2012 Honda Civic Hybrid vs. 2011 Toyota Prius Five Comparison Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (1)
  • Comparison (1)
  • Long-Term

2011 Toyota Prius Hatchback

(1.8L 4-cyl. Hybrid CVT Automatic)
  • 2011 Toyota Prius Picture

    2011 Toyota Prius Picture

    The grille sets the Civic Hybrid apart from the other Civics. Nothing gets confused for a Prius. | August 25, 2011

35 Photos

  • Comparison Test
  • 2011 Toyota Prius Specs and Performance
  • 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid Specs and Performance

As an only child, I missed some valuable life lessons. Sharing for example. Group dynamics are confusing, too. And finally, my last character flaw as influenced by my parents' halted procreation, to me compromise is a dirty, dirty word.

But, with each new phase in life, the C-word becomes more prominent. Bless those who can drive their caged Miatas, track-ready BMWs or cherry-bombed Corvettes on a daily basis. For the rest of us, though, a balance must be struck. Rear seats, fuel economy and tolerable in-cabin decibel levels become priorities and all of a sudden, a hybrid daily-driver starts looking like a good idea.

Two of the best hybrids available right now are the 2011 Toyota Prius and the all-new 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid. They have four doors, reasonable cargo space, affordable prices and big-time fuel economy numbers. Each one has its own compromises, so we set out to find which car we found more tolerable, or maybe even likable.

One Old, One New
The 2011 Toyota Prius is, mechanically, the same car we've seen before. It features a pair of electric motors and a 27 kW nickel-metal hydride battery pack that provides a 36-horsepower shove for the electric half of the equation. A 98-hp 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder represents the conventional internal-combustion half. A planetary-type continuously variable transmission (CVT) figures out how to get the power to the front wheels. It's a respectable system that transitions smoothly between electric and full-blown hybrid mode.

The Honda Civic Hybrid, on the other hand, utilizes a 1.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine and newer 20kW lithium-ion batteries, which have a higher energy density than nickel-metal hydride batteries. The electric motor in the Civic Hybrid is parked between the CVT and the car's conventional engine. This means that any time the motor spins, the engine spins and vice-versa. Honda calls this system IMA for Integrated Motor Assist. Unlike with the Prius, there's no pure electric drive, but there is some engineless coasting available at certain constant speeds. In the Civic, if the engine can be off without ruining the ride quality, it will be off thanks to the car's automatic start/stop functionality and active Eco mode.

Because You Deserve It
There was already enough sacrifice going on in a test of two hybrids, so we skipped over the base model cars ($22,120 for the Prius One and $24,050 for the Honda Civic Hybrid) and went straight to the top. Our 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid with leather and navigation carried a sticker price of $27,500, which includes heated leather seats, navigation, Bluetooth, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.

The top tier of Priusdom is the Prius Five. (Do not confuse this with the Prius V.) For the privilege of being the most pampered, you get to shell out $29,080. And that's before options. We'd skip the $5,080 Advanced Technology package seen here (nav, dynamic cruise, pre-collision, advanced parking system, lane keeping assist) and opt for the $2,380 nav system instead. That move would lower the Prius from our MSRP of $34,719 to a more reasonable $32,489.

With all of this trimming, it's easy to forget that these cars start out as relatively inexpensive compacts. But beyond the leather, beyond the multimedia information screens and beyond the atypical powertrains, the way these cars drive makes you forget their natural station in life.

On the Road
With a steeply raked windscreen, thin pillars and a low dash afforded by the centrally mounted everything, the Prius feels twice as big as it is — in a good way. There's no small-car intimidation factor. Perhaps this explains the way Prius drivers try to own the road. The ride, too, mimics that of a large car, with minimal noise and harshness and a tendency to rebound a fairly impressive sine wave after severe impacts. And, like any decent large car, the Prius' steering and brakes are unobtrusive to the point of being annoying. The steering is weightier than that of previous Prii, but this is a result of reprogrammed steering electrons and not a revised, improved connection to the wheels.

The real surprise in this test was the ride quality of the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid. It's good enough to ignore the painfully slow 0-30 time and the confused start/stop system that gets behind itself in slow traffic. It's good enough that every editor who had it came back with pretty much the same impression: "Dude, the ride."

