2009 Honda Civic Hybrid Review

2009 Honda Civic Hybrid

I vividly remember my first time behind the wheel of a first-generation Toyota Prius. I think it was at the 2000 Detroit Auto Show, and I drove a demo car on a short loop out of downtown and around Detroit’s island park, Belle Isle. The car was alive with hums, whirrs, and quiet beeps. I motored distractedly while watching the power flow on the car’s IP, marveling the first time I drove away from a stop on pure electric power. As I drove, I could feel the car thinking about what it ought to be doing and adjusting on the roll to get the most from every drop of fuel. The experience was so foreign that I might have well have been driving the Lunar Rover.

Driving the the 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid was nothing like that original Prius. The Honda is refined and in most every way, completely normal. No funny noises. No odd, jerky acceleration. Just a normal car that gets an impressive 40 city mpg, 45 highway mpg (compared to 26/34 mpg for the non-hybrid Civic).

Plus at only a $3,100 premium over a similarly equipped Civic EX-L, the Hybrid-L is a decent value at $24,850 for a loaded version with leather.

Wearing a new nose and more features, the most efficient Civic offers more features than in 2008 including important safety features such as electronic stability control and optional Bluetooth connectivity. Inside, it’s mostly carryover from 2008, but that’s not a bad thing, especially for those up front.

Even with the introduction of the all-new 2010 Honda Insight (40/43 mpg), the Civic remains important because it’s a larger and more premium small car. The basics of the 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid are this; a 1.3-liter four-cylinder that works with an Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) and a battery pack. The IMA and batteries are what make this Civic a hybrid.

The engine by itself now produces 110 horsepower (up from 93 in 2008), assisted by a 20-hp electric motor. The electric motor and gas engine work together in different ways, including allowing the Civic Hybrid to run on electric power alone, but not from a standing start. The Civic Hybrid gets 40/45 mpg, compared to the 2010 Toyota Prius’s higher city mileage of 51/48 mpg and the smaller Honda Insight Hybrid at.

While mostly carryover from 2008, the 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid Sedan gets a new front-end looks and slightly different tail lamps. The look mimics the fuel-cell hydrogen-sipping Honda FCX Clarity sedan, which isn’t a bad thing if you’re a manufacturer trying to make a green statement. Other than the Hybrid’s light-weight 15-inch aluminum wheels, there’s no way to distinguish the electrically-enhanced Civic from its lot mates except for the Hybrid badges.

Interior enhancements to the 2009 Civic Hybrid Sedan include more technology. USB Audio Interface is standard and Bluetooth HandsFreeLink is added to Navigation-equipped models. The Civic Hybrid gains the option of leather-trimmed seating surfaces with heated front seats and side mirrors. Additionally, new cloth materials and patterns on seats, door linings and armrests (when equipped) have been updated to further enhance the interior’s look and feel.

Interior dimensions are nearly identical, and prove roomy up front (thanks to the design of the dash and the huge windshield), and adequate in back. Closing the rear doors and hearing their hollowness reminds one that the Civic is not a top-of-the-line luxury car. The leather is also not what you’d find in a luxury car, as it’s somewhat stiff.

Regardless of these minor complaints, the Civic’s interior works very well. The two-tier instruments are so easy to read. Controls feel good when you use them. Visibility is great, with the little windows at the leading edge of the door providing an extra bit of vision that is especially helpful when negotiating tight parking spaces.

The 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid handles OK, but you won’t mistake it for a Civic Si or a Honda S2000. We got used to the numbness of electric power steering, but the grabby brakes and the unpolished transitions between coasting and getting into regenerative braking could be smoother, especially after driving more premium hybrids like the Ford Fusion and Lexus RX450h. If driving a hybrid is important to you, you’ll get used to the Civic and learn to live with it.

Like other Honda Civic models, the 2009 Civic Hybrid is now equipped with electronic stability control and also features dual airbags, side and side curtain airbags, and anti-lock brakes. Government crash tests give five-star ratings for frontal impacts, with four-star front and five-star rear for side impacts. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid as “good.”

The 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid shows the continued normalization of hybrids while offering great mileage in a practical, affordable package that is about $3100 more than a comparable non-hybrid Civic.

P.S. If you were looking for something different:

There didn’t used to be many hybrids to choose from. It wasn’t that long ago when the Toyota Prius was the only one. The 2010 Prius is still a good choice that delivers excellent mileage of 51/49 in a bigger package than the 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid. The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid is also a larger, more expensive hybrid choice that is more refined than the Civic; mileage is 41/36 mpg. You could also go smaller/cheaper with the 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid (40/43 mpg) or skip the hybrid thing all together and try a Honda Fit (27/33 mpg).

Rex Roy can be reached through his web site, www.RexRoy.net.