2013 Honda Civic Hybrid

Even after Honda's Great Emergency Refresh of 2013, it still takes a sharp eye to spot the visual differences between the 2013 Honda Civic and its 2012 counterpart. While annual styling changes used to be commonplace back in the 1950s and '60s, this has become a much rarer practice in the industry due to the high costs of doing so, and sets the tone for just how important the Civic is in the Honda lineup.

One thing that hasn't changed for the Civic is the wide selection of models available including the fuel-efficient HF, Natural Gas and Hybrid models. For this Quick Spin, I spent a week with the 2013 Civic Hybrid, which has always been a kind of un-Prius with its more-conventional sedan styling. The Civic's top-mpg offering now finds itself under fire from newer rivals like the Chevy Cruze (Eco and Diesel) and VW Jetta (TDI and Hybrid). With the growing number of hybrids, diesels and high-fuel-economy gas models car buyers currently have at their disposal, if you've been clamoring for more fuel-efficient cars in recent years, now's the time to be putting your money where your mouth is.

Driving Notes:
  • The only part of the 2013 Civic Hybrid that was left alone, was the one area it could have used a little modernization: Honda's Integrated Motor Assist system. On the fuel economy front, sandwiching the 27-horsepower motor between the 110-hp 1.5-liter engine and the CVT returns EPA estimates of 44 miles per gallon for city and highway, which is far better than the mild-hybrid eAssist system used by General Motors but not as advanced as other hybrids in this segment. Unlike eAssist, Honda says that the motor can send power directly to the front wheels (but only during deceleration as a way to lessen the load on the engine), but unlike a more advanced hybrid, the Civic can't accelerate under all-electric power. Honda stepped up its game with a new lithium-ion battery for 2012, but it needs to come up with an equally advanced answer for the rest of the system.
  • The advantage of IMA, though, is a less intrusive hybrid experience. Except for the stop-start system, the only way most drivers will really know this is a hybrid is by how much better it is at the pump. During my week with the car, I was pleasantly surprised at how the Civic never 'felt' like a hybrid but returned excellent fuel economy. Based on the in-cluster estimates I averaged just over 40 mpg on the highway, and in the city my numbers were consistently above the official 44-mpg rating.
  • Aside from the powertrain, Honda made numerous small improvements that paid off big time with the styling of the 2013 Civic sedan lineup. The exterior received new fascias, taillights and a modified decklid to give all sedan models a more mature appearance, and the Civic Hybrid probably comes off as the most stylish of the Civic models now with its grinning chrome grille, LED running lights and the clear-lens, light-pipe taillights.
  • Interior updates were equally subtle but make a huge difference in terms of comfort and style, such as the added padding to the door panels for added comfort, the reworked instrument panel with a cleaner, less awkward design and much better HVAC controls. Despite being a big step up from 2012, the 2013 Civic's interior is still a step behind class leaders (in roominess and styling). All of these interior and exterior changes were most likely already in the product pipeline as a midcycle refresh, so it will be interesting to see how Honda updates this design in another couple years.
  • Starting at $24,360, the Civic Hybrid has about the same premium as most hybrids or diesels in this class, but my fully loaded tester with navigation and leather came out to $27,850. This is still a reasonable price for such a well-equipped car in this market, but for dedicated green-car enthusiasts, it might be a little too close to new plug-in or full-EV models to warrant the price.
  • Considering that a Civic Hybrid buyer could have just as easily bought a Civic Si, I'm not going to harp on the Hybrid too much, but the 110-hp engine and the equally buzz-killing CVT don't make for an exciting car. Still, going back to the IMA, the true saving grace of this system is that it doesn't add too much weight. At 2,879 pounds, the Civic Hybrid weighs almost the same as the non-hybrid Civic EX-L. In terms of braking, the weight saving means better performance along with pedal feel that is neither too spongy or frightening.
  • A new feature for 2013 is a lane departure warning system that uses a forward-mounted camera to sense the road lines and flash a bright warning on the upper screen if the car swerves out of its lane. Unfortunately, this camera takes up an unusually vast amount of windshield real estate, which was obvious as I was pulling out into traffic on more than one occasion.
  • When it comes to the idea of small, fuel-efficient cars, I've always been in the diesel camp, but I also enjoy taking long road trips. Those with regular city commutes should appreciate Civic Hybrid as much for what it brings to the table (excellent fuel economy) as for what it leaves behind (an overly flashy "I'm a hybrid" design). There is no doubt that this refresh has bought the Civic some time to keep pace with other compact cars, but I think that as much that has changed in this segment in the last few years, Honda isn't going to have much breathing room in this segment until the next-gen Civic can get here.