2008 Honda Civic Hybrid Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 2, 2008

The 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid excels in fuel economy and front-seat comfort.

The car experts at TheCarConnection.com studied a wide range of road tests of the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid to compile this conclusive review. TheCarConnection.com's resident green-car enthusiasts also drove the new Civic Hybrid to help you decide which reviews to trust where opinions differ, to add more impressions and details, and to provide you with the best information.

The 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid takes the basic four-door Civic and gives it 45-mpg capability, through a powertrain that teams gas and electric power.

The Civic Hybrid's powertrain consists of a 1.3-liter four mated to an IMA hybrid system. The engine by itself produces 93 horsepower, assisted by a 20-hp electric motor. The system actually has five modes that let the electrics and gas engine work together in different ways, including allowing the Civic Hybrid to run on electric power alone. The Civic Hybrid gets 40/45 mpg, compared to the larger Toyota Prius's higher city mileage of 48/45 mpg.

It takes a trained eye to tell the Hybrid apart from other Civics. The Hybrid's minor cosmetic changes include a small spoiler, clear turn-signal lenses, and blue lighting for the interior, as well as a wonderfully rich blue cloth interior and blue vinyl dash cap, different wheels, and turn indicators built into the sideview mirror housings. The sedan shape is shared with the gas-powered four-doors, and it makes some compromises to style. The front seats are comfortable, but the dash standing before them has an unusual double-decker style that makes you feel like you're piloting a video game. In the Hybrid, the futuristic look is somewhat fitting. However, the design leaves a lot of wasted space above the dash, and in back, the rear doors with small cutouts make it harder for backseat passengers to get in and out of the Hybrid. There's not an abundance of headroom in back, either.

Review continues below

The 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid handles differently than the sedan, thanks to electric power steering, skinny tires, and its continuously variable transmission (CVT). As with most Hybrids, there's a learning curve to the Civic, such as in getting used to the numbed steering feel, the lower cornering limits, and the drone of the gas engine (the CVT keeps the engine operating near peak efficiency). The ride is a bit busy, too.

Power locks and windows are standard, as well as a tilt/telescope steering wheel, remote keyless entry, steering-wheel audio controls, a 160-watt audio system with an auxiliary jack for your MP3 player, automatic climate control, and 15-inch wheels and tires. There is no folding rear seat, because the battery pack lives between the rear seats and the trunk. Options include satellite radio and a navigation system.

Every Civic gets dual airbags, side and side curtain airbags, and anti-lock brakes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid as "good."

8

2008 Honda Civic Hybrid

Styling

The futuristic styling both inside and out on the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid can be controversial, but seems appropriate for a hybrid vehicle.

In 2006, Honda designers completely reworked the Honda Civic and introduced a much more radical and futuristic vehicle. The 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid shares much of that radical styling, with just a few minor modifications that set it apart from the rest of the 2008 Honda Civic lineup.

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com offer differing opinions of the exterior styling on the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid, though the majority like the design. The 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid shares much of its body design with conventional Honda Civics, including what ForbesAutos calls its "bold front-end styling with a steeply raked windshield." Not all reviewers appreciate the look, as Car and Driver feels that "from the B-pillar forward, it has almost a minivan look to it" that contributes to a "front end [that] looks pretty strange." However, this opinion was in the minority, as reviewers at Cars.com point out that "the current Civic sedan looks futuristic compared to its predecessor," and "the hybrid takes the look even further, with disc-like 15-inch alloy wheels fitted with low-rolling-resistance tires." Kelley Blue Book notes that other visual distinctions between conventional Honda Civics and the Civic Hybrid are "side mirrors with integrated turn indicators" along with "clear front turn signal lenses, mild trunk spoiler, small roof-mounted antenna and hybrid badging." Overall, reviewers tend to side with Edmunds, whose testers are "quite fond of the current-generation Civic" and its futuristic styling.

