The 2012 Honda Civic is what you’d expect from this quite popular car. Even in its last model year, the previous model was the nation’s fifth best selling vehicle in 2010.
This is the ninth generation Civic, which debuted in the U.S. in 1973. With the increasing price of gas and the instability in the Middle East, industry analysts expect that people will become more interested in smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. So while Honda is introducing eight models of the new Civic, the most important may be the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid.
The 2012 Civic Sedan’s looks are evolutionary. The front retains the Honda family face, and the side seemed busy to me, although I’m not sure why. I didn’t like the little bar at the rear of the side glass, although it’s necessary mechanically for the windows to roll. But it seemed awkward looking.
I liked the Hybrid’s interior, especially the instrument panel, which is divided into two levels. The five-inch screen next to the speedometer presents information clearly and without requiring you to look to the center stack to check it. The car coaches you to better driving by showing you just how efficiently you are driving.
This is a compact car, and in a compact sedan, it isn’t the looks of the car that are important, it’s the space inside it. It should be large, and this generation has a slightly larger interior than the last model. It also should be comfortable and attractive, and the Civic fills the bill in both areas.
My only complaint was that there were several shades of grey between the dash, side panels, roof liner and center console. The differences were subtle, but still there. As the cars we were driving were pre-production, this may change. This certainly isn’t a deal-breaker, but I would’ve expected less deviation, even though the surfaces and materials varied.
One nice thing about this generation’s Civic Hybrid is that you can get all the goodies you want on it – leather, navigation, all of the nice-to-have features. So you can be environmentally conscious, but still enjoy the process of transporting you and yours.
The powertrain for this fifth-generation Hybrid is what Honda calls their Integrated Motor Assist and is new. Honda says this IMA powertrain provides better starting and overtaking acceleration compared to its previous generation. Honda says the EPA fuel rating of 44 mpg city and 44 mpg highway is a three-mpg increase from the previous model in city driving and one mpg better on the highway. This model is easy to drive. There’s enough performance, and yet the engine turns off when you stop and starts instantly when you need it.
The Civic Hybrid uses a slightly larger 1.5-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine and a more powerful electric motor to send a 110 hp and 127 lb-ft. of torque through the Continuously Variable Transmission to the front wheels.
Honda also uses lithium-ion batteries powering the 23 hp electric motor. It’s lighter, smaller and more powerful than the nickel-metal hydride battery it replaces. It’s a bank of 40 individual 3.6-volt batteries that store up to 144 volts of electricity. Lithium-ion batteries have about twice the energy density and about four times the output density of the old nickel-metal hydride batteries. Because of this, power output is 33 percent greater, although the space they take up is 36 percent smaller. They’re also 29 percent lighter, in spite of their charging and discharging rates being three times higher.
Honda’s hybrid Civic also uses a regenerative braking system that captures the energy created by stopping the car rather than converting it into heat as normal brake systems do. That energy is stored in the battery packs. The Hybrid’s electric motor is also used to generate electricity while braking, coasting and in steady-state driving, where there are other demands on it. The system even alters the transmission’s gear ratio so the engine and electric motor regenerate energy most efficiently.
There are a number of technology tweaks that add to the Civic Hybrid’s efficiency. One of the more interesting is the electronic Drive-by-Wire throttle system. The car measures accelerator pedal position, then adjusts the throttle-body butterfly valve for the intake manifold, the gear ratio in the CVT, and the operation of the IMA based on driving conditions. To determine the current driving conditions, the system watches pedal position, throttle position, vehicle and engine speed, calculated road slope and engine vacuum. Then the Drive-by-Wire throttle system sets the electric motor and engine power to most efficiently use the battery’s energy.
The Civic Hybrid also has an ECON mode, which changes or limits certain systems. ECON changes when the engine turns itself off rather than staying on at idle. It also changes performance behavior, and with cruise control on, the car takes slightly longer to reach a set speed. But push on the throttle and you get full power. It also reduces the air conditioning effectiveness in certain situations to reduce activating the compressors.
The model I drove had navigation, a good stereo, leather seats, and enough space in the car and the trunk for four people to be comfortable sitting and to store plenty of their possessions. The Civic Sedan has 12.5 cubic feet of trunk space.
The most noticeable thing about this Hybrid is that the technology is not very noticeable. Driving in a pack of other Civic Sedans, you had to look hard to see the difference and work equally hard to find a performance difference. This generation certainly came to be from the philosophy that powertrains for a car should include a hybrid system.
The Honda Civic Hybrid will go on sale in late April, but world events can’t be ignored.
John Mendel is Executive Vice President at American Honda. He began the press introduction of the new Civic by reporting that Honda’s engineer center in Japan, where this car was developed, was damaged by the earthquake and that parts and supplies for the Civic will also be affected. “It’s a very fluid situation there. And we are working to get to normalcy,” he said.
While daily production for Honda has been reduced, he said limited production for the Civic began in Japan on April 11.