It's an enviably good mix of damping and spring rates that results in a ride that isn't floaty or harsh. And despite its compliance over rough pavement, when the road gets bendy, the Civic Hybrid sets firmly without the body roll you'd expect from a hybrid. It is still a Civic after all. You'll never confuse this for a large car ride, yet you'll wonder why everyone talks up those big cars so much anyway.

We've had experiences with light cars where a few hundred pounds of gear really makes for a marked improvement in ride quality, and we think that's what's happening here, as the non-hybrid 2012 Civic wasn't this impressive. As impressive as the ride is, the Civic does suffer from higher levels of in-cabin noise than the Prius. From wind noise to tire noise to the crude stutter of the engine firing back to life, there's little peace found inside the Civic.

Because Driving for Fuel Economy Is Boring
Before we donned our fuel-saving caps and glass-soled shoes, we had one last foray into the world we know best: the test track.

It feels wrong, but throttling the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid on a closed track actually sounds right. It sounds normal. Like a Honda. Of course, it also comes to a stop like a Honda.

Digging into the pavement from 60 mph, the 2,830-pound Civic managed to stop in a barely-Dodge-Power Wagon-beating 137 feet. Blame rear drums. Blame low-rolling-resistance Bridgestone Ecopia EP20 tires. Blame whom or whatever you want, the effect is a braking system that instills no driver confidence.

If you are presented with enough room to hold down the throttle without having to worry about any sort of emergency stop at the other end, the Civic Hybrid hits 60 in 10.1 seconds (9.7 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and goes on to complete the quarter-mile in 17.5 seconds at 80.1 mph.

The Prius lacked both the Civic's drama in braking and its familiar-if-not-pleasant engine note. Thanks to the slick CVT, the Prius' engine droned for 10.2 seconds when we hit 60 mph (9.8 seconds with rollout) and then for another 17.4 seconds as we ran the quarter-mile at 79.3 mph. When asked to stop from 60, the 3,138-pound Prius dug in and clawed out a perfectly standard 124-foot stop.

Things continued to be a relative tie in our handling tests. Despite the Prius being the poster child of terrible dynamics and the Civic's legacy as the real driver's economy car, the numbers were remarkably similar. The Toyota squealed around our skid pad at 0.79g while the Civic pulled 0.76g. The Toyota finished the slalom averaging 61.2 mph, behind the Civic's 62.8 mph.

And because this is that kind of test, the Honda recorded 20 mpg during track testing and the Prius flattened it with a whopping 24 mpg.

Because Gas Is Expensive
The first thing you should know about this portion of our journey is that we did not do a fuel economy loop. Fuel economy loops are designed to simulate some ideal mix of traffic-free, low-and-medium-speed events with few stops, little incline and a slew of otherwise idealistic environments. They've got as much to do with real-world driving as a strip club does with dating. Sure, it's a neat benchmark, but you can't get disappointed when the real world doesn't quite live up to it.

Could we have squeezed out more — potentially double — the miles per gallon by ignoring the flow of traffic, side-stepping hills and swapping our work schedules to reduce the chance of seeing another car? Sure. But we could do that with our current vehicles. The draw of a hybrid is that you don't have to change your behavior to improve your environmental impact.

So we picked editors with different commutes — heavy city traffic, light off-hours highway traffic and a near 50:50 mix of city and highway — and let them have at it with the charge that they're to drive as if their own dollars are on the line.

So we drove these two hybrids like we owned them and tabulated the results.

In our unstandardized, unstaged, real-world tests, the Toyota Prius fell below its 51 city/48 highway/50 combined EPA mpg estimate. We averaged just 39.8 mpg, with a best tank of 45.8 mpg and a worst tank of 34.9 mpg. The worst tank was a result of a long drive on a very empty freeway.

The Civic is rated by the EPA at 44 mpg. Everywhere. City: 44. Highway: 44. Combined? Yep, you guessed it. 44. And unlike the Prius, we managed to catch a glimpse of the elusive EPA number with one 44.8 mpg trek. Overall, though, we only squeezed 38.8 mpg out of the Civic Hybrid.

