44-MPG 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid At NY Auto Show: Drive Review

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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

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid

Enlarge Photo

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 Hybrid

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid

Enlarge 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.

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Comments (8)
  1. Great looking car and 44 MPG is really excellent. However, does it require you to run the motor to keep the AC on? I found that to be a deal-breaker with the 2010 Honda Insight.

  2. @John: Good question, and I'll ask.

  3. From Honda: "The previous generation Civic had this capability, and the all-new 2012 Civic does too. It is achieved via a dual-scroll compressor (belt-driven + electric-motor-driven)."
    ... and more details ...
    "The 2012 Civic Hybrid is equipped with an automatic climate control system. The driver simply sets the desired temperature and the system will take care of the rest. A second compressor is powered by a high voltage electric motor during idle-stop operation to ensure that the cabin temperature stays at its set level. Idle-stop operation is only enabled once the cabin has been sufficiently cooled. An electric water pump is also included for heating the cabin during idle stop."

  4. @Voelcker,
    Thanks for the details. That is really excellent. I am a little surprised that they don't just use the electric compressor all the time.
    John C. Briggs

  5. Because a hybrid scroll compressor offers the best balance as far as overall and potential energy efficiency is concerned.
    As some can appreciate, today's hybrid vehicles incur significant downstream energy conversion losses mainly because the gasoline engine remains as the primary power source and making up for lost SoC means the energy losses are greater the further down the energy conversion path.
    In other words, when the gasoline engine is running you are better off powering the AC from the belt rather than from the battery pack as that minimizes energy conversion losses. However when the ICE is off then you are definitely better off making measured and judicious use of the energy in battery pack.
    I totally support Honda's hybrid AC design decision and I only hope other manufacturers (like Toyota) did the same.
    Lastly, and for the sake of accuracy the Civic Hybrid is not a mild hybrid. Technically, it is a power assist hybrid and ignoring the differences between the two only obfuscates their distinct potentials. Look at the GM BAS hybrids as a viable and accurate example of a true mild hybrid system.

  6. @Manuel: Please explain the differences between a mild hybrid and a "power-assist" hybrid?

  7. Wikipedia doesn't seem to draw much difference between "Mild Hybrid" and Power Assist Hybrids."
    "Mild hybrids are sometimes called Power assist hybrids' as they use the engine for primary power, with a torque-boosting electric motor also connected to a largely conventional power train."

  8. The only problem is that the new 2013 Ford Fusion hybrid sedan gets the same or better mileage than the 2012 Civic hybrid! Wowza
    44hwy, 47City!

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