2006 Honda Civic Hybrid (left) and 2006 Toyota Prius
2006 Honda Civic Hybrid (left) and 2006 Toyota Prius. Photo: Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge
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Story and photos by Paul Williams and Grant Yoxon

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With temperatures lurching from +7 degrees Celsius to -27 in the space of twenty-four hours, and conditions ranging from dry cold to freezing rain, Ottawa’s extreme weather is the perfect place to test the limits of Autos’s two long-term Hybrid test vehicles. “If you want to see how a hybrid stands up, this is the place to be,” says Paul Williams. Paul relates his experience with the Civic Hybrid, while Grant Yoxon updates the Toyota Prius.


2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge


by Paul Williams

This year’s winter in Ottawa is unusual. We lurch from 7 degrees Celsius one day, to -27 the next. We’ve had rain, snow, freezing rain, fog, slush, ice and the occasional bitterly cold, sunny day. In short, these conditions will be tough on any car, so if you want to see how a hybrid stands up, this is the place to be.

The Honda Civic Hybrid combines a gasoline engine with an electric motor to power the car. Its regenerative braking system transforms inertial energy into electricity, which it stores in a battery behind the rear seat. That battery powers the motor, which helps the gasoline engine. When waiting at a stoplight, the gasoline engine shuts down to conserve fuel, and the climate controls, lights and audio system run on battery alone. Take your foot off the brake, and the gasoline engine starts right up, then off you go.

So far, we’ve driven 1,908 kilometres in our Honda Civic Hybrid long-term test car.

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

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

It’s mostly city driving in the conditions described above. We’re seeing 8.7 L/100 km, and filling up with an average of 33-litres of regular gasoline when the electronic gauge gets close to empty. That’s an average of 381.6 kilometres per tank, which holds 45 litres of gasoline. Clearly, we’re not getting close to empty when the gauge indicates it’s time for fuel, but when the low-fuel warning light comes on, you’re down to about eight litres in the tank.

The Civic Hybrid starts readily no matter what the temperature. Normally, you turn the ignition key, and the engine starts almost like a golf cart. There’s no cranking, or “turning over” as in conventional cars, although it did crank on two occasions, when the outside temperature was below -20 degrees.

When we took delivery of the Civic Hybrid, the auto-stop feature almost always shut the engine down at stoplights (or equivalent). There was a period of about 500 km when it didn’t auto-stop at all. It was particularly cold, and I wondered if the ambient temperature affected the frequency of auto-stopping. We sent a request for further information about this to Honda Canada, and await their reply.

Subsequently, the auto-stop feature “returned” and now the car is stopping and starting as designed. This, by the way, is not intrusive. You only feel the slightest vibration when the engine starts in these circumstances, and you don’t hear it at all.

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

You do feel the regenerative braking, however, although not all the time. Occasionally, the brakes seem to grab when stopping. It’s not aggressive, but can be mildly surprising. You get used to it.

Unlike earlier models, the 2006 Civic Hybrid is able to operate at low speeds on battery power alone. We have yet to experience this, even when trying to induce the feature by driving, “at steady speeds, below 60 km/h, under light throttle,” as Honda puts it. We’re working on this and will have more information about this feature in the next update.
That battery, by the way, made its presence known early in the Civic Hybrid’s tenure with Autos, when my son drove a friend to Ikea to pick up some furniture.

“How do you fold the rear seat,” he asked on the cell phone from the Ikea parking lot.

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. Photo: Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

Well, you don’t. That’s the thing about putting the battery behind the rear seat. It doesn’t fold as it would on other Honda Civics. It’s an inconvenience when you’re at Ikea with a Billy bookshelf to slide in, but you only make this mistake once.

Otherwise the trunk in the Civic is spacious for this class of car (the Civic is about the same size as a BMW 3 Series).

Cargo carrying quibbles aside, the Civic’s interior is roomy and the seats, especially the front seats, are comfortable and supportive.

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

The big outside rear-view mirrors have integrated turn signals, are great for keeping track of what’s behind you, and thankfully they’re heated. We’d love it if the seats were, too.

I like the digital speedometer, and find all of the controls on the dashboard easy to operate. The automatic climate control system works well, keeping the cabin warm, and the windows clear (actually, there has been some fogging, but again, this might be because of the outside temperature).

The tachometer seems unnecessary, though. There’s no reason at all to know the engine speed in a hybrid car with a continuously variable transmission.

The Civic’s big, one-piece windshield wipers are terrific in the rain, but freeze and warp just like old-style wipers on conventional frames.

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

All 2006 Civics feature electric power steering (power assist is provided by a motor, rather than a hydraulic system). We’re finding this a bit too noticeable, especially as the temperature drops. At very low temperatures, the steering seems to pick a line and follow it, until you correct it, whereupon it picks another line and follows it. Rarely will it just go straight, and respond to the type of familiar and minute adjustments you make with a hydraulic system.

This weekend we’re planning a long (1,400 km) trip to Niagara Falls and back. It’ll be all highway, with a combination of multi-lane and some minor roads. Speeds will range from 90-115 km/h, which will be a good opportunity to compare the Civic Hybrid’s highway mileage with its city results.

Read the first article in this series


2006 Toyota Prius

2006 Toyota Prius
2006 Toyota Prius. Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge


by Grant Yoxon

Considering the weather we’ve experienced in eastern Canada over the last week, I can’t help but think the time is right for a leisurely cruise through the Florida Keys. Throw in a week on the beach and two tickets to the Daytona 500 and the conditions would be ideal for car testing.