A 1 mile-per-gallon difference in the real world? Slight advantage to the Prius.

Because in Every Compromise, There's a Loser
We know why people buy hybrids. Be it carpool stickers or fitting in at the local Starbucks, there's an external motivator in the purchase that no math can dent.

Though it has a slight edge in ride quality, the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid — with its normal dash, conventional shifter, traditional engine note and Civic-like driving dynamics — is almost too normal. It doesn't look special, it doesn't feel special and the IMA system compromises practicality and drivetrain smoothness. Each time the engine jumps back to life, hooking up to the transmission with the subtleness of a first-time clutch user, the compromises of a mixed drivetrain smack you square in the face.

The 2011 Toyota Prius was designed as a hybrid with a unique, instantly recognizable shape that emphasizes function over form and a drivetrain that channels the flow of power as seamlessly as runoff trickles into the Mississippi.

There are times to rebel, to swim against the school, and then there are times to fall in line. The easier compromise here is the car that makes you forget what real cars are like, that coddles and amuses as it delivers superlative fuel economy. In this case, that would be the Toyota Prius.

The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.

Vehicle
Model year2011
MakeToyota
ModelPrius
Year Make Model2011 Toyota Prius Five 4dr Hatchback (1.8L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)
Vehicle TypeFWD 5-passenger 4dr Hatchback
Base MSRP$29,080
Options on test vehicleAdvanced Technology Package ($5,080 -- includes Dynamic radar cruise control, pre-collision system, Lane Keep Assist, Advanced Parking Guidance System, voice-activated touchscreen DVD navigation system with integrated back-up camera, JBL AM/FM/MP3 four-disc CD changer, eight speakers, XM satellite radio with XM Nav Traffic and 90-day trial subscription, auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity, hands-free phone capability with music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology, Safety Connect, which includes Emergency Assistance, stolen vehicle locator, roadside assistance and automatic collision notification (1-year trial subscription); V.I.P. Security Upgrade ($359); Carpet Floor/Cargo Mat Set ($200).
As-tested MSRP$34,719
Assembly locationTsutsumi, Japan
Drivetrain
ConfigurationTransverse, front engine combined with electric motor(s), front-wheel drive
Engine typeNaturally aspirated, port-injected, Atkinson-cycle, inline-4 with auto-stop/start
Displacement (cc/cu-in)1,798/110
Block/head materialAluminum/aluminum
ValvetrainDouble overhead camshaft
Compression ratio (x:1)13.0
Redline, indicated (rpm)N/A
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)98 @ 5,200
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)105 @ 4,000
Fuel typeRegular unleaded
Hybrid typeSeries-parallel
Electric motor rating (kW)60
Combined horsepower (hp @ rpm)134 @ 5200
Combined torque (lb-ft @ rpm)153 @ 4,000
System voltage650
Battery typeNickel-metal hydride
Transmission typeContinuously variable
Final-drive ratio (x:1)3.703
Chassis
Suspension, frontIndependent MacPherson struts, coil springs, stabilizer bar
Suspension, rearSemi-independent, torsion beam, coil springs and integrated stabilizer bar
Steering typeElectric power steering
Steering ratio (x:1)19.1:1
Tire typeAll-season front and rear
Tire sizeP215/45R17 87V
Wheel size17-by-7 inches front and rear
Wheel materialAlloy
Brakes, front10-inch ventilated disc with single piston sliding caliper
Brakes, rear10.2-inch solid disc with single-piston sliding caliper
Track Test Results
Acceleration, 0-30 mph (sec.)3.5
0-45 mph (sec.)6.3
0-60 mph (sec.)10.2
0-75 mph (sec.)15.7
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)17.4 @ 79.3
0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)9.8
0-30 mph, trac ON (sec.)3.6
0-45 mph, trac ON (sec.)6.4
0-60 mph, trac ON (sec.)10.3
0-75 mph, trac ON (sec.)15.8
1/4-mile, trac ON (sec. @ mph)17.5 @ 79.3
0-60, trac ON with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)9.9
