Written by Robin Brown ▼

Battle of the hybrids: Toyota Prius vrs. Honda Civic Hybrid

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It´s easy to forget just how astonishing the arrival of genuine petrol-electric hybrids was in 1997 when the Toyota Prius went on sale. Seemingly

destined to remain a futuristic never-never on Tomorrow´s World, the car of the future had actually arrived, and it worked, even if it looked stupid.

Nowadays most manufacturers have, or are lining up, at least one model that uses an electric motor in tandem with a petrol or diesel engine, and soft hybrid

elements

such as brake energy regeneration and auto stop/start technology are seen on numerous manufacturer ranges from Volkswagen´s BlueMotion to Ford´s EcoNetic

and

BMW´s EfficientDynamics.

With questions remaining over the cleanliness of biofuels and the cost effectiveness of using hydrogen, hybrids technology remains the most widely-embraced

green-

car technology today with Toyota´s Prius and Honda´s Civic Hybrid the pick of the currently-limited crop.

Toyota Prius

When it comes to name recognition the Prius is miles ahead of Honda´s Civic Hybrid. Owned by the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Larry David ('Prius!'), Jessica Alba and

Sting, the very name is a watchword for the gradual greening of the industry.

Introduced worldwide in 2001, the Prius is now in its second generation and rates as the second cleanest car in the UK by carbon dioxide emissions (104g/km), after

the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion.

Noted for its space-age looks, a boon if you want to be recognised as the muesli-eating tree-hugger you are, the Prius will return an official 65.7mpg on the

combined

cycle and is powered by a small battery-powered electric motor in combination with a 1.5-litre petrol engine.

The electric motor power the cars from start-up up to 22mph, whereupon the petrol engine kicks in. A continuously variable transmission selects the best gearing

ratio

for the driving conditions and gradually eases off power from the petrol engine as you settle down to cruising speed, leading to the surreal sensation of driving a

silent

car.

The batteries are constantly recharged from energy that would be otherwise wasted, such as excess power from the engine or when driving downhill.

Considering it´s harbouring all of that hybrid tech within its fugly appearance, the Prius is surprisingly roomy with comfortable space for four adults, and

although

the Prius lacks in boot space the back seats split and fold to extend load space.

It´s easy to drive, though hardly engaging for someone who sets out to enjoy sitting behind the wheel, as the Prius´ electrics take care of all gearing and switching

between electric motor and petrol engine, and Toyota´s little hybrid returns excellent fuel economy figures. Throw in a 5-star NCAP rating and you have a strong

package.

It´s hard not to come to the conclusion that the Prius will be seen as a real trailblazer in years to come, as we can expect to see more hybrid and soft elements

introduced on cars in the future.

Considering it was very much the first car of its kind, the Prius is a cracker.

Honda Civic Hybrid

Honda promises the performance of a 1.6-litre engine and the fuel economy a 1.1-litre engine of its Civic Hybrid.

As in the Prius, the Civic Hybrid combines an electric motor with a petrol engine to produce 113bhp and returns an official 61.4mpg and 109g/km.

The Civic Hybrid´s electric motor engages when cruising or moving at very low speed, transitioning with a noticeable jerk that gives the game away to the petrol

engine when moving up the revs.

A Continuously Variable Transmission piles on the revs, making the Civic Hybrid feel unrefined when accelerating.

Driveability is sharp, if not as sharp as the Civic hatch, and steering is responsive, if short of feel. Like its hatchback cousin, the Civic Hybrid is rather stiff in the

suspension stakes.

Where the Prius is futuristic, the Civic Hybrid is something of a throwback, available only as a small family four-door saloon of the type rarely seen in the UK.

In reality the Civic Hybrid is a Civic saloon with some bits added on, and where the Prius benefits from its from-the-ground-up build as much as the Civic Hybrid is

constrained by its saloon DNA.

As a result interior space and boot space are more limited than the Prius, though a flat floor in the rear is a bonus and the boot´s low lip doesn´t impede loading.

The Civic Hybrid is well equipped with kit such as alloys, climate control and CD player, but is still overpriced when the car´s only genuine redeeming feature is its

mileage and ´greenness´.

The future

The next stage for hybrids is the development of a genuine plug-in hybrid that can be recharged from your mains supply at home.

Such hybrids will have a significantly increased electric range, allowing for urban driving using only the electric motor before switching to the petrol engine for

longer trips. The result is improved fuel economy and lower emissions.

Other manufacturers of note that have hybrid models include Lexus and Porsche, while most manufacturers are developing programmes for soft hybrid

elements

such as Volkswagen´s BlueMotion range,

Ford´s EcoNetic,

SEAT´s Ecomotive and

BMW´s Efficient Dynamics.

Citroen, which has taken something of a lead in pioneering

high-efficiency, low-consumption cars

boasts 20 models that emit under 120g/km using Stop and Start technology.

GM, Ford and Toyota all have plans to introduce plug-in hybrids over the next decade, though the new Prius - due in 2009 - will not be a plug-in.

Conclusion

In the hybrid stakes the Prius is the way to go: it´s cheaper, greener, more practical and a better drive.

However, advances in technology from other

manufacturers may make the battle of the hybrids academic, with the VW Polo BlueMotion trumping both models on fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions,

while it´s also cheaper than the efforts from Toyota and Honda.

The next generation of hybrids is likely to see improvements across the board, with the race for a 100mpg car well and truly on, while the

Polo BlueMotion has already broken the sub-

100g/km barrier and will be joined soon by SEAT, Ford and Citroen.

From a green point of view, and bearing in mind the cost of the hybrids, it´s hard not to conclude that a low-CO2 vehicle from Citroen, SEAT or Volkswagen is a

better bet than the hybrids.

However, if you´re looking to announce your eco credentials and are seeking that smug sensation of driving silently around town, and simply must buy an out-

and-

out petrol-electric hybrid, the Prius has to be the way to go.

Statistics

ModelToyota PriusHonda Civic
Price£17,777£16,300
Engine1.5-litre petrol1.3-litre petrol
Power76bhp@5000rpm94bhp@6000rpm
Electric Motor50bhp@120020bhp@2000
Engine torque85lb-ft90lb-ft
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)104109
0-62mph10.911.8
Top speed106115
Carbon offset cost£15£16
VED£15£15
GearboxCVTCVT
Owned byLarry David, Sting, Leonardo Di CaprioApparently no-one famous
Doors54
Seats55
ProsPracticality, running costs, emissionsRunning costs, interior space
ConsLack of power is sometimes telling, costLack of practicality, cost, rough ride
We sayWorthy of hybrid hypeJust worthy
NCAP5Not tested