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Sometimes a brand name is enough to sell a car, especially a new version of a familiar model.
For example, if the manufacturer's insignia on the outside of the 2006 Civic hybrid said Yugo instead of Honda, how many people would be interested?
But the Honda name means not only will the vehicle have hybrid technology, but it also includes the characteristics the company has come to signify: quality, style, value, performance, reliability, and economy.
In addition to the Civic, Honda's hybrid fleet now comprises the two-passenger Insight and the larger Accord to compete with the Toyota Prius in the hybrid sedan category.
The Civic is a significant vehicle in all of its versions. Honda has sold 7 million of the cars in the United States since it was introduced in 1973, and 23 million worldwide. This eighth generation of the Civic already has earned Motor Trend's Car of the Year Award.
In considering a hybrid version of the Civic, consumers should ask themselves two key questions:
Should they buy a basic gasoline-powered Civic DX for $15,000 (or less) and enjoy 35 m.p.g.?
Should they opt for the better-appointed hybrid for $22,000 and realize 10 more m.p.g.?
Given a gas price of $2.20 per gallon for regular and a mileage average of 35 m.p.g., it would cost $817 to drive the DX 13,000 miles.
Averaging 45 m.p.g. in the hybrid would cut that to $636, a yearly savings of $181. So it would take almost 39 years to make up the roughly $7,000 difference in cost between the two models.
That raises one more question: How much is it worth to you to make a social statement by driving a vehicle that's green? If it's attention you're after, this may not be your car. It's not readily apparent that the Civic hybrid is a hybrid, whereas Toyota Prius drivers regularly get noticed because everyone knows it is. The careful listener, however, will hear an exhaust note in the Honda hybrid that is more electric-motor whine than four-cylinder buzz.
There's no question that hybrids are hot. Automakers have discovered there's enough demand to fetch a premium price, and newer models are combining performance with increased (though not optimum) economy and luxury. To see the trend, look to a trio of hybrid SUVs: the Toyota Highlander, Lexus RX 400H, and Mercury Mariner.
Driving the Civic hybrid doesn't require any special instruction: Turn the ignition key and away you go. The electric and gas engines both get the car off the starting line. In fact, the only time it goes all electric is for stretches at lower speeds on flat roads.
Performance is adequate, with the 93-horsepower gas engine and electric motor combining for a total of 110 horsepower and 123 ft.-lbs. of torque.
Unlike the Prius, which gets higher mileage in the city than on the highway, Honda has designed this Civic for the suburban commuter. Figures should range from 30 to 50 m.p.g. for city and 40 to 50 m.p.g. on the highway. A realistic expectation for combined driving is in the low 40s.
The Civic hybrid does have an oddity: its two-tier instrument cluster. A button on the dash lets the operator toggle between an engine coolant temperature gauge and an m.p.g. meter on the top tier. Also on the top tier are the gas gauge and digital speedometer. The lower tier has a tachometer, battery-charge gauge, odometer/outside temperature display, and transmission gear selector.
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San Francisco Chronicle