But in Canada, conditions are often less than ideal. We test our cars in the same conditions in which Canadians must drive every day – through freezing rain and heavy snow, at temperatures that dip below -18 with -30 windchill factors.

2006 Toyota Prius

2006 Toyota Prius

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

Sometimes we let our cars warm up, even though we know we shouldn’t. We sit in weather induced traffic jams with the defroster blowing full blast and the heat cranked up to try and melt the ice that forms the moment the moisture hits the glass. And we sit outside a high school for twenty minutes, with the engine running, waiting for our children to emerge.

All pretty normal stuff for a Canadian stuck in a Canadian winter. And all are situations that add to fuel consumption and excess emissions.

It’s a common complaint that government fuel consumption testing doesn’t reflect reality. Running a simulated 12-kilometre stop-and-go drive in a warm laboratory with no wind (let alone windchill) sounds more like Florida than Canada, but it does level the playing field enough for car buyers to at least compare vehicles (see Jim Kerr’s report on fuel economy testing), even though it cannot accurately predict fuel consumption in the real world of every-winter-day driving.

So we were not surprised that our 2006 Toyota Prius long-term tester has not achieved Natural Resources Canada’s predicted fuel economy of 4.0 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 4.2 L/100km on the highway. But we weren’t disappointed either. Fuel consumption has ranged from an average of 5.6 L/100 km on a drive from Toronto to Ottawa to 7.2 L/100 km during a week of nasty city driving.

2006 Toyota Prius
Photo: Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

During our best week in the city the Prius consumed 5.2 L/100 km. Our combined fuel consumption figure for the 4,290 kilometres we’ve put on the car since early January is 6.4 L/100 km.

The benefit of owning a Prius is not just fuel savings. If this is your only measure, you would be hard pressed to justify spending $35,360 ($31,280 in base trim). There are cheaper cars with worse fuel economy that make better economic sense. But when you are moving slowly in a traffic jam and the Prius moves along under battery power alone or shuts off entirely when stopped, there is the satisfaction that unlike everyone around you, you are not contributing to the smog that hangs over the freeway. And when the engine is running you will also have the satisfaction of knowing that the emissions are as low as possible for any vehicle sold today.

2006 Toyota Prius
Photo: Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

The Prius is a ‘true’ gas-electric hybrid. It can move with power from its 1.5-litre 4-cylinder gasoline engine or under electric power alone, or with power coming from both. The electric motor also acts as a generator and excess power is routed to the battery to recharge it, as is electrical energy captured from the brakes.

There are few compromises in owning and driving a Prius. The car seats five, four comfortably, although the front seats are a bit firmer than I would like. Leg room front and rear is more than adequate, as is head room. The rear seats fold flat, turning the sedan into a small wagon, thanks to its hatchback. The Prius’ ability to carry lots of stuff has meant that our less fuel-efficient (a lot less fuel efficient) minivan has stayed home.

Our Prius came with a $4,080 option package that includes vehicle stability control, premium JBL audio system, AM/FM CD player with 6-speakers and MP3/WMA capability,

2006 Toyota Prius
Photo: Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

front side airbags and air curtain airbags, smart key system (the key stays in your pocket), garage door opener, electrochromic rear view mirror and fog lamps.

I like the smart key system. The doors open automatically when you approach. You get in, put your foot on the brake and press a button to start the car. The engine turns on only if accessory demand for heat and defrosting is sufficient to require it. Otherwise, you flick the gear shift lever into drive and the car moves off under electric power. The engine starts when there is a demand for power to accelerate, to operate the accessories or to generate electrical energy to charge up the battery.

While the Prius is not particularly powerful, neither is it sluggish. This is actually beneficial on slippery streets, as there is little if any tire spin. Under really slippery conditions, the standard traction control is available to get the car moving.

2006 Toyota Prius

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

The optional vehicle stability control has helped a lot this winter, particularly on those days when the streets have been transformed into skating rinks by freezing rain. Stability control has also compensated for less than satisfactory traction from the Prius’ Toyo Observe G-O2 plus winter tires.

When stability control is activated, the Prius emits a loud series of beepings – very annoying. Similarly, the Prius beeps continuously when in reverse. With the Prius’ simple up-down transmission switch it would be easy to select the wrong direction and the beeps ensure you know you are in reverse – but surely there must be a more subtle way of performing the same function.

2006 Toyota Prius

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

The Prius’ automatic climate control produces good heat and quickly enough. It is all-electric and doesn’t shut down when the engine stops, at a stop-light for example. Temperature settings can be adjusted on the Prius’ touch screen or via steering wheel mounted controls. It’s a bit confusing, as adjusting settings on the screen or locating the right button on the steering wheel can be distracting.

Audio system settings can be adjusted via the screen, steering wheel-mounted controls or dash-mounted controls.

The speedometer is digital and resides in an enclosure high up on the dash. Here too you will find various warning lights and other indicators. Surprisingly, the Prius does not have a low windshield washer warning light and when you are out of fluid, you are out, no low functioning grace period.

Overall our experience with the Prius has been mostly positive.

2006 Toyota Prius (left) and 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
2006 Toyota Prius (left) and 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid. Photo: Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

As a family vehicle, we love its versatility. And we like the great fuel economy too, even if it doesn’t meet advertised levels. But we’re looking forward to the end of winter and warmer days ahead. Under more ‘ideal conditions’, fuel economy should improve.


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