2013 Honda Civic Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Introduction
Buying a hybrid car no longer means compromise in terms of interior space, cargo room, and driving dynamics. In the past few months, I’ve driven the excellent Ford Fusion Energi, the impressive Kia Optima Hybrid, and now this, the 2013 Honda Civic Hybrid. Though each displays certain character traits common to the breed, all three are more refined and better packaged than hybrids of the past, making them more appealing to car buyers considering this type of vehicle.
Honda redesigned the Civic Hybrid for the 2012 model year, and has made a significant number of updates for 2013. The car’s design is refined inside and out, and the cabin includes improved materials and execution. Several new standard features are added this year, and Honda has upgraded the Civic Hybrid’s standard and optional safety equipment while re-tuning the steering and suspension for improved driving dynamics.
My family and I spent a week with the refreshed 2013 Civic Hybrid, doing the kinds of things families do with a 4-door sedan. While we used the car as our daily driver, the word “compromise” never entered the conversation.
2013 Honda Civic Hybrid Quick Spin Review: About Our Test Car
A 2013 Honda Civic Hybrid starts at $25,150 including a $790 destination charge. Options include a Leather Package ($1,200 – leather seats, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated power exterior mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators), or a Navigation Package ($1,500 – navigation system, FM traffic service, multi-angle reversing camera), or a Leather and Navigation Package ($2,700) containing all of these items. My test car had the combo package, and wore a window sticker of $27,850.
Now, before you choke on whatever might be in your mouth at the moment, keep in mind that it is not uncommon for fully-equipped compact cars to cost this much money. And while this does represent a $3,295 price premium over a standard Civic EX-L with the same equipment, remember that the Civic Hybrid comes standard with Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning technologies, features unavailable on other Civic models. Plus, it is rated to get 44 mpg in combined driving, compared to a standard Civic at 32 mpg.
Suddenly, that price premium doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
2013 Honda Civic Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Styling and Design
Nobody is going to look at a 2013 Civic Hybrid and marvel over its beautiful styling. Neither, however, will most people call it ugly. Honda tracks straight down the middle of the modern design road with this car, balancing aerodynamic requirements with aesthetic appeal. Still, I can’t help but think that maybe Honda ought to consider pilfering some design talent from Ford, Hyundai or Kia. And it sure doesn’t help that the Civic Hybrid’s color choices are primarily limited to black, white, and shades of gray.
People familiar with the Civic’s 2-tiered instrumentation layout, which first debuted for the 2006 model year, will feel right at home inside of the 2013 Civic Hybrid. For people new to the Civic, the design is a bit of a shock to the system, but the approach works to great effect. Changes for the 2013 model year make the cabin look and feel more upscale, which ought to make buyers even happier that they selected a Civic Hybrid.
2013 Honda Civic Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Comfort and Quality
Though the individual interior changes to the 2013 Civic Hybrid are simple and subtle, together they make a big difference in the perception of comfort and quality. Soft-touch dashboard and door panel coverings, better-aligned seams on the instrument panel, upgraded interior trim and accents, and black carpeting give the Civic Hybrid a higher quality look and a more expensive feel.
Though the Civic is a small car, it’s not an uncomfortable car. Thanks to a manual driver’s seat height adjuster, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, and a padded center armrest top that slides forward for greater effectiveness, the Civic is comfortable for short trips and longer journeys.
Passengers will be satisfied, too. The front passenger’s seat lacks height adjustment, but it sits high enough off the floor and the seat cushion is canted at enough of an angle that the omission doesn’t detract from comfort. The rear seat provides plenty of foot room and surprisingly good legroom, and the seat cushion does a good job of delivering thigh support.
Due to its lithium-ion battery pack, the Civic Hybrid does not have a fold-down rear seat, so cargo capacity is limited to the trunk’s 10.7 cu.-ft. The space is usefully shaped, however, and since this version of the Civic has a tire inflation kit rather than a spare tire, there is a compartmentalized storage space under the trunk floor. If anything is missing here, it’s a grab handle to use for closing the trunk lid.
2013 Honda Civic Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Features and Controls
Earlier, I commented upon the Civic’s unusual instrumentation, which basically arrays all controls and displays around the steering wheel, angled slightly toward the driver. It looks different, but works brilliantly. For example, the upper row of digital displays is nearly as effective as a heads-up display at conveying speed, remaining fuel, and other key data. If you’re wondering, the space normally used for the gauges is dominated by a rarely referenced tachometer the size of a rising Super Moon, orbited by idiot light satellites. The PRNDL display is located here, too.
My test car came with the optional navigation system, a good and a bad thing. It’s good because, well, it helps you find destinations in unfamiliar territory, it provides FM traffic reports, and it includes a multi-angle reversing camera. Plus, I find the screen’s touch-sensitive virtual buttons to be large and responsive.
It’s a bad thing because you’ve gotta have hands and fingers the size of Barbie’s to operate the primary function buttons and knobs on either side of the display screen. Not only are the buttons and knobs sized on the teensy side, the system also looks like an aftermarket unit installed by a pimply teenager at the local car stereo shop.
