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


Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads
The man in the parking lot took a quick glance at my Honda Civic, and then stopped to talk once he noticed the Hybrid nameplate on the trunk. “That’s one of those cars you plug in, right?” he asked.

For all the publicity they receive, hybrids are still saddled with misconceptions. They use electricity, but you don’t plug them in; the engine stops at idle, but the lights and air conditioning still run; and most importantly, they’re fuel-efficient, but they’re not necessarily the best choice for every driver. Buyers should analyze their use and driving conditions thoroughly before taking the plunge.

The Hybrid shares the 2006 makeover given the entire Civic line, including driveline improvements over the 2005 Hybrid; it comes only as a sedan, and in a single, well-optioned trim line priced at $25,950. With the upcoming retirement of the two-seater Honda Insight, Civic becomes Canada’s least-expensive hybrid; the Toyota Prius starts at $31,280.

While other Civic sedans use a 1.8-litre engine, the Hybrid starts with a 1.3-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes just 93 hp and 89 lb-ft of torque.

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
2006 Honda Civic Hybrid; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

But it’s mated to an electric motor – Honda calls it IMA, or Integrated Motor Assist – that combines with the gasoline engine to produce a peak of 110 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque. The torque kicks in at a mere 1000 rpm, so even with its pint-sized powerplant, Civic feels relatively peppy off the line.

Unlike the previous-generation Civic Hybrid, this version is capable of running solely on its battery, although it’s not as spectacular as the Prius, which I was able to run for a couple of kilometres on battery alone with some featherweight footwork. Instead, Civic always starts off on gasoline, but will deactivate the engine if you’re cruising along at a steady speed. It happens so seamlessly that I was unable to detect it unless I watched the indicator display.

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

Equally smooth is Civic’s continuously variable transmission (CVT), the sole shifter choice; it’s probably the best I’ve driven, with none of the “rubber band” feel that these cone-and-belt versions can often exhibit.

Stop for a light, and the gasoline engine shuts off – a rather smug feeling when you’re sitting in midsummer’s steamy heat, with cars all around you belching fumes. Lights, stereo and heater or a/c will continue to run (except if the defroster is on or the a/c’s on high, in which case the car stays running), and since the IMA restarts the engine, there’s no danger of premature starter wear. But when it does restart, which it does as soon as you release the brake, there’s a slight jolt, and it’s worse if you’re quick getting back to the throttle; it gets tiresome after a while.

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

You need to reach about 12 km/hr before the idle stop will work again, but that’s a lower threshold than the previous generation. Pay attention to traffic, and you could travel the length of a clogged commuter highway in rush hour on only the fuel necessary to cover the distance, with the car shutting itself off as you sit amidst all those idling engines burning their fuel.

Regarding the mileage the Civic Hybrid returns, much will depend on your driving habits and conditions. Throw in hills or a heavier foot, and it’s much tougher to make your fuel savings cover the Hybrid’s extra cost. It’s rated an average 4.5 L/100 km, but the best I could do was 6.0 L/100 km in mostly hilly rural driving.

Based on that, many long-distance highway commuters would do better with a small diesel engine. You have to adapt your driving to a hybrid; expect the hybrid to adapt to you, and you’ll probably be disappointed with the fuel results.

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

The brakes are regenerative, capturing energy that is fed back into the system, and they take some getting used to, as they’re stiff and tend to grab. There’s considerably more road noise than with other Civics, much of which can be pegged on the fuel-saving, low-rolling-resistance tires. And the Hybrid makes other odd sounds, too, including a recurring buzz in the dash that appeared to be related to the electrical system, although I never figured out exactly what it was doing.

The new Civic is slightly larger than the model it replaces, and there’s plenty of room to stretch out in the front seat, with adequate legroom for rear-seat passengers. But unlike other Civic models, the Hybrid’s battery pack is behind the rear seat, which can’t be folded to accommodate longer trunk cargo. As for the seats themselves, they’re quite comfortable, but they’re covered in plush

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

velour fabric that brought back memories of my 1976 Buick.

The two-tiered dash is gradually growing on me, and while I still don’t like the digital speedometer, the blue and white cluster is attractive, and the colour scheme continues on the big-buttoned, easy-to-use stereo and heater controls. There’s no animated hybrid system display as on the Prius, but that isn’t a bad thing. The Civic’s conventional appearance may be a selling point for more conservative buyers.

All buyers, though, need to know all about hybrids before making a decision. It may be the cheapest hybrid, but it’s still the most expensive Civic sedan available. Spend your money wisely.


Pricing


Specifications

  • Click here for complete specifications


Related stories on Autos


Crash test results

Manufacturer’s web site

Connect with Autos.ca