2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2008 Honda Civic Hybrid

North Vancouver, B.C. – The second generation Honda Civic Hybrid, which arrived in 2006, is no stranger to the Autos test driving team: our Civic vs Prius hybrid long-term test in 2006 comprised over 4,900 kilometres of driving in both cars. In the cold winter months, the Civic Hybrid averaged 8.7 L/100 km (33 mpg Imp.) but in the warmer Spring temperatures, the same car averaged 6.1 L/100 km (46 mpg Imp.) and achieved just 4.8 L/100 km (59 mpg Imp.) in highway driving.

In September of the same year, Assistant Editor, Jil McIntosh test drove the same 2006 Civic Hybrid, and reported average fuel consumption of 6.0 L/100 km (47 mpg Imp.), “..in mostly hilly, rural driving.”

2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

In June of 2007, I drove a Civic Hybrid on a mix of urban and highway roads, and averaged 5.6 L/100 km (50 mpg Imp.) using fuel efficient driving techniques.

This is still a long way from the official Canadian Energuide fuel economy ratings of 4.7/4.3 city/hwy, but closer to the new US EPA city/hwy ratings of 5.9/5.2 L/100 km (40/45 mpg U.S.; 48/54 mpg Imperial). The new EPA ratings now reflect “real-world” driving conditions such as faster speeds and acceleration, air conditioner use, and colder outside temperatures – the Canadian ratings don’t.

Last month, I tested a 2008 Civic Hybrid, which is essentially unchanged from 2007, but averaged only 7.5 L/100 km (38 mpg Imp.) in mostly warm, dry conditions in August. Even a regular (non-hybrid) Civic with the base 1.8-litre engine averages about 7.3 L/100 km (39 mpg Imp.) in real-world driving, and as demonstrated in our recent 50-Litre Challenge, can get 5.3 L/100 km (53 mpg Imp.) in predominately highway driving if driven fuel-efficiently.

2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

So why did my Civic Hybrid’s fuel consumption vary? Many factors can affect fuel economy: outside temperature and engine operating temperature, transmission type and highway final gear ratio, poor road conditions, tire type, tire pressure, driving style, vehicle weight, passenger and cargo load, the direction and speed of the wind, and aerodynamic obstructions such as roof racks. For a particularly good explanation of this, see Technical Editor Jim Kerr’s column.

All these factors will affect the fuel consumption of non-hybrid vehicles as well, but the Civic Hybrid is subject to other factors too: its “Auto Stop” feature, which allows the engine to stop running while the car is waiting at a traffic light, won’t always work if the car isn’t fully warmed up, or if the outside temperature is very cold, or if the battery is not charged enough, or if the air conditioning is running. It was my experience that Auto Stop will work if the A/C is on, but not always. In these instances, the Civic Hybrid’s 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine will idle normally and use gas just like any other car’s engine. When I drove the car in August, it was hot and I had the air conditioning on most of the time.

On the flip side, this month in Vancouver it’s been cold, rainy, and dark, requiring the wipers, heater, headlights, and radio to be on at the same time. In the case of the Civic Hybrid, these would all draw power from the battery, and the Auto Stop feature would be reluctant to activate.

2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

As well, though the Civic Hybrid is capable of running on battery power alone while cruising, this feature won’t work if the computer doesn’t think operating conditions are ideal.

Based on Autos’s experiences with the Civic Hybrid, I estimate that its average fuel consumption over a long period of time would be about 1.5 to 2.0 L/100 km lower than a regular Civic, but probably wouldn’t match official Energuide ratings.

Theoretically, if you were to save 2.0 L/100 km at roughly $1.30 a litre, and drove 20,000 km a year, you could save about $520 a year in gas. Given that the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid costs about three or four thousand dollars more than a similarly equipped Civic LX, it would take more than six years to make up the difference. However, taking into account the Federal government’s $2,000 Eco-Auto rebate (not available on 2009 models) and provincial sales tax rebates, which range from $1,000 to $3,000, you could pay off the difference in half the time.

Saving money in gas bills is one reason to buy a hybrid, but there is a more noble rationale – according to the EPA, a Civic Hybrid would reduce your carbon footprint by about 2.3 metric tons per year compared to a regular Civic: a Civic Hybrid emits 4.0 metric tons of CO2 per annum while a standard Civic emits 6.3 metric tons. You would also reduce harmful emissions like hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) certifies the Civic Hybrid as an Advanced-Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV), and the EPA gives it a Tier 2/Bin 2+ ILEV rating, just below zero emissions.

2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid. Click image to enlarge
Interior impressions

Fortunately, you don’t have to give up a lot in comfort and features in the Civic Hybrid to get this extra fuel economy. It comes well-equipped with luxuries like automatic climate control, six-speaker, 160-watt AM/FM/CD audio system, keyless entry, power windows, mirrors and door locks, front, side and curtain airbags; height adjustable driver’s seat; and tilt/telescopic steering column.

The cabin’s one major drawback is that it doesn’t have a folding rear seatback – the 158-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack and power control unit are located behind the rear seat. As well, the Hybrid’s trunk is smaller than the regular Civic’s (294 litres (10.4 cu. ft.) vs 340 litres (12.0 cu. ft.).

The Civic Hybrid’s two-tone interior is very attractive and features sturdy, comfortable cloth seats, and unique two-tier instrument panel which either appeals to you, or it doesn’t. Personally, I find the large digital speedometer easy to see day or night, but a little distracting as it flashes from number to number. The Hybrid’s instrument cluster also includes some unique instruments to keep tabs on the battery and fuel economy: a real-time fuel consumption display beside the digital speedometer (which can be switched to a coolant temp readout by pressing a button), a digital average fuel consumption display below the tachometer, and an electric assist/charge indicator and battery level indicator beside the tachometer.

