2009 Honda Civic Hybrid
2009 Honda Civic Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2009 Honda Civic

Ottawa, Ontario – It’s difficult to complain about a car that will travel 100 kilometres on just six litres of gasoline. Even more so when a car will travel that distance on that little gas in the rigours of stop-and-go driving. Especially when the car in question isn’t the kind of penalty box one used to have to drive in order to save a few pennies at the pumps.

The Honda Civic, of course, is far from a hairshirt on wheels. And the Civic Hybrid, despite being one of the oldest gas-electric hybrid models available today, is notable for its combination of efficiency and comfort.

2009 Honda Civic Hybrid
2009 Honda Civic Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

Honda has been making much of its newest hybrid, the Insight, but a week in the Civic Hybrid proved that it is still very much worthy of consideration.

It must be noted that in a week’s worth of driving, the Civic Hybrid’s average fuel consumption was 5.7 L/100 km. Going by percentages, that works out to 14 per cent more than the Insight, which I drove a few weeks ago. That car returned an even thriftier 5.0 L/100 km, despite its slightly higher Energuide fuel consumption ratings. The Civic Hybrid’s fuel official figures are 4.7/4.3 L/100 km (city/highway); the Insight’s ratings are 4.8/4.5 L/100 km in LX trim.

The Insight is also less expensive than the Civic; my Civic tester rang in with a base price of $27,350, a substantial $3,450 more than a base Insight LX (the up-level Insight EX costs $27,500).

2009 Honda Civic Hybrid
2009 Honda Civic Hybrid
2009 Honda Civic Hybrid
2009 Honda Civic Hybrid
2009 Honda Civic Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

But what you get for the Civic Hybrid’s higher starting price is a car that feels more substantial than its newer sibling. The Civic’s cabin, despite its polarizing styling, is roomy for four, though, like most compacts, sticking a third rider in the back won’t earn you any favours. But otherwise, headroom, legroom and general comfort are generous, front and rear. Standard convenience features include power windows and locks with keyless entry, heated side mirrors and automatic climate control.

The unconventional dash layout takes some getting used to, but it works well. Secondary controls are all within easy reach of the driver, and while the high-mounted digital speedometer seems better-suited to the zoomy Si models, it’s a convenient place to locate the only source of information you need worry about in this car. There’s no point watching the tachometer, as the car’s standard continuously variable transmission (CVT) responds to deep stabs of the throttle by allowing the engine to rev high and stay there until the car reaches the desired speed.

Reaching that speed, incidentally, requires quite a lot of patience from the driver. The Civic Hybrid will step away smartly enough from a stop, but accelerating at speed – say, to merge with highway traffic – requires patience and plenty of advance planning. Steep hills also make the Civic Hybrid work hard just to keep moving, much less accelerate.

Driving this car in heavy traffic, which occasionally requires a quick burst of acceleration to squirt into an opening in an adjacent lane, can be nerve-wracking. It’s also mostly pleasant. This is a very smooth-riding car, with a suspension tuned for comfort above handling. It’s quiet, too, owing to the fact that in normal driving, the gas engine doesn’t have to work too hard, thanks to the help it gets from Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system.

The IMA is less-sophisticated than Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, mostly because the car won’t drive on electricity alone, whereas a Prius, for example, can move away from a traffic light without sparking the gas burner. That fact alone makes the Prius look like the better choice if you do a lot of driving in heavy rush-hour traffic, where the Toyota could conceivably creep along for some time on electric power alone. The Civic Hybrid’s engine does shut down when the car is stopped, but fires up the instant the brake pedal is released. For the record, Honda’s IMA does allow the car to travel on electric power alone, but only under very specific conditions, which, in my experience, are quite difficult to achieve without paying more attention to what’s happening under the hood than what’s on the road in front of it.

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