The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid's cabin boasts an impressive array of technology for Honda's lowest-end car--a position soon to be occupied by the Honda Fit, which will push the Civic up a notch. The $1,500 navigation option includes an impressive voice-recognition system that we found very useful. The standard 160-watt stereo in our test car sounded good; it was clear but lacking depth. The stereo comes with an auxiliary input jack and is prepped for XM Satellite Radio. The touch-screen LCD makes for easy access to both stereo and navigation controls.
Although the hybrid power train is an improvement upon the previous model year's, we still weren't overly impressed by Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system. The small, 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine has a rough feel, and the IMA is noticeable, especially in traffic. The continuously variable transmission lends itself to smooth acceleration, which is mitigated by engine noise. And the power train doesn't exactly rocket this car forward, making some freeway merges on the dicey side.
The 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid is equipped with standard antilock brakes, as well as electronic brake-force distribution, to help avoid accidents. Air-bag coverage is complete, with dual-stage front, driver and front-passenger side, and curtain bags. This, in addition to the front and rear crumple zones and the side-impact door beams, all contributes to the Civic's five-star front and four-star side-impact ratings.
The base price for the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid is $21,850. Our test car, which included the navigation and voice-recognition system, came in at $23,350. Possible upgrades include an eight-disc CD changer ($569), a bass speaker system ($364), and iPod integration ($214).The dashboard of the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid, and the entire 2006 Honda Civic family, has a very futuristic look. A big, backlit tachometer sits in the center of the main instrument pod, and off to the side are gauges for battery charge, charge level, and motor assist. A second tier of gauges sits above the main panel, and these show a digital-speedometer readout in the center with a fuel gauge on the right. The left gauge can be set to show engine temperature or instantaneous fuel economy. This setup works well because, similar to a heads-up display, the speed readout is at the bottom of the driver's field of vision. However, we did notice that, with the sun behind us, the readouts became washed out and difficult to see.
Buttons on the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid's steering-wheel spokes handle cruise control, the audio system, and voice commands. The voice-command system is very usable, though a bit stilted. Pushing the voice-command button mutes the stereo and sets the system to accept commands for controlling audio, climate control, or navigation. It's a pretty smart system, able to recognize strings of numbers for, as an example, an address. It doesn't need any training to recognize its set of preprogrammed commands, but the driver will need to get familiar with which commands access which systems. Because it can take only one command at a time, it can feel a bit choppy when entering a route destination, as you have to push the button, choose to enter a destination, then push it a few more times as each part of the address gets entered.
The navigation system itself works well, although it doesn't really stand out. We like the visual representation it gives of upcoming freeway junctions, with a large arrow showing which way to go. Its points-of-interest database is well populated; it includes restaurants, stores, gas stations, and ATMs. In our testing, the nav system acquired a satellite fix quickly and showed no problems holding on to it. When it plots a route to a destination, it lets the driver choose from four possibilities, which include maximum freeways, minimum freeways, or shortest distance. We especially like that it can display all the routes on its map screen. While the voice-guided directions don't call out street names, it does say the freeway number.
The base stereo system, with which our test car came equipped, is good but not excellent. The quality of the sound is crisp, but better bass speakers would give it more depth. Beyond AM and FM, it's also prepped for XM Satellite Radio, a $444 option. The CD player plays MP3 CDs, displaying ID3-tag information on the LCD. To access the CD player slot, a button on the dash causes the motorized LCD to open up, revealing a panel with the CD slot, the navigation DVD slot, and a PC Card slot--something we haven't seen on any other car. Although flash-memory PCMCIA cards are not all that common, there are cards that work as adapters for SD or CompactFlash memory, which would allow for up to 2GB of music. For MP3 players or other devices, an auxiliary input jack is set into a shelf at the bottom of the center stack with a power point right near by. iPod integration is available as an option.