2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. Click image to enlarge


By Paul Williams

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After a slow start, consumers are warming to the hybrid message. Prices are coming down, and manufacturers are offering a greater selection of hybrid models and vehicle types. For 2006, a new $25,800 Honda Civic Hybrid makes its debut, and Toyota’s $31,280 Prius is further refined.

Also available in Canada are the $33,495 Ford Escape Hybrid, the $62,200 Lexus RX 400h luxury SUV and the $44,205 Toyota Highlander Hybrid midsize SUV. In addition to the Civic Hybrid, Honda offers the Accord V6 Hybrid (2006 price to be announced) and the $26,000 Insight two-seat coupe.

More hybrids are coming from Nissan with its Altima Hybrid due in 2007, and from General Motors with its Saturn VUE Green Line in 2006 and Chevrolet Malibu in 2007. Also due for 2007 are GM’s two-mode hybrid system in the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon SUVs, and Toyota’s Camry Hybrid that will compete with the Altima and Accord. Furthermore, General Motors, BMW and DaimlerChrysler recently announced a partnership to develop new hybrid technologies for future vehicles.

So there’ll be no shortage of choice, and helping with the still premium purchase prices, provincial sales tax rebate programs operating in British Columbia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island offer rebates for Hybrid buyers in those provinces.

To help you better appreciate the differences and similarities between conventionally powered vehicles and hybrids, Autos’s long-term press fleet now includes a Honda Civic Hybrid and a Toyota Prius. Over the next four months we’ll be tracking their fuel consumption, driving characteristics and everyday practicality.

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. Photos: Honda. Click image to enlarge

Our long-term $25,800 Honda Civic Hybrid is currently (no pun intended) the most affordable hybrid on the market. The Sparkle Grey Pearl Civic Hybrid is powered with a 1.3-litre, single overhead camshaft, 93 horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine supplemented by an Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) electric motor that raises total horsepower to 110 @ 6,000 rpm.

This is a front-wheel drive sedan that uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and a drive-by-wire throttle system (a five speed manual transmission was available on the first generation Civic Hybrid, but is not now). Standard features are generous, and include anti-lock brakes, side curtain airbags, automatic climate control, power windows, remote keyless entry, heated power mirrors, CD player with MP3 capability, rear spoiler, remote audio controls on the steering wheel, and Honda’s new bi-level digital/analog instrument panel. The 15-inch light-alloy wheels are unique to the Civic Hybrid, and are fitted with low rolling resistance, 195/65R15 all-season tires (replaced with winter tires until spring).

Optional accessories for the Civic Hybrid include a $515 “Bass Works” audio system, $817 eight-disc CD changer, $504 auto-dimming mirror with compass, $628 fog lights and a range of body kits and finishers. Our Civic Hybrid, however, is “bone stock” except for its winter tires.

2006 Toyota Prius

2006 Toyota Prius

2006 Toyota Prius
2006 Toyota Prius. Photos: Toyota. Click image to enlarge

The $31,280 Toyota Prius is a five-door liftback, and like the Civic Hybrid it arrives with a full complement of features, including auto climate control, CVT “automatic” transmission (no manual is available), CD player, antilock brakes, power mirrors, windows and door locks. However, our test vehicle adds a $4,080 “B” package, which brings the as-tested price to $36,520.

The “B” package includes vehicle stability control, front side and side curtain airbags, CD changer, JBL premium audio system, smart key entry system, auto dimming mirror, fog lamps and garage door opener. The Prius can also be purchased with a $3,350 “C” package that adds a navigation system to the contents of the “B” package. Total price of a “C” package Prius is $38,710.

The Prius is powered by a 1.5-litre, dual overhead camshaft engine that makes 76 hp at 5,000 rpm, and an electric motor that, like the Civic Hybrid’s, raises the total horsepower to 110. The Prius electric motor of Toyota’s “Hybrid Synergy Drive” system, however, generates far more torque than the Honda’s IMA system at low speeds (295 lb.-ft. @ 0-1,000 rpm). But at higher speeds, the Prius generates 82 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,200 rpm.

