Latest Civic Hybrid Sets New Benchmark

By Lee Pang Seng

Hybrid vehicles are no longer boring to drive if Honda has its way. The latest Civic hybrid has certainly set a new benchmark in that direction and this was fully recognised in the UK with an award recently.

Our recent drive impression with the latest HR-V hybrid, especially during the drive up to Genting Highlands, had already changed our perspective of hybrid driving for the better. This was followed up with the drive at the Sepang International Circuit in the new Civic hybrid that virtually won us over on hybrid driving.

Now, in addition to good fuel mileage in urban centres, the latest Civic hybrid or Civic e:HEV (with top RS specification in Malaysia) would give its turbo brethren a good run for the money in standing acceleration and handling dynamics, while winning hands down on frugal fuel consumption.

Previously, customers were sceptical about a hybrid’s (as well as EVs – electric vehicles) performance beyond the strong initial acceleration. The powerful torque that is applied immediately on taking off is what gives the vehicle this super quick initial acceleration. However, this quick acceleration is not sustained after that and a non-hybrid would soon pass it before the hybrid hits 100km/h.

Well, the Civic e:HEV RS hybrid has definitely put that to rest as it won all the 0-100km/h acceleration runs that Honda Malaysia arranged for the media at the Sepang International Circuit. The Civic hybrid was put to the test against its Civic turbo brethren, which is certainly a rival very much to be respected.

We used a GPS acceleration app on our handphone to clock our acceleration times in the respective cars. Not only did we take off faster in the Civic hybrid and stayed ahead of the Civic turbo till 100km/h, the times that we clocked confirmed that the hybrid was quicker all the way. The difference might not be much – 8.7 seconds in 0-100km/h for the hybrid and 9.0 seconds for the turbo – but it was good enough to stay ahead.

The best part was that during hard acceleration, there was no engine whine that we heard in the HR-V e:HEV RS. It was just like driving a conventional engine-powered car (in this case, the Civic turbo) except that it was quieter (which we noted while watching other media people do the acceleration runs).

Stronger electric motor, bigger displacement engine

The difference between the Civic e:HEV RS hybrid against the hybrid models in the HR-V, Jazz and City is the bigger displacement Atkinson Cycle engine. The new Civic hybrid comes with a 2.0-litre engine against 1.5-litre for the other two. Engine displacement aside, it must be noted that the primary drive of the car is fully electric in urban conditions.

To achieve that, Honda has given the new Civic hybrid two powerful and compact electric motors that deliver 134kW (184PS) and a whopping torque of 315Nm to drive the front wheels directly. By comparison, the electric motor in the HR-V puts out 96kW (131PS) and 253Nm.

A bigger displacement engine helps to efficiently charge the ‘power-dense’ 1kW lithium-ion battery located under the seats at the rear to constantly supply electric power to the electric motor and operate all the electric systems in the car. You could say this new Civic hybrid is more of an electric car than before when driven in urban conditions.

The engine only supplies the driven power (also directly to the front wheels) on highway driving. Going by our HR-V hybrid highway motoring experience, the engine also charges the battery should it fall below a certain level so that it continues to supply power to operate the car’s various electric systems, many of which are active safety systems.

The Atkinson Cycle engine is chosen because it works more efficiently and is sparing on fuel consumption. Honda says it is a newly-developed 2.0-litre unit that achieves an ‘industrybest equalling’ 41-per cent thermal efficiency and features a direct injection system optimised for faster and more efficient combustion and greater torque output. Other technologies include a low temperature active catalyst and a modified design on the intake port that helps contribute to improved fuel economy while achieving a specific output. Its power output is rated at 105kW (143PS) and 189Nm, and the car’s combined fuel economy is given as 4/7L/100km (21.2km/l).

Honda adds that this superior efficiency and energy management is achieved through the application of innovative new technologies. One of them is the latest version of Honda’s Intelligent Power Unit (IPU); it is 23mm flatter with a higher cell count of 72 the largest fitted to any of the current Honda e:HEV range. The slimline IPU sits under the rear seats, maximising interior space and usability.

