Car Test   R0319
 
March 2003
First Drive Honda Civic
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: 1.4 IMA Saloon
Honda says it doesn’t expect to make any money out of its latest Civic. So why bother?
  
   Well, although Formula One racing is good publicity for any car maker, Honda considers environmental awareness and social responsibility to be just as important to any company that’s taking the long view.
  
   So here is the latest version of Honda’s hybrid power train; we first saw it in the Insight, which linked its electric motor to a smaller three-cylinder petrol engine. This gave the less accommodating Insight fewer brake horses, but its (expensive) all-aluminium body saved over 350kg, which resulted in remarkable fuel economy with acceleration more or less comparable to this latest Civic version’s.
  
   In fact, this petrol motor is borrowed from the Jazz, with the supplementary electric motor sandwiched between it and the transmission. Power to drive this is stored in another sandwich – the space between this saloon’s back seat and boot. Neatly located behind protective shields is a nickel-metal hydride battery pack of 120 cells, which give and receive charge from up-front and require no maintenance or external charging source.
  
   As already mentioned, this Civic is the same (apart from its four doors and a boot) as the other petrol and diesel versions in the line-up and, as such, is an eminently sensible family car proposition – unlike the Insight. Our tape measure indicated although the load sill is over 7cm higher, luggage space inside is actually better than the five-door hatchback’s, with all seats in use, despite the battery pack’s encroachment on the load length; this saloon is, in fact, 4.5cm longer than the hatch. Inside, the generous leg and kneeroom are similar to the five-door’s, although headroom isn’t as good.
  
   Moving up front, the biggest difference is that there’s a conventional gear lever location, which makes it less easy for one to slip across from one side of the cabin to the other. However, the shift quality is faultless.
  
   It’s acknowledged that modern diesels are a vast improvement over earlier designs, in terms of noise and harshness suppression. However, when starting from cold and in very low-speed pulling, most four-cylinder diesels (including the Civic's), can’t match the running refinement of a good petrol engine.
  
   This is where the Civic IMA scores. It’s extremely quiet and tractable, yet (like a diesel) employs tall gearing, which keeps engine revs well below 3000rpm at any legal cruising speed. It employs automatic stop/start in traffic halts (to save fuel) and its restart uses the electric motor to spur the petrol engine into life – it’s absolutely imperceptible.
  
   Acceleration is boosted (in overtaking, for example) as the electric motor delivers its extra 13bhp and 46lb ft of torque, and the display gauge reveals the drain on the battery pack. Lift-off and it swings into the recharge segment, as the system reclaims energy under deceleration/braking and converts the traction motor into a generator.
  
   The really clever thing, however is that, from the driving seat, you’ll be hard-pressed to tell that any of this is happening; the Civic IMA toddles down the road like any modestly powered petrol motor.
  
   Furthermore, Honda’s no-maintenance electric’s, backed by an eight-year warranty on these additional gizmos, sets out to ensure that this deceptive performer keeps up the pretence in service.
  
   Mpg? We saw 52mpg in a good mix of use on the car’s computer; on the Insight, driven in a similar style, the result on the display was 63mpg
  
AT A GLANCE
  considering size, price and rivals
Controls/displays
Handling/steering
Comfort
Space/practicality
LIKES ...
  • variable interval wipe, that's not on hatch
  • generously equipped - no attempt to save weight
  • alarm and deadlocks
  • leather seats - also heated
  • nicely stratified heat/ventilation from air-con
and GRIPES
  • lots of tyre roar
  • sounds busy at 70, despite low revs
  • ride comfort not IMA's strongest point
  • lower roofline means it lacks hatch's headroom
VERDICT
Any apprehension one might have about the IMA’s extra technical complexity seems to be covered by the generous warranty and maintenance-free approach. So one is left with a modestly powered, slightly expensive Civic that will match its diesel counterpart’s mpg, lose little in overtaking ability, and surpass it for mechanical refinement. Of course, it will also merit £1000 rebate from the Government's 'Powershift' programme, qualify for the cheapest road tax disc, and the owner will be able to drive into central London without paying the congestion charge.


BRIEF SPECIFICATION
engine 4 cylinder, 1339cc, 77bhp petrol engine plus 13hp (10kw) motor/generator (combined torque: 117lb ft at 1500rpm)
drive 5-speed manual, front-wheel drive. 27.2mph in 5th, 21.2 in 4th
suspension front: independent damper/struts, integral coil springs
rear: independent double wishbones, coil springs
wheels/tyres 5.5in alloy with 185/70R14 low rolling resistance tyres
brakes ventilated discs front, solid discs rear with standard anti-lock control
0-62mph* 13-14sec (dependent on battery state of charge)
official mpg§ 47.1/65.7/57.6
maximum speed N/A
CO2 emissions 116gm/km
* maker's figures  § urban/extra urban/combined

ALTERNATIVES
Toyota Prius The one this Civic has copied. Roomy but handling less 'Europeanised'. Hybrid electric motor does more work than Civic's - runs solo sometimes. We saw 47mpg in normal mixed use;


SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
  in centimetres (4-door saloon)
  outside
  length 444
  width - including mirrors 193
    - mirrors folded 172
  height 143
  load sill height (inside/outside) 18/72
  steering
  turns lock-to-lock 2.8
  turning circle (metres) 11.6
   
  easy to park/garage?
  inside
  front - legroom 89-107
    - headroom N/A
  rear - typical legroom 101
    - typical kneeroom 80
    - headroom 91s
    - hiproom 127
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
460/16.3
  load length 72#
  load length to facia NO
  load width 104-150
  load height 46-51
# rear seat fixed  s no sunroof
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