A Tale of Two Hybrids

By Grace Chen

WHAT makes the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid a favourite examination in contrast?

For one, both come with the promise of a cleaner drive, though one would carry a weightier AT-PZEV (Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle) status while the other is comfortable enough with a ULEV (Ultra Low Emission Vehicle) rating.

Then, there is the fuel consumption rate, a head locking factor which sees a very close fight between the two hybrids with the Prius at 38km per litre and the Civic Hybrid, which is not too far behind at 31km per litre. Fuel consumption for both cars here are rated using the 10-15 test cycle in Japan.

To be fair, it was the Prius which made its debut first in 1997, five years before Honda would introduce the Civic Hybrid, which would incidentally become the second commercially produced petrol-electric car in the market.

In terms of performance, the Prius 16-valve 1.8-litre 2ZR-FXE engine has a superior power output of 98hp.

In comparison, the Civic Hybrid's 8-valve 1.3 SOHC logs in at 94hp but with the help of the electric motor output, it is given an additional boost of 20hp, giving it a total horsepower of 114hp.

Interior wise, the Prius certainly has "futuristic" written all over it with a dashboard design resembling the console of a spaceship that displays moment by moment reports with the support of some pretty cool graphics.

In the Energy Monitor section, for example, an outline of a car with circulating arrows show in detail how the hybrid system is operating and if the driver should so choose to keep eye movement to a minimum, there is the steering touch control which will project the driving information on the lower windshield glass directly in front of the steering wheel.

However, the one item that visually reminds the driver of the Prius' unique status is the electronic shift, a little blue topped knob with a light touch operation which only goes into Reverse, Neutral and Drive. To go into Park, you press the "P" switch by the side.

What if you need to go uphill or looking for a power boost? This is where the Prius gets interesting with its drive mode switches which allow the driver to choose between Power - a combinative synergy of the electric motor and the engine, Eco - a fuel efficient state where there is constant assist from the motor over the engine, and EV - short for electric vehicle which sees propulsion from the motor alone minus petrol consumption. The last one is of course subjective to the charge of the battery. In a test drive, the EV mode from start up managed to travel about 500 metres.

For uphill sprints, the Power mode is recommended as the Eco mode is more suitable for leisurely drives.

The Civic Hybrid is more subtle in theme and the only indication of its hybrid status is the two-tier Multiplex meter which displays its integrated motor assist (IMA) and battery status. This is the main indicator monitoring the electric portion of the car's power train. Styled after the eighth-generation Civic, the driver will find no difficulties in making the switch to hybrid technology due to the harmonious blending in its interior styling.

But to truly appreciate these two variants of hybrids which use nickelmetal hydride batteries, a look under the hood is necessary.

Powered by a 158 V battery with a maximum output of 19.6 kW, the technology powering the Honda Civic Hybrid is known as IMA which was introduced in 1999. It falls under the parallel system which uses an electric motor mounted between the internal combustion engine and transmission to act as a starter, alternator and to assist traction.

The theory behind IMA lies in regenerative braking which acts to convert kinetic energy into stored electricity and among the uses of this stored energy is for acceleration purposes. This is the factor that enables the 1.3 Civic Hybrid to have the behavioral comparison of a 1.8-litre car and the explanation behind its impressive mileage.

The technology behind the Prius is known as the Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD), a refinement of the original Toyota Hybrid System (THS) first introduced in 1997. The HDS falls under the series-parallel system which sees the addition of a power split device, allowing the utilisation of different levels of power from its 650V permanent synchronous magnet motor to work with its 201.6 V battery with a maximum output of 27kW to suit driving conditions as seen in the Eco, Power and EV modes.

In terms of drivability, the Civic Hybrid offers a more harmonious atmosphere in terms of adjustment from a conventional car to hybrid technology. You still get to hear the starting of the engine upon turning the key and one sure sign of the IMA taking over is the "stalling" of the engine while the radio, lights and air cond continued to run whenever we pressed the brakes or came to a complete halt.

Then there was the slight pull back as the regenerative braking worked to recharge the battery with juice at low speeds.

There were also a few whirrs and clicks as the IMA took over during stationary mode.

Otherwise, the transition of power from combustion engine to electricity was a smooth one at cruising speeds. Acceleration was fairly responsive and the Civic Hybrid could reach 0-100km/h in under 12 seconds.

The Prius, on the other hand, has a keyless start system. The procedure is easy enough, just press the "ON button", release the handbrake and you're off.

However, because it started off on the electric mode, everything was eerily silent, which left us wondering at first if the car was actually ready to go but it was something that one got used to very quickly.

Just to test out its stealth qualities, we coasted behind a group of ladies in a car park mall and were they startled when one chanced to look behind and discovered that they were being stalked by this hybrid. Performance wise, the Prius could get from 0 to 100km/h in 10.4 seconds.

So, will it be the Prius or the Civic Hybrid? There is a RM45,000 gap between the two and if you can afford the Prius, that will be a more complete hybrid vehicle but the Civic hybrid still offers a better preposition than the usual petrol gulping vehicles.


Toyota Prius 1.8 CVT

Engine: 1,798cc 4-cylinder, DOHC VVT-I 2ZR-FXE + HSD

Max power: 98hp @ 5,200rpm (80hp from motor)

Max torque: 142Nm @ 4,000rpm (207Nm from motor)

Max motor power: 80hp

Max motor torque: 207Nm

Transmission: Electrically controlled CVT

Fuel consumption: 38 km/l

Features: Front, side, knee and curtain airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist, Vehicle Stability Control, Traction Control

Meter display: Multi-information display on dashboard and lower windscreen. Choice of Power, Eco and Electric Vehicle Drive Modes

Steering: Tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio, air conditioning and Bluetooth, Cruise Control

Price (OTR with Insurance): RM175,000


Honda Civic Hybrid 1.3 Auto

Engine: 1,339cc 4-cylinder SOHC i-VTEC + IMA

Max engine power: 94hp @ 6,000rpm

Max engine torque: 123Nm @ 4,600rpm

Max motor power: 20hp @ 2,000rpm

Max motor torque: 103Nm @ 0 - 1,160rpm

Transmission: CVT with Grade Logic Control

Fuel consumption: 31 km/l

Features: Dual front and side airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist

Meter display: 2-tier Multiplex Meter with IMA and battery status

Steering: Tilt and telescopic steering wheel with steering audio remote control

Price (OTR with Insurance): RM129,980

Lower prices expected

THE government recently announced the exemption of import and excise duties for hybrid cars starting from next year.

This will lead to the prices of the Prius and Civic Hybrid to plummet even lower.

Both Honda Malaysia and UMW Toyota Motors are currently reviewing their prices and hopefully, we can see an average of 25 per cent reduction in price for the two models.

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