No one in their right mind would ever call the Honda Civic inefficient. Even still, in the early 2000s, the folks at the Japanese company set off to make something that could actually achieve higher economy than a base Civic and do so without altering the car’s now-famous charm. The fruit of their labor was born in 2003 and since then, it has been apart of the compact car’s lineup all the way up to the present day. Now that the namesake itself is in its ninth generation, the third go for the gasoline/electric version is upon us and rolls quietly around to prove that there is no such thing as efficient enough. Hypermilers everywhere should stand up and take notice as the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid might just be their dream come true.

Admittedly, the current generation Civic hasn’t landed in a very positive light, especially from automotive journalists. When the car was removed from Consumer Reports’ “Recommended” list, it took a major blow as it was chastised for not living up to the Civic namesake. Even still, the car hasn’t failed where it truly counts: sales. Since the start of 2012, the new model has sold 77,169 throughout March and Honda isn’t showing any signs of slowing down incentives. Despite not being the grocery getting g0-kart it used to be, the little sedan and coupe are still finding new homes and the Hybrid version might just be a reason why. It seems that a lot of attention was paid to the alternative Civic as it received the most changes among the lineup. The powerplant was revised, output was raised and aerodynamics were changed all in the name of efficiency. When the car debuted late in 2011, Honda themselves claimed the 2012 Hybrid as being the most fuel-efficient sedan available in the U.S.

In order to find out it that is indeed the truth, we got behind the wheel of an all-new 2012 Leather Trimed Navigation edition. Loaded out as the top of the line model, our Taffeta White tester carried a single price tag of $27,500 with destination charge. Base MSRP for a Civic Hybrid is $24 grand but that model doesn’t come with leather interior or navigation. Next to those luxurious items found on our tester were standard features such as satellite radio, heated front seats, bluetooth device pairing, Intelligent Multi-information Display (i-MID), automatic climate control and remote entry. That’s a lot of stuff but then again, nearly $30 large for a compact is a lot of money. The real reason for the asking price might just be what’s found underneath the hood.

Instead of a high-strung, hot rod engine revving to moon, the Civic Hybrid is motivated by a much more humble powerplant. It may be fitted with the brand’s famous “i-VTEC” variable valve timing, but the 1.5 liter single overhead cam straight four cylinder puts out a modest 87 horsepower. That figure is lower than the previous generation which used a smaller, 1.3 liter engine however, combined output for the 2012 Hybrid is similar to the 2011. The reason comes from the electric motor assist which puts out a higher 23 horsepower and 78 lb-ft of torque. Spinning (maybe in the rain) the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is a total power figure of 110 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque. By no means a Saturday night drag racer, the 2012 does manage to be faster in a straight line than the previous car but to be honest, that isn’t really saying much. If floored from a standstill, 60 mph will occur in about 10 seconds. Don’t let the Si, Type R and Mugen Civics know about that.

If you’re thinking about a hybrid, your thoughts are more than likely not directed at tearing up the street at 8,000 rpms anyways. What they will be placed on is mileage and in that category, the Civic delivers. Using a combination of a permanent magnet motor, a ultra-low emissions engine and a lithium-ion battery pack, the 2012 is rated at an EPA averaged 44 mpg all around. This means that the Civic Hybrid has the ability to break into the 40 mpg club on the highway, in the city and everywhere in between. A lot is to blame here but perhaps the most important can be placed on the battery pack. Unlike pervious installments, the latest hybrid uses a much more power-dense and less controversial lithium-ion battery where as the previous generations used a nickel derived unit. Producing 20 kilowatts of output and weighing 48.5 lbs, the pack is fairly par-for-the hybrid course and helps our tester tip the scales right under the 3,000 lb mark. The ninth generation’s body lines have been ever so slightly altered to make the Hybrid more aerodynamically efficient. Unique 15 inch alloy wheels and a special grille separate the gas/electric version from the rest while LED tail lights and blue accented head lamps keep with the “futuristic” theme. Overall, the car should make a hypermiler’s dream come true, but most drivers have been finding between 37 and 42 mpg in real world driving. Impressive yes, but so is the Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze’s 40 mpg and none of those vehicles carry a price increasing electric motor assist.

So the Civic Hybrid isn’t fast and it isn’t horribly impressive at the pump. Don’t stop reading just yet as the Honda does have a very important trick up its sleeve: comfort and confidence. Inside is where things start to get justified as the interior of our tester was a place to be in. Compared to its rivals, hybrid or not, the Civic feels so much more mature and classy: something usually not synonymous with compact cars. The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes while overall interior volume has been increased from the previous model. The quality of the material used, even down to the lowly plastics, is sky-high and would make even an Acura proud. The steering may be electric-powered, but its nature becomes so easy that after a while, it goes unnoticed. Any driver can simply get in the Civic Hybrid and go but it will still prove to be attention grabbing while stopped. The navigation system is crystal clear and easy to operate while the voice recognition makes finding where you want to go that much safer. It’s a very user-friendly car and doesn’t flaunt about or disagree with drivers, passengers or passers-by. Billy Bob and his 10 inch lifted, F-350 Dually probably won’t cut you off in traffic on purpose like he would a Prius or LEAF. The Civic Hybrid is a humble car for humble people.

The hybrid car game is a tricky thing. It seems today that everyone and their brother has a gasoline/electric something and honestly, it takes a lot to be a true stand-out. But truth be told, not every offering has to be in the spot light, especially if it flat-out works. Honda has been pumping out a Civic Hybrid since the early 2000s and not much has been said about it. More than likely, the Japanese automaker went along with the belief that “no news is good news” and sat back while the sales came in. People who purchased a Civic Hybrid did so because they wanted a sure thing and that’s exactly what they got. But once the 2012 model year hit the market, the little compact found its way into the spot light and not in a good way. The latest offering may lack the charm that the previous models carried, but they’re still Hondas and soon, they might get better. Late in 2011, John Mendel, American Honda executive vice president, made a statement that a model update would more than likely take place in 2013, a year earlier than expected. If that actually occurs is still up to time and so is that update’s affect on the gas/electric version. Even if the 2012 model continues living the way it is now, no one should be disappointed. The purchase of a 2012 Civic Hybrid is not only the purchase of a comfortable, efficient and well made sedan, it is the purchase of an absolute positive. This car will do what it does and do so for a long time to come.

Photos: © Copyright 2012 Ossamah Shabbir

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