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2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

Martha Hindes

Honda Civic Hybrid
Honda Civic Interior

Honda and hybrids have seemed synonymous since the oddly jelly-bean shaped two-seater Insight debuted about seven years ago. Passersby craned their necks to see it glide along, whisper quiet, looking rather like a futuristic space pod. With the utmost tenderfoot care and a steady, mid-30s speed, we eked out an astonishing 90-plus miles to a gallon during our long-ago test drive, far exceeding fuel economy in the 60 mpg range that was promised. With that kind of history, it was inevitable that Honda -- accustomed to making fuel stingy vehicles for perpetually traffic clogged roads back home -- would come along with a successor or two in a more traditional style.

Next in what would become a trio of green vehicles from the Japanese automaker was the hybrid Civic, looking for all the world like a regular compact sedan. By 2006, with a fourth-generation hybrid foundation, Honda has developed a winner devoid of curiosity status and definitely mainstream in fact and function. Who can argue with 50/50 fuel economy, the same miles per gallon on the highway or trapped on congested city roads? That's thanks to a new generation of "Motor Assist" technology that makes the hybrid Civic something of a chameleon. Unlike most hybrids that always require some power from a gasoline engine, Honda's Civic hybrid can, if necessary, go solo on electricity alone. There's enough power stored in batteries from regenerative driving functions to allow it to cruise along, engine off, under certain conditions.

Honda, known as a small engine specialist from its motorcycle roots, has succeeded in minimizing battery size and boosting torque by a third, horsepower by nearly a half and overall efficiency by three percent over non-hybrid siblings. While standard power comes from a 1.3-liter i-VTECH four cylinder engine, its companion 20 horsepower permanent magnet electric motor cranks out 70 lb.-ft. of torque. Combined, they generate 110 horsepower. With that under hood, and low rolling resistance tires underneath, Hybrid Civic's 12.3 gallon fuel tank can eke out an impressive 613 miles before hitting empty. While the hybrid Civic is super stingy on use of fuel, it doesn't stint on passenger comfort or cache. All the expected amenities of a midrange mid-priced compact sedan are there ($24,200 as tested). Two-toned seating and a flippant rear lip spoiler add a sporty touch. And for those still attuned to the Jetsons, a system display diagrams the workings of the hybrid system. Our only caveat: A high, deeply set instrument panel that would keep fenders out of view for the height challenged.