Future Green: Honda Civic Hybrid (2007)
It was a coup of sorts. While everyone else was whisked away for the Tokyo Motor Show, Honda Cars Philippines was gracious enough to let me drive the Honda Civic Hybrid, and from the experience it was worth being left behind. Like the subtlety of the Civic Hybrid’s design, the turnover was largely without fanfare. After a short orientation on the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA)’s operation and a hearty lunch, it was time to drive off in one of the world’s greenest cars.
Those looking for attention will not find it with the Civic Hybrid. Unlike Toyota’s Prius which is a unique car built from the ground up as a hybrid car, the Civic Hybrid looks every bit like the eighth-generation Civic with some minor modifications, like the low-drag 15-inch alloys and a single exhaust tip instead of the typical twin tip set-up. I’m not saying that the Civic Hybrid looks bland; no, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Despite being launched a little over two years ago, it still looks every bit as futuristic as something straight out of Star Trek. But, with the Civic being the country’s best-selling compact car, it’s getting tedious seeing a dozen Habenero Red 1.8S every single day. Forgive my rock star attitude, but I’d wish people would be able to tell I was driving a green machine from over a kilometer away.
Inside, the dashboard has a very Flash Gordon look. Again, there’s little to distinguish it from the regular Civic, but it doesn’t matter. I find it well executed with nothing to fault. For the uninitiated, the Civic features a two-tier instrument panel with a digital speedometer, fuel gauge and temperature gauge (that also toggles to an instantaneous mileage display) on top and a tachometer and other warning indicators at the bottom. This set-up works since the digital speedometer sits at the bottom of the driver’s field of vision, almost acting out like a heads-up display. However, shorter folk may have some difficulty seeing out. The rest of the interior package is nicely done too with a nice, grippy steering wheel (with audio and cruise control buttons to boot), an ergonomically placed ‘Z-type’ handbrake and a futuristic looking shifter.
I found the seats to be on the firm side but comfortable and supportive. Adjustment is all manual, but effective, and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel is a nice touch for that perfect driving position. The audio system is lovely too with a complete set of inputs: CD, MP3s encoded CDs, stereo and even an auxiliary input jack hidden (but within reach) in the center console next to a 12-volv power outlet. Overall, the interior is a nice, no nonsense environment.
When it comes to the performance of a hybrid, things like acceleration and lateral g-forces are secondary to the goals of efficiency and conservation. The Civic Hybrid uses a 1.3-liter i-DSI motor with eight valves (not related to the Jazz/City engine), a CVT and an electric motor mounted between them. The gasoline engine’s good for 110 horsepower and 164 Nm of torque while the electric motor can add up to 20 horsepower and 103 Nm of torque. A first for Honda’s IMA technology is introduced in the Civic Hybrid. The engine now has the ability to switch to pure electric power during highway cruising allowing for more gasoline savings in the process.
For the speed junkie, the power and torque figures don’t seem much, and in certain occasions, it can make itself quite known, like on extended steep grades where the battery’s assist capabilities diminish. The CVT does help by keeping the engine around its low rpm torque peak until more revs are needed. 95 percent of time though, the dual nature of the powertrain is transparent.
Perhaps my biggest gripe is its lauded auto-idle feature which shuts off the engine at a stop and re-fires it to life when the brake pedal is released. In theory, it’s sound, but in practice, the cycling procedure produces noticeable vibrations through the car and can produce some buckling when restarting following a brief pause. But worse is the flashing light to the side of the tachometer. I don’t understand flashing dashboard “warnings” of normal operation, and hope this feature disappears in future Honda hybrids.
Official US mileage figures for the Civic Hybrid is around 20.83 km/L in city driving and 21.68 km/L on the highway so it was quite shocking that my drive around Metro Manila produced a measly 12 km/L—close to a frugality driven Civic 1.8S.
As Jenson Button’s Earth Dream F1 livery suggests, Honda is proud of its environmental commitment. The Civic, especially the Hybrid has long been regarded as the star attraction in this aspect. Though no indicative pricing was given by the folks at HCPI, there’s little doubt that the Hybrid will certainly costs more than a run-of-the-mill Civic because of the extra hardware involved. Technically, though efficient, the gains involved in driving a hybrid may not make up the difference in price over a normal ownership period. However if eco-friendly performance would lead to real-world advantages such as tax breaks, incentives and exception from color coding can help swing the deal in the hybrid’s favor. Perhaps it’s about time that the Philippine government thinks green. And this time, we don’t mean just pocketing dollars.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang