Despite this year's redesign, the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid (Base MSRP: $24,200) still lags behind the 2012 Toyota Prius (Base MSRP: $24,000 to $29,805) in tests.
Both hybrids boast rock-solid reliability, but the 50-mpg Prius hatchback delivers better gas mileage, stronger brakes, a nicer cabin and more cargo space than the 44-mpg Civic Hybrid sedan for about the same price.
In fact, one major source is so dissatisfied with the redesign that editors no longer recommend the Honda Civic Hybrid. The Prius is the top hybrid pick there -- and just about everywhere else.
Outside, the hybrid looks just like the regular four-door Honda Civic sedan. Autoblog.com finds it "rather bland," but critics largely have no problem with the play-it-safe styling.
"The hybrid's new nose sports a grille with horizontal bars, chrome bling and blue trim to show that the planet is being saved," says Alex Dykes at TheTruthAboutCars.com. "Other than that -- and a hybrid badge on the back -- "there are no visual clues to the Civic's powertrain."
Inside, though, several sources complain that the cabin in the redesigned 2012 Civic (including the hybrid) feels cheap. Edmunds.com blames "the extensive use of low-budget hard plastics," and another source cites a "cheap headliner," plus gappy, misaligned panels.
Four average-sized people will feel comfortable in the Civic Hybrid, testers say -- although a fifth person would feel squeezed. The trunk's small, though (10.7 cubic feet), thanks to the hybrid battery stuck behind the rear seats -- and the seats don't fold. By contrast, the Toyota Prius hatchback packs 21.6 cubic feet of luggage space behind its rear seats, which fold to open up a nearly 40-cubic-foot cargo bay.
The redesigned Civic (and hybrid) keeps the two-tier dashboard from before. The speedometer, fuel gauge and mpg readout sit up high, so you don't have to look far off the road to check them. Lower down, the tachometer and warning lights nestle behind the steering wheel. Some testers get irritated with the setup, but others don't mind.
The Civic Hybrid comes with cloth seats, automatic climate control, voice control for Bluetooth devices, cruise control, automatic headlights, a CD stereo with steering wheel-mounted controls, auxiliary jack, USB interface, speed-sensitive volume control and more. A color display for secondary information tells you whether you're running mostly on gas or electricity, how efficiently you're driving and more. Heated leather seats, navigation and other options come in packages.
One major source no longer recommends the Honda Civic Hybrid, irritated with the 2012 model's "sloppy" handling, "choppy" ride and "disconcertingly long" braking distances.
Edmunds Inside Line's Mike Magrath notices the same problem with the Civic Hybrid's regenerative brakes. They take 137 feet to brake from 60 mph -- barely beating a heavy-duty Dodge Ram Power Wagon pickup truck, Magrath points out. "Blame rear drums. Blame low-rolling-resistance Bridgestone Ecopia EP20 tires. Blame whom or whatever you want, the effect is a braking system that instills no driver confidence." The Prius takes 13 feet less -- almost a full car length -- to brake to a stop in the same test.
But the Civic Hybrid's ride quality impresses editors at Inside Line. "It's an enviably good mix of damping and spring rates that results in a ride that isn't floaty or harsh," Magrath says. "It's good enough that every editor who had it came back with pretty much the same impression: 'Dude, the ride.'" It's loud, though. Several sources complain about the racket, including Magrath: "From wind noise to tire noise to the crude stutter of the engine firing back to life, there's little peace found inside the Civic."
As for handling, it earns the Civic Hybrid some demerits in an Autoblog.com test, with "the tires screaming around swooping turns." TheTruthAboutCars.com's Alex Dykes agrees: "When the going gets twisty, the low rolling resistance tires howl and give up early and extend braking distances significantly. Still, road holding isn't what hybrids are about. Fuel economy is the name of this game."
The 2012 Civic Hybrid marries a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine to an electric motor and continuously variable transmission (CVT). The setup's good for 110 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. It gets from zero to 60 mph in 10.1 seconds in Edmunds.com's test -- about the same as a Prius.
At an EPA-estimated 44 mpg -- everywhere -- the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid gets the best gas mileage of any hybrid except for the 50-mpg Toyota Prius and 2012 Toyota Prius c (Base MSRP: $18,950 to $23,230). It's up 3 mpg from last year's Civic Hybrid.
On real-life roads in our other sources' tests, mileage varies from about 39 mpg to 43 mpg overall.
EPA Fuel Economy Estimates
The 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid earns nearly perfect crash ratings. It comes equipped with the usual standard safety features: antilock brakes, traction and stability control and front, front-side and curtain airbags.
Reliability should be very good, a leading testing organization predicts. The 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid carries three-year/36,000-mile basic and five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranties, plus eight years/100,000 miles for the hybrid component.
NHTSA Safety Ratings
IIHS Safety Ratings
Editors here test the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid's acceleration, braking, fuel economy, accident avoidance and more. They also rate its interior comfort, and they survey owners to judge reliability and owner satisfaction before ranking it against dozens of other small cars.
Review: Honda Civic Hybrid, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
Alex Dykes covers just about everything in this week-long, 889-mile test of the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid -- hybrid performance, braking, comfort, quality and, of course, fuel economy. Its biggest drawback in the marketplace may be its price tag, he says: It costs about as much as the more fuel-efficient Toyota Prius, and more than the Honda Insight.
Review: Review: 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Alex L. Dykes, May 19, 2012
Although it gets a 3-mpg fuel economy boost for 2012, the Honda Civic Hybrid suffers from a small trunk -- and the same cheap-feeling plastics as other Civic models. It's not a top recommended hybrid here.
Review: 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Editors of Edmunds.com, Updated May 31, 2011
4. Edmunds Inside Line
A stuttering powertrain drags down the Honda Civic Hybrid in this faceoff against the 2011 Prius (largely unchanged for 2012). The Prius also offers slightly better real-world fuel economy, stronger brakes and a roomier package.
Review: Comparison Test: 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid vs. 2011 Toyota Prius Five, Mike Magrath, Aug. 29, 2011
Oddly, the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid's city gas mileage lags behind the gas-powered Chevy Cruze Eco and diesel Volkswagen Jetta TDI. It's the most efficient on the highway, but it "struggles to keep up" both on the freeway and in curves. The more fun-to-drive Chevy wins the contest.
Review: Honda Civic Hybrid Takes on Chevrolet Cruze Eco and Volkswagen Jetta TDI, Steven J. Ewing, July 6, 2011
The 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid earns the highest 5-star overall government crash rating. It scores 5 stars in front and side crash tests, with 4 stars for rollover resistance.
Review: 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
The Honda Civic sedan (including the hybrid) aces all of IIHS's crash tests -- front, side, rear and roof strength -- making it a 2012 Top Safety Pick.
Review: Honda Civic 4-door, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
At 44 mpg overall, the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid ranks as the third most-efficient hybrid in the U.S., behind the 50-mpg Toyota Prius and Prius c.
Review: 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, Environmental Protection Agency