Northern Getaway with the Honda Civic Hybrid

Northern Getaway with the Honda Civic Hybrid image

Text: Raymond D. Young / Photos: Raymond D. Young | posted July 05, 2006 11:26

A glimpse of what the Honda Civic Hybrid could offer

A mere mention of a travel up north the Ilocos Region is enough for one to be truly excited and anxious. And why would one not? Aside from the very good roads that lead to the north, a side trip to one of the country's pristine beaches and historical landmarks guarantees a very fulfilling and fun experience.

Really, a unique trip would even be more memorable if a new kid on the block rode shotgun together with the old timers. This new kid, even though the place is new, would still have the energy and enthusiasm to proceed with the trip even though the destination is alien territory. In other words, he or she just keeps on going and going and going. The previous statement is probably how I would describe the Honda Civic Hybrid. Hybrid cars, as the name suggests, combine the advantages of a gasoline engine and an electric motor, which, when used solely, would either have an impact either on the vehicle's price or on the vehicle's operating costs, or even both. In the case of a sole gasoline engine powering the vehicle, given the current trend in fuel prices, operating costs is higher. Whereas, if an electric motor is only used, batteries should be made up of very exotic materials in order to store large amounts of electric current for extended periods of time. This, in turn, will shoot the car's production cost high, thereby making the vehicle expensive to own. Owing also to the fact that a sudden change from gasoline to electric-powered is not economically feasible in most countries around the world, Honda has decided to develop a vehicle powered both by a conventional gasoline engine and an electric motor.

Honda's first attempt in developing Hybrid cars was with the Insight years back. As its moniker suggests, the Insight provided an insight of what would be the hybrid cars' role in future motoring. Coupled with an aerodynamically-conscious body, it was powered by a small engine that is coupled to an electric motor. The motor, aptly dubbed as Integrated Motor Assist (IMA), provides electric power only as determined necessary by the onboard computer. And this is carried over to the Civic Hybrid, the star of our trip up north. Discussing further on this Neutron Blue wonder, this new hybrid iteration is now powered by a conventional 1.3 liter engine that is loaded with pioneering Honda technologies, which is then coupled to a thin electric motor at the crankshaft. The engine, in a conscious effort to reduce fuel consumption, is loaded with Honda's engine technologies such as the three-stage i-VTEC and i-DSI. The former continuously shifts valve timing at any point in the power band, thereby maximizing fuel utilization, while the latter employs two spark plugs, firing in succession, as determined by the engine computer, to ensure complete combustion of the air and fuel mixture. It is indeed a very good move for Honda to combine these technologies. i-VTEC or i-DSi alone suffices to achieve optimum fuel economy in most driving conditions, what more if these two are combined' Likewise, the electric motor dubbed as the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) comes to the scene only when needed, like during overtaking sprints or spirited, high speed driving. Call it an electric supercharger if you may, for the IMA has a brain that's so intelligent that it won't power up in instances when you don't really need it. The motor's battery, on the other hand, is being charged during deceleration or braking, or what is called in the automotive industry as regenerative braking. If all other cars put to waste the heat generated by braking, the Civic Hybrid picks them up and converts them to usable power, that is, to charge its battery. So the need to stop and charge is eliminated. During stop and go traffic, the hybrid's Auto Stop feature turns the engine in "off" mode, meaning no gasoline is used, increasing fuel economy even more. So what about the ancillaries like air conditioning, how are they kept on' This is the IMA battery's additional role, to keep the car's devices powered even when the engine is off. Upon release of the brake pedal however, the engine comes to life and ready to provide power upon stepping on the throttle. This intelligent tandem of a gasoline engine and an electric motor is then coupled up to another technology, this time transmission-wise. Dubbed as CVT or Continuously Variable Transmission, this unique transmission employs cones instead of traditional cog-shaped gears that vary in gear ratio depending on inputs such as engine and vehicle speed. With these technologies onboard the Hybrid, a seamless, exciting, and a fuel-efficient drive is indeed guaranteed.

Going back to our Northern trip, I was given the opportunity to drive the Euro-Spec Civic Hybrid from our base hotel in Laoag towards the photo shoot site in the Bangui Windmills, more or less a 100 kilometer drive. The drive was so rewarding, as I am now experiencing the technology that I am just reading days back. True enough, the electric motor kicks in only when needed and nothing more, nothing less. A gauge shows the level of assist the electric motor is providing. When decelerating or braking, a charge bar shows the level of current being sent to the battery in order to charge it. Another gauge similar to what's in mobile phones shows the charge level of the battery. Cruise control is likewise onboard, as well as VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist), which inspired me to tackle the roads leading to our destination more confidently. Unlike other hybrid cars which are stereotyped as slow cruisers, the Civic Hybrid can very well keep up with its gasoline counterparts, even above 100 km/h. Thanks to the lightweight gasoline and electric engine configuration, thereby decreasing curb weight even more, steering is more than remarkable. It is sharper, well weighted, and is ready for spirited driving anytime. This hybrid is very, very tossable at corners.

Other technologies worth the mention are on board the Civic Hybrid. Aside from Drive-By-Wire technology, which eliminates the need to use a throttle cable, the Civic Hybrid also uses a Brake-By-Wire system, which eliminates the use of a mechanical, hydraulic brake booster. This braking system, used with other technologies such as EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution) , BA (Brake Assist) and ABS (Anti-Lock Brake System), provides safe, sure-footed braking every time. The computerized braking system also enables the Hybrid to retrieve lost energy during braking more proactively.

And what's the fuel consumption of this thing, one may ask? The overall fuel consumption of the Civic Hybrid as it traveled from Pangasinan to Laoag yielded around 24.32 kilometers to a liter, figures that are definitely Honda Jazz/City territory. This is indeed solid proof that the gasoline/electric engine setup works, with fuel efficiency figures increasing by as much as 50% compared to conventionally-powered cars of the same size. So, if a typical gasoline-powered vehicle enables one to travel 400 km on one full tank, the Civic Hybrid can and will exceed that figure. For me, this is cutting-edge technology at work. The technology that blends seamlessly on one's lifestyle, without additional adjustments on the user's part, is one technology that is the most worthwhile and beneficial to keep even in the long run.