2013 Honda Civic Hybrid - Test Drive Report
The 2013 Honda Civic Hybrid sounds reasonably compelling. But despite the promise of improved fuel consumption with a price of just shy of 1.1 million baht, the Civic Hybrid may not be as economically viable as we would be lead to believe.
This week I took the Civic Hybrid for a drive and would like to share my thoughts with perspective buyers.
Anti-Hybrid Bias Disclaimer
Before getting down to the actual review of the car, I would like to confess that I currently hold a slight bias against hybrid vehicles. Despite the green image that has been attached to the “hybrid” badge, there is much evidence that hybrid vehicles are actually less green than their non-hybrid competitors.
You see, by the time the overall environmental impact of a hybrid vehicle is taken into consideration (from production to recycling) the footprint is actually bigger than a similar standard model.
The extra complexity of the hybrid drivetrain and battery system also needs to be taken into consideration, and this is the main reason for the extra cost associated with Hybrid vehicles. While Honda sells the Civic Hybrid with a 10-year battery warranty, it is still worth remembering that the Hybrid vehicle is more complicated. And in general, the more complicated things become, the greater the risk of things going wrong.
Finally, the cost difference between the Hybrid Civic and the non-hybrid Civic should be given some consideration. Even allowing for the most favourable fuel consumption differential it is unlikely that the average driver will save 120-150k baht in the lifespan of the vehicle.
In the end, it might be that the average hybrid buyer is simply concerned with projecting the right image among their peers, and believe that owning a hybrid serves to associate them with ecological responsibility.
So, with all of that said, what is the Civic Hybrid like to drive?
Weird Driving Characteristics
Within minutes of setting off on the test drive it was impossible to ignore the fact that I was driving a hybrid vehicle. No, this was not due to the “green” display on the top tier of the dash, as this is actually common in the Civic range now. Actually, the first give away was the brakes. While the initial braking feel is normal, after a second or two the regenerative braking takes effect and it actually feels like the engine is working to brake the car.
While you do get used to this sensation quite quickly, it doesn’t feel natural and in town traffic it required slightly more concentration than would normally be the case in order to maintain appropriate distance from the vehicles ahead. This was particularly apparent when coming to a complete stop. At first, when the brakes would initially bite, I would assume a stopping point. But, when the regenerative braking kicked in the car’s rate of deceleration would be altered and I would then have to adjust the braking force or find myself stopping well short of the desired position.
After about 15-20 minutes of driving, I felt I had mastered the braking, and I suppose it is something that you would just learn to deal with. Having said that, it is far from being a natural and progressive braking experience. Sure, this is amazing technology at work, and it is cool to think that the car is putting power into the battery during each of these awkward braking experiences. I would just rather a more natural experience.
The next nagging reminder of the Hybrid nature of the vehicle is the engine stop-start system. When the car comes to a complete standstill the engine cuts out. Air-conditioning, navigation, media, lighting, and instrumentation remain on as they are all powered from the battery system.
When this happens, the oversized dial indicating the engine revs drops back to zero and there is a slight rumble as the engine cuts out.
Press the accelerator and the engine springs back to life. While this is almost instantaneous, the effect is perceivable and while in most instances it wasn’t an issue it is another somewhat unnatural experience. In one instance I needed instantaneous power delivery, and the slight delay was more perceivable and somewhat worrying. What if the engine didn’t fire up as expected? My anxiety is unfounded though, and again, it is probably just a matter of coming to terms with the reality that fuel saving measures require some compromises.
On the go the Civic Hybrid is smooth. The CVT is ideally suited to hybrid vehicles, offering smooth power delivery and allowing the engine to run in the optimum power band during acceleration. The hybrid system combines a 1.5 litre 4 cylinder petrol unit with a small electric motor which effectively augments the power of the petrol unit. The Civic Hybrid didn’t feel powerful, but it didn’t feel underpowered either, and kick-down response was adequate.
At low speeds and in town driving the refinement of the little petrol unit was good. The CVT wasn’t overly loud either. When pushed the engine and transmission got noticeably more vocal, but overall refinement is good.
What were surprising were the real time fuel consumption figures. On a short 22km run, comprising town driving in traffic, and a 10k circuit on an open road, the car returned a mere 13.2km/l. Keep in mind that I was attempting to drive as frugally as possible, and frankly, the result was disappointing.
The Civic is a very good car. Honda has a very well-deserved reputation for quality and the 2013 Civic lives up to this reputation.
Everything feels solid and the interior quality is excellent. Space is good, while not class leading, and although the Civic sits very low to the ground, and has a low roof line, the long wheelbase (2670mm) allows for quite generous interior space.
The driving manners are good, and when you come to terms with the quirks of the hybrid system, namely the regenerative braking and the stop-start engine system, there isn’t much to get fussy about. Overall the handling is very good, and I would have to rate the ride and handling as excellent in this class.
The wrap-around dash with the centre console and navigation screen aimed at the driver feels very well laid out and natural for the driver. However, this design somewhat excludes the passenger, and I personally favour a more traditional layout.
The question is: which Civic should you go for? Is the Civic Hybrid worth the extra baht?
The base Civic Hybrid starts at 1.035 million baht. The model tested was the 1.095 million baht Navi model. Comparing like for like with the non-hybrid Civic isn’t as easy as you’d expect. While the Hybrid Navi does include the navigation system, leather trim, and reversing camera, it doesn’t have electrically adjustable seats as found in the regular Civic. As a rough guide, the Hybrid is 120-150,000 baht more expensive than the regular Civic. For someone who drives an average of 15000km a year, that represents over 3 years of fuel. Buy the regular Civic, put the difference in the bank, and you have around 3 years of “free” fuel!
Or another way to put it: if we allow for a 20% better fuel consumption rate for the hybrid model it would take approximately 15 years for the Hybrid to make up for the price premium in terms of fuel savings. And that is assuming the battery (which has a 10-year warranty) is still alive and kicking at that stage, unlikely.
So, while the Civic Hybrid is a good car, I'm not convinced that hybrid is an economically or ecologically sensible proposition. Plug-in hybrid models may offer a more interesting solution, but for the time being, an economical non-hybrid vehicle may be a better option. For example, the Honda Brio Amaze can return better fuel figures than the Hybrid Civic, if you truly wish to help the planet and your wallet. But if you are image conscious, and your friends can't do simple maths, then you might fool yourself and others that hybrid is the way to go.