Likewise, choosing a high-mileage Honda hybrid hasn’t made it easy to be green. Compromises in terms of space, comfort, utility, and image were an integral part of the package. If you wanted everyone to know how much you cared about the environment, the sleek but strange Insight two-seater proclaimed your green leanings to the world, but lacked power and interior space. Then there was the Civic Hybrid, which looked pretty much like the standard Civic sedan, keeping the owner’s activism a secret. But, the Civic’s added room for passengers and cargo, along with enough power to cruise all the way to Vegas with the air conditioning blasting, was the trade-off for the Civic Hybrid’s anonymity.
For 2006, Honda makes it easier being green. The Honda Civic Hybrid is completely redesigned with daring new styling, a more powerful and fuel-efficient powertrain, added interior space, and a bigger trunk. It still looks too much like a regular Civic sedan, and it doesn’t feature the handy utility of the Toyota Prius’s folding rear seats and hatchback configuration, but for about $21,500 and with real-world fuel economy in the high 40s, it might be worth getting out of line at the local Toyota dealer and checking out the latest high-mileage car from Honda.
Initially, the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid will get noticed if for no other reason that its shape is a dramatic departure from the staid three-box look of the current model. But once Honda sells its planned 160,000 DX, LX, and EX gas-engine sedans during the first year of production, the new Civic Hybrid will fade into the background. Differences between it and the “regular” sedans are limited to a subtle lip spoiler on the trunk, flat-faced alloy wheels that look like punctured pie tins, turn signals embedded in the sideview mirrors, clear front turn signal lenses, and a micro antenna affixed to the trailing edge of the roof. Oh, and it says “Hybrid” on the back.
Nuts and Bolts
Employing next-generation Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology, the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid is more powerful, more fuel efficient, and meets strict AT-PZEV Tier 2 Bin 2 emissions regulations. Like all hybrid vehicles, a permanent magnet electric motor assists the gas-burning, 1.3-liter, four-cylinder engine during acceleration. Honda claims this IMA system can motor along just on the batteries under certain low-load, steady state cruise conditions. But try as we might, we couldn’t detect the engine shutting down at any time during our test drive. Nevertheless, we managed a 47.1-mpg average in a drive that covered two-lane country road, an 80-mph blitz down the freeway, and rush hour city driving. Not bad. And the air conditioning was cranked the entire time. The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid’s combined power rating is 110 horsepower, and we never felt as though the car lacked verve.
The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid’s power is transferred to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). A new regenerative braking system – utilizing vented front discs and rear drums equipped with ABS, EBD, and brake assist – captures energy to recharge the nickel metal hydride battery pack. In the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid, this system uses a new advanced hydraulic booster for better brake pedal feel and smoother modulation. Low-rolling resistance tires, sized P195/75R15, are wrapped around unique lightweight alloy wheels bolted to a MacPherson strut front and double wishbone rear suspension. Guiding the whole package down the road is an electric steering system that offers predictable response off-center combined with light effort at slow speeds and decent heft at higher speeds.
It might look radical, but the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid’s interior layout is extremely functional. Note the small front quarter windows, just like those in the Toyota Prius.
The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid’s gauges are split between a digital display located at the base of the windshield and a traditional cluster viewed through the steering wheel. In the digital display, which acts much like a heads-up system, vehicle speed, remaining fuel, and instant fuel economy are shown. Average fuel economy is displayed in the lower binnacle next to the trip odometer and below a huge tachometer that no Civic Hybrid owner is every likely to consult. We’d prefer average fuel economy to be shown up top with other pertinent data.
Not shown in this photo is the optional navigation system with voice control, which works easily enough but groups the stereo and navigation functions together. Plus, it has small buttons, and sun glare has a detrimental effect on legibility. We prefer the standard knobs and buttons for the stereo, seen here, which work as simply as those for the heating and air conditioning.
Materials are tasteful and upscale for a small car, with plush fabric upholstery, a soft mesh headliner, and quality parts and panels with a refined look and feel.
More comfortable seating, front and rear, is one benefit of the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid redesign. Four six-footers can fit inside the Civic Hybrid, and those in the back seat won’t lack head or legroom, though it’s not as roomy back there as the Toyota Prius. Unlike other Civic sedans, the Hybrid doesn’t get a fold-down rear center armrest.
Up front, wide, firm, supportive chairs offer excellent comfort. The driver gets a manual seat height adjuster, and in combination with the standard tilt and telescopic steering column, a perfect driving position is easy to find. Honda provides plenty of storage space inside the 2006 Civic Hybrid, and road noise is commendably low.
