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Old 10 Dec 2004, 03:10 pm
billnech@msn.com
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Default Hybrid Civic

The other day, I had an opportunity to drive a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid
from Albany, NY to Watertown, NY and back...about 360 miles total. My
personal car is a 1998 Honda Civic sedan, so the cars were quite
similar in size and feel. This is the first time that I have ever had
an extended ride in a hybrid, and the first time I have driven one,
with the exception of a quick run around the block in a friend's new
Toyota Prius.

The Civic hybrid is identical inside to the standard Civic sedan. In
other words, for a compact car, it offers substantial comfort and room,
including more legroom in the back seat than many mid or full sized
cars. The trunk remains fairly roomy, though some of the space is taken
up by the hybrid battery pack.


The car accelerates wonderfully with the battery assist...much better
than my conventional Civic, which in turn accelerates well. There is no
hesitation, slowing or increased RPM on upgrades, as the battery
assists kicks in to maintain speed without taxing the engine. In local
traffic, the car shuts off while stopped and then accelerates instantly
with the battery assist when you hit the gas. In short, it was a
pleasure to drive, with Honda's wonderful handling along with excellent
acceleration.


On the dashboard, there is a gage that deals with the hybrid details.
It indicates the level of battery charge and indicates whether and how
much the battery is charging or assisting. The latter is with an
electronic dial that swings one way then the other...fascinating to
watch. There is also a toggle between two different trip mileage
settings and the car's odometer. You can reset either trip mileage
setting at any time and the car will compute the average miles per
gallon since the reset.

The car is advertised to get about 48 miles per gallon. The trip
mileage calculator started low as the car took a little time to charge
up the battery, and then took off. While on the Thruway to Utica, it
told me that I was averaging about 38 miles per gallon. While on the
slower Route 12 to Watertown, the average eventually went up to 41
miles per gallon. It does better at lower speeds than at 70, and
better still in stop and go traffic.

But I wonder about a few things associated with the calculated trip
mileage.

I thought the mileage should have been better. A few thoughts on that.
One, the entire trip was in wet windy weather. The headlights,
windshield wipers, heater and radio were on at all times. That may have
decreased the battery load running the car. Plus the windy day may have
knocked down the gas mileage. Second, the car had 60,000 miles on it so
perhaps the battery is not as efficient as it ages.

An alternative explanation is that the average miles per gallon read
out may not have been accurate. I did not refill the gas tank upon
returning the car...fleet management takes care of that. So I didn't
have the opportunity to actually calculate gas mileage. After 360
miles, the gas gage still registered a quarter of a tank. And a Civic
has about a 12-gallon tank. So the actual mileage may have been higher.
Though 9 gallons for 360 miles still averages 40 miles per gallon.
There has indeed been talk that actual hybrid mileage rates are
somewhat lower than advertised. I certainly have a topic of
conversation when I get together with my friend the Prius owner later
today.


One other thought. While cruising down the Thruway at 70, I expected
the battery assist to take over periodically. It didn't except for when
accelerating or on upgrades, even though it was fully charged. When
coasting down a downgrade, the meter would go into "charging" mode. I
don't know if this is normal, if it simply doesn't register cruising
assistance from the battery, or if perhaps this is something that
changed with the aging of the vehicle.

Still, it was a very enjoyable car to drive and when it's time to
replace my 98 Civic in another four years, I'll certainly consider a
hybrid.

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