The 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid may have relinquished its title as the World Green Car of the Year to the Mercedes E320 Bluetec diesel, but the previous winner hasn't changed much since we reviewed a 2006 Civic Hybrid last year. As then, our 2007 test car was equipped with the main option: voice-controlled touch screen navigation, which remains one of the best such systems we've used (it also appears in Acura models).
The combination of a miserly hybrid power configuration and a welcome dose of interior tech make the Civic Hybrid a formidable rival to its only real competition, the Toyota Prius. The redesign of the Civic line for 2006 seemed to take some cues from the futuristic shape of the Prius, notably in the extreme rake of the windshield, but the latest Civics have been as well-received as earlier versions and are comfortable inside.
Test the tech: Welcome to L.A.
For our test of the 2007 Civic Hybrid, we gave it a chance to stretch its legs a bit with a road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles and back. Hybrids are generally acknowledged to realize their best mileage gains in city driving, where frequent regenerative braking and low-speed electric-only operation can be exploited (the Civic Hybrid can operate electric-only under very specific circumstances, which we never encountered). We wanted to see what sort of efficiency we could get for an extended highway trip if we kept cruising speeds relatively low and--as we assumed upon reaching the 405 freeway near L.A.--mixed in some stop-and-go traffic to see what it would do to fuel economy.
When we topped up the tank before leaving San Francisco, it didn't occur to us that we would reach Huntington Beach before needing to refuel again, but that's exactly what happened. Having traveled 466.3 miles, it took almost exactly 10 gallons to refill the Civic, for an overall average of 46.6mpg for the trip. This also meant that there was a fair amount of fuel left in the 12.3 gallon tank, and that under the right circumstances a cruising range of over 500 miles should be possible.
Interestingly, the average mpg gauge--which resets with the trip odometer and updates every 10 minutes--didn't show an appreciable move either way between extended steady-state cruising around 75mph and the inevitable clogged freeways we encountered on nearing Los Angeles. Also of note, the gauge read low compared to our calculated average over the trip south: 42.6mpg compared to the true 46.6.
Our choice of the coastal Highway 101 route over the shorter but monotonous Interstate 5 option may have been beneficial to the mileage recorded. Mostly flat and curvier than the arrow-straight I-5, the 101 is usually taken at around 70-75mph, which is in the Civic Hybrid's sweet spot. This longer route foiled editor Kevin Massy's attempt to get the E320 Bluetec to Beverly Hills and back on one tank of gas, but allowed the Civic Hybrid to make the most of its particular strengths.
On our return trip, we struggled through morning traffic back north on the 405 but took the I-5 route from there, and our mileage wasn't nearly as good. The long climb through the Grapevine had the small gas engine revving mightily to maintain momentum, and the increased cruising speeds once on flat ground meant that the northbound trip wasn't as efficient an affair (although travel time was, naturally, shorter). We calculated 42.3mpg while the odometer gauge figured it at 36.2.
In the cabin
Inside the Civic Hybrid, there is the impression of forward thinking thanks to some unconventional split-level gauge placement and the two-spoke steering wheel. The layout works well, with the tachometer, battery-assist indicator, odometer, and various warning lights viewed through the steering wheel; the digital speedometer, fuel gauge, and toggling mpg/temperature gauge are set in a row above the rim of the wheel. The steering wheel has a nice, grippy covering and thumb rests at 9 and 3 o'clock, and the spokes have controls for the audio system, cruise control, and voice-recognition activation.