- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

The latest combination-powered (gas and electric) vehicle offered for sale by Honda here in the United States is the Civic Hybrid. At a glance, it looks no different than its more conventional fossil-fuel-powered counterpart, the Civic LX. The new Civic Hybrid provides a greater level of functionality than the earlier (1999) two-seat Insight, Honda’s first U.S. hybrid model.

The 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid achieves a higher level of efficiency with the latest version of Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology. The goal always was to implement this concept into a mass-produced existing platform.

At the core of the system is a 1.3-liter-DSI (dual and sequential ignition) four-cylinder engine coupled to a high-output electric motor positioned between the engine and transmission.

Energy is recaptured and stored in the battery for later use as one brakes or decelerates (called regenerative braking).

During acceleration loads, stored energy is automatically sent to the high-torque electric motor, without driver input.

The goals established in the adaptation of IMS to a high-volume, mainstream vehicle included: achieving the highest possible levels of fuel economy for a five-passenger sedan; providing good performance through a refined driving experience; and offering user-friendliness on a par with conventional vehicles. Not having to plug the vehicle in for recharging happens to be a major plus for the Civic Hybrid. So there you have it — practicality with unplugged conventionality.

The Civic Hybrid’s EPA mileage estimates show 46 miles per gallon in city driving situations and 51 mpg in highway applications. Given the fuel tank capacity and the idle stop feature, a long freeway or interstate journey should yield roughly a 675-mile range before refueling becomes necessary.

The Civic Hybrid is also EPA and CARB certified as an ultra-low emissions vehicle (ULEV), and there are no scheduled tuneups under normal conditions until 110,000 miles. One may choose between either a five-speed manual transmission or an automatic CVT (continuously variable transmission) — the latter gets 2 mpg more in the city but 4 mpg less on the highway than its manual counterpart.

The battery is nickel-metal hydride (Ni-MH) with 144-volt output (120 cells and weighing 63 pounds).

The Civic Hybrid looks like, well, a Civic, because that’s what it is.

Talk about conventionality. The interior shuns the “minimalist” approach by providing features and amenities as standard fare, normally found only on upscale models.

My latest test Civic Hybrid wore a Magnesium metallic exterior with a Gray interior theme. The base price was set $20,650, while the final sticker with destination and handling charges, registered $21,110 — only $100 more than last year’s model.

The 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid features new exterior styling in the front and rear bumpers, hood, headlights and grille. Other enhancements include: added sound dampening, improved audio speakers, a seat-belt reminder system, standard floormats, a new console with armrest and storage and manual driver seat height adjustment. The Civic Hybrid is the answer to an environmentalist’s and a commuter’s prayer — it is attractive without looking like something from “Star Wars,” attracting a lot of unnecessary attention. It is highly efficient in terms of fuel consumption. It provides a comfortable ride with agile handling characteristics. Coupled with the electric motor assist, the IMA engine provides substantially increased torque in the mid- and low-rpm range, compared with that of the current 1.7-liter LX conventional engine.

The only thing that really takes some getting used to in driving the Civic Hybrid is the engine’s shutting down when the car is stopped for more than a brief period.

Not to worry — applying pressure to the accelerator instantly fires it up again. An IMA meter displays both the progressive charge rate and state of charge. It’s difficult not to make a game of increasing range by paying attention to driving techniques.

With the Hybrid, you can literally cut the cord.

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