Although barely more than 200 were sold in the UK, Honda is forging ahead with a 'mainstream' vehicle using its Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology, believing it could sell thousands. The Civic IMA uses the next development of the 'mild hybrid' IMA system used in the Insight.
However, if it is to win the hearts and minds of fleet operators and company car drivers, it has to prove it can compete with rivals using conventional powertrains both on costs and performance, which is why we've lined it up against its nearest petrol relative, the Honda Civic 1.6 SE Executive, and two similarly-sized modern diesels in our comparison.
The Civic IMA uses a 1.3-litre four-cylinder i-DSI engine (similar to the one found in the Honda Jazz), combined with an electric motor. The engine and motor combination is good for 89bhp at 5,700rpm and 117lb-ft of torque at 1,000rpm.
The electric motor acts as a generator during deceleration and braking, automatically recharging the car's battery pack. However, it also assists the engine when accelerating, boosting pulling power and improving fuel economy. Energy is stored in a battery behind the rear seats in the boot (perhaps the reason for the IMA only being available as a staid-looking saloon).
It is only offered in one high-specification SE Executive version, which means it includes climate control, leather trim, CD player, remote central locking with deadlocks, electric windows, heated front seats and alloy wheels among its standard equipment, perhaps to soften any perceived blow, either real or imagined, for any driver being allocated one as his or her company car.
Well, this might be the case if the Civic IMA had any obvious deficiency when compared to driving conventional cars. But during seven days and 600 miles, it was so much like driving a normal car I have to admit I was scratching my head when trying to come up with strong reasons for not choosing one.
In fact I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't notice the engine occasionally shutting down when stopped in traffic. This was only pointed out to me a couple of weeks after I had driven the car. The engine is dead quiet at idle anyway and I didn't realise the car had been doing it.
The interior is pretty much the same as any Civic, although the gearstick is in the usual position between the seats, rather than on the dashboard like the hatchback. Turn the key and the instrument panel lights up like one of the control points on the Starship Enterprise, and information on the state of the battery and the regenerative process is available along with items such as speed and rpm.
The only time the car seemed to falter was on a trip across the Pennines when all the battery energy had been used up on the uphill sections, leaving the 1.3-litre engine feeling a little asthmatic for the remaining few miles before going downhill.
During the week it achieved a genuine 55mpg, not far off the official combined figure, and behaved impeccably.
This type of technology has huge potential, particularly if it means more exciting cars with higher performance can be produced with much lower fuel consumption and emissions.
As for the Civic IMA, it is one of the early steps towards educating drivers that better fuel consumption and low emissions can be achieved without compromise.
Honda Civic IMA 1.3 Executive fact file
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £14,900
CO2 emissions (g/km): 116
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 11%
Graduated VED rate: £65
Insurance group: 9
Combined mpg: 57.7
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,725/32%
Depreciation (6.68 pence per mile x 60,000): £10,008
Maintenance (2.41 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,446
Fuel (6.72 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,032
Wholelife cost (25.81 pence per mile x 60,000): £15,486
Typical contract hire rate: £313 per month
Three rivals to consider
THE Civic IMA looks pricey when compared to the plain Civic 1.6, but this does not take into account the PowerShift grant which would bring the hybrid within £50 of the P11d price of its stablemate. The Astra looks particularly good value, is well-equipped and its Euro IV-compliant diesel means for tax purposes drivers will be liable to 15% of this price. The Bora is the 'conventional' diesel saloon in this comparison and is reasonably priced for a 99bhp diesel.
Honda IMA £14,900
Despite its complex power unit, the Civic IMA is about the same on expected costs for service, maintenance and repair as the Astra and the Bora. It will be £24 cheaper than the Astra over three years/60,000 miles and £54 less than the Bora. However, the Civic 1.6 SE Executive is expected to be cheaper still, at £1,272. Both Civics come with a three year/90,000 mile warranty, unlike the 60,000 cover on the other two cars.
Honda IMA 2.41ppm
THIS is a category where the petrol/electric Civic IMA should score well and with a combined fuel consumption figure of 57.7mpg, its fuel bill over 60,000 miles will be £4,032. This is better than the Volkswagen but still close on £4,194 and destroys the conventional petrol Civic with an expected cost of £5,352. However, the recently- introduced common rail Astra ECO4 is the winner in this section with a bill of £3,618, more than £400 cheaper than the hybrid.
Honda IMA 6.72ppm
HYBRIDS have traditionally fared poorly on the used market because of trade scepticism, but the Civic IMA is only scored one percentage point lower by CAP than the Civic 1.6 on residual values after three years/60,000 miles at 33% versus 32%. Where the IMA falls is with its higher P11d price. Factor in the £1,000 PowerShift grant though, the equivalent of about 1.67ppm, and that puts the IMA on 15.01ppm. It is still nearly a penny off the conventional Civic, perhaps indicating that fleets cannot expect a discount on the IMA.
Honda IMA 16.68ppm
WITH a mix of different powerplants the end result for wholelife costs is perhaps closer than could have been expected. The figures show the Civic IMA is the most expensive of the four, but calculate in that PowerShift grant and that would put it at 24.14ppm, better than the conventional Civic and the Volkswagen. The overall winner is the Astra, which although lacking in power compared to the VW and equipment compared to the Hondas, must be worth considering.
Honda IMA 25.81ppm
Emissions and bik tax rates
TAX breaks for alternative fuel vehicles give the Civic IMA a clear advantage on benefit-in-kind liability, with a 22% taxpayer handing over £30 a month until next April when it will increase to £33. The next best on BIK is the Astra with a monthly bill of £38, stable for the next three years, with the Civic 1.6 SE Executive costing the driver £38 a month, increasing to £43 in April 2004. The Bora's diesel engine is not yet Euro IV-compliant and would cost the same driver £47 a month.
Honda IMA 116g/km/11%
THIS is one of the toughest calls we have ever had to make. The Civic IMA is not the best on wholelife costs but drivers will find themselves in a well-equipped car with ultra-low benefit-in-kind tax liability. Given that with its PowerShift grant it comes second on wholelife costs and it drives virtually the same as a conventional car, it would just edge out the others.