Review: 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid

Rex Roy

2008 was pretty good for the Honda Civic Hybrid. As the original Insight was but a distant memory and the Accord Hybrid faded into obscurity, the Civic was the lone hybrid in Honda's portfolio.

But as the calendar turned over, the landscape changed. At the 2009 Detroit auto show, Honda unveiled its new 2010 Insight. The competition also heated up with the arrival of the 2010 Toyota Prius and Ford Fusion Hybrid. In this more competitive market, you can have to wonder about the Civic Hybrid's place in this world. Does it still belong?

The 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid is the highest-mileage member of the Civic family. Its four-door body style delivers the same practicality as the basic Civic sedan, but delivers EPA fuel economy ratings of 40 mpg city, 45 mpg highway, and 42 mpg combined. As for a life-justifying reason to exist, being a mileage king isn't a bad start.

Another strong point is the Civic Hybrid's price. At only a $3100 premium over a similarly equipped Civic EX-L, one can imagine buyers making the step up to the Hybrid-L (at $24,850) to benefit from the significant mileage improvement over the non-hybrid's 26/34 mpg. (At $2/gallon, the fuel-savings payoff driving 15,000 miles per year is about 9 years; half that if the price of gas doubles.)

A third consideration is that while the 2010 Insight borrows nameplate awareness and brand equity from the first-generation Insight -- a car that has acquired cult-like status in some car circles -- the new Insight is slotted below the Civic in terms of price, starting at under $20,000. The least expensive Civic Hybrid starts at about $23,650, but is considered a more "premium" small car offering many more features including four-wheel disc brakes (the Insight's rear brakes are cost-efficient drums) and the availability of a leather interior.

Additionally, the Insight is about five inches shorter, two inches narrower and has a six-inch shorter wheelbase compared to Civic Hybrid, so the Insight offers less passenger room.

The 2009 Civic Hybrid receives a few tweaks underhood as well. The 1.3-liter I-4 carries over for 2009, but it's rated at 110 hp, 17 more than in 2008. Through Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system, it's aided by a 20-hp electric motor, which works in one of five different ways (one method allows the Civic Hybrid to run on electric power alone, but not from a standing start. The extra horsepower, larger motor, and aerodynamic snout help earn the Civic Hybrid an advantage on the highway - it's rated at 45 mpg, while the Insight is certified at 42 mpg.

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