2006 Toyota Prius

2006 Toyota Prius
2006 Toyota Prius. Photos: Toyota. Click image to enlarge

Our Silver Pine Mica Prius rides on 185/65R15 low rolling resistance tires (slightly narrower than the Civic Hybrid tires) and 15-inch alloy wheels. Like the Civic, our Prius is equipped with winter tires now. There’s a choice of seven colours for buyers of the Prius, but only four colours for the Civic Hybrid. The Civic, however, has a striking navy blue interior, while the Prius makes do with grey.

The hybrid technology in the two vehicles has similarities and differences. Both use a low-emissions gasoline engine working in conjunction with an electric motor, and both feature regenerative braking technology that captures kinetic energy of the car to create electricity. According to Honda, “The system’s [electric] motor turns itself into a generator during braking, helping to slow the car while it builds up the energy stored in the batteries.” Toyota describes the process as, “When slowing down or braking, Prius’ regenerative braking system uses kinetic energy to produce electricity and recharge the battery.” The battery is located below the floor for the Prius; behind the rear seat for the Civic Hybrid.

Both use an auto shutdown feature that turns off the engine at stoplights to save fuel. A significant difference, however, is that the Prius can use the energy in its battery to propel the car from a standing start until sufficient load is placed on the gasoline engine, which then causes it to start. The Prius, therefore, can and does drive on battery power alone for significant distances.

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

In contrast, the Civic Hybrid’s electric motor supplements the gasoline motor. It cannot creep ahead or travel at low speeds in stop-and-go traffic on battery alone, and does not start on battery power alone. Instead, its gasoline engine always starts after auto-shutdown, and works in tandem with the electric motor to propel the car. For 2006, however, Honda has modified its IMA system to permit the car to operate on battery alone, “at steady speeds below 60 km/h, on level roads, under light throttle.”

In both cases, when the car is in auto shutdown mode, the lights, heating and audio systems continue to operate normally.

It shouldn’t – probably doesn’t need to be said – that these vehicles do not need to be plugged in overnight. They are fully self-contained, and all the electricity they need to power their motors is generated internally. If, for some reason, the batteries become fully depleted, the cars run on gasoline until the hybrid systems recharge them.

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. Photos: Honda. Click image to enlarge

A word about fuel economy: the figures given below are supplied by Natural Resources Canada’s “Energuide” program. Fuel consumption is affected by a range of factors, including driving style, the outside temperature, wind direction, tire inflation, vehicle type, vehicle aerodynamics (coefficient of drag), and, of course, speed. Therefore, the Energuide ratings are regarded as a guide, rather than a guarantee.

Although our long-term test is not designed only to compare fuel economy, we will be tracking our fuel consumption and we’ll attempt to drive the vehicles in a balance of city and highway situations. Note, however, that compared with conventionally powered vehicles, fuel consumption for hybrids either tends to be better in the city, or their fuel numbers for city/highway are fairly close.

Check in to Autos for regular updates on our long-term hybrid test cars.


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Technical Data: Honda Civic Hybrid and Toyota Prius – how they compare

  Hondas Civic Hybrid Toyota Prius
Base price $25,800 $31,280
Price as tested $25,800 $36,520
Length 4489 mm 4445 mm
Wheelbase 2700 mm 2700 mm
Width 1752 mm 1725 mm
Height 1430 mm 1475 mm
Weight 1304 kg 1335 kg
Horsepower (combined) 110 @ 6000 rpm 110 @ 5000 rpm
Torque 123 @ 1000-2500 rpm 295 @ 0-1000 rpm/82 @ 4200
Front/rear headroom 1001/951 mm 994/942 mm
Front/rear legroom 1072/878 mm 1065/980 mm
Interior volume 2574 L 2803 L
Cargo capacity 294 L 456 L
Fuel tank 45.5 L 45 L
Anti-lock brakes Standard Standard
Side Curtain airbags Standard Standard
Vehicle Stability Control Not available Optional
Traction control Not available Standard
Vehicle Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km 5 yrs/100,000 km
Hybrid warranty 8 yrs/160,000 km 8 yrs/160,000 km
Fuel economy, L/100km (miles per imperial gallon) city/highway 4.7/4.3 (60/65) 4.0/4.2 (71/67)

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