The Honda Civic hybrid in its runner-up status to the Toyota Prius among eco-popular cars, has no reason to feel inferior. Its gas mileage averages are lower than the Prius and it doesn't have, for whatever reason, the same "green appeal" as its rival.
But the 2009 Civic hybrid
has a refreshed exterior design, more interior space and is more attractive than its biggest competitor.
Still, the new and improved Civic hybrid isn't an overt bargain. Among four available trims, the Civic hybrid with leather trim seats and a navigation system is now a $27,000 car. That's pricey for a Honda Civic
— until considering that the average new price of a car in the United States is now nearly $30,000. Then the Civic hybrid makes a lot more sense.
With its continuously variable transmission, the Civic has a near-limitless number of gear ratios. It's a nice feature, but none of the gears help the hybrid's acceleration. But once up to speed, all is well.
Solid in strong wind and on tight corners. Hybrids have low-rolling resistance tires for fuel economy, but the hybrid didn't feel any different than the high standard set by other Hondas.
Cargo Room (5)
As a hybrid, the battery pack takes up a lot of would-be trunk space, and it prevents a folding back seat. Nonetheless, the trunk has a wide opening and good space, but the lid hinges get in the way. The Civic's interior storage areas are plentiful and well-designed.
Like other Hondas, the Civic has a two-tiered instrument panel, with the tachometer and digital speedometer
positioned separately above and recessed into the front of the dash. It's annoying to some, embraced by others. I like it. Radio and temperatures are efficiently positioned and intuitive. The navigation system has a moderately steep learning curve and the screen is hard to see in certain light conditions. It works well, though.
Like all Hondas, the Civic hybrid is keen on functionality and efficiency. Quality materials and workmanship mean a lot more than over-the-top technology.
Front Seats (5)
A friend who is 6-foot-2 drove the car and said his knees often hit the handbrake. I'm 6-0 and didn't have the same issue. Leg and head room are satisfactory and doors open wide for easy entry/exit.
Fuel Economy (10)
With its rating of 40 mpg (city) and 45 mpg (hwy), the Civic hybrid has the second-best gas mileage average of any vehicle in the United States. Some owners report better gas mileage than the estimates, and the Civic hybrid uses regular-grade gas. What's not to like?
There's little wind noise at any speed, but the CVT promotes some engine noise.
Rear Seats (6)
Head and leg space satisfactory. The flat floor makes the area seem more spacious.
Ride Quality (6)
The suspension is surprisingly good. Takes bumps smoothly and the car maneuvers along the highway with a stable gait.
Total (58 out of 100)
— hybrid sedan.
Primary hybrid competition — Toyota Prius, Nissan Altima, Toyota Camry.
For standard and optional equipment and safety features, visit: www.honda.com.
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price — $26,850.
Price As Driven — $27,560.
Mileage Estimates — 40 mpg (city), 45 mpg (hwy).
Warranty — Bumper-to-bumper, 3 years/36,000 miles; Drivetrain, 5 years/60,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/ unlimited miles.
The Final Words — The Toyota Prius is the industry standard and it has its upside. But the Civic hybrid is more attractive and just as many standard features and functionality. It's not going to win any drag races, but that's not its purpose. It's a well-designed hybrid that's also classy with its leather trim and style upgrades for 2009. Is there a better eco-friendly car for the price?
James, a journalist since 1976, is co-author of Tour de France For
Dummies. He owns several websites, contributes to many print and online
publications and is also the editor of TheWeeklyDriver.com. A long-distance runner for nearly 30 years, Raia also rides his bike — to nearby coffeehouses. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.