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Honda Civic IMA 2003 Road Test

Mon, 29 Dec 2003

Unlike the Prius II, the Honda Civic IMA doesn’t look or feel like a car of the future. Even though it has the flat floorpan body of a current Civic, it’s styled like the previous generation Civic saloon.

And it’s manual. Apart from the regenerate/assist display on the dash and a battery charge indicator there’s nothing inside the Honda IMA that makes you feel you’re not in a normal car.

Turn the key, though, and the engine starts eerily quietly. Not like the Prius in which the engine doesn’t start at all. Just a quiet engine. Yet if you rev it you get a rorty VTEC roar which tells you it’s alive and well. Then off you go. Feels very flat and gutless at first. And you watch the dials a bit too much as you refill the battery. But it feels like a normal car.

It actually takes about five days of driving to get in tune with the Civic IMA. At first you think you’ve got to drive slowly to make the thing work. Then gradually, by watching the mpg indicator, you find out that’s not completely necessary. Since it’s geared at about 27mph per 1,000 rpm in 5th, it’s quite long legged. And whenever the 76PS of the 1,339cc VTEC engine isn’t enough, a prod of the accelerator engages an extra 14PS of electric motorvation which doesn’t exactly kick you in the back like a burst of Nitrous Oxide but can help you get past a truck and out of the way of the BMW behind you.

What Honda has done is fit an regenerative electric motor in between the engine from the Jazz and the transmission. They call it Integrated Motor Assist (hence the IMA badge). It works the same way as the Dynastart did on Isetta bubble cars. Put a charge through it and it turns the engine (you could drive an Isetta on the Dynastart). Then, once the engine is running and turning the electric motor it becomes a generator, and in the Honda’s case stores up power in a massive battery.

It’s a bit more clever than that, though. If you lift off when decelerating or descending a hill, or if you brake, the VTEC system closes the valves in four of the engine’s combustion chambers so there’s less resistance and more regeneration of power via the Integrated Motor Assist.

Not rocket science. But it works. It’s smooth, quiet, relaxing to drive and easily does 45 mpg. That’s what the dashboard indicator told me and a brim to brim confirmed 45.3, which is even better.
More so when you consider that the Civic IMA is a proper 5 seater with plenty of head and legroom even in the centre rear. And to make it a bit special Honda has covered the seats with black leather. Handling isn’t anything to write home about, though the weight of the batteries helps keep it flatter than a normal Civic. Gearshift is excellent. Comfort is good and cabin noise low.

It’s pricey, admittedly. But Honda tells me that the few which have crept onto the second hand market have held their value remarkably well, with £12,000 - £15,000 being asked and got. It also had the benefits of being London Congestion Charge exempt, with very low VED and only 12% BIK for company car drivers.

And hybrids seem to be multiplying. When I came out of the Classic auction at Blackbushe on Saturday, what should have parked itself next to me but a Mk 1 Toyota Prius?

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