On The Road

Honda's complex Civic hybrid is hardly on a par with simpler diesels in fuel consumption and emissions.

by Richard Bremner
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A proposed £2,000 road tax on high-emission vehicles from the LibDems. Tory leader David Cameron's choice of a Lexus hybrid as his official car. Rumours of Gordon Brown acquiring a hybrid Toyota. It all adds to the noise about cars and their part in global warming.

Not that the choice of hybrids - the most advanced green cars on offer - is vast. These com- plex, twin-engined petrol-electric machines are the motor industry's boldest strike yet at the ecological issues. They're not the only solution, but hybrids have been making the headlines, particularly Toyota's Prius, in its unlikely role as the car for thinking Hollywood stars.

But rival Honda was actually first to offer a hybrid in Britain - the strange Insight two-seater coupe. It followed that up with a more conventional Civic saloon and has now launched its second-generation Civic hybrid.

At £1,200 less than the Toyota, it's the cheapest of this radical breed.

The Civic and Prius apart, your only other choices are a pair of expensive Lexuses.

It's their petrol and electric motors that give these hybrids their name.

Honda dubs its system IMA, for Integrated Motor Assist, which pretty much describes how the 20 bhp electric motor pairs with the Civic's 95 bhp 1.4 engine to give a battery-powered acceleration boost. The main engine uses less petrol as a result, reducing CO2 emissions and improving fuel consumption.

The clever bit is charging the battery that powers the electric motor.

This is sometimes done by the petrol engine, but most of it occurs when coasting or braking. Press the brake pedal and the front wheels act as electricity generators. Called 'regenerative braking', this turns the car's unwanted momentum into usable energy.

Occasionally, the Civic is propelled by the electric motor alone, making it temporarily a zero-emission car. The point is that it combines the performance of a 1.6 litre saloon with the consumption and emissions of a 1.1 litre car - that's 109 g/km of CO2 and more than 60 mpg, claims Honda.

But over the several hundred miles of our test it returned just 46.5 mpg - not bad for a 1.6 litre petrol saloon, but you could achieve at least that from a 1.6 litre diesel. And this Civic has other drawbacks.

The automatic drive snatches when you're manoeuvring and there's a jerk if you accelerate when the petrol engine is dormant. You get used to these foibles, but unyielding seats, an uncomfortably remote steering wheel and roaring road noise make long motorway drives less relaxing than they should be in a £16,000 car.

This hybrid Civic is intriguing but flawed, both functionally and as an engineering concept, its consumption and emissions barely on a par with simpler diesels. Honda deserves praise for this initiative, but you have to suffer to support it.

Price £16,300 (Honda Civic 1.4 IMA ES)
Max power 95 bhp, plus 20 bhp electric
Max torque 69 lb ft, plus 76 lb ft electric
Max speed 115 mph
0-62 mph 12.1 sec
Fuel consumption 61.4 mpg
CO2 emissions 109 g/km

Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi 5dr 89 Studio £13,495
It's a manual, but this diesel is at least as economical in real-world
Toyota Prius 1.5 T3 £17,545
A bit more expensive, but more effective and economical; as a hatchback,
more practical too.

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