A new Power Control Unit (PCU), located under the bonnet, enables the faster charge and discharge of electricity, contributing a further 12-percent  increase in power output over previous e:HEV applications. The increase in power density and output of the PCU increases electrical output, allowing EV drive to take more of the load, and is handled by new aluminium-core high-voltage wiring. Honda says the aluminium wiring contributes to 40 per cent of weight reduction compared to conventional copper wiring.
As an evolvement of the i-MMD (intelligent multi-mode drive) architecture, the advanced powertrain is said to shift seamlessly between EV, hybrid and engine drive with no input from the driver (which we had already experienced in the HR-V e:HEV RS Kuantan drive). Four drive modes – Eco, Normal, Sport and a new Individual mode - could be selected to tailor the vehicle’s response in the area of powertrain, steering and display.

Lowering noise and vibration is another step forward. Here Honda says a secondary balancer  shaft and high rigidity crankshalf in the internal combustion engine ensure smooth running, while unwanted engine noise is countered through the increased application of insulation on the intake manifold and engine cover. There is also the Active Noise Control  (ANC) to further limit any noises that could resonate into the cabin.

Civic hybrid handles better too

Good acceleration wasn’t the only highlight that the Civic hybrid has over the turbo version; it handles better too. To let us experience that for ourself, Honda Malaysia laid out a course at the SIC over which we could directly compare the two Civic models in the dynamics department.

We had already confirmed the good dynamic qualities of the Civic turbo during earlier drives but to be told that the Civic hybrid’s handling was better needed some convincing. The course set in place started with a slalom course, a short acceleration run and two fast corners with different camber and curvature.

We started with the Civic turbo to reaffirm our earlier experience and we were not disappointed as the car lived up to what we had expected of it. The Civic turbo took the slalom course at about 55km/h, accelerated well and took to the corners at good speeds of up to 90-100km/h (although we were asked to take it at 80km/h).

Hopping into the Civic e:HEV hybrid, our scepticism was soon swept away. The immediate torque delivery had the car picking up speed quickly so much so we had to check ourselves when it came to the slalom. We found the Civic hybrid more confident to pilot through the slalom course at a slightly higher speed (60km/h) without losing control.

The Sepang track surface was a little damp as it had rained earlier that morning and were we surprise during the short acceleration run. The front wheels actually spun on take-off and spun again when it upshifted to ‘second gear’; we didn’t experience this in the Civic turbo at all! That demonstrated the high electrical torque being transferred onto the slippery road surface.

As we accelerated towards the two corners that flowed in succession (we had cones to guide us on the best cornering lines to take), we approached the corners at a higher speed of above 100km/h. But with the Civic hybrid’s stable handling dynamics, we didn’t need to ease off the accelerator much to take the corners. The tyres were beginning to squeal a bit though.

Apparently, the Civic hybrid’s suspension – MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear – was tuned to accommodate its engine-electric power structure. By doing so, its centre of gravity is lower than that of the Civic turbo and that helps improve its handling stability.

Overall, Honda says this cornering stability and overall input response is improved with increased body rigidity in the 11th generation Civic in general, along with the use of low friction ball joints and revised front dampers.

For the Civic hybrid, a new control logic called ‘winding control’ is said to ensure that the engine’s operation is maintained during cornering on twisty and winding roads. Honda says that this enables the car to deliver instant acceleration and provide a ‘truly dynamic sensation’ when accelerating.

After this Civic comparison drive in Sepang, our perception of hybrid cars had indeed change totally. We were already impressed with the HR-V e:HEV RS but after this Civic e:HEV experience, we are fully convinced that Honda hybrid motoring is indeed the way to go. And in top RS trim, the Civic hybrid won’t be short of equipment and features. Yes, with Honda, you could have your cake and eat it with gusto too!