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)32
60-0 mph (ft.)124
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)N/A
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph) ESC ON61.2
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)NA
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g) ESC ON0.79
Sound level @ idle (dB)40.1
@ Full throttle (dB)71.9
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)67
Engine speed @ 70 mph (rpm)NA
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration commentsOnly a couple tenths difference between engine off and engine running. Typical Prius acceleration thereafter. Engine drone is rather loud as rpm remains constant.
Braking commentsMedium-soft pedal, very little ABS commotion, straight and fade-free stops. In fact, shortest stop was on fifth run. Good brakes without any regen wierdness in this particular panic-stop test.
Handling commentsSkid pad: Nondefeat ESC provides "beeping" warning just before it begins to intervene, so keeping the constant beep meant I was right at the permissible limit. Steering weight is artifical-feeling, but I prefer this to previous-gen numbness. Surprising amount of grip from a Prius despite all of the above. Slalom: Nondefeat ESC is rather lenient and is tuned well to intervene quickly and usefully without going completely mental. Toyota has obviously been tuning this because it works with rather than against the driver. Eventually, understeer (and ESC) become limiting factor. Steering feel has also been improved with more weight and better response from center.
Testing Conditions
Test date7/12/2011
Test locationCalifornia Speedway
Elevation (ft.)1,121
Temperature (F)71.3
Relative humidity (%)28.8
Barometric pressure (in. Hg)58.8
Wind (mph, direction)3.25 head
Odometer (mi.)4,687
Fuel used for test87-octane gasoline
As-tested tire pressures, f/r (psi)33/32
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)51 city/48 highway/50 combined
Edmunds observed (mpg)39.8
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)11.9
Driving range (mi.)571.2
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)3,042
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)3,138
Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)60.3/39.7
Length (in.)175.6
Width (in.)68.7
Height (in.)58.7
Wheelbase (in.)106.3
Track, front (in.)59.6
Track, rear (in.)59.4
Turning circle (ft.)36.0
Legroom, front (in.)42.5
Legroom, rear (in.)36.0
Headroom, front (in.)38.6
Headroom, rear (in.)37.6
Shoulder room, front (in.)54.9
Shoulder room, rear (in.)53.1
Seating capacity5
Step-in height, measured (in.)14.63
Trunk volume (cu-ft)21.6
Max cargo volume behind 1st row (cu-ft)39.6
GVWR (lbs.)3,980
Ground clearance (in.)5.5
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain5 years/60,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/Unlimited miles
Roadside assistance2 years/25,000 miles
Free scheduled maintenance2 years/25,000 miles
Vehicle
Model year2012
MakeHonda
ModelCivic Hybrid
Year Make Model2012 Honda Civic Hybrid 4dr Sedan with leather, nav (1.5L 4cyl gas/electric hybrid CVT)
Vehicle TypeFWD 4dr 5-passenger sedan
Base MSRP$26,750
As-tested MSRP$27,500
Assembly locationSuzuka, Japan
North American parts content (%)65
Drivetrain
ConfigurationTransverse, front engine combined with electric motor(s), front-wheel drive
Engine typeInline-4
Displacement (cc/cu-in)1,497/91
Block/head materialAluminum/aluminum
ValvetrainSingle overhead camshaft
Compression ratio (x:1)10.8
Redline, indicated (rpm)6,000
Fuel typeRegular unleaded
Hybrid typeParallel
Combined horsepower (hp @ rpm)110 @ 5,500
Combined torque (lb-ft @ rpm)127 @ 1,000 - 3,500
Battery typeLithium-ion
Battery voltage144
Transmission typeContinuously variable
Transmission ratios (x:1)3.172 - 0.529
Final-drive ratio (x:1)3.94
Chassis
Suspension, frontMacPherson strut, stabilizer bar
Suspension, rearMultilink, stabilizer bar
Steering typeElectric speed-proportional power steering
Steering ratio (x:1)16.14
Tire make and modelBridgestone Ecopia EP20
Tire typeAll-season front and rear, low rolling resistance
Tire sizeP195/65R15 89S
Wheel size15-by-6 inches front and rear
