2012 Honda Civic Hybrid

GOLDSBORO, N.C. — We’ve been inundated these days with a host of economic plans designed to get the economy out of its significant rut. Perhaps the most ballyhooed is the 9-9-9 plan. Well Honda has an economic plan of its own. It's called the 44-44-44. Meet the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, designed to allow owners to keep more money in their pocket while driving a mainstream vehicle that does not scream, "Look at me, I am driving green."

Wrapped in the sheetmetal of the all-new 2012 Honda Civic, the hybrid version sports an all-new drivetrain and comes with a new, more efficient and more powerful lithium-ion battery pack replacing the old nickel-metal hydride battery used in the previous-generation Civic. It's rated at 44 mpg highway, 44 mpg city and 44 mpg overall, an improvement over the last-generation Civic at 40/43.

And with the increased fuel economy, comes what seems to be a bit better acceleration from a new 1.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine and a larger electric motor.

We finally got an opportunity to try out the new hybrid after spending time in both the standard Civic and the high-performance Si version. Comparatively the new hybrid offers nearly equal performance to the standard gasoline model Civic. The exception came when the Eco button was engaged, which resulted in a sluggish feel at times.

While few people ever derive actual EPA numbers in daily driving, we managed just over 40 mpg in a combination of city and highway driving. That to us was quite satisfying because the new breed of 40-mpg-gasoline-only -compact vehicles seldom yield 40 mpg, and certainly not in mixed driving.

Honda continues using the straight-forward Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system in the Civic whereby an electric motor-generator is sandwiched between the gas engine and the continuously variable automatic transmission. Unlike the more sophisticated Toyota Prius and most other hybrids, the electric motor does not drive the car, but simply offers an assist to the gas engine during acceleration. That alone makes the EPA ratings more remarkable.

The Civic continues with the two-tier dashboard with a large digital speedometer in the driver's sightline. Some have decried this design, adopted in 2006, but we like anything that keeps eyes on the road and at the same time imparts information.

New for 2012 is a multi-function LCD display screen. Navigation is also available. Not found in the standard Civic are the hybrid’s colored bars flanking the speedometer that glow green when you drive economically and turn an aggressive blue when you use a lead-foot technique, and read-outs that rate your driving acumen in real-time. Also featured is the traditional hybrid power-flow display.

The hybrid comes well equipped for $24,820 including destination charge. Adding heated leather seats and navigation will bump up the price $2,700.

We found the last-generation Civic Hybrid a good buy. We rate the new edition an even better buy, and as an added incentive resale value when it comes time to sell or trade should be outstanding. The 44-44-44 economic plan may be your best bet.

See MotorwayAmerica's complete review of the gas engine Civic, plus our take on Civic’s controversial interior features.

— Jim Meachen