Sean O'Grady: Honda hybrid passes test with flying colours

We've just had to say goodbye to The Independent's long-term Honda Civic Hybrid test car. It has been with us for a year, done 9,000 miles, and nothing has gone wrong with it. Which isn't that surprising - it's a Honda, after all. They always were reliable, and nowadays, I reckon that Hondas have caught up with the German brands on build quality, too. I would also guess that the likes of Honda and Toyota are ahead of BMW and Mercedes-Benz when it comes to integrating electronics in their cars, but I can't prove that.

In any case, the Civic, as well as being a rather larger vehicle than its predecessor models with the same nameplate, is a very tough car indeed. Tough as old boots, as VW used to say about its Golf. Just look at the number of older Civics and Accords you see running around, as well as the Rover 200s and 600s that were based on them, all giving loyal service long after other contemporaries have given up.

The long-term test car, as relied upon for copy by generations of motoring hacks, is a strange thing. Many years ago, it must have been great fun. Sort of. In 1963, for example, the Rootes Group gave one of the British motoring magazines a Hillman Imp to play with for a few months. It was the Rootes Group's new baby car, built to take on the Mini, and underdeveloped.

Whatever the reasons, the test car was a lemon: it needed two new gearboxes, and various other major mechanical items failed. Even in the 1970s and 1980s, you'd find long-term test cars that corroded so quickly that rust spots would appear within months. The motorist may be harassed today, but when it comes to the quality of cars, we've never had it so good.

Which brings me back to the Honda Civic, I suppose. Despite what I just wrote about modern cars, I have had the misfortune of driving test cars that have conked out. On the roll-call of shame: the Hyundai Elantra, Range Rover and Nissan Cube. Others have had niggling little faults, such as eccentric sat nav or warning lights for nonexistent problems, or windows that wouldn't wind up fully. Yet not even these minor distractions have been a feature of the Civic Hybrid.

I suppose the main point of running one of these is to see whether its " new" hybrid technology works. To recap, "hybrid" cars have an electric motor running in parallel with the petrol engine, and store energy otherwise wasted, eg in braking, in batteries, which then help to power the car under, for example, hard acceleration. So it saves fuel, cuts emissions and is, thus, green. You don't plug it in.

Actually the technology isn't that new, having first seen the light of day in the oddball two-seater Insight model in the 1990s. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Honda Civic Hybrids, as well as hybrid Toyota Priuses and Lexuses, have been sold and gone round the clock with no ill-effects. But still consumers seem to be suspicious of them.

The remarkable thing about the Civic Hybrid is what an unremarkable car it is. It looks fairly normal, though it's no oil painting. It has a decent-sized boot, can accommodate four in comfort, five at a squeeze, and runs as smoothly as any of its conventional peers. Except, that is, when pressed fairly hard: then the whining, variable automatic transmission makes a bit of a row.

What is a bit too ordinary is the Civic Hybrid's fuel economy, which I found hovered about the 40mpg mark, far short of the 60-plus mpg that the Honda is supposed to deliver. Government fuel-consumption data is usually optimistic, but that seems a big discrepancy.

So, if you want a reliable piece of new technology with lower emissions and better fuel consumption, you don't have to go Civic Hybrid. A small diesel might serve as well. But if you do, be assured, your Honda won't go wrong.

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power