2012 Honda Civic Hybrid review

Step out of the Civic Hybrid and you’ll be even more hard-pressed to identify it as a mother earth-loving eco-warrior on wheels.
Step out of the Civic Hybrid and you’ll be even more hard-pressed to identify it as a mother earth-loving eco-warrior on wheels.
Step out of the Civic Hybrid and you’ll be even more hard-pressed to identify it as a mother earth-loving eco-warrior on wheels.

Highs

  • Great fuel economy at 44 mpg
  • Confident and comfortable ride dynamics
  • Spacious, but bland, interior

Lows

  • Interior appears cheap and excessively dull
  • Exterior style lacks character
  • Button layout for onboard infotainment is needlessly cluttered

You know the Honda Civic. In fact, you probably know it pretty darn well. Chances are you’ve owned one, and we’re willing to bet that you’ve at least driven one at some point in your life. If that isn’t a testament to the popularity and reliability of Honda’s little people mover, we don’t know what is.

The Civic has been around since 1973, and for much of its history has been at the top of its class. It’s always been that go-to car, a solid buy that few could find fault in. Not only has the Honda Civic been fuel efficient, but it’s always blended style with a sprinkle of sporty into its seemingly infallible, and automotively delicious, recipe.

The Civic Hybrid is a different story; it’s never quite matched the popularity (or fuel efficiency) of cars like the Toyota Prius, and for many, Honda’s dedicated hybrid, the Insight, seemed a better fit for eco crowd. Returning for the 2012 model year, the Honda Civic Hybrid seeks to incorporate its past pedigree with a greater emphasis towards fuel efficiency. Does it succeed? Here’s what we think.

Conservative, comfortable, and cheap

On the inside, the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid proves comfortable enough, but it’s nothing breathtaking, and in designing the interior Honda seems to have placed practicality over any semblance of style. For drivers seeking a straightforward, conservative interior, the Civic will happily oblige, and other than a few hints here and there — like its green Econ button to the left of the steering wheel — you’d be hard pressed to distinguish it from the standard Civic — although, the standard Civic rocks that big green button too.

Thankfully, what it lacks in style it makes up for in comfort. Again, this is a no-frills cabin, but at its core the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid provides a pleasant interior, even if it is a rather sleepy one. Both drivers and passengers will find ample head, leg, and shoulder room up front, while passengers in the rear should have plenty of space to stretch their legs.

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid review front from passenger 4 door car 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid review drivers side
2012 Honda Civic Hybrid review drivers from back 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid review rear car review

Another issue we had with the interior stems from the choice of materials used. The 2012 Civic Hybrid uses a lot of new hard dashboard materials that ultimately give it a cheap look. And considering there is about an $8,000 MSRP gap between the entry-level DX ($16,000) model and the Civic Hybrid ($24,000), that’s just not ok in our book.While the cabin interior certainly feels like an exercise in practicality, some design elements prove confusing and odd. Adorning the Civic Hybrid’s three-spoke steering wheel are buttons for controlling the vehicles cruise control and on-board systems. Unfortunately, Honda continues to place its Bluetooth telephone controls slightly behind, down, and to the left of the bottom spoke. Needless to say it feels incredibly ill-placed and difficult to reach.

Tacking on that tech

Naturally, we expect a robust amount of tech in cars these days, more so with hybrids and electrics, and thankfully the Civic Hybrid delivers. Packed in the fuel-sipping Civic are Honda’s optional navigation system, Bluetooth audio, and handsfree calling interface.

Our first impression with the navigation system was solid. Honda’s screen resolution seems dated and more pixelated than others we have come across, but it nevertheless gets the job done – it’s just not a very pretty job. Navigating the various menus is relatively simple, but Honda’s system gets marked down for its awkward design choice. Ironically, while the rest of the cabin is simple and straightforward, the button clusters flanking each side of the LCD display are too small to handle without proving distracting. Thankfully the touchscreen proves relatively responsive, but there were times when spouts of fidgeting were required.

The inclusion of a second screen, Honda’s i-MID display, located just above the dashboard and next to the digital speedometer, proves a welcome feature, however, as it displays trip information, fuel economy figures, turn-by-turn navigation directions, and audio source information. With a simple press of the button located on the steering wheel, drivers can shuffle through the aforementioned displays, which are extremely helpful while driving, and much less distracting when viewing. Like the Honda CR-V, users can customize the wallpaper in the I-MID by uploading pictures via USB. Interestingly, of the two displays, we found the I-MID to be much more vivid and clear. Looking back and forth between the larger navigation display and the I-MID in quick succession provided the clearest example of disparity between the two displays.

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid review second dash 4 door car reviewOverall we really liked the I-MID display. In addition to the aforementioned functions, the I-MID is helpful for monitoring the Civic Hybrid’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology. Here, drivers can see the battery charge state as well as whether or not you’re utilizing power from the gasoline or electric engine. The I-MID is also where the Civic Hybrid houses its Eco display, which monitors and displays your driving habits and relays your frugal driving efforts with little green tree icons. More trees equal better, more fuel efficient, driving.

