Honda Civic EX versus Honda Civic Hybrid Fuel Mileage Comparo

Fuel Mileage Test Runs with Scott

Honda Civic EX right side shot
2008 Honda Civic EX right side view. © Adrian Gable

Here at Hybrid Cars and Alt Fuels, we field a lot of questions about hybrids, and probably the most common of all is simply, "Are they really worth it?" Do hybrids really get that much better fuel mileage than regular cars--and is it enough to justify their price premium? Well, we always do a "number crunch" as part of our hybrid reviews, but we've never actually done a real side-by-side comparison, instead relying on EPA mileage estimates of the non-hybrid versus our observed hybrid model fuel mileage to draw conclusions. This works pretty well, but the more I (Scott) thought about it, the more I wanted to do a little street test of my own to see what's what in the real world.

So, I needed a car that is offered in both conventional and hybrid drivetrains, and I needed to put them both through the same types of driving conditions--and carefully track all data--to get as close as possible to an apples-to-apples comparison. This "testorama" would give me a good solid "no arguments here" body of data to unequivocally say "X car in hybrid dress performed this way against X car with a regular engine." Having recently completed a test drive of the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid (in which I did extensive fuel mileage tracking), I decided that this car and its popular and efficient (and comparably equipped) brother, the Honda Civic EX, would be my guinea pigs. Honda agreed and sent over a beautiful Alabaster Silver 2008 Civic EX sedan, and I commenced to drive.

I was pretty confident that I'd be able to handily beat the EPA estimates in the EX by simply employing some of my favorite Thrifty-Drive techniques--the same I used when test driving the Civic Hybrid. I've been steadily honing these skills over the years and it's gotten to the point that I can best the EPA's numbers by 15 percent or more for any given vehicle. I just slow down and drive gently, which ironically enough, "gets me there" in just about the same amount of time as aggressive yellow-light-running driving does, but at a much better bang-for-the-buck-for-the-minute rate.

The Drivetrains

  • Honda Civic EX: My tester EX came outfitted with the standard 140 hp 1.8-liter iVTEC 4-cylinder engine and optional 5-speed automatic transmission. It's a nice package with plenty of power and great fuel economy numbers, thanks to Honda's thrifty variable valve timing scheme. The EPA gives the EX 25/36/29 city/highway/combined ratings.
  • Honda Civic Hybrid: The hybrid version gets its very own purpose-built drivetrain package consisting of a 110 hp 1.3-liter 4-cylinder engine and electric motor combination that transfers power to the wheels through a CVT transmission. EPA ratings for this package come in at 40/45/42 city/highway/combined. For more info on how this unique drivetrain works, see our 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid test drive and review.

The Tests

Because of the nature of pure city driving, with its short distances between numerous starts and stops, it's difficult to employ Thrifty-Drive techniques and improve on EPA ratings. For this reason, I limited my mileage compares to all-highway and then combined (an assortment of roadways and traffic conditions) situations, and I further divided them by eco-styles and "normal" styles. I suppose at this point, it's important to define what I call "normal" driving. In short, it's aggressive behavior that I observe during my daily travels out on the roads with thousands of other motorists: jack rabbit starts ... not slowing (or worse, accelerating) on highway exit ramps ... speeding to stop signs (and then jamming-on the brakes at the last moment) ... and of course, my favorite shake-my-head-maneuver, constantly jockeying and darting to get ahead of the next guy.

The Four Tests and Results

All mileage numbers are expressed in miles per gallon:

Normal combined -- jaunts driving like "normal" motorists described above.

EX--32.2, Hybrid--41.5

Normal highway -- long freeway runs using no "cruise" and changing lanes frequently to keep pace with the fastest traffic (usually between 75 and 80 mph).

EX--36.6, Hybrid--49.1

Eco combined -- everyday trips using the eco-techniques described in Scott's Thrifty-Drive.

EX--37.4, Hybrid--48.7

Eco highway -- long highway jaunts with "cruise" set at a steady 61 mph.

EX--42.3, Hybrid--54.7

Interpreting the Results

These test results leave little doubt that the Honda Civic (hybrid or no) gets excellent fuel economy. Even when driven hard, I still was able to pretty much beat EPA ratings across-the-board. My experience has usually been that the more fuel-efficient a vehicle is, the less adversely its fuel economy is affected by aggressive driving habits. Conversely, economy cars respond better to eco-driving techniques than their large, less efficient counterparts. While both cars responded well to eco-driving, the EX did a little better in the combined mileage tests, whereas the hybrid aced the highway improvements.

What gives here? It seems to me that the engine-only EX is more readily influenced by easy driving/light throttle techniques in combined roadway conditions where the engine could/would be more taxed during frequent acceleration. On the highway, a steady throttle can only do so much.

On the other hand, on combined roadways in the hybrid, the electric motor mitigates some of the driver's influence for easing load on the engine (the hybrid system does it automatically). But on the open highway, the combination of the engine's cylinder deactivation and steady electric motor assist allows the engine to work with minimal fuel use.

So, Is the Hybrid Civic Really Worth It?

In most cases, I think so, and under the right conditions, absolutely. Just look at the fuel mileage numbers. The hybrid bested the EX in every category, some by a larger percentage than others. Depending on the types of driving conditions/styles the Civic Hybrid owner would most regularly encounter, pay back time will likely fall within a four to six and a half year period of ownership. (Based upon $3055 hybrid price premium, $525 hybrid tax credit *ends 12/08*, 15,000 miles/year travel and gasoline @ $3.95/gallon).