The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid focuses as much on safety as it does efficiency. Standard equipment includes dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags; seat-mounted front side airbags; front and rear side curtain airbags; antilock brakes with independent electronic rear brake distribution and brake assist; and active head restraints. Plus, the new Civic Hybrid was engineered using Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Body Structure (ACE) principles, which dictate better crash energy absorption through multiple load paths that limit structural penetration.
What does this mean to you? Honda expects the 2006 Civic Hybrid to receive five-star frontal crash-test ratings from NHTSA and a “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the 40-mph offset frontal crash-test. Furthermore, Honda predicts that the Civic Hybrid will get a ‘Good” rating from the IIHS for side-impact protection, with NHTSA assigning a five-star front occupant side-impact score and a four-star rear occupant side-impact score.
Pricing & Features
Honda expects to place a window sticker totaling about $21,500 in the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid when it goes on sale October 5, 2005. A navigation system will run extra, though the price has not been set at this writing. That’s a reasonable amount to pay for a roomy sedan that gets 47 mpg without really trying.
Standard equipment on the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid includes everything that comes on the Civic EX sedan except the power sunroof and rear seat center armrest. In addition to the special powertrain and related hardware, the Civic Hybrid adds an automatic climate control system, a roof-mounted antenna, and a driver’s seatback pocket. And don’t forget, the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid’s rear seat doesn’t split and fold like in other Civic sedans. The battery pack is sandwiched between the rear seatback and the trunk, and it eats up 1.6 cubic feet of cargo toting capacity.
The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid is also offered in two exclusive exterior paint colors called Opal Silver Blue and Magnetic Pearl. Other colors include white, silver, and gray. Interiors are trimmed in Ivory, unless you opt for silver or Magnetic Pearl, in which case you get a special Hybrid-only blue interior trim.
As soon as you place the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid’s CVT into gear and set off down the road – which is, by the way, a far less complicated procedure than the Toyota Prius – it’s clear that there’s a big difference between this new Civic Hybrid and the old Civic Hybrid. First, this one is comfortable to sit in. Second, it looks funky enough to attract some attention, though that’s more a function of the Civic’s new styling than palpable differences between regular and hybrid models. Third, it is far quieter inside and more refined. Fourth, it’s quick. Not speedy quick, but quick enough to get out of its own way. Finally, we got 47.1 mpg over 55 miles of rural two-lane roads, interstate highways, and congested city traffic. And we didn’t need to baby it to get that number.
Of course, it’s never easy being green. The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid rides harder thanks to the low rolling resistance tires, and directional stability on the highway is a little less assured than the standard Civic. Despite improvements, the brakes are a bit more difficult to modulate than the regular models, and the Hybrid feels heavier when traveling over bumps and dips. Finally, buyers without experience driving a car with a CVT will find that it takes some getting used to – especially when accelerating hard. Nevertheless, the differences in driving character between the regular and hybrid models are less distinct than before.
By spending a continuous 90 minutes behind the wheel of the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid, I did notice that the parking brake handle, which is located on the left side of the gear selector right where my leg rested against the center console, dug uncomfortably into the bone just below my knee joint. That doesn’t bode well for extended travel, and I can only assume that with a similar amount of seat time I’d suffer the same discomfort in any 2006 Honda Civic. Making up for this to some degree are the Civic’s upper door panels, which are slightly padded and feature a perfectly located concavity disguised as a character line, creating an excellent place to rest your left elbow during extended trips.
Test Vehicle: 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
Estimated Base Price: $21,500
Gasoline Engine Size and Type: 1.3-liter inline four with variable valve timing
Gasoline Engine Horsepower: 93 at 6,000 rpm
Gasoline Engine Torque: 89 lb.-ft. at 4,500 rpm
Electric Motor Size and Type: 70mm wide permanent magnet with 158-volt nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) battery
Electric Motor Horsepower: 20 at 2,000 rpm
Electric Motor Torque: 76 lb.-ft. between 0 and 1,160 rpm
Combined Horsepower Rating: 110 at 6,000 rpm
Combined Torque Rating: 123 lb.-ft. between 1,000 and 2,500 rpm
Transmission: Continuously variable transmission (CVT)
Curb weight, lbs.: 2,875
Estimated EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 50/50 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 47.1 mpg
Length: 176.7 inches
Width: 69.0 inches
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Height: 56.3 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 42.2/34.6 inches
Head room (front/rear): 39.4/37.4 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 10.4 cubic feet
Competitors: Ford Escape Hybrid FWD, Toyota Prius
Photos courtesy of American Honda