Honda Civic Hybrid

MSRP: $22,600

Engine: 1.3 liter, 8-valve SOHC, Inline 4-cylinder i-VTEC

Horsepower: 110 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 123 lb-ft @ 1,000 to 2,500

Motor: Permanent magnet motor

MPG (city/highway): 49/51

Performance - 16/20

Just because a car is fuel-efficient and emission-safe doesn't mean it should double as a snail on the road. Unfortunately, the Honda Civic Hybrid is a snail. The small 1.3-liter engine has little to give and merging into highway traffic can be difficult. Unlike the Prius that had that nice little kick to it, the Civic just seemed heavier and not as spirited when accelerating.

Also, the Civic boasted the same CVT as the Prius -- holding revs steadily as the speed continued to rise. While it makes the ride smooth, it is something that takes some time to adjust to.

For its lack of spirit and strange transmission, the Civic lost some performance points, but the Hybrid makes up for its sluggish behavior with its impressive miles-per-gallon rating, which is noticeably better than the Prius'.

Exterior Design - 16/20

Through the years, Honda has put the Civic under the knife many times. From face lifts to lyposuction, this sedan has had it all. Finally, this sedan reached the pinnacle of vehicular beauty (as far as the Honda Civic is concerned) with its 2006 design.

This time around, Honda has designed a Civic that is noticeable and memorable without over doing it in the least -- Toyota should take notes.

From the aggressive front nose to the seemingly raised and stylishly angular back end, the Civic Hybrid is something to behold. The lines of the car are strikingly seductive and the car has an air of speed about it, which will be dismissed once driven.

If this design is any indication of what Honda has in store for the future, they're definitely on the right track and headed straight for stardom.

Interior Design - 8/10

The futuristic, modern feel of the exterior design flows nicely into the Hybrid's interior. The dash is nearly traditional and yet it's upgraded in such a way that it'll make you stop in awe. The two-tiered, digital read-out speedometer is perhaps the coolest feature and the blue dash lights are just fantastic.

Everything about the dash and middle console is high-tech and forward-thinking in design and functionality. Even the steering wheel has an artsy, modern look to it, yet maintains that gadget-like feel with multiple buttons to keep everything at your fingertips. The bolstered seats and sleek interior doors complete the modern ensemble.

Where the Hybrid loses a few crucial points is the overall size of the dash. When sitting in the driver's seat of the Hybrid, it is like looking out the windshield of a minivan. The dash just goes on and on. What a waste of space. True, the double-decker dash display takes up a lot of room, but was it necessary to stretch it out that far? It's not all about length, you know.

Sound System/Goodies - 5/10

Honda always lacks in this area. It's almost as if they know their cars are one of the top vehicles to modify.

The base sound system is ordinary and lacking in depth, which can be corrected with optional speakers, an eight-disc CD changer, Honda Music Link (for iPod connectivity), and XM Satellite Radio -- all for around $1,700.

Overall, Honda doesn't have any other exciting extras to offer their consumers -- save for the navigational package that doesn't even offer Bluetooth cell phone integration.

Drive Experience - 15/20

Once again, the lack of power that comes with driving a hybrid has caused this vehicle to lose valuable points in driving experience. Overall, the feel of the Civic Hybrid is great; it handles well in traffic, the suspension is good and the steering is responsive. The interior -- which is nearly saturated with technology and funky designs -- also makes for a pleasant driving experience.

Unfortunately, the CVT rears its ugly head again in this hybrid and causes some discomfort; however, the added fuel efficiency given by this transmission should make up for its apparent strangeness.

Also, the switch from gas to electric is completely flawless. The only indication that the Hybrid is no longer running on gas is a light on the dash indicating the transition has been made. While this light is quite informative and great to have, it also conjures up thoughts of engine trouble each time it flashes and it takes some getting used to.

Bang for Buck - 17/20

Overall, the Honda Civic Hybrid is a nice little package. This sedan lets you save the planet while still fitting in with the masses thanks to its flashy yet nondescript, sedan-like exterior. Honda has had a good thing going with the Civic for years, and the Hybrid is an excellent addition to the family. Brand recognition alone is enough to get the Hybrid to the top, but its styling and engineering will definitely help it along the way. The Civic Hybrid is definitely a force to be reckoned with and worth the money for a great-looking, environmentally friendly ride.

Overall Score - 77/100

Honda did a great job creating a green-conscious vehicle that isn't so drastically different in design and engineering that it would scare away the average consumer. They definitely deserve a gold star for their exterior design, but lost some serious points with their lack of goodies and the sound system. Honda is continuously lacking in this department and they should take this B+ grade as a sign that something should be done.

and the winner is ...

Trends may come and go, and while some are best left forgotten, others are definitely worth maintaining and improving upon -- like the hybrid vehicle. The technology is evolving, changing and improving each year, and Toyota better be ready for it.

Being the first model out there gained the Prius some serious recognition and a band of loyal followers, but other manufacturers are quickly catching on and using the latest technological advances in hybrid engineering to their advantage.

Honda has done just that, and created a formidable opponent to the Prius -- and while both are similar in engineering, their personalities might just be what sells it for you. So get behind the wheel and save the planet while you're at it.

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Read About Fuel-Efficient Cars:

- Hybrid SUV Roundup