Honda Civic e:HEV Just As Frugal On Highway Drives

By Lee Pang Seng

THE strength of a hybrid vehicle is in its excellent fuel frugal ways in urban driving due to electric power being applied most of the time. This urban aspect is fully proven and if this could be applied to long distance drives as well, the hybrid advantage would be fully complete.

Well, we learnt recently that the latter could be achieved and it was all a matter of driving prudently and patiently. This experience was gained in the Honda Civic e:HEV RS media drive from KL to Malacca recently, during which we were challenged to achieve the best possible mileage.

We had to cover the 160km-plus distance in 150 minutes (or two-and-a-half hours) and that means we couldn’t drive too slow. The tip given was to drive at an average speed of 70km/h and we managed about 70-80km/h for about two-thirds of the distance. To make sure we could reach our Malacca destination within the stipulated time, we stepped up the speed to 100-110km/h in the final leg.

When we started, the Civic’s average mileage recorder was reset to zero so that the computed mileage would reflect what we were achieving on the go. We resolved to do the entire run with the air-conditioner on as we felt this would be a realistic scenario, rather than switch it off and on as per traffic condition. We also chose Econ mode so that engine operation could be optimised to provide the optimum average fuel mileage.

We achieved a high average mileage of 29.1km/l at the midway point but retaining the mileage at that level was a challenge. We tried to maintain a 28km/l average and eventually settled for 27.8km/l at the finish point. Average speed over the distance was above 75km/h.
However, a more realistic average mileage is about 15km/l, which we achieved on the drive back to KL from Desaru. This took into consideration driving on mostly wet roads and heavy traffic along several sections of the highway, forcing us to a standstill at some points and do stop-start driving.

That mileage is still good given that the Civic e:HEV has a 2.0-litre Atkinson engine and this fuel return was comparable to cars with smaller displacement power units such as the common 1.5-litre range in the Malaysian market. Honda says the Civic e:HEV would return 4L/100km or 25km/l, which should be easily achieved in urban driving when electric power is mostly used.

To understand why we are so impressed with the Civic e:HEV’s fuel frugal ways, let us explain how the Honda hybrid system works. Developed from its i-MMD (intelligent multi-mode drive) technology, the engine is no longer the main power source driving the car unlike the hybrid system generally applied by other car brands.

Instead, the engine is used to charge the battery when it becomes depleted so that electricity is continuously supplied to the electric motor that drives the car. That is why the Honda e;HEV models, which include the City, City Hatchback, HR-V and Civic, are closer to electric vehicles (EVs) in operation than other hybrids.

In that respect, the power output of the electric motor that drives the car is more relevant than that of the Atkinson engine used. It is rated at 135kW (184PS) at 5000-6000rpm and 315Nm torque from 0-2000rpm. The 2.0-litre Atkinson Cycle delivers 105kW (143PS) at 6000rpm and 189Nm torque at 4500rpm.

The electric motor or engine would lock directly to the differentials to drive the front wheels via what Honda calls an e-CVT or electric Continuous Variable Transmission. However, there are no steering wheel paddle shifts like the Civic Turbo. Instead, there is a paddle shift to adjust the regenerative operation to charge the battery on deceleration. This feature is similar to that in EVs as the regenerative function could be adjusted higher or lower; you would feel less of this regenerative function while decelerating with the former but a higher road speed retardation with the latter.

The Atkinson engine (four-cylinder 16-valve DOHC 1993cc) takes over in driving the car at cruising speed. As the battery is not charged when cruising, it would run out of electricity to feed the electric motor that powers the car. But strong electric power came into play again when we put our foot down on the accelerator to pass a slower vehicle. This is because as the engine is driving the car, it is also charging the battery.

What made us an even greater fan of the Civic e:HEV is the lack of engine whine when it revs up to charge the battery. This engine whine was all too obvious in the HR-V e:HEV, which has a 1.5-litre Atkinson engine, and took some getting used to. Honda muted that in the Civic e:HEV and it accelerated as quietly as an EV would.

With the use of electronic systems, Honda provided a Sport mode for robust driving. We loved the sporty engine note as it revved up for each electronically stepped-up gear so much so that we could imagine driving the Civic Turbo. In fact, the Civic e:HEV is a faster car off the line to 100km/h at 7.9 seconds against the Civic Turbo’s 8.3. It, however, has a lower claimed top speed of 180km/h against the Turbo’s 200km/h.

The sporty audible aspect would have been complete if not for the puny sounding horn. A weak beep instead of a more full-blooded toot when we pressed the horn button certainly deflated our ego somewhat during our robust drives.

In all other aspect, the Civic e;HEV met expectations nicely. We were confident driving it in the wet, through fast sweepers and tight corners. It is independently sprung all round with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear. The tyres fitted to this Civic Hybrid are 235/40 ZR18 Michelin Pilot Sport, similar to that in the Civic Turbo. The Electric Power Steering also gave positive directional feedback for us to drive through corners with confidence.

The tyres, however, were rather ‘sensitive’ to the varying road surfaces as they generated different level of noises accordingly. You could tell which road surface was the better one when road roar fell substantially but rose woefully when running on not-so-good road surfaces. This was the only audible factor to the generally quiet drive.

We also enjoyed ourselves as passengers, more so at the rear. The longer wheelbase of 2735mm over the previous Civic model provided better interior dimensions. That meant we had more leg room as well as head room to travel in good comfort. The seat bench was a little short on thigh support but we didn’t experience tired legs during the journey.

The suspension also soaked up road impacts well when going over potholes, rough surfaces and road undulations. This was more critically assessed as a rear passenger and the good ride comfort was fully enjoyed.

Honda customers are already giving the thumbs-up to the respective e;HEV models, going by the response in 2022. Honda Malaysia MD and CEO Hironobu Yoshimura says that the City e’HEV RS contributed five per cent to its overall sale volume, the City Hatchback e:HEV RS contributed eight per cent and the HR-V e:HEV RS 11 per cent. As for the Civic e;HEV RS, 390 cars were delivered by end-February (it was launched in October 2022).

The Civic e:HEV RS is priced at RM166,500 on the road without insurance and it feels definitely good value for what it could deliver. We won’t be surprised if it contributed a good percentage to overall Civic sales for 2023.

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