard. The top half, which is viewed over the steering wheel, houses the digital speedometer along with the fuel and temperature gauges. The lower half, seen through the steering wheel, houses the tachometer, gear position, the warning lights and a gauge that shows whether the electric motor is helping to power the car or charge the battery. As with the driving experience, a little time with the design eased my initial concerns regarding the setup.

The rest of the cabin is typical Honda. The top-shelf materials are butted together with impeccable precision, and the seating, in all positions, is a cut above the class norm.

There’s also enough room for three adults to squeeze into the back seat without too much whining. The reason is the tunnel-less floor — it gives the middle rider somewhere to put his feet. The only outward compromise is found in the trunk. As the main battery sits behind the back seat, it reduces the cargo capacity to 10.4 cubic feet and precludes any sort of pass-through.

It takes a little time to fully appreciate the Civic Hybrid’s talents. It does feel different, but, as stated, time brings familiarity. The one thing that did not take time to warm up to was the fuel consumption — it took just $20.37 to top off the tank after the 461-kilometre road test. Sometimes, it is the simplest things in life that bring the greatest pleasure. With petroleum companies posting obscene profits in an economic climate that is seeing once-strong corporations suck wind, cruising past gas station after gas station brought a wry smile to my face.

SOURCE: National Post

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