I spent quite a lot of time behind the wheel of a regular Honda Civic sedan during our Small Car 6-pack story and wasn't very impressed with Honda's update to the car for 2012. Yes, the Honda Civic is still a very strong choice in the suddenly highly competitive field of small cars. It may be good at everything, but there's no one area where the Honda Civic really stands above the crowd. Everything from the design to the driving dynamics to the interior is well done but unexceptional.
Which brings us to the hybrid. Honda is the only automaker currently offering a hybrid in the compact-sedan segment. It's not the most technologically advanced hybrid on the market, but that means it doesn't cost a fortune over the standard model, either. Honda's IMA hybrid system is fairly straightforward in that it provides assist during acceleration, does an automatic start/stop in urban driving, but rarely allows the car to run on electric power alone. With the hybrid system, the Civic can return impressive fuel economy in the city. Many small cars have fairly unimpressive fuel economy during stop-and-go driving because you need to floor the accelerator pedal to keep up with traffic when pulling away from a stop. That's still true with the Civic Hybrid, but using an electric motor to supply some of that thrust certainly saves fuel.
On my mixed commute, I saw an indicated 38 mpg. I would have expected about 5-8 mpg less in a normal Civic over the same route. Sure, a Prius, a Volt, or a Leaf will burn less gasoline, but the Civic's numbers are quite good for a car that looks like a normal sedan (read: no aero-inspired spaceship styling) and doesn't need to be plugged in. Just drive it like a normal car and it does a few minor things to save fuel that can really make a difference for people who do a lot of stop-and-go driving. There are a lot of strong choices in the compact-sedan segment but only one compact sedan that comes as a hybrid. For some shoppers, that's enough to seal the deal.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor