In praise of hybrids

DN Staff

August 5, 2002

2 Min Read
In praise of hybrids

I have a confession: Un-macho as it may seem, 0-to-60 ratings on new cars really don't impress me that much. I can fantasize with the best of humankind, imagining myself screaming around a race track or beating everybody and their brother when the red light turns green. Truth is, I don't really drive that fast.

Cars with 0-to-60 ratings in the sub-six-second range are wasted on me.

On the other hand, I am impressed with automotive-engineering efforts that save fuel and don't crud up the air. That's among the reasons I wanted to test drive the 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid.

It doesn't pretend to be a fast car, though it was generally peppy enough for me. It does lay claim to impressive fuel-economy numbers: 46 in the city, 51 on the open road. And, it's got some neat technology inside that helps the car achieve those numbers. A 60-mm-wide permanent-magnet motor (13.4 hp @ 4,000 rpm), powered by a Nickel-Metal Hydride battery, supplements the in-line, four-cylinder gasoline engine for extra oomph in acceleration or climbing hills. The gas engine recharges the batteries while you're driving.

Best of all is the idle-stop feature. Stop at a red light or in heavy traffic, put the manual transmission in neutral, and the engine shuts down. Shift into first and the engine restarts immediately.

Honda debuted much of the technology in its three-cylinder Insight. But, with its 155-inch/67-inch/1,875-lb (length/width/weight) profile, that car is too small for me. The Civic Hybrid measures a foot-and-a-half longer and weighs an additional 800-plus pounds, more in line with the Toyota Prius, which I haven't driven (but I plan to!). It felt substantial to me.

Will its power impress the cowboys who race their engines at red lights? Nah. They'll leave this car in the dust. But, those drivers will probably wind up in accidents eventually anyway.

For those who brag about how fast they can go, let them get out of their cars and run. Foot speed is infinitely more macho than horsepower under the hood.

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