I’ve been spending the week with a Honda Civic IMA Hybrid, and it’s been a fascinating experience so far. Firstly, though, I have to say that those who say that cars lack technical diversity these days are talking through their hat – because the IMA (like the much-hyped Toyota Prius) offers some interesting solutions to the all-important matter of saving fuel. There have been plenty of AROnline correspondents who’ve vented their spleens about the ‘hybrid con’, but I’ve always kept pretty quiet, deciding not make an opinion until I’ve actually driven one.
Down to brass tacks. The Civic IMA’s twin-plugged 1.4-litre i-VTEC engine is mated to a 20bhp electric motor, which acts like a dynamo under braking and provides motive force at trickling speed, as well as boosting power under full bore acceleration. It also drives through a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which motoring pundits since time immemorial have told us is the transmission of the future.
With all that hardware aboard, it must be fantastically economical, I hear you say… well, er, on my mixed commute, so far, it’s averaging 58mpg – a figure that would be easily matched by a similarly sized common rail diesel and, in fact, the Ford Focus ECOnetic I had a couple of weeks ago actually nudged that slightly. To be fair, though, the Honda’s not actually a bad drive – and it usually feels like it has more than 1.4-litres under the bonnet. Government figures indicate a mixed consumption figure of 61.4mpg and 109g/km emissions, but I would suspect that the average user would struggle like Billy-o to match those.
So, is it all a big con? Well, as the solution to our environmental concerns, the answer has to be yes. After all, it’s no more parsimonious or clean than the best similarly priced TDs and, in terms of performance, rarely do you feel the benefits of the electrical assistance. With a heftier motor putting out more power, perhaps, but then that (relatively for a new car) low kerb weight of 1297kg would be smashed to pieces. The CVT is also a talking point and may indeed be the transmission of the future – but it does take time to adjust and the notion that you’re driving a car with a slipping clutch (something I’m used to with my heaps) takes an awful long time to subside.
However, on my regular commute, I can’t really see the benefit though. I never halt long enough for the stop/start system to have an effect – but, having said that, city dwellers might really have a reason to own one.
Are hybrids the saviour of the petrol engined car? Do me a favour. And clean? Nah… What happens when those batteries pack up?