2007 Honda Civic Hybrid Review: Highway Friendly

By The Car Family

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You don’t buy a Honda Hybrid to save money, you buy it because it makes you feel good about doing your part to make the world a better place. To this end, it works. The Hybrid is nearly as joyful to drive as a regular Civic with good performance, a roomy interior, and gas mileage that is consistently in the 40-mpg range or better. The bad news is that it does not handle like a regular Civic because of its heavy battery pack and gas mileage oriented tires. So, in essence, this is a delightful commuter car and a bargain at about $22.000.

Price wise, the Hybrid runs a few thousand dollars more than a comparably equipped Civic. For the additional funding you get a lot of technology and some pride of ownership. However, even with gas at record high levels and the Hybrid returning about 30 percent better fuel mileage in daily driving, it would take several years to save the extra cost of the Hybrid. And, just as you would be narrowing the difference, the Hybrid’s battery pack would have to be replaced at a cost of several thousand dollars. On the other hand, if you justified your car buying decision only on costs everyone would be driving a sub-compact vehicle. A car has got to make you feel good to own it and the Hybrid does just that.The major competition for the Hybrid is the Toyota Prius The Toyota car had been redone for 2004 and offered significant improvements over the excellent first version that debuted a few years ago. Currently, the difference in the new Prius and the Hybrid is in the ride, quietness, interior space, and appointments. Overall, the Honda is sportier, but not too sporty, and is less visible. In fact, when we went to a crowded mall we could not find our Hybrid because it blended in so well with all the other Civics. We had to use the remote and look and listen. We felt like a mother lion who was searching for her cub.

Mom’s view: I didn’t mind it at all, except for the gauges which were too small and too difficult to read with their bright and trendy colors. I also found that the air conditioning was hard pressed to cool the interior in our 105-degree test days. I would have the windows tinted immediately. Otherwise, this is a handy car.In smaller cars, safety is always one of my concerns. This is especially true as large SUVs with phone using drivers have been known to overlook vehicles that don’t ride as high as they do. To help alleviate any fears Honda provides dual-stage front airbags, front side airbags, stability control, ABS brakes, and dual-side impact door beams. It does need a louder horn.

Overall, this is a pleasant vehicle with enough snap to make it capable of blending in on crowded highways and an interior that is acceptable, if not a bit youthful for my taste. Would I want one for my daily driver? Yes, and no. Although I obviously love the gas mileage and size of the Hybrid, I find the fact that you have to sacrifice the fold down rear seat to accommodate the battery pack frustrating at times when I have a long item to carry. I also find the gauges difficult to quickly read and nearly impossible to comprehend while wearing sunglasses. Other than that this is would be a great value and a treat for the environment.

Dad’s view: No, this car does not have to be plugged in and, no, this car does not just run on batteries. It runs on a combination of a gasoline engine and batteries and it does this very well. The news here is the engine and motor that combine to power the Hybrid with such efficiency.The Hybrid’s 1.3-liter 4-cylinder gasoline 93 horsepower engine has been highly modified with special ignition, lean burn combustion, two spark plugs per cylinder, and variable value controls. The engine also has low-friction pistons, thin-sleeve cylinder walls, lightweight intake manifold and meets Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle requirements. Can you say clean, and you still get plenty of low speed grunt with 116 foot-pounds of coming online at a low 1500 rpm.

Assisting the engine is a 10 kilowatts electric motor that utilizes nickel-metal-hydride batteries that are recharged by the gas engine as well as by deceleration and braking. Thus you don’t plug this car in to an outlet. The batteries take up space that is hardly missed, but it does require the elimination of that very popular rear-seat fold down feature available on other Civics. The electric motor is brushless and silent and gives you about between 15 and 30hp of electric boost at high speeds, and is capable of providing all the drive energy necessary in slow, bumper-to-bumper traffic. Honda calls this the Integrated Motor Assist. The electric motor sits between the engine and transmission and together they operate nearly seamlessly.

You can order a five-speed manual or the continuously variable automatic transmission version that we evaluated. Either way, in real life you get about 42 miles per gallon on the highway with the air-conditioning working. On a cool day at posted limits you can count on a ten percent higher figure with a family onboard.One element I found disconcerting was the fact that the Hybrid automatically turns off its engine when you are stopped and have your foot on the brake pedal. This does not stop the air-conditioning and stereo from continuing to work without pause. The problem is that once you release your foot from the brake pedal the car immediately starts and gives a slight tug. This is barely a fault, but it is more noticeable than I found while driving the competition’s Toyota Prius.

The Civic accelerates fairly well, but if you are going at a brisk pace don’t expect much of a boast when you ask the Honda for more power. It is set-up more for cruising. It definitely is not set up for canyon runs. In addition, if you are going uphill at speed with the air on the batteries can be exhausted and you must rely on the gas engine only. This can slow you. This Honda is not at its best in the mountains. Besides, the gas mileage oriented tires don’t appreciate having their sidewalls tested and the steering is slow to react to tight corners. Let’s be honest, here, Hybrid is a couple of hundreds pounds heavier than other Civics and simply not aimed for the sports car crowd. But, since gas prices are now at record highs, I feel that some those lead footed drivers would welcome the 600 miles or more range of the Hybrid.

Besides all the technological extras under the hood, Honda also provides a firmer suspension, larger brakes, clear tail lamps, a small spoiler, 15-inch lightweight alloy wheels, automatic climate control air conditioning, air filtration system, cruise control, power steering, tilt steering wheel, power mirrors, windows and door locks, and an AM/FM/CD system. In other words, the Hybrid is a bargain.

Driving the Hybrid is relaxing and makes it easy for you to forget that you are in an economy car. The sound level is reasonable, the performance adequate, and there is enough room to get comfortable. If you are a smooth driver this is a nice ride. If you are into cut and thrust driving, find it difficult to spend more than a few seconds behind any other vehicle, or display your ego with your exhaust tips, this isn’t your gas sipper.

College going male’s view: I didn’t mind the Hybrid one bit. To me, driving an “alternative” powered vehicle says I care and one of these should be in every high school and professional driver training program in the United States. Let people know that driving green machines is not an ordeal and plenty cool. On the down side was the radio reception. You would think that with a high masted antenna stuck in the middle of the roof you would be able to pull in some long distance stations, but it was not to be. The rear seat has a fair amount of room. The seats need a lumbar support badly. You buy this car to spend long hours in and the front seats just aren’t all that comfortable.Family conference: It is easy to decide if you want the Honda Hybrid or its competition, the Prius, by looking at your annual fuel bill and donation list. If you support environmental organizations these are must have cars. If you would like to save between ten and twenty percent on your gas bill, these cars are naturals. On the other hand, they cost more to service, don’t handle as well as sportier models, and have an uncertain resale history to draw from. If you are undecided, Ford promises a hybrid powered Escape shortly and several other manufacturers are coming online with their alternative powered vehicles so you may want to wait a few months. Regardless, you need to test drive this Honda to see what the future is bringing.

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