For music lovers, the Civic Hybrid features an upgraded 16-watt, six-speaker stereo that allows for various audio sources, such as a single-disc CD player, AM/FM radio, Satellite Radio, USB connectivity, and wireless audio streaming. The Civic Hybrid also offers FM traffic reports, which undoubtedly prove useful for those unwilling to spring for subscription-based services on offer.

Drivers looking to make use of the Civic Hybrid’s voice command functions will be happy to learn the system operates with little to no hiccups. Syncing your address book is fairly quick, and placing calls through voice is intuitive too. Now if Honda would just place the corresponding call buttons in another location.

Been there, done that

Step out of the Civic Hybrid and you’ll be even more hard-pressed to identify it as a mother earth-loving eco-warrior on wheels. There really isn’t much to work with here, but look hard enough and you’ll spot the difference. Up front the Civic Hybrid features a slightly noticeable blue hue slotted into its chromed-out grille. That slight blue accent can also be traced to both the front headlamps and vehicles rear taillamps. Of course if that proves too difficult, the rear of the vehicle subtly displays a “hybrid” badge.

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid review front 4 door car review 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid review left side 4 door car review
2012 Honda Civic Hybrid review back rear 4 door car review 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid review back angle car review

For many that won’t be an issue, the Civic still sells remarkably well. But Honda, and the Civic cannot live off its reputation forever, especially when other automakers are nipping at its heels.What’s more concerning though than being able to distinguish a Civic Hybrid from a standard Civic is just how difficult it is to distinguish a 2012 model to a 2011 model. The Civic might enjoy a storied history indeed, but it lacks the sort of style and flair many of its competitors are sporting, mainly offerings from Hyundai and Kia. Of course style isn’t everything, but with a little more spice thrown into its design language, the Civic has the potential to reach the heights it enjoyed throughout the 1990s. In its current form, the 2012 Civic, hybrid or otherwise, exhibits a dream-inducing aesthetic and seems far too derivative of past iterations to generate any type of excitement.

44 is the magic number

While the standard Civic engine bay is occupied by a 1.8-liter, 140 horsepower internal combustion engine, the 2012 Honda Civic, like its predecessors, is what’s known as a mild-hybrid, one that cannot turn its wheels on electric power alone. Prior to 2012, the Civic Hybrid has utilized a nickel-metal-hydride battery. That has changed for the 2012 model, which now makes use a lithium-ion pack. In addition to weighing less than the nickel-metal-hydride battery, the lithium-ion pack takes up less space in the vehicle’s trunk.

Sending power to the wheels of the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid is the combination of a 15-kilowatt electric motor and 1.5-liter engine mated to Honda’s continuously variable transmission (CVT). While most CVTs have a tendency to feel cumbersome and limited, the Civic Hybrid’s feels spot on. The transmission allows for three different drive modes: Drive (D), Sport (S), and Low-ratio (L). Drive is the standard operating mode and provides the most balanced throttle response. Sport on the other hand gives the Civic Hybrid a little boost of the line and allows for quicker acceleration and higher rev changes (Pro tip: S mode also disables the vehicles automatic start/stop mechanism). Finally, Low-ratio is simply there, well because … we never had the need to use it, although traditionally L has been used for vehicle towing, but we can’t see anyone actually using the Civic Hybrid to tow anything…

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid review engine car reviewOn a quick side note, we really liked the Civic Hybrids start/stop technology, which integrates through the IMA system. Where some systems, even those seen in premium vehicles like the BMW 335i, tend to make their presence known very well, the start/stop in the Civic Hybrid goes relatively unnoticed.

EPA estimated fuel economy for the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid sits at 44 mpg in the city, 44 mpg on the highway, and 44 mpg combined. Of all Hondas currently on the market the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid is the most fuel efficient, even beating out the Honda Insight which is capable of netting 41 mpg in the city, 44 mpg on the highway, and 42 mpg combined.

Handling/Drive Dynamics

Overall the 2012 Civic Hybrid provides a calm, confident ride. Acceleration is handled well and the constant focus of the drivetrain to accommodate for, and provide, the best possible fuel economy doesn’t muddle an otherwise lively drive character. Handling was consistently sharp and the electric steering system gave a respectable amount of feedback throughout our driving time.

Finish Line

Ultimately, drivers considering a hybrid are doing so with fuel economy sitting at or near the top of their priorities list. In that regard the Civic Hybrid is one of the best in its class, especially for those not impressed with the more eccentric style espoused by cars like the Toyota Prius or Honda’s own Insight. At the same time, those seriously considering the Civic Hybrid should do so knowing that other vehicles, like the standard Prius and the diminutive Prius C, will return considerably more miles per gallon. Although, in the case of the Prius C you have a much smaller vehicle, and in the case of the standard Prius Liftback be prepared to pay a little more , although not by much.

Still, those that prefer the green vehicles they drive to retain a greater degree of ambiguity will invariably favor the Civic Hybrid. Otherwise, if fuel economy is truly what you’re after, better options exist in Honda’s Japanese rival.

For more pictures, check out our 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid photo gallery.

Highs

  • Great fuel economy at 44 mpg
  • Confident and comfortable ride dynamics
  • Spacious, but bland, interior

Lows

  • Interior appears cheap and excessively dull
  • Exterior style lacks character
  • Button layout for onboard infotainment is needlessly cluttered
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