Otherwise, the Civic Hybrid’s interior looks modern and operates with an intuitive simplicity that is lacking in so many cars today.
2013 Honda Civic Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Safety Matters
The 2013 Honda Civic is the only compact car to earn a “Top Safety Pick Plus” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), reflecting superior occupant protection in a new small overlap frontal-impact test designed to measure what happens if a vehicle hits a tree, pole, or oncoming traffic on the front left corner. The Civic also receives a 5-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It simply does not get better than this.
Credit the 2013 Civic’s new Advanced Compatibility Engineering II (ACE II) body structure, which is engineered to give the car greater crash-compatibility with a wider variety of vehicle sizes and types, and to deflect crash-energy away from the occupant compartment. Additionally, the 2013 Civic gets Smart Vent side-impact airbags, and the Civic Hybrid is equipped with a new Lane Departure Warning System and a Forward Collision Warning System as standard equipment.
Personally, I would have preferred that Honda had added a blind-spot information system to the Civic. While it must be true, based on the number of warnings emitted by my Civic Hybrid test car, that I frequently cross painted lines and approach vehicles carrying too much speed, this does not occur because I am asleep at the wheel, or because I have my face buried in my smartphone. What I find far more useful and worthwhile is a blind-spot monitor of some kind, whether in the form of convex side mirrors or an actual visible and audible alert.
2013 Honda Civic Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Driving Impressions
Equipped with a 1.5-liter gasoline engine, an electric assist motor, and a 20-kW lithium-ion battery that is recharged through a regenerative braking system, the 2013 Civic Hybrid produces a combined 110 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 127 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,000 rpm and 3,500 rpm. That’s not much for a car weighing 2,868 pounds, but the continuously variable transmission does an excellent job of making the most of the available power.
Obviously, this is not a fast car. It’s not even quick. But it doesn’t have much trouble merging onto freeways with the flow of traffic, and it doesn’t necessarily get left in the dust at traffic lights. The trick to making the Civic Hybrid move is to either A.) press the accelerator hard or B.) turn off the Econ Mode to make the powertrain a little bit more responsive.
As you might expect, when the car accelerates the CVT causes the powertrain to sound like a blender making a smoothie. Otherwise, the CVT is agreeable, and the Civic manages city traffic, travels suburban boulevards, and cruises on the highway with a surprising degree of refinement. That also describes the manner in which the car’s automatic stop/start system operates.
In fact, that describes the Civic Hybrid’s driving dynamics in general. Compared to the Honda Insight I recently tested, this car represents a quantum leap forward in sophistication. The Civic Hybrid feels substantial, responsive, and connected, and Honda has done an admirable job of calibrating the electric steering for natural feel and of tuning the car’s suspension to mask the additional weight. Even the low rolling resistance P195/65R15 Bridgestone Ecopia tires provide an excellent blend of ride, handling, and quietness.
Basically, the Civic Hybrid feels like a regular car, instead of a regular car carrying four adults, a trunk full of luggage, and riding on overinflated tires, which is how many hybrid models drive.
The braking system is where Honda could still improve the Civic Hybrid’s driving dynamics. Generally, the regenerative braking system behaves in a refined manner. But all too often, the brakes suddenly release or grab, causing irritation in both the driver and passengers.
Another thing you should know about the Civic Hybrid is that it’s what is known as a “mild hybrid,” which means it cannot operate solely on battery power, not even at low speeds. From a stop, the moment the driver releases the brake pedal, the engine fires up and the car accelerates.
It’s too bad that Honda doesn’t install a “full hybrid” powertrain in the Civic Hybrid, one that could allow the car to travel at low speed operating only on electricity, similar to a Toyota Prius. With such an approach, the Civic Hybrid might have a better shot at achieving its EPA-rated 44 mpg in combined driving. During my week with the car, I managed to get just 38.3 mpg. Usually, Honda’s fuel economy estimates more accurately align with real-world driving.
2013 Honda Civic Hybrid Quick Spin Review: Final Thoughts
A Honda Civic Hybrid cannot match a Toyota Prius with regard to fuel economy, practicality, and overall value, so if those are your primary objectives in choosing a hybrid vehicle, get thee to the Toyota store. The trouble with the Prius is the image that goes with the car. Sometimes people want to own a green machine, but they don’t want to make a statement about it.
That’s where a vehicle like the Civic Hybrid comes in, garish clear-lensed taillights and all. This car is clean and green, but most people can’t tell it apart from a regular Civic. Plus, it is equipped like an entry-level luxury car, but with a price tag well south of the average transaction value for new vehicles in America. Better yet, it functions perfectly well as a family car – unless you really need a larger trunk or the ability to expand the cargo space.
Yeah, I guess compromises remain when choosing a hybrid vehicle. They’re just not quite as glaring as they’ve been in the past.
Honda provided the 2013 Civic Hybrid for this review
2013 Honda Civic Hybrid photos by Christian Wardlaw