The exterior of this hybrid-powered 2008 Honda can be described as mildly controversial, and the interior follows suit, at least in terms of the dashboard. Edmunds writes that the "digital speedometer and gas gauge are at the base of the windshield," and "some drivers find the two-tier display distracting," though "others say it makes quick visual checks of speed easier." ConsumerGuide also sings the virtues of the "two-tier instrument panel" where the "speedometer's digits are in driver's line of sight for viewing without taking focus off [the] road." However, Car and Driver testers feel that the dashboard is "odd" and gives "the impression that a designer is trying a bit too hard to make the civilian Civic into a Formula 1 racer." Aside from the dashboard styling, Kelley Blue Book writes that, for 2008, Honda offers "a two-tone blue cloth interior" as standard, and Edmunds praises the "easy to operate" controls. One knock on the Honda Civic Hybrid's control design comes from ConsumerGuide, where reviewers find that "the navigation system takes time to master, has undersized buttons, and absorbs too many audio functions"; they also complain that "its screen is difficult to read in changing light conditions."

8

2008 Honda Civic Hybrid

Performance

The 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid offers great fuel numbers at the expense of acceleration, but handling remains a virtue.

The 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid boasts excellent fuel economy and surprisingly good handling, even if it’s not the fastest compact on the road.

The Civic Hybrid's powertrain consists of a 1.3-liter four mated to an IMA hybrid system. The engine by itself produces 93 hp, assisted by a 20-hp electric motor. The system actually has five modes that let the electrics and gas engine work together in different ways, including allowing the Civic Hybrid to run on electric power alone. The Civic Hybrid gets 40/45 mpg, compared to the larger Toyota Prius's higher city mileage at 48/45 mpg.

The only powerplant offered in the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid consists of a "1.3-liter four-cylinder engine teamed with an electric motor," according to Cars.com; the two combine to produce "110 horsepower and 123 pounds-feet of torque." The system functions somewhat differently from that of the Toyota Prius hybrid, in that the Prius can start using only electric power, while Car and Driver notes that the 2008 "Honda's engine and electric motor are sandwiched together and then connected to the transmission, so if one is running, so is the other." Many reviews read by TheCarConnection.com mentioned the sluggish acceleration times that this powerplant offers, with ConsumerGuide writing that 2008 Honda Civic Hybrids are "slow off the line and demand liberal throttle to build speed quickly." Cars.com finds that the Honda "Civic Hybrid accelerates adequately," and while Edmunds deems the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid to be "a bit slow," they also mention that it's not "meant for supreme acceleration."

Along with its one powerplant, the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid is equipped with just one transmission, which Kelley Blue Book says is a "'gearless' continuously variable transmission" that is a "natural fit" for the hybrid system. The CVT is pretty unremarkable, though J.D. Power feels that it is "less energetic" than the transmissions offered on standard Honda Civics. One of the biggest advantages of a CVT is that it keeps the engine operating near its peak performance range, which helps increase fuel economy. On the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid, the EPA estimates that drivers will get 40 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway. Some reviewers didn't fare as well, as testers at J.D. Power "ended the test with a 38.2 mpg average," but Car and Driver reviewers did manage to hit the "40 mpg" mark.

The Civic Hybrid manages to squeeze some driving fun into its thrifty package. Cars.com reviewers rave about the "taut suspension" and "well-controlled" body roll, combined with the "responsive" steering found on this 2008 Honda. Other reviewers, such as those at Edmunds, love how the "suspension, steering and brakes all work together" seamlessly to make the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid "somewhat sporty to drive." ConsumerGuide adds that the Honda Civic Hybrids "have low-rolling resistance tires that enhance fuel economy, but allow some noseplow in tight turns," but overall, they "take bumps in stride, with good absorbency and little float or wallow." The brakes are acceptable, but Cars.com finds that they "can make smooth stops tricky."

TheCarConnection.com’s team notes the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid handles differently than the sedan, thanks to electric power steering, skinny tires, and its CVT. As with most Hybrids, there's a learning curve to getting used to the numbed steering feel, the lower cornering limits, and the drone of the gas engine (the CVT keeps the engine operating near peak efficiency). The ride is a bit busy, too.

8

2008 Honda Civic Hybrid

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid has good room for front passengers, somewhat tight headroom and access for rear passengers, and just a tad less trunk room than the gas-only Civic.

The 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid has improved interior space, but the racy new design leaves a lot of wasted space above the dash, and  its rear doors with small cutouts make it harder for backseat passengers to get in and out.

The interior of the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid has "room for five," according to Cars.com, and the seats are rather accommodating. J.D. Power finds that "the Hybrid is very comfortable save one exception: the location of the parking brake handle," which can dig into the driver's right leg. Otherwise, reviews read by TheCarConnection.com appreciated, in the words of Kelley Blue Book reviewers, the "comfortable" front seats. The glaring exception is Car and Driver, whose writers feel that "the backrest of the front seats" are "uncomfortable to the point of being a deal breaker" since, for 2008, "Honda has decided not to offer adjustable lumbar support." ConsumerGuide finds that the rear seats in the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid offer "decent adult headroom," though "knee space is tight with the front seats far aft."

