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Pressed for time? All you really need to know about the Honda Civic Hybrid is that it drives just like any other Civic while it gets 50 mpg. See you next week.Wait, you want elaboration? For the environmentally conscious among us who also have real lives to lead, that’s enough to know. The Civic’s been a gold-star do-gooder for almost 30 years, and although the latest edition gets knocked by the automotive press for its benignity, there is no rational argument against recommending a Civic to a friend, family member or a 400-pound former inmate who knows where you live.
The Civic Hybrid is no different, and that’s an amazing statement considering its powertrain is essentially a big battery pack mated to a teeny four-cylinder engine. It’s bred from the same stock as the Nadergasmic Insight — only it’s better in every way except for gas mileage, where it pays a 20-mpg penalty for niceties like extra seats for three more folks and a real trunk. Relax, it still gets 50 mpg.
Honda is one of two or three companies that can make a promise of hybrid economy and regular-car performance and make it happen. The Civic Hybrid does it for an admittedly money-losing $20,000. If you’re counting on your fingers, take our word for it: it’s a good deal.
In turning the ordinary Civic into a hybrid — a car that uses a small gas engine to power batteries, which in turn help out the gas engine when it needs more power, resulting usually in better fuel economy — Honda needed only to rethink the hybrid battery/engine pack from the Insight. Because, clever folks that they are, they planned the current Civic to be hybrid-friendly from the outset.
Like we said twice already, the powertrain is a combination of a small gasoline engine teamed to a battery pack and electric motor. The gasoline engine is a powerhouse of low-friction, high-efficiency technology. The 85-hp 1.3-liter four-cylinder sports “i-DSI” — what Honda terms as “intelligent” dual and sequential ignition lean-burn technology. Basically, the engine uses a less-than-optimal fuel/air blend, but burns that lesser amount fuel more thoroughly; twin spark plugs in each cylinder, timed slightly apart, help the effort. With VTEC variable valve timing, low-friction pistons, thin-sleeve cylinder walls, and a plastic intake manifold, the Hybrid’s gas engine is light and clean, if not “cut” and “ripped.” Already, it qualifies as an Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV); a SULEV version goes on sale in California in January 2003.
2002 Honda Civic HybridEnlarge Photo