Though it’s a compact sedan with a rakish profile, there is adequate head and legroom for four adults, five in a squeeze. The seats are firm but comfortable and getting in and out is fairly easy.

Standard safety features include dual stage front airbags, front side airbags, and side curtain airbags, five head restraints, and rear child seat anchors, and childproof door locks.

The 2008 Civic Hybrid received the NHTSA’s five-star rating in frontal crash tests for both driver and front passenger, a four-star rating for the driver in a side impact (with side and curtain airbags), and a five-star rating for the rear passenger. The Civic Hybrid includes Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure which compensates for different height vehicles in a frontal crash.

Driving impressions

On the road, the Civic Hybrid drives much like a regular Civic sedan but feels less sporty and slightly heavier because of the extra weight of the large battery pack, its “gearless” continuously variable transmission, and lower overall horsepower (110 @ 6000 rpm w/combined engine and electric motor vs 140 @ 6300 rpm). In terms of 0 to 100 km/h acceleration, the Hybrid is slower: 14.9 seconds (CVT) vs 8.6 seconds (manual transmission), according to the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) www.ajac.ca , but this doesn’t take into account the Hybrid’s superior torque at low revs (123 lb-ft at 1000 r.p.m. – 2500 r.p.m. w/combined engine and electric motor vs the Civic’s 128 lb-ft at 4300 rpm). What this means is that the Civic Hybrid accelerates quickly from a standing start and is quite responsive in the 30 to 50 km/h range, typical city speeds. However, in the 80 to 120 km/h passing range, the Civic Hybrid is quite slow (11.3 seconds vs 7.1 seconds) according to AJAC.

2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
2008 Honda Civic Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

Once the car is up to cruising speed, it rides very comfortably on the freeway with the engine revving at just 1,800 r.p.m., and is noticeably quieter than a regular Civic.

The Civic Hybrid’s powertrain consists of a small 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine with Honda’s i-VTEC variable valve timing, single overhead camshaft, two valves per cylinder and two sparkplugs per cylinder (the regular Civic has a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine with four valves per cylinder) connected to an electric motor/starter generator and a continuously variable transmission. As mentioned, a 158-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack and power control unit reside behind the rear seat.

The Civic Hybrid differs from “full” hybrids like the Prius, Camry Hybrid, and Altima Hybrid. In the Prius, the electric motor alone can accelerate the car from a standing start and propel the car at freeway cruising speeds whereas the Civic Hybrid’s electric motor alone can only propel the car under low-load conditions when cruising. However, the Civic Hybrid’s less complicated hybrid system means it drives more like a regular car with more seamless powertrain operation and less whine from the electric motor.

The Civic Hybrid’s small 1.3-litre engine produces 93 horsepower at 6000 r.p.m. and 89 lb-ft of torque at 4500 r.p.m. but combined with the electric motor, power figures add up to 110 hp at 6000 rpm and 123 lb-ft of torque between 1000 r.pm. and 2500 r.p.m.

The Hybrid’s CVT provides a different driving experience than a four or five-speed automatic transmission. When accelerating gently, the engine speeds up to about 3000 r.p.m. and stays there until you lift off the gas pedal. Under full throttle, the engine speeds up to five or six thousand r.p.m. and hangs there until the car reaches cruising speed. But normally around town, the engine revs in the 1000 to 2000 rev range, and is surprisingly quiet.

The CVT transmission’s floor shifter reads PRNDSL: S increases the speed of the engine for quicker throttle response while L acts as a low gear for steep hills and slower speeds.

Like the regular Civic, the Hybrid has a full independent suspension but because it’s heavier and has low rolling resistance P195/65R15-inch all-season tires (Dunlop SP 37AS), the Hybrid doesn’t feel quite as nimble or as much fun to drive as a regular Civic.

The Civic Hybrid’s front disc/rear drum brakes with ABS feature a regenerative braking system to recharge the battery while braking or coasting, and while braking, the engine automatically deactivates to save fuel. The brakes don’t have an artificial feel like some hybrids, and stopping distances are in fact shorter than the regular Civic (40.6 m/133 ft. vs 42.8 m/140 ft.), according to AJAC’s independent tests.

Unfortunately, the Civic Hybrid is not available with electronic stability control.

The Civic Hybrid’s Auto Stop feature kills the engine just before the Civic Hybrid rolls to a stop and an “Auto Stop” lights flashes in tachometer. The electrically-driven functions like the power steering, power brakes, lights, and radio operate on battery power alone while the engine is stopped. The engine restarts automatically as soon as the driver releases their foot from the brake pedal. The stopping and starting process is mostly seamless, but there is a slight vibration when the engine starts and some accompanying engine noise.

Personally, I find it gratifying to know that my engine isn’t polluting while I’m stopped in traffic.

Verdict

The Civic Hybrid’s savings in gas bills are counterbalanced by its higher MSRP, and owners should be aware that fuel economy will not be as good when driving conditions are poor. While well-equipped, the Civic Hybrid lacks electronic stability control.

Pricing: 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid

Base price: $26,350
Options: None
A/C tax: $100

Freight: $1,310
Price as tested: $27,760
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid

    Related articles on Autos
  • 2008 Autos 50-Litre Challenge
  • Why were the Civic and Corolla so much more fuel-efficient?
    Long-term test

  • 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid and 2006 Toyota Prius
    Test Drives

  • 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid, by Greg Wilson
  • 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid, by Jil McIntosh
  • 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid, by Greg Wilson
  • 2006 Toyota Prius, by Laurance Yap

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