A couple of weeks ago my distinguished colleague Steve Connor, science editor, wrote about his experiences when trying out The Independent's long-term test car, the new Honda Civic Hybrid. He was impressed by it, but said it had rather disappointing fuel consumption.

Taking over after my own rather poor mpg performance, Steve wrote: "During the week or so I had my test Civic I was able to boost the mpg reading from a miserable 36 to a fairly respectable 43. This is well short of the manufacturer's claim of 54.3mpg in urban driving and 65.7mpg in 'extra-urban' driving."

Quite right, and also much in line with my experience of the Toyota Prius, which is also a hybrid. Readers have written in complaining that the mileage they get from their hybrids isn't as good as the official figures. It's only fair to add that there are very few cars, if any, that live up to their official mpg figures.

Still, Steve's observations didn't go down well with the manufacturer, Honda. I think it right to quote Honda's response in full. It comes from Paul Ormond, the head of corporate press and PR for Honda UK: "Steve Connor's article states Honda's hybrid is not much greener than a normal car. The entire article focuses on fuel consumption but not one mention of the lower carbon emissions.

"In fact the key 'science' of a hybrid car is in lowering the emissions generated into the atmosphere. The other key point to mention is that with all cars, 'manufacturers' claimed mpg figures' are achieved using a set of strict criteria laid down by the Government and checked and approved by government inspectors - these criteria are the same for every new car on the UK market so consumers have a guide as to what can be achieved by each model. "

To which the answer, surely, is that fuel consumption must be pretty intimately linked to carbon dioxide emissions. If you are burning more fuel than the official figures suggest, then you are probably pumping more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the official figures suggest.

OK, that's true of everything else as well, from a Smart to a Bentley, but it's still a fair point to make. The key question - to which I don't know the answer - is whether there's something peculiar about hybrids, or about the way the Government estimates their CO2 emissions, that means that even their relative economy is overstated.

Petrol/electric hybrids must still be one of the greener technologies, even if they are over-hyped. As Steve said in his piece, the point isn't so much where hybrids are now, but where they'll be in five or 10 years' time. There's plenty of scope for improvement in the capabilities of their electric motors and batteries. Hybrids are a more readily usable technology than the hydrogen fuel cell or those weird "plug-in" electric cars, such as the G-Wiz, with their limited range, weedy performance and high price.

Despite the disappointments, Honda and Toyota have proved that hybrids can be reliable, efficient, economical and practical. Quite an achievement. I would have thought we could all agree on that.


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