The Bad: No traction control, VERY light, Effect of environmental factors, No black
The Basics: An overall decent driving experience, the 2005 Honda Civic Hybrid is fun to drive, environmentally friendly and cheap to operate, if not inexpensive to pay off.
This review was originally written a few years back; my hybrid now has 243,000 miles, but it still runs exceptionally well!
Nothing inspires creativity like necessity and in a similar way, nothing inspires buying a new car like totaling the one you had before. My first car was a 2003 Saturn SL-1 and I was quite happy with it. It was affordable, generally fuel efficient and it was in every way a great first car, perfect for my needs. When it was totaled and I walked away from the accident alive, which was a close call, the first place I looked for a new car was Saturn. I walked into the Saturn dealership and said, "I've just totaled my old Saturn and I'm looking for a new car. What do you have in the way of hybrids?" The response was, "We won't have a hybrid sedan until 2008." And my response was, "Too bad. See you later." So much for the car company that was going to change everything.
After a bit of research through Consumer Reports, the U.S. Government's crash test laboratories and the EPA, I decided that the ideal car for me was going to be a Honda Insight with its rumored 70 miles per gallon, so I set off for the Honda dealership. Once there, I discovered that the Insights were so popular, my local dealership wasn't even getting one. So, I decided to look at the Honda Civic Hybrid, which was the third most fuel efficient car on the market at the time (behind the Insight and Toyota Prius). I took the car for a test drive.
I bought it the next day; they were motivated to sell it, it appears. The car had been on the lot for 33 days and I was the first test drive of it. Go figure. Anyway, this serves as a pretty decent report on a seasoned Honda Civic Hybrid. I have had the car for two years - mileage was at 8.2 miles when I bought it, it's now at 84,332. So I've gotten around quite a bit in the meantime.
The Civic Hybrid is modeled identically on the outside to other Civics, which means that it is a compact four door car (I don't know why they're called "sedans," other than the same reason some ground beef in gravy is called "salisbury steak") that is not very tall, not very long and not very wide. The driver is down low to the ground, which helps one to remember their connection to the road. Sedan drivers are seldom cocky. :)
The Civic Hybrid, like most hybrids, has a reputation for not having good kick. Hybrids, for some reason are assumed to have an inability to go from stop to fast with the best of them, but when I've needed to make an aggressive start or am pushing onto an on ramp, I've never had a problem. In fact, my biggest problem has been other cars going too slow for me. This hybrid kicks with great acceleration when needed.
So we're all on the same page, this is a gasoline/electric hybrid car. Behind the back seats is a collection of batteries (the back seats do NOT fold down, as a result!) that kick in to assist with accelerating. When the car is decelerating, the battery recharges. The gasoline engine is never replaced with the electric one. It's not that kind of hybrid. There is a convenient display on the dashboard the illustrates the power level of the battery and when the electric engine is being engaged and when the batteries are being charged. It actually becomes fun to watch. The lowest my battery has ever gotten was two bars and that was while climbing mountain roads (literally) in Colorado and Arizona. For my average New York drive, the car remains nearly fully charged in the batteries. Which is very reassuring. Truth be told, I don't know if the electric engine would kick in if the gasoline engine ran completely out of fuel. I'm not one to let that happen.
While on the subject, like most cars I've driven, the Civic Hybrid works most fuel efficiently the closer to full the tank is. Despite the advertised 50 miles per gallon the Civic Hybrid supposedly achieves, the best I ever got was 52 mpg within the first three months of driving. Now, I average 42 mpg (spring, summer, fall, highway and city) and 38 mpg (winter). The closest I've gotten to the 50 mpg after the first three months use was 48 mpg driving through the Kansas flatlands in summer. Nothing even close since then. Bummer. And I've kept completely up with the servicing of the car.
There's a lot that's relative about the driving experience, but I have to say one of the coolest functions of the Civic Hybrid is that when the car is properly configured, coming to a complete stop turns off the gasoline engine. This is part of what makes the car so fuel efficient and gives it the lowest emissions of a car using any gasoline. It's also something that takes adjusting; the net effect is that the car feels like is has stalled, when it is simple conserving energy. Removing your foot from the break restarts the gasoline engine.
Having been cramped in a Saturn SL-1, the Civic Hybrid offered a nice amount of leg room and head room I was not accustomed to. Instead, there's less trunk room, but as someone who hauls merchandise around the country, I am pleased to say the space within the back seat and trunk of the Civic Hybrid is comparable to that of other sedans, like the SL-1, plus more legroom for driver and passenger. This makes it a much more comfortable ride for long trips.
What doesn't work about the Civic Hybrid? Well, my first color preference was black and they did not have it, at least when I bought this. This is an expensive car. I lucked out and bought it right before the gas rates skyrocketed and could justify the expense. Being environmentally responsible can be a real hit to the wallet, but it's a good message to send to the car companies to buy something like a Hybrid to illustrate there is a market there for saving our planet.
Living in upstate New York, I came to enjoy my Saturn's traction control (even though I don't completely understand how it worked). The Civic Hybrid does not have traction control, in fact the guy who sold me the car screwed up his face something fierce and asked, "What's traction control?" when I asked about it. This leads to the only real serious drawback of the Civic Hybrid I have yet been able to find (outside the expense); it's a VERY light car. This might be idea for climates without extreme winters or winds, but I live in one that has both. As a result, there are times when driving that my car (and I) have been blown something fierce. I've not had problems with control, but when playing with the car on ice, I have felt quite acutely how disconnected the car can be from the road under icy conditions.
The heating systems work quite well as does the c.d. player and radio. The car also has a nice security function which can disconnect the trunk opening lever on the inside of the car, requiring a key to be used to open the trunk. That level of security can be reassuring to those who use the car for business.
The battery array ($1,000 when I purchased the car) has a warranty of 80,000 miles and now that I've surpassed that I honestly live in fear that it will suddenly kick out on me. It shows no sign of doing that, though. The standard warranty for the Civic Hybrid is a pathetic 3 year/30,000 mile warranty. That lasted barely five months for me. I've not had to replace anything yet, so I'm still satisfied in that regard.
And finally, it's a comfortable ride. The acceleration and breaking is smooth, the seats are comfortable and the entire driving experience is relaxing and low-key. I'm pleased I purchased my Civic Hybrid and I suspect it will be an ideal fit for anyone who is looking for great gas mileage and low emissions. I'm liable to keep my Civic Hybrid even after Saturn starts coming out with theirs.
Of course, the first one to make a 100mpg car with super low emissions is liable to get my business right away. I only hope one is on the market and affordable by the time I get into my next accident . . . er, finally wear out this car.
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© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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