Wheel materialAlloy
Brakes, front10.3-inch ventilated disc with single-piston sliding calipers
Brakes, rear7.9-inch drum brakes
Track Test Results
Acceleration, 0-30 mph (sec.)4.0
0-45 mph (sec.)6.5
0-60 mph (sec.)10.1
0-75 mph (sec.)15.4
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)17.5 @ 80.1
0-60 with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)9.7
0-30 mph, trac ON (sec.)4.0
0-45 mph, trac ON (sec.)6.8
0-60 mph, trac ON (sec.)10.6
0-75 mph, trac ON (sec.)15.9
1/4-mile, trac ON (sec. @ mph)17.7 @ 79.4
0-60, trac ON with 1 foot of rollout (sec.)10.2
Braking, 30-0 mph (ft.)33
60-0 mph (ft.)137
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)62.8
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph) ESC ON61.9
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g)0.76
Skid pad, 200-ft. diameter (lateral g) ESC ON0.75
Sound level @ idle (dB)46.5
@ Full throttle (dB)73.9
@ 70 mph cruise (dB)65.8
Engine speed @ 70 mph (rpm)2,100
Test Driver Ratings & Comments
Acceleration comments(Nearly full battery for each run.) Only a slight advantage to be had with engine running prior to launch, and it feels excruciatingly slow to 30 mph regardless. Once under way, this Civic sort of "wakes up" when it realizes WOT is the priority. Of course, the engine drone from the CVT is obvious, but it doesn't sound all that bad. Acceleration is adequately linear in D, S or L (no difference observed).
Braking commentsFirst stop was shortest, but still long by compact car standards. Distances grew dramantically by third stop and only recovered slightly. Pedal was very firm in every stop, but it didn't give me confidence at all.
Handling commentsSkid pad: With ESC off, tires begin to howl well before understeer sets in with a vengeance. Steering goes light with understeer and the car can't be steered with throttle. With ESC on, throttle closes just as understeer sets in and I could flat-foot the throttle all the way around without brake intervention. Slalom: ESC is truly off and the car is apt to oversteer -- especially in drop-throttle -- so I could coax some useful rotation. Fun! The tires are obviously the limiting variable because the chassis and steering are up to the challenge. With ESC on, fairly significant brake intervention after abrupt steering input; however, it is short-lived and quickly returns control to driver. Steering feels light but precise.
Testing Conditions
Test date7/12/2011
Test locationCalifornia Speedway
Elevation (ft.)1,121
Temperature (F)75
Relative humidity (%)28.8
Barometric pressure (in. Hg)51.9
Wind (mph, direction)3.0 headwind
Odometer (mi.)3,471
Fuel used for test91-octane gasoline
As-tested tire pressures, f/r (psi)32/32
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)44 city/44 highway/44 combined
Edmunds observed (mpg)38.8
Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.)13.2
Driving range (mi.)580.8
Audio and Advanced Technology
iPod/digital media compatibilityiPod via USB jack
Satellite radioStandard XM
Navigation systemStandard with traffic
Driver coaching displayStandard
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)2,875
Curb weight, as tested (lbs.)2,830
Weight distribution, as tested, f/r (%)59.4/40.6
Length (in.)177.3
Width (in.)69.0
Height (in.)56.3
Wheelbase (in.)105.1
Track, front (in.)59.1
Track, rear (in.)60.2
Turning circle (ft.)35.4
Legroom, front (in.)42.0
Legroom, rear (in.)36.2
Headroom, front (in.)39.0
Headroom, rear (in.)37.1
Shoulder room, front (in.)56.6
Shoulder room, rear (in.)53.3
Seating capacity5
Step-in height, measured (in.)14.88
Trunk volume (cu-ft)10.7
Cargo loading height, measured (in.)27.25
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper3 years/36,000 miles
Powertrain5 years/60,000 miles
Corrosion5 years/Unlimited miles

Comments

Leave a Comment

Research Models

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Edmunds Insurance Estimator

The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2011 Toyota Prius in VA is:

$112 per month*
* Explanation
ADVERTISEMENT
Have a question? We're here to help!
Chat*
Chat online with us
Email
Email us at help@edmunds.com
*Available daily 8AM-5PM Pacific