Though always overshadowed by the more distinctive Toyota Prius, the hybrid model of the Honda Civic compact sedan has been a longstanding competitor in the field of high-mileage hybrid cars.

First launched as a 2003 model, the Honda Civic Hybrid has been entirely redesigned for the 2012 model year. Most important for the hybrid model, it uses an all-new and more compact lithium-ion battery pack to power the 15-kilowatt (20-horsepower) electric motor sandwiched between its 1.5-liter engine and continuously-variable transmission (CVT).

The result is a gas-mileage trifecta of 44 miles per gallon the EPA ratings for city, highway, and combined ratings.

That's not only higher than last year's Civic Hybrid, but also higher than Honda's own 2012 Insight dedicated hybrid hatchback--which has less room inside, although a lower base price.

And it puts the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid into a solid second place in the EPA fuel economy ratings this year, excluding plug-in cars, following the 50-mpg 2012 Prius.

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid - Integrated Motor Assist electric motor cutaway

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid - Integrated Motor Assist electric motor cutaway

Unlike the full-hybrid Prius, the Civic Hybrid is what's called a "mild hybrid," in which the electric motor supplements the engine power and restarts the engine after stops, but isn't powerful enough to move the car solely on electric power by itself. It also acts as a generator to charge the battery pack from engine overrun and regenerative braking.

That lack of electric-only running may be a perceptual disadvantage for the hybrid Civic, but after 10 model years, it's selling steadily--if at only a fraction of the Prius sales rate.

We have some qualms about the new 2012 Civic overall, especially the grim hard plastic interior, which represents a step backwards for Honda at a time when competing compact sedans are upping their game with nicer interiors and more luxurious fittings.

But overall, the 2012 Civic Hybrid deserves its slot as one of six nominees for the GreenCarReports Best Car To Buy 2012 award.

We're describing each contender, one per day, all this week. And we'll announce the winner next Monday.

For further information, have a look at our special page, Best Car To Buy 2012, to see links to all the stories we've written about the nominees and the award.


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