The poor man’s Prius?
The Civic IMA is certainly cheaper than the better-known Prius, starting from £16,300 to the Toyota’s £17,765. Its propulsion principle is the same; IMA stands for Integrated Motor Assist. Both cars are petrol-electric hybrids and use batteries to store the energy that would otherwise be lost during braking. That energy is then sent to an electric motor which can either power the car on its own at low speeds, or help the petrol engine by adding 20bhp to its standard 95bhp when more go is required. Either way, fuel consumption and emissions should be cut.
So what’s the difference?
The Toyota uses a slightly more sophisticated system to integrate the petrol and electric motors. This allows the petrol engine to come to a complete stop and the Prius to power itself silently. The engine in the Honda keeps turning, and it lacks the Toyota’s incredible array of graphs that chart just how much rainforest you’re saving. The Civic uses a slightly smaller petrol engine – 1.3 vs 1.5 – and claims to do 61.4mpg and produce 109g/km of CO2 – slightly behind the Prius’s figures.
Am I saving money, or the earth?
You can be surer of the financial savings. Road tax for hybrids is just £30 per year, you get a three percent reduction on your company car tax band and exemption from the congestion charge. This alone makes a hybrid a no-brainer for some. The fuel cost saving – and therefore the hybrid’s green credentials – are less clear. Those dramatic fuel economy claims are hard to replicate in real driving. You’ll see more benefit if you drive in stop-start traffic. Frequent braking charges the batteries, and low-speed crawling can be done on electric power. On the open road, the battery’s charge is soon gone, and you’re back to driving a slightly underpowered petrol.
Doesn’t look like a Civic…
The more familiar Civic hatches are built in Swindon, but this saloon is made in Japan for the domestic and American markets. It’s neither as striking nor as practical as the hatches, but it’s still a Honda, so it’s magnificently made. The ride is firm but not harsh, and the steering quick, direct but lifeless. Cool, moon-disc eco-wheels and subtle hybrid badging let the world know you care.
Any nasty surprises?
Shouldn’t be. Unlike the batteries in electric cars, hybrid batteries should outlive the vehicle. Ignore internet chatter about costly replacements, you’re buying into an emerging technology, but not an untested one. Honda has been selling hybrids here since the Insight in 1999.
If the congestion charge exemption doesn’t settle it for you, you’d need to average that slightly optimistic economy claim for 10,000 miles, which should save you the £500 you’d have paid to fuel a standard Civic. Given how hard that is to achieve, and that the Civic IMA costs around a grand more than an equivalent conventional saloon to begin with, it’s hard to make a convincing case for the hybrid. Many buyers pick hybrids purely to be seen to be green, but as emissions are directly linked to fuel consumption, in many circumstances the IMA may be no better for the planet or your pocket than a good, modern, conventional turbodiesel.