As part of the space required for the hybrid drive system on the Honda Civic Hybrid, some small sacrifices have been made in terms of cargo space. ForbesAutos says that "trunk space is slightly compromised to accommodate the hybrid system's battery pack," and Edmunds writes that this leaves "about 10" cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk versus "12 cubic feet of trunk space" on traditional Honda Civics. Other than the reduced trunk space, Kelley Blue Book finds that the interior of this 2008 Honda features excellent storage, thanks to "a voluminous center console/armrest." ConsumerGuide adds that "interior storage is very good," but reviewers miss the "folding rear seatback" that has been removed from the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid.

As is typical of Japanese vehicles, the Honda Civic Hybrid features an appealing and well-crafted interior, highlighted by a "laudable mix of high-grade plastics and fabrics" and "upmarket feel" in the cabin, according to ConsumerGuide. Edmunds also notes that the interior "materials are of high quality," and the car as a whole is well crafted. One added benefit of the Honda Civic Hybrid's commendable construction is the sound suppression, which ConsumerGuide says is "near the top of the class" when cruising. However, the "CVT promotes pronounced engine noise in rapid acceleration," and J.D. Power notices an "odd warble" when accelerating. Other minor noise comments come from Car and Driver, which identifies "occasional whirring and beeping noises" during driving that are "odd but not annoying."

9

2008 Honda Civic Hybrid

Safety

Honda's engineers have done an excellent job turning the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid into an exceptionally safe small car.

Building on the Honda reputation for safety, the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid boasts strong crash-test ratings and the typical assortment of occupant protection features.

Every Civic gets dual airbags, side and side curtain airbags, and anti-lock brakes. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid as "good."

In crash tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the IIHS, the Honda Civic Hybrid held up well and afforded good occupant protection. The NHTSA awarded the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid five stars for front impact and side rear passenger impact protection, along with four out of five stars for side driver impacts. The IIHS found no problems with the Honda Civic Hybrid and bestowed its highest rating, "good," upon the Honda Civic Hybrid in both frontal offset and side impact tests.

Kelley Blue Book attributes these strong crash-test ratings to the 2008 Honda's "advanced body structure" that is "designed to better absorb and distribute collision forces, especially in impacts involving taller SUVs."

Optional safety features aren't offered on this 2008 Honda, but the standard features are enough to satisfy even the most worrisome drivers. Kelley Blue Book writes that the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid offers "an impressive list of safety equipment including front, front-side and side-curtain airbags, active head restraints, anti-lock brakes (ABS), and more," a sentiment shared in most of the reviews read by TheCarConnection.com.

Further boosting the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid's score in this category is the above-average visibility afforded by the large windshield and overall design. Cars.com testers find that "all-around visibility is exceptional," though ConsumerGuide notes that the "long front roof pillars impede outward view to the corners."

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2008 Honda Civic Hybrid

Features

For the price you pay, it's hard to find a more feature-packed vehicle than the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid.

The 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid comes with an impressive variety of features—most of them standard. Power locks and windows are standard, as well as a tilt/telescope steering wheel, remote keyless entry, steering-wheel audio controls, a 160-watt audio system with an auxiliary jack for your MP3 player, automatic climate control, and 15-inch wheels and tires.

ForbesAutos writes that, on the Honda Civic Hybrid, the "standard equipment is plentiful and on par with the gas-powered Civic's top EX trim level." Kelley Blue Book lists some of the standard features on this 2008 Honda as "remote keyless entry, automatic climate control air conditioning, six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3/WMA CD playback capability," and "steering wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls."

Reviewers at The Detroit News love the "high-quality audio system and full complement of power accessories" that make the Honda Civic Hybrid "a lot of fun."

Along with the standard features, the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid offers one optional upgrade. Kelley Blue Book lists that option as "a navigation system that features voice recognition, a 6.5-inch customizable touch screen and a PC Card slot" that will allow you to insert and play music from almost any digital media card. The navigation system on this 2008 Honda is well received in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com, with J.D. Power finding that it is "a breeze to use."

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8.6
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Styling 8.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 9.0
Features 10.0
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