It’s in the numbers
For baseball fans, 44 means Hall-of-Famer Hank Aaron’s retired jersey. Pop culture buffs might remember Agent 44 from television’s Get Smart. And, regardless of political affiliation, everyone can agree that Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States.
Now, 44 takes on a new meaning: it’s the city, highway and combined EPA estimate for miles per gallon on the updated 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid. This new hybrid compact’s numbers are 44-44-44, which place it second to the approximately 50-mpg-Prius, among autos not plugging into the grid. It is the second-best selling hybrid in the U.S.
What we drove
Like the rest of the Civic family, the hybrid version has undergone a redesign for the 2012 model year. Overall, the look is very much the same. It is cute-but-understated, sporting little lima bean compact profile, with a raked windshield and subtle side scoops. The hybrid’s front end, however, is unique among the rest of the line-up, with blue accents and blue bulb covers over the headlamps. Five-spoke alloys and a rear deck spoiler are also exclusive to the hybrid.
There are two trim levels on the hybrid, one with leather and one without. Our test ride was the leather version, which included a few nice extras, like heated side mirrors and heated front seats, although they weren’t needed or evaluated in our test drive locale. We motored the new model in the desert city of Palm Springs and discovered many things we liked about Honda’s 8th generation platform of this popular small car that’s enjoyed big sales…and a few we didn’t.
The technology behind the Civic hybrid is Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) drivetrain with new lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries, which replace heavier, less efficient nickel-metal hydride batteries used in the car’s previous incarnations. The gas engine, a 1.5-liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder which is a larger displacement version than the model it replaces, is the primary power source, and the electric motor, positioned between the engine and transmission, provides additional power and electricity regeneration. Total combined horsepower for the gasoline engine and electric motor is 110; torque is 127 lb.-ft.
Here’s how it works: during acceleration, either the gas engine works alone, or the gas and electric motors work together to propel the vehicle. At cruising speeds, either the gas or the electric motor works, and during braking, the gasoline engine deactivates and the electric motor acts as a generator to replenish the battery pack. At a stop, the engine can shut off to save fuel and reduce emissions; it restarts when the brake pedal is released.
An automatic, continuously variable transmission (CVT) is matched to the hybrid powerplant.
Keeping the “fun” in functional…
The Honda Civic wasn’t created for performance drivers – it’s a compact car, and it’s priced and powered accordingly, after all. But, the 2012 hybrid model feels better on the road than a lot of little grocery-getters: the fully independent suspension with front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspension is tuned to feel a bit sporty, and Honda has made this year’s model 10 percent more rigid. We found it scooted in and around other traffic with good steering and average low-end power, which was best when we took it out of its econ, or top fuel-savings mode. Instead of being “seamless” in its transition from electric to gasoline, we noticed a slight halt and even heard sounds that indicated its changeover of power supply. We were also left wanting, when we needed strong air conditioning in the ambient heat of the desert.
…and the safe in safety
The 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid’s standard safety equipment includes vehicle stability assist (VSA) that integrates with a motion-adaptive electric power-assist steering EPS system (EPS); dual-stage, multiple-threshold front airbags; front side airbags with occupant position detection system (OPDS); side curtain airbags; and a 4-channel anti-lock braking system (ABS), with Electronic Brake Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist.
Technology for the people
While the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid’s exterior styling is somewhat bland, the compact cabin--which now has a bit more room for both front and rear passengers-- is appealing and bedecked with a host of technology features, such as a new intelligent Multi-Information Display (i-MID), which can show audio system album artwork or display personal wallpaper backgrounds uploaded via the standard USB port. The system also lets drivers customize interior lighting and language settings, and integrates with turn-by-turn directions and other elements of the optional navigation system.
Another nice feature is a driver-feedback Eco Guide screen that monitors driving style and displays how it affects fuel efficiency. It also has an exclusive hybrid power-flow meter display in addition to the standard information screens.
The EX standard interior has cloth seats; leather is available as an option and comes standard on the EX-L. Automatic climate control is standard, and the hybrid-style air conditioning compressor can continue to function on electric power when the engine is in idle-stop mode.
The standard audio system is a 160-watt AM/FM/CD audio system with six speakers. The navigation system has voice recognition and a 6.5-inch touch screen, within reach of both the driver and passenger. Integrated FM traffic, a no-fee service, shows freeway traffic information and incident data on display in certain cities. Models with the nav system also include XM Radio.
Bluetooth® HandsFreeLink is standard, as well, allowing for phone calls to go through the audio system and a compatible mobile phone. Audio streaming is also supported with compatible devices. Steering wheel-mounted controls for audio and navigation technologies also are available as an option.
The new Honda Civic Hybrid is a good little car, although its base price is nearly $10,000 more than the base Civic DX model with the gas-only motor, and at the top-end a decked-out hybrid nears $30K, whereas Toyota’s Prius starts at $22,800.
Honda’s hybrid technology has come a long way over the past decade since the original Insight, and its entry-level styling has advanced by light years since the old CVCC. But, with new entrants into the hybrid segment from automakers like Kia and Hyundai, the new Civic hybrid will face stiffer competition than ever.
Sales of the new model have kicked off, but due to Japan’s earthquake, supplies have been slowed. A hatchback version of the hybrid is due next year.