Like all hybrid cars, the Honda Civic Hybrid has its roots in the 1997 and 2001 Toyota Prius. In 1997 the Prius became the first mass produced hybrid and in 2001 it hit the market worldwide. The Civic followed in 2003.
The Civic Hybrid uses an Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system. The IMA system on the first generation Civic was a power assist system only. While most hybrids can run on their electric engine alone, initial Civic Hybrids could not. Basically a large starter motor, the electric engine added power to the motor for acceleration or other engine stress, thus saving fuel and wear on the gasoline engine.
Civic Hybrid mileage aids weren't limited to the IMA, however. The Hybrid used, and still uses, a continuously variable transmission (CVT), also a gas saver. The CVT lacks the specific gears of most transmissions. Instead, you get an infinite variety of settings that match the motor precisely. (In the USA, only, you can also get a five speed manual transmission.)
The first generation 1.3 liter single overhead cam gasoline engine used a cylinder cut-off system that allowed up to three of its four cylinders to stop working during deceleration. This not only saves gas and wear, but helps regenerate electricity. The electric engine doubles as a starter engine and generator and the car does not have to be plugged in to recharge.
The first generation Civic Hybrid was based on the seventh generation Civic and has many of the same amenities, including updated styling in 2004. The second generation Hybrid came out in 2006. It's based on the eighth generation Civic and, like the Civic, there is a significantly different look between the cars sold in America and the cars sold in Japan.
More important than looks, the second generation Civic Hybrid can cruise at medium speeds on electricity alone. This helped edge the gas mileage up to 40 miles per gallon in the city and 45 miles per gallon on the highway, in spite of a boost to 93 horsepower in the 1.3 liter engine. (The electric engine reaches 20 horsepower.) All four cylinders can now stop functioning either on deceleration or when cruising. Finally, the manual transmission has been dropped.
The base price for the 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid was $22,600, among the least expensive of all the hybrids. In fact, only the Prius was less expensive. With half a dozen major industry awards to its credit, including helping the Civic line win Motor Trend Car of the Year for 2006, you can count on seeing future generations of this vehicle.