The Car Connection Honda Civic Hybrid Overview
The Honda Civic Hybrid was Honda's second hybrid offering, and the first mainstream hybrid car, to go on sale in the U.S. It was launched for the 2003 model year as part of the Civic compact-sedan line, joining Honda's tiny two-seat Insight coupe (and the Toyota Prius) as the third hybrid car on sale in the U.S. It continues to be offered today in its third generation.
All Civic Hybrids have used Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system, which sandwiches a small, thin electric motor between a four-cylinder engine and the transmission. From 2003 through 200, that was a five-speed manual gearbox; starting in 2006, it has been company's continuously variable transmission (CVT). While engine sizes and motor outputs have varied over the years, the four-cylinder engine used in the Civic Hybrid has historically been smaller and less powerful than that of a non-hybrid models--with its lower output supplemented when necessary by the torque of the electric motor.
Unlike hybrids from Toyota, Ford, and others, Honda's IMA hybrid Civics cannot move away from a stop on electric power alone. Instead, the electric motor serves to restart the engine after a stop and to provide supplementary torque to add power when necessary. It also acts as a generator to recharge the battery, slowing the car and recapturing energy that would otherwise be wasted as heat during braking.
Civic Hybrids from 2003 through 2011 used a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack located in the trunk. From 2012 onwards, that was changed to a more modern, smaller, and lighter lithium-ion pack (the same change was made to the later Insight and CR-Z hybrid models shortly afterward).
Honda has favored the mild-hybrid system because it's more compact and less expensive than Toyota's more capable system, yet produces fuel-economy gains of one-quarter to one-third higher than the best gasoline Civic.
Of the three generations of hybrid Civic, the first ran from 2003 through 2005. The Civic, including the hybrid version, was redesigned for 2006, and that version ran through 2011. Then, in 2012, an all-new Civic was launched--to unfavorable reviews for its grim plastic interior and stark trim. That new model received a swift update, and less than 18 months later, a more pleasant 2013 model carried the same body shape but a number of styling and interior updates.
Civic Hybrids look largely similar to their gasoline-powered brethren in the Civic lineup, though they have generally had different wheels with low-rolling-resistance tires, revised grilles and subtle aerodynamic aids on the body, and additional graphics and screens showing power flow and fuel consumption data contained within the instrumentation and displays. For the third generation, Honda added blue-tinted lights and LED running lights to distinguish the hybrid model more obviously.