High-Mileage HF and Hybrid

I didn't get the opportunity to drive the Civic HF, but Honda says it's practically the same as the regular sedan. The greater efficiency comes mainly from different tires and aerodynamic changes, including the wheels, underbody treatments, a small trunklid spoiler and the smoothing out of the front bumper to match that of the Civic Hybrid.

The 2012 Civic Hybrid benefits from a larger gas engine, a 1.5-liter four-cylinder replacing a 1.3-liter. It combines with a more powerful electric motor for quicker acceleration yet improves mileage from 40/43 mpg in the 2011 to 44/44 mpg. You can feel the difference off the line, and though there's still some delay as the continuously variable automatic transmission whirs away, it's more responsive than before and more linear than the Toyota Prius.

Because the electric motor is essentially fixed to the crankshaft, the gas engine stops only when the car comes to a stop. Regardless, Honda says, the Civic Hybrid can maintain moderate cruising speed on electric power alone. Acceleration and high-speed cruising requires gas to be burned.

This is the first Honda, and one of the first hybrids, to employ a lithium-ion battery in lieu of the nickel-metal-hydride type that has driven the hybrid revolution. It helps keep weight and size down and increases the trunk volume to 10.7 cubic feet versus the 2011's 10.4 cubic feet, though the backseat doesn't fold in the Civic Hybrid — typical of hybrid sedans. The regular sedan's trunk measures 12.5 cubic feet; the coupe's is 11.7.

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