The Honda Civic Hybrid was only the third hybrid model sold in the U.S., starting way back in 2003, and it was the brand's first mainstream hybrid.
It's been a solid member of Honda's Civic lineup ever since, consistently returning the best gas mileage of any Civic model.
Now in its third generation, the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid is by far the most advanced yet.
It's the first-ever Honda hybrid to use a lighter, more powerful ltihium-ion battery pack, which occupies relatively little space toward the back of the trunk. The new pack weighs far less than the older nickel-metal-hydride battery in all previous Civic Hybrids, but drivers would never know the difference without being told.
The new Civic Hybrid's EPA-rated fuel economy is the best ever: 44 mpg city, 44 mpg highway, and hence 44 mpg combined.
Five new Civics, three for MPGs
It's one of a new lineup of five different 2012 Civic models, three of which are focused on gas mileage or green fuels.
In addition to the Civic Hybrid, there's the high-mileage gasoline Civic HF model (rated at 29 mpg city, 41 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined, versus the standard model's 28 city, 39 highway, and 32 combined) and the Civic Natural Gas, which will roll out later this year.
The 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid uses a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with the latest generation of Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) mild hybrid system. A new, larger 15-kilowatt (20-horsepower) electric motor provides torque to supplement that from the engine.
The IMA system also switches the engine back on when the driver wants to move away from a stop.
Sporty handling retained
Under certain very, very limited circumstances, it may also propel the car exclusively on electric power at light loads on level roads at steady speeds, but we observed that only a handful of times--usually at speeds between 20 and 40 mph.
2012 Honda Civic HybridEnlarge Photo
The Honda Civic has always been known for its sporty handling, and It's still probably the most enjoyable of all compact entries to drive--though other entries are starting to catch up, and certainly the Mazda Mazda3 model overall is far sportier and eager to be driven hard.
The Civic Hybrid may be the least sporty of the Civic line, but it's still more pleasant to toss around corners and drive tightly than, say, the 2011 Toyota Prius. The roadholding is flat, giving the driver confidence that the car will go where pointed.
Driving a pre-production 2012 Civic Hybrid last month, we noticed a few stumbles and rough spots that seemed to call for some fine-tuning in the software that integrates the regenerative and friction braking systems.
We experienced an occasionally irregular brake feel when switching from acceleration to braking and back rapidly, as might